Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei Volume 1
Subtitled The Power of Negative Thinking, this series by Koji Kumeta is the story of depressed, suicidal schoolteacher Nozomu. (The title translates as “Goodbye, Mr. Despair”.) Except, not really. It’s really a device to tell stories about his various students, all of which have their own unusual problems.
I found it first shocking and then wonderful, because I like black humor. In the opening scene, the eternally optimistic and hopeful Kafuka comes across her teacher trying to hang himself, as shown here.
She rescues him, illustrating a core contradiction of his character: he yells at her for almost killing him with her roughness while interrupting his suicide attempt. His hopelessness allows the writer to insert satirical jabs at aspects of society he finds discouraging. Nozomu is SO despairing that he becomes funny, rather like Eeyore.
The art style particularly struck me. It’s distinctive, simplified even from typical manga, with a flat look and a design-influenced approach to black and white space. The comedy often comes through dialogue, frequently because the reader recognizes the ridiculousness of what the characters are saying with straight faces or because of meanings the cast doesn’t recognize. (As when Kafuka interprets Nozomu’s hanging as him “trying to grow taller” and mentions that she recognizes it because her father often tried it.)
Kafuka is Nozomu’s spiritual opposite, so between them, they’re able to assist students who are shut-ins or stalkers or suspected of being abused. Most all of this help comes in spite of themselves, though, since they’re awfully silly in how they approach life. Their refusal to see the world as it is for normal people provides the humor. As the book goes on, the students become weirder, whether they’re addicted to text messaging or obsessive-compulsive or aggressively normal.
There are copious translation notes in back which are much appreciated, given the author’s fondness for cultural and media references. I’m eagerly waiting for future volumes — I expect them to be even weirder and funnier than this one. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)