Show-ha Shoten! Volume 1
Fandom works. By which I mean, if someone likes something a creator does, they’re a lot more likely to seek out that creator’s next thing. That’s the reason I tried Show-ha Shoten! Volume 1.
It’s illustrated by Takeshi Obata, who’s probably best known in this country for drawing Death Note, but I better remember him from Bakuman and earlier, Hikaru no Go. Story is by Akinari Asakura, a novelist making his manga debut.
These types of shonen manga series are generally about a young man trying to succeed in some area, eventually achieving public recognition. (Bakuman was about making comics; Hikaru no Go, the game of go; Death Note, killing people and getting away with it.) This time, it’s comedy. But this kind of comedy, focusing on a duo, isn’t exactly familiar to US readers, who may be thinking of stand-up. These kinds of paired teams or double acts were most popular in the US in the 60s. (Think of Abbott and Costello and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, for instance, or in the UK, Morecambe and Wise.)
Shijima writes jokes, quite successfully, for radio and TV competitions but is shy in real life. He is bullied into teaming up with the extraverted Higashikata, who is fine being the center of attention but needs a script, for a school comedy show.
There’s the requisite touch of dramatic history, as Shijima is motivated by a crush from two years ago. (We’re told he’s 16, but he looks about 12, so his tragedy is also a bit funny, as he’s still a kid.) She moved away and wanted to part with laughter, but he couldn’t tell her something funny on demand. Higashikata, on the other hand, lost his former partner when he died. (This is a bit heavy for comedy, but the two genres often underpin each other.)
The two boys set out “to win the two great contests in Japanese comedy” — one for stand-up duo, and one for sketch-comedy team. No one’s ever won both. They both recognize that “being funny is powerful” but they need each other to fill in where they lack individual skills. Higashikata will give Shijima courage, while Shijima gives Higashikata material.
First, though, they have to get the permission of Shijima’s parents to allow him to pursue this career. That provides one of the lessons about how comedy works and the importance of knowing your audience, as they prepare to go on stage at a competition against a local favorite.
I don’t know how long I’ll be around for this — as is typical of these kinds of boys’ competition manga, there isn’t a lot of great female representation — but for now, learning about how this kind of media works in another country adds a layer of interest to a traditional “work to be a champion” manga. And of course, it’s beautifully illustrated.
(The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)