Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, vol. 1

By Koji Kumeta
Published in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: Transcending cliches by refusing to let go of the gag.

Itoshiki is a new teacher, but he is anything but excited by the challenge of his school and students. In fact, on the way to the school he tries to commit suicide by hanging himself, but a student saves him from trying to 'grow taller.' Having had family members attempt to 'grow taller' is something that the student gotten used and tries to retain a positive outlook. Her positive outlook is so strong in fact that the student can't see the truth of things right in front of her. At first the story revolves around how Itoshiki and the student's different outlooks clash but the story becomes more about the class Itoshiki teaches. The class is filled with students just as odd as Itoshiki, and as each one is revealed and detailed their eccentricities build on each other.

You have to admire the thoroughness of the gags. Each students represents one of the typical stereotypes you can find in manga, and each chapter adds another one to the mix. What makes this stand out is that these stereotypes are not being used as a storytelling shorthand, but are used as if they were real continuing characters with consequences to their actions. The stalker's line of her own stalkers first show up in her story, then repeatedly show up in the rest of the volume as other characters stumble across them. The gratuitous panty shot girl continues to do them long after her gag is established. Individually the characters and their actions may not be special, but later in the volume when all of the gags start interacting and building on each other, they move past idly amusing then annoying into the land of being genuinely funny.

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


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