12days #1: dying is easy, gag manga is hard

By all indications, The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. should be a stinker. Or too pedestrian to bother with. Doing a blog review on a by-the-numbers gag manga – beyond a simple description/ synopsis seems besides the point. Why bother? Take a “Marty Stu” concept and frick with it for easy yuks. Sure, whatever …

For my first post for the 12 days (of) anime (and manga and…) challenge I want to raise a cheer for the under-appreciated deadpan snark of Shuuichi Aso[u]’s Saiki Kusuo no Psi Nan. To be fair, the franchise needs no apologists or boosters; it has been chugging along since 2012 and has spun off some 250 chapters, 23 volumes, an anime and a live action film (I believe there is a rudimentary phone app game out there somewhere too). And I had been reading it, on and off since it became available to us thieving leeches the diaspora fan community, though not without a suspicious eyebrow raised.

Until I hit the school festival arc:

 

Something snapped. Rock Exhibit. Ok. You sold it.

To be fair, the setup was just a continuation of a relentless campaign of burlesque overload that has characterised the manga since chapter one. It is not enough that our hero has psi powers. He has to have every cliché psychic/ esper/ magic power ever whomped up for a shonen manga chara, with extra ones added every so often by lampshaded-as-random whim.

If I was to go whole-cloth on gag manga as genre, I would have to contend with the  2,000 lb gorilla in the room; Gintama. And perhaps someone, some day, somewhere will do an exhaustive survey of how Gintama tears into its source material. The ones I have stumbled upon usually conclude by declaring that it is so full of “you have to be Japanese to get all the jokes” as to be largely opaque to outlander fans. Saiki, as a high school farce, travels better. It also manages to remain within some unofficial shonen manga ‘comic code’ that is never seriously mean-spirited, exploitative, fan-service laden or nasty to any identifiable group, except high school students, adults and an amorphous “public”.

Also less poop jokes than Gintama

Everyone except Saiki is (of course) an annoying fool. And you can’t win against fools, although you can sometimes hold them off long enough to snag a few moments of peace and a small dish of coffee jelly.

As well, everyone that Saiki runs into seems hell-bent on earnestly acting out some idealised shonen manga character trope role. Few have the cpu to pull it off but that matters little. They enjoy acting up and acting out. Even when they go for a bored high school slacker vibe, they do so enthusiastically. This gives the mangaka free rein to make up one more convoluted plot mess that has to be untangled with an ever escalating combination of esper-jitsu and improbable dumb luck.

How can you screw up a rock display?

The best parts of the manga feature the hulking moron Riki Nendō[u]. Nendou is so dense that Saiki cannot read his mind or even sense when he is about to pop up out of nowhere, trailing chaos and confusion in his wake.  Otherwise, the recurring point of Saiki is watching him try to avoid every last plot device that a high school slice of life manga should have; which must have a deeper appeal than anyone would first imagine.

It turns out that what Weekly Shonen Jump readers really want (or wanted) is/was to vicariously experience a completely uneventful three years of high school.

Live in Interesting Times, NOT.

 

Next up: Another idyllic high school comedy, with earnest romance added.

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2 thoughts on “12days #1: dying is easy, gag manga is hard

  1. All humorous by intent work is very hard. In the time I was in HS back in the 1950s I found “Krazy Kat” collected and so surreal that there is little sense to be made from it beside “Krazy Loves Ignatz” (the mouse), Ignatz has a cruel sense of love which brings him to the attention of Officer Pup.

    But I also read S.J. Perelman a really great comedy writer writing humorous books about his adventures. I have read Allan’s book on comedy as well and listened to the “Buttondown Mind of Bob Neuhart”, watched him on TV in several shows where he seldom failed to make us laugh but he did have the advantage of editing, so if a bit did not work it could be taken out. Probably Daryll was in charge of the editing.

    But comedy is hard as what is funny to me is a tale of outrage to others. And delivery is so important, the voice actors must be carefully directed.

    I am not reading the anime that you cite, i still have to catch up on the ones I was crazy about a month or so back. For example I think Hyougemono is basically a comedy about what happens when warriors adopt aesthetic stance in regard to Tea or anything else. This was due to problems with a certain online site and then the HP Pavilion cooked itself as 24/7 service was more than it could handle. Then I had to find a real replacement for it. Face it, telling about my life with a straight face elicits either laughter or pity. But the parts I would laugh about are the ones that could make other people upset.

    I grew up in a bang up family, we shot off guns and fireworks in season. Then my mother had to shoot my stepfather and ~20 years later she was murdered. See what I mean about a bang up family. With my life I do not bother to watch horror films as they are scarcely real. A boy I was in love with in HS became a ephebophile. The boy I was jealous of because of the time he spent with the one I was in love with came out gay. Every male in my generation is either gay or in trouble about making passes at the wrong girls. Some of the gays are in trouble for making passes at the wrong young men.

    bliss who wonders how she lived to be 80…

    • Sometimes I wonder about the wisdom, even the ethics of reading or reviewing High School manga unless one IS in High School. There is a Frankie School Odysseus Vs The Sirens aspect to it that can get downright creepy. Nostalgia in the original sense. Then a fine slapstick bit o fluff like Psi Saiki pops up and all is right with the world, for a few moments. Huzzah! Coffee Jelly!

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