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.