Thursday, August 16, 2012

Shonen Sports Manga and Kuroko no Basuke

As you all saw for my last post, I read the Kenshin manga in anticipation for the live action Rurouni Kenshin movie coming out at the end of this month.  While I was reading the manga, I got to thinking, 'How long has it been since I read any Jump manga?' I stopped reading and thought about it for a while and I decided that it had been a solid couple of years since I had put Naruto on hold because I had caught up with all the scanlations I could get my eyes on. 

Then when I thought about it a little harder, I admitted to myself that I really hadn't read other Weekly Jump manga besides Naruto. Case and point is that it took me many years to actually read Rurouni Kenshin or Shaman King, I gave up on Prince of Tennis when I was in college, I never read Eyeshield 21, and when the anime for Nurarihyon no Mago was a flop I stopped reading. These titles are really the only Weekly Jump manga I've ever read. Prince of Tennis was probably the first one I got into and then Naruto followed, but I started those back in high school and that was almost 10 years ago now. 

Being a self-proclaimed manga scholar, I am actually a little disappointed in my own readership. A couple years ago, I was talking with a friend about how we both knew and could recognize One Piece cosplayers and knew of the manga, but we had no idea what it was about. Later that same friend told me she was going to watch the anime since, 'It's so popular that I feel I need to watch it to really understand why and have an opinion on it'. Weekly Jump manga have the most readership and usually the largest audience. Look at how Naruto and One Piece are all over Japan. Not just in manga and book stores, but there are Naruto, Gintama and One Piece goods in souvenir shops, Uniqlo makes branding deals and sells special graphic t-shirts, and travel agents book trips for families on a replica Lufy ship. They have become a central point in Japanese popular culture and not only for the original manga readers. 

Now that I have opened my eyes to this error in my read habits, I have decided that a marathon of Weekly Jump manga was in order. I will be looking at manga that has been or is currently being serialized in the Weekly Jump magazine. I will mostly be looking at the manga that is currently being serialized and also has scanlations out on the Internet. So, I started with the manga that had the most recent anime, Kuroko no Basuke.

It would be too easy to write off this manga as the next Prince of Tennis

I was reading this manga on Batoto and when I finished all the chapters available, I looked up at the discussion forum section for this manga. There is only one discussion going on and it is titled, 'Compasison with other sports manga'. The title seemed pretty straight forward, but what question was really being asked was to compare Kuroko with PoT (Prince of Tennis), ES21 (Eye shield 21), and others like Area no Kishi, and Slam Dunk. When we look at these titles, the obvious problem here is that they are all shōnen titles. The reason why this is a problem is because we have to remember that the audience that these manga are all geared to are young boys between the ages of 8-15. Young boys in this age group do not care if something is improbable or defies the laws of gravity or physics. All they care about is that characters be the best at what they do and can do what they, the reader, cannot do. 

From the forum discussion, the major issue up for debate was that KnB (Kuroko no Basuke) should be lumped together with PoT. Those who have seen PoT understand that PoT started out kinda normal and displayed a character who had above average skills, indeed he was a genius. After that he joined a team full of geniuses who all had distinct styles of playing and got more and more out of the realms of probability and started defying the laws of gravity and physics. It is a prime example of going around awful and finding hysterical, hence why it is so infamous. 

I 100% agree with one of the posters on this thread. Potato Sprout said everything that I was thinking as I read this manga. I'll quote from the forum directly
I disagree with the comparison to PoT because PoT is full on magic that it's no longer about normal tennis whatsoever. Almost each shot was some sort of special magic shot, and almost every player has some special skill too. Basically in PoT, super skills are the norm that everyone can do. KnB on the other hand, limited the special skill into certain characters. It used the "generation of miracles" as part of the setting (those 6 are the super human) and Kagami as co-protagonist (the one going from normal into superman) while the rest are normal players who are very very good (e.g.: broad court vision, shooting clutch three pointers, leading the team psychologically, etc)
When we look at the characters for Kuroko, we can obviously make the distinctions of who is suppose to be "super human" and who are "super skilled". When we look at the characters, there are only the handful of players who are suppose to be "super human"; which are the 5 distinguished Generation of Miracles. Though, when you look at the 5 Generation of Miracles themselves, we have to break them down to see that not all of them are suppose to be super human, but just super skilled. Aomine is obviously suppose to be the most super human out of the 5. (Since we haven't seen Akashi play, I'll leave him out of the distinction). The rest are all super skilled, but geniuses in comparison to the rest of the world. Same with the "Crownless Generals" that Kiyoshi is apart of. They are just super skilled players, but not super human.

Again Potato Sprout is the one who clearly distinguishes how "supernatural" and "super skilled" have to be categorized before the discussion can move forward. Potato Sprout uses comparison with ES21; which I admit I have not read, but I agree with what he puts under "supernatural" and "super skilled".
If we're talking about the supernatural-ness of the manga, I'd say E21 is exactly on the same level as KnB.- Kuroko can "vanish", Sena/Agon can create "ghosts"- Agon can copy things after seeing them, Kise can copy plays
Everything else is pretty much just super skills and not supernatural.- Aomine can score like crazy, Yamato/Shin/Agon are "perfect" players- Midorima can shoot 3-pointers accurately, Hiruma/Kid/Unsui can pass accurately- Murasakibara is supposedly the best center (I'm guessing crazy rebounding/blocking skills?), Monta/Ikkyu/Sakuraba can catch like crazy
When looking at Kuroko, there really aren't many skills that can be considered "supernatural". The Misdirection Overflow is pretty out there and obviously supernatural and it is very easy to see how similar it can be to the Tezuka Zone in PoT. Kuroko uses Misdirection Overflow only in one specific game and then acknowledged as being unusable later. After it was shown once, it has only been talked about since whereas the Tezuka Zone was used every time that character appeared in PoT. That already knocks it down a peg as just being a device to raising the tension in the reader. The animal instinct, or "Zone" that Aomine and Kagami utilize is not super natural at all. All sport players talk about mentally preparing themselves for competition.

Obviously there are moves that are "supernatural" in most sports manga. That is why they are in manga, we have already been invited to suspend our disbelief and just enjoy them as part of the story. This is a shōnen manga and young kids are 100% open to seeing these "supernatural" skills in their manga. We as older readers have to remember this fact when we read material that is not meant for our age group. If readers what to read more realistic sports manga, they need to be looking at such titles as Ookiku Furikabutte and Giant Killing; which are both geared toward adults.

Unless Kuroko takes a drastic turn like PoT did, I think it is safe to say that this manga will not turn into the next PoT; which is now a manga that just tries to come up with ways to top itself every chapter. Kuroko keeps a continuity that PoT never had from the beginning on the series. There is also no telling if this manga will become as popular as PoT was. When PoT became majorly popular, the mangaka just let go and did whatever he wanted. This idea was discussed in the Bakuman manga when the two protagonists were trying to "crack the Jump code".

What I like about Kuroko is the back story. We as readers are brought into a story that has not been completely revealed to us. Kuroko hates the type of basketball Teiko played, but we the reader have only been given glimpses of how they played together through flashbacks. What was it that the 6 players promised each other the year before? What kind of family life does Tetsu have? We as readers have heard anything about his family or even know where he lives. Out of other sports manga, that is what I find the most interesting about Kuroko. There is more back story to be revealed and more discussion about how the "Generation of Miracles" interacted with each other when they were still playing together.

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