Today’s update is a blatant rip-off of something Joe McCulloch did in his weekly TCJ column last week – an illustrated stroll through an issue of a Japanese manga magazine. Inspired by Joe’s piece, I visited the always-fantastic Kinokuniya Books, a few blocks from my office, this weekend and picked up a couple of issues of some classic seinen magazines. What follows is a brief journey through selected segments of Big Comic Superior (Biggu Komikku Superiōru), issue 630.
The magazine is one of several spin-offs of the popular Big Comic, published bi-weekly by Shogakukan. The target demographic is seinen (literally “young men”), and Superior is more specifically aimed at those who have outgrown its early-twenties sister publication Big Comic Spirits, but who are not yet ready for the maturity of the more middle-aged Big Comics and Big Comics Original. If this all sounds a bit confusing that is because the whole structure of the Japanese manga market is indeed confusing, with highly specific demographic qualifiers of age and gender tending to play a larger role than actual genre when it comes to labeling and marketing. Safe to say, Big Comic Superior offers a wide variety of different flavors of manga, with slightly fewer boob shots and explosions than Spirits, but less corporate suits and talking heads than Original.
The breadth of genre is certainly on display in this issue, with the stories inside ranging from several ongoing food and sports titles, to action and adventure series, and on to more comedic and downright bizarre one-shots and series. It also includes one of the stranger ecchi (literally “naughty” or “frivolous”) pieces I’ve seen, apparently a chapter in the series The Prime Minister’s Power, running in the magazine since 2008. Without going in to too much detail, it seems to be a equal parts 50 Shades of Grey and Yes Minister, complete with gratuitous sex scenes in which the naughty bits are only barely concealed by strategically obfuscating set pieces in the panels.
Luckily the majority of stories are less lurid, if not necessarily less bizarre, than Prime Minister.
One of the more intriguing series inside is the newly launched Silencer, by writer Yuka Nagate and artist Sho Fumimura (better known to connoisseurs under his pseudonym Buronson or his real name Yoshiyuki Okamura). It seems to be a pretty straightforward noirish crime tale, featuring a chain-smoking and unshaved guy in a messy suit alongside a blonde woman armed to the teeth as the main protagonists. Fumimura’s line is dynamic and realistic, and the short installments of the story are packed to the brim with action sequences. This particular chapter includes everything from the attempted rescue of a group of hooded hostages to a girl breaking into the office of a crime boss, armed with a crossbow. Curious readers can see a sample of a newer chapter of the series here. My guess, or is that hope?, is that this series will be picked up for US release in a couple of years. It seems to do quite well in Japan.
Another interesting ongoing title is Yuureitou (or alternatively The Ghost Tower Yuureitou), from which the cover of this issue is taken. Written and illustrated by Tarou Nogizaka, it deals with the story of a particular haunted location, the ghost tower of the title, where a woman was brutally murdered by her adopted daughter half a century ago.
Now two people, the typically unappealing and lecherous manga “everyman” Amano Taichi and the mysterious white-haired girl-dressed-as-a-guy Tetsuo, have banded together to search for what seems to be some sort of treasure hidden within the tower. Since its beginning in 2010 the series seems to have moved quite a bit away from the original premise, and it was a little hard to follow the plot in this installment. The art, however, remains appealing, if a little bland, and it is not unlikely that the title will be picked up for an US release at some point. The first few chapters have allegedly already been translated by fans online.
Perhaps the story I found the most interesting was the awkwardly-titled Good Dog, Energetic Husband, primarily because of its unique style and its bizarre ability to seemingly mix up everything from talking dogs to office politics and violent-yet-hilarious revenge taken on a creepy park stalker.
I confess to having almost no clue as to the plot of this particular gem, but the visuals were intriguing and it seems to have been both written and illustrated by the odd genius Masaya Tokuhiro (creator of, amongst other things, Kyoushirou 2030, and former mentor of Eiichiro Oda). Curious souls can check out a few sample pages here, and if anyone knows more about this title – please do let me know.
The whole issue is about 400 pages long, and there is an overwhelming amount of material within. The majority of stories are installments of ongoing titles, but there are also a few short one-shots, most of them in the humorous gag strip variety. It lacks the very-long-running titles of its parent publication, such as the infamous Golgo 13, and there is definitely less sleaze than in Spirits, but for discerning readers (or dedicated consumers-of-pictures, as it may be) it is quite a treat. Alongside Monthly Ikki and Young Ace, Big Comic Superior is one of my favorite seinen magazines currently published.