In honor of Weekly Shonen Jump turning back over to number 1 as we approach 2016, here are my thoughts about some of the best that Jump had to offer in 2015. Just one year ago, in the #1 issue of Jump leading into 2015, I fell in love with a little title called Gakkyu Hotei: School Judgment. Its Jump Start competitors on this side of the pond were a ping pong manga (Takujo no Ageha) and a fanservice-y cyborg manga (E-Robot). They couldn't hold a candle to the art of journeyman mangaka Takeshi Obata on School Judgment, whose layouts were intensely intricate. In case you aren't familiar with the title, it was written by Nobuaki Enoki, and followed the exploits of a young student lawyer in a world where arbitration occurred in classrooms. School Judgment was a solid procedural, but was ultimately (and sort of ironically) limited by such a unique and interesting premise. I stood by the art on that sinking ship until it went down.
Jump Starts are really one of the coolest things about Weekly Shonen Jump. The titles that we see as Jump Starts are literally just the newest titles admitted to real Jump in Japan. They all keep going even after we see them in their limited Jump Start run. Of course, many of them don't go on for that much longer. Anyway, it's cool specifically because not many of these titles become popular enough or have the longevity to see any collected translations. They function as a very cool peek at up-and-coming mangakas who might circle back around to greater success later.
The most successful Jump Start this year, by very very far, was Black Clover. If you're in the mood to see how full of shit I am, you'll be disappointed in nosing back through my reviews to see that I earmarked Black Clover as a title to watch going forward. Mangaka Yuki Tabata's art is stellar, and with the absence of Naruto, Jump was sorely missing the presence of a character like Asta. A few other Jump Starts are still petering on, I believe, but simply aren't being serialized over here. My personal favorite of the new mangas that isn't over here is Haruto Ikezawa's Mononofu, a shogi manga. I have my fingers crossed it continues to do well enough that I'll get to read more of it someday, as shogi is a supremely interesting game.
And what about the ol' timers kicking around Jump? Where a regular feature of my reviews earlier this year lamented the loss of Naruto from the lineup, two weekly titles have stepped up to fill the void big time: My Hero Academia and Food Wars. Okay, so they're not ol' timers in the same sense that Bleach and One Piece are; however, they both carried the torch into 2015 and offered fresh takes on a solid shonen formula. Academia contains a lot of the character work and cerebral conflicts that made Naruto so great, and Soma, being merely a student at a cooking institute, is quickly cementing his place in the pantheon of shonen heroes, all of whom but him have superpowers. With Academia finally receiving the anime it sorely deserves, and Food Wars having the first season of its very entertaining manga already in the books, I expect big things to continue coming from these manga. Academia in particular is just on the verge of blowing up.
So, let's not forget about the real old crotchety bastards still kicking around the pages of Jump: One Piece and Bleach. One Piece certainly doesn't feel like an old man (not that I know how old men... you know what, nevermind). The only thing that makes One Piece seem like it's been around the block a few hundred times is the sheer volume of characters and places. There was not a single page of One Piece this year where I read it and thought, "wow, Oda is at the end of his rope." The Dressrosa arc was at all-times infused with a gravitas of which only Oda and a few other select mangakas are capable, in an environment that could have only been imagined by Oda himself.
If Oda is the spry old man leaping around making us wonder if he's even mortal, what does that make Kubo? While Oda continues to make it clear that One Piece will literally never end ever, Kubo has begun bearing the very soul of Bleach. Kubo is the wise old man of Jump, sitting in his rocking chair, pontificating on his life's regrets and lost loves. You can see it in the last two fights especially. Bleach is drenched in style, more than it's ever been, and yet the story has finally found its way back to doing something that sort of makes sense: focusing on characters and their relationships. Each of these fights has pulled back the curtain to a deep, hidden way in which a previously enigmatic character operates. These vignettes have gone as far to showcase the personalities of these characters as they have allowed Kubo to flex his unmatched visual style.
The monthlies are all doing their thing. Blue Exorcist and Seraph of the End have mostly been sputtering, with the former in between major arcs at the moment. One-Punch Man, however, is fucking taking over the world, and for good reason. The anime is excellent, but as with many truly great series, despite the anime's strengths, there are times when it is unable to truly communicate the incredible job Murata is doing drawing the title. The wonderful thing about One-Punch Man is that it doesn't need to aspire to big story arcs. There is so much wonderful character work, and the built-in intrigue of watching Saitama rise to the top-- there are just so many organic ways to take this story in any given direction for short bursts of time.
At some point this year, it's possible that I'll start splitting up my coverage of Jump to focus more on particular titles in any given week. I typically use my coverage of Jump to do that anyway, however, because it allows me a more organic way to compare titles, and give context to the niche that a particular new title might be filling.
And oh yeah, this issue was good.