Review: Weekly Shonen Jump #30

Jump has its ebbs and flows, but it's hard to feel disappointed with an issue in which One Piece has reached or is just about to reach the climactic moments of the most entertaining arc since the timeskip.  The thing that will make Dressrosa stand out for me as an arc in this post-timeskip world of One Piece is that it held true to Oda's method of making protagonists stand against villains for deeply personal reasons while successfully raising the stakes.  One Piece has never been without its personal, character-driven drama: it actually makes the Anime unwatchable for some people, something I struggled with in a handful of early arcs.  Oda's great success here is that the fate of Dressrosa was several degrees removed from the main crew of the Straw Hats. The destruction of the city was not only made deeply personal to the reader through the story of Kyros and the connection between Law and Doffy, though: the fate of Dressrosa and the pirate alliance that formed to save it are major signals of where this series is headed.  Much like Kishimoto achieved with Shippuden, Oda has loaded the front end of his post-timeskip world with lore that will unfold in the end-game of the series.  Dressrosa takes this a step further, preparing the reader for the big, bad, high-stakes world of the real Grand Line.

Naruto was not quite as exciting this week, and even though it was a great chapter, it felt a little slow since the family themes at hand are just so damn obvious.  It's hard to really pitch that as a criticism: Kishimoto is so good at telegraphing nuanced looks at how we define love, family, and friendship, that sometimes his chapters suffer from a character taking the time to sit us down and explain things.  With the wacky way that genes work in Naruto, it still remains to be seen what Sarada's mom situation really is.  The mere possibility that it might not be Sakura was an effective opening to explore parent-child relationships: I just didn't really need Naruto to sit Sarada (and me) down and explain how this theme tied back to the original series.

WSJ 30 coverThe only thing making a splash in this issue, aside from Luffy's giant haki-inflated fist, is a rare one-shot, Folie A Deux from American writer-artist team Bikkuri and Rem.  I confess that I found the art a little hard to follow.  Characters and details were occasionally impressive; other times, the dark, twisted style of the comic could not get out of its own way in order to efficiently present what exactly was happening.  Where the art sometimes succeeded, the manga presented a world that posed too many questions and did not even feign to answer them.

Ambiguity in a one-shot is necessary, but it doesn't have to be a necessary evil.  Ambiguity can (and should) be leveraged to awesome effect in one-off stories.  Random example: one of my favorite episodes of television is "Midnight," from the Fourth Series of new Doctor Who.  Sparing all the details, the villain in the episode is never revealed: it has its evil-yet-fleeting impact on the characters and then vanishes into oblivion.  Folie suffers from too much world-building and not enough real character exploration.  Any amount that we do delve into the characters is just a lot of posturing and power-flexing.  It's hard to care about the Jack-the-Ripper-esque mystery or the 19th century underground Wonka-style elevator because the manga never gets off the ground before jumping into the action.  The synopsis of the one-shot did more to explain the story than the story ever achieved on its own: that's a no-no.

Of course, independent of any concerns for quality, there is an open and interesting question as to whether or not work such as this actually deserves to be called manga.  I don't want to get too far into it right here, but it's a question worthy of consideration.  A medium with a particular cultural heritage is beckoning to people from far different backgrounds.  The question, mainly, is whether creating manga is just like creating "comics" with a different name but with an eye towards a particular style; or, must creators pay their dues in order to truly create manga?  If so, while Folie, for instance, certainly aims at a manga style, it falls short of the same quality as other titles.  On the flip side, as manga becomes internationally-renowned, this creative team has shown that it can win competitions on the world stage.

It’s hardly a make-or-break distinction, but I still think it’s an interesting one.  It’s hard to tackle on this side of the ocean since, in many ways, if there is an issue with assigning the term to certain works, it’s an issue of appropriation.  My two cents on the issue (which is definitely worth less than two cents) is that if a Japanese-run manga anthology with one of the harshest editorial policies known to man thinks that a title warrants inclusion in its ranks, then that title is manga.

Score: 3/5

Weekly Shonen Jump #30 Writer: Various Artist: Various Publisher: Viz Media Release Date: 6/22/15 Format: Weekly; Digital