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Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 7 months ago

Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei


  • by Kumeta Kouji
  • runs in Magajin

Quite possibly the least translatable manga ever done.

The basic structure of each chapter of this gag manga is to take a turn of phrase, and idiom, some slang -- some kind of buzz word, and with George Carlin like dexterity, apply it to increasingly far fetched situations in a free associative cloud. Often the phrase is flipped backwards on itself, applied to some entirely different, tangentially related field, or replaced by an opposite phrase in desperately untranslatable arrays of wordplay.

Kumeta Kouji is on record as saying that the less people get a joke, the funnier it is, and he makes up for this by burying readers in a sea of jokes, so that even if they don't get half of them they're still laughing.

He takes the same attitude towards the collected volumes, which bury all white space in jokes, liner notes, extra drawings, and random crap. The front flap is a fake summary of events that didn't happen in the previous volume; the back flap is a fake preview of events to come, and there are extra jokes hidden under the dust jacket.

One volume I bought of this came with two copies of the dust jacket, and I was unable to work out if this was done on purpose until I went looking around online and couldn't find anyone else reporting this bit of strangeness.

The main character here is Itoshiki Nozomu (糸色 望), whose name, written sideways, looks unfortunately like the Japanese word for "despair." (絶望) Indeed, he is the world's most negative personality, taking every single event or phrase in the worst possible light. For some reason, he has become a teacher, but on his first day he hangs himself from a cherry tree.

He is found by one of his students, who is the world's most positive person, and assumes he was trying to become taller.

The vast majority of the students in his class seem to be girls, largely because this is Magajin and nobody is interested in reading about anything else. All of the girls can be distinguished only by their hairstyles, and that requires frequent flipping to the chart at the front of the book - Kumeta's art has become quite amazingly stylized, to the point of basically only drawing one person over and over. This isn't really a major issue, since there is no story to speak of, and each character has exactly one personality trait.

There's pretty much nothing sacred in this book; Kumeta sets his sights on anyone and anybody, trashes Japanese culture and politics, never hesitates to include sex jokes in the least expected places, and is even willing to crack jokes about his own manga's imminent cancellation. Many of these jokes are even funnier if you recognize the specific target he's taking aim at, but the gist is generally clear even when you don't. A passage on white lies, for instance, has the characters coming out of Gedo Senki and telling the people in line that they really liked it.

Sayonara Zetsubo-sensei appears to be another member of that troubling range of books that are extremely unpopular among the readers of the magazine they run in, yet sell quite respectably once released in trades. This led to the author's previous book, Katte ni Kaizou, being cancelled over in Sunday (partly because they wanted a more kid-friendly image, and Katte ni Kaizou really...wasn't) and Kumeta moving to Magajin. There's a destructive edge of his humor, the way absolutely nothing is off limits, but while this makes it many die hard fans, it probably prevents it from enjoying the huge popularity his former assistant, Hata Kenjiro, does on Hayate the Combat Butler, but the two have more in common than you might suspect, even going so far as to parody each other in the extras page at the back of the book, jokes completely incomprehensible unless you happen to be reading both.

There's a deep joy from getting some obscure reference in Kumeta's manga, but this is often balanced by a vague sort of guilt -- the more jokes I get, the bigger a nerd I am.


Andrew Cunningham

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