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[Manga] Welcome to the U19 Club: The Wonderful World of Shonen Jump Table of Contents Speculation
However, while WSJ is popular, it is also one of the most cutthroat publications out there. Because of its size, it can usually only carry around 20 different series, excluding oneshots and the like. If your manga gets published in WSJ and doesn’t immediately become a hit, editors will cancel it as soon as possible to search for another hit instead.
Anyway, on places like manga, 4chan’s /a/ board, and Twitter, a sort of speculation started. You see, every issue of Jump has a table of contents page, which simply shows the location of each series in the issue as well as the weekly author comments. However, while the order changes from week to week, the general trend is that the most popular series are located near the front, where they’re more accessible to readers, while the less popular ones are in the back.
Of course, many editors and writers for Jump have noted that the head editor is the one who has the final say in the table of contents order, so they stress that it isn’t a barometer. However, one aspect of WSJ is that the print versions (probably digital versions too, though I haven’t checked) include a survey card in each issue - readers can submit which three chapters they enjoyed the most this week, alongside any sweepstakes offers or popularity polls. And there have been plenty of cases where a series ranks fairly high on the ToC and then suddenly drops to the bottom on chapter 8, which has led people to realize that it usually takes seven weeks to accurately tally survey results. So while it may not be 100% accurate, it allows people to speculate over which series are thriving and which are likely to be cancelled.
Case 1: The start of the U19 club
Of course, as mentioned above, the cutthroat nature of Jump means that low-performing books will be cancelled in about three to four volumes. However, at the time there was no real way to describe this phenomenon. That all changed in 2017.
See, at the time, WSJ was going through a massive series exodus. Popular series such as Bleach, Toriko, and Kochikame had all ended in 2016 (note: the latter had been running for 40 years), and Jump really needed something to prop up sales. To that end, they announced an unprecedented event where, for six weeks straight, they would add a new series in each issue. Usually, whenever series get serialized in Jump, they’re done in groups of two or three, so it was clear that WSJ was looking for at least some hits.
Enter U19, a series that made readers wonder how the hell it got approved in the first place. The premise is that adults have converted Japan into a 1984-like dystopia involving abusive discipline and selective breeding in order to strengthen the country and bring it back to its World War II-era glory. The main character finds out that his love interest has been deemed an elite student while he’s an F-rank, and when she is separated from him he develops a power called Libido, which manifests as a sewing needle that grows more powerful when he sees her. Then he is joined into the ranks of the U19 club, an underground resistance full of people under the age of 19 with similar Libidos.
The description I gave it in the previous paragraph does not do this series justice. The art was fairly amateur, the concept of Libidos were just quirks from My Hero Academia with a different name, the villains were written to be cartoonishly evil, and in general it didn’t seem like the author knew what they were doing. It quickly was cancelled after 17 chapters, but a edit of one of the spreads by a 2chan user, where the members of U19 were replaced by characters from other short-running series, eventually blossomed into a meme. From then on, the U19 club became the unofficial way to refer to any series doomed to end in less than 19 chapters. People who saw the TOC rankings would soon gravitate to the bottom of the list, speculating over which series were likely to join the club.
Case 2: The battle of the gag manga
Okay, when I mentioned the idea of the table of contents, there was one part I glossed over. While the lower-ranked series were almost doomed to fail, for a couple of years the last series to be featured in the ToC would usually be a small comedy series. The idea being that no matter how unsettling or uncomfortable the rest of the books are, at the very least the magazine will always end on a happy note. For the longest time, this position was filled by Isobe Isobee Monogatari, but then it ended in 2017.
So in a September 2018 issue, to the surprise of everyone, two gag series premiered in the same issue at the same time. The first, I’m From Japan, was about a young boy who is obsessed with the various prefectures of Japan and uses them in fighting styles. The second, Teenage Renaissance David, reimagined the Michelangelo sculpture as a hot-blooded high school student. It was clear that Jump was hedging its bets on a new gag series to be their mainstay, but the question was: which one?
There was obviously a regional gap for this issue. Japanese fans were more likely to enjoy I’m From Japan, simply because the various puns and in-jokes made more sense to them. Western fans found Teenage Renaissance David better, because the classical art references were more familiar. What compounded the issue even more is that every issue, the two series would switch places - one would be in the middle of the magazine, while the other would be near the bottom. Compounding this issue was the unbelievable fact that in December of the same year, I’m From Japan was confirmed to have an anime in development (for reference, most Shonen Jump manga only get an anime greenlighted after at least a year of serialization, while IFJ had only been around for a few months at best - meaning an anime was planned before the series even started).
While western fans were in disbelief, people soon came to the realization of why IFJ was promoted over David - tourism. The fact was that IFJ basically had every chapter talk about the top exports, notable attractions, and famous people of each Japanese prefecture - which made it perfect in terms of advertising people to go to those prefectures in question. Ultimately, Teenage Renaissance David ended after 35 chapters, while I’m From Japan was transferred to sister magazine Saikyo Jump... only to end after 45 chapters. In the end, nobody won, although the author of Isobe recently started a new serialization that may become the new gag series.
Case 3: Chew Harder - The Tale of Samurai 8
While most of the titles I’ve been talking about so far have been obscure, you most likely know about Naruto. The ninja manga was published in Jump in 1999, and author Masashi Kishimoto made it into a massive work spanning over 70 volumes and 15 years. It’s arguably one of the most popular series to have ever ran in Jump.
So it was surprising to hear that after Naruto ended, Kishimoto noted that he actually had plans for a new series. In late 2018, more information came out - his new publication would be called Samurai 8: The Tale of Hachimaru, and it would be a science fiction title centered around cybernetic samurai. Notably, due to wanting a break from drawing, he would only write the series while one of his former assistants, Akira Obuko, would be doing the art.
Considering that such a famous author would be writing another series, Jump immediately went to advertising S8 however it could. Animated YouTube ads done months before the series actually started, expansive murals in subways, even putting pamphlets of the first chapter in other Jump manga. While it had done some promotional acts for other manga before, it was on a completely different level with Samurai 8. In essence, they were setting it up to be one of the core pillars of Jump before it even started.
And then the series actually started. While some people were optimistic, others noted that it wasn’t exactly a good start for the series. From the first chapter alone, the reader is bombarded with samurai lore that would honestly be better suited for explanation across chapters rather than in a massive exposition dump. The plot also became more complex - while the first chapter of Naruto framed the conflict as a plucky young ninja possessed by a demonic nine-tailed fox wanting to become the head of his village, the first chapter of Sam8 framed the conflict as a sickly young boy who wants to become a samurai, only to suddenly get a cybernetic body after committing seppuku and then he is told by a blind samurai master in a cat’s body that he must find the seven keys to Pandora’s Box, an artifact that could endanger the whole galaxy. The artstyle used to portray cybernetics made pages look cluttered, which made fight scenes difficult to understand.
In essence, while Samurai 8 had the prestige of being written by the author of Naruto, everything else seemed to be changed - not necessarily for the better. Compounding this were two separate facts. The first is that when the first and second volumes of the series were released simultaneously (another marketing stunt to encourage binge reading), Kishimoto wrote in the first volume that he would compare reading Samurai 8 to chewing dried squid - if the flavor doesn’t come out, just chew some more (i.e. buy the second volume, I swear things will get better I promise). The second was an interview with one of the former editors of Naruto, which revealed that many of the most popular parts of Naruto were editor suggestions rather than Kishimoto’s own work. Compounding this was an interview with the Samurai 8 editor, who seemed to revere Kishimoto; this made fans believe that he wasn’t policing Kishimoto’s work as much, similar to how George Lucas made the original Star Wars trilogy with the help of various editor suggestions and then the prequel trilogy with virtually no supervision.
The effects were noticeable. In 4chan, it became a meme to refer to Kishimoto’s chewing comment whenever Samurai 8 was discussed. TOC-wise, it dropped in the rankings until it was almost always near the bottom. Sales were night and day compared to Naruto, and ultimately, after the constant promotions over other WSJ series, Samurai 8 ended after five volumes and 45 chapters. Which seems okay enough until you realize that I’m From Japan, of all series, was compiled into six volumes.
Case 4: Time Plagiarism Ghostwriter
In May 2020, the same issue when one of Jump’s more popular series Demon Slayer ended, a new series called Time Paradox Ghostwriter started.
The premise of it went like this: An amateur author whose manga has been rejected by publishers constantly gets his microwave struck by a bolt of lightning, which turns it into a time machine. When he opens it up, he sees that it contains a copy of Weekly Shonen Jump from ten years in the future. Upon seeing that its premiere series, White Knight, is the perfect manga, but believing it to be a dream, he copies the first chapter the following day and sends it to his editor, who immediately greenlights it as a series. Suddenly the amateur author must contend with the high expectations pushed onto him - as well as the original author of White Knight, who is surprised that someone else has used her idea.
Maybe it was because of the premise alone. Maybe it was because it was one of the few Jump manga out there which didn’t fall into the typical conventions of being a battle, sports, or gag manga. Either way, TPGW immediately became popular in the west, with many people talking about how they love it. Many were immediately convinced that TPGW could immediately become a top seller for Japan. So, seven weeks after the first chapter, people were eager to see the first ratings for the series - only for it to debut in the bottom half of the magazine and drop lower every issue afterward.
People were surprised, to say the least. Why was a series with such an amazing premise flopping? Pretty soon, people came to a conclusion as to why this was happening: plagiarism. More specifically, in a magazine primarily aimed at young boys, the first few chapters tried to justify the main character plagiarizing White Knight and still paint him as a good guy, by having people constantly tell him that so many people are in love with WK and it would be a disservice to stop now. Even the original author, after meeting the main character, writes off the similar plot between his White Knight and hers as a fluke. And given how the Kyoto Animation Fire, one of the worst mass murders in Japan’s modern history, was caused because someone thought KyoAni had stolen their idea, it makes sense that people would be hesitant to like a series which pushes all of its consequences to the side.
So anyway, the first volume of TPGW was released, compiling all the magazine chapters while removing any reference to plagiarism in the text itself. Even then, it sold terribly. The author quickly tried to pick up the pace of their manga, glazing over plot points and moving the story at a breakneck pace, but it was too little too late. The series ended in only 15 chapters - unusual for Jump, as even more recent U19 series have gotten more time before getting axed. People were upset, claiming that Japan just didn’t have as good of a taste as the west and being upset that the previously-mentioned gag manga by Isobe’s author was immediately started the week after. So yeah, people were upset.
Anyway, that’s the long and short of some notable instances of Jump drama. I could add in some more stuff, like the quick cancelling of Act-Age or the drama surrounding mangaka like Kentaro Yabuki and Haruto Ikezawa, but I’ve written enough as is.
Gintama^ - The review: analysing the random incarnated and the science of "it gets good"
It begs the serious question: what is Gintama? How exactly does it work? How can someone explain it when its own author didn’t even know what it was about for a big chunk of its duration? How come you always see these crazy, balls-to-the-walls clips and badass action scenes but when you actually try it you get a rather disappointing start?
This, ladies and gentlemen, is my attempt to review the King of Meta, Random Incarnated, the Tyrant of “it gets good” that is Gintama.
No matter how you look at it, it doesn’t make any sense
When Hideaki Sorachi started writing Gintama, he defined his work as "science fiction human drama pseudo-historical comedy". He never expected this nonsense of a manga to create a franchise that would total 367 anime episodes and 3 movies. Through the last decade and a half, it has cemented itself as one of the most popular works that WSJ has published. Quite a beast to tackle, but what exactly is this "science fiction human drama pseudo-historical comedy" story about?
Gintama’s famous intro goes as it follows:
“Land of the samurai. Long ago Japan was called by that name. With the arrival of ‘Amanto’ from outer space and the Sword Ban twenty years ago, the samurai class fell into decline. In such hard times, there was one man left with the spirit of the samurai. His name is Sakata Gintoki, a reckless jack of all trades with a sweet tooth. Due to some rather unexpected events, the apprentice Shimura Shinpachi and stranded alien Kagura ended up working here. The three of them will slice up a corrupt Edo!” (slightly changed for better comprehension)Despite the shenanigans Gintama pulls with this intro and the lack of a proper plotline most of its duration, it isn’t wrong to say this is roughly what Gintama is about. Gintama follows the adventures of the Yorozuya trio doing odd jobs (Yorozura is literally “Odd Jobs” but is more used as proper name for our protagonists) in Edo. This means that they will do anything they are asked to do and is what brings the majority of the scenarios in Gintama. From helping stray cats to rescuing people from the mafia or even becoming enemies of the state to help a friend, the Yorozuya will take any job.
Their odd jobs business lead our goofy protagonists to encounter a diverse cast of characters in this modernized version of Edo that experienced a technological leap with the arrival and conque of the Amanto. You slowly learn about what happened in the past of Edo as well as its characters. And then as it advances, the Yorozura start having encounters of greater importance that drag them to bigger conflicts. Unbeknownst to everyone, dark forces approach the upper ranks of Edo, leading to events that would turn everyone’s lives upside down.
The balance between comedic and serious moments
Gintama is around 70% comedy and 30% serious arcs. The comedy parts involve the Yorozura trio in Edo alongside other side-characters such as the special police Shinsengumi, Anti-Amanto terrorists, ninjas, literal drunks and homeless, etc in whatever dumb thing they find themselves. Most of these episodes are standalone, although there are also short arcs that can have their own dramatic moments and themes. These are usually divided into fully comedic and “semi-serious” arcs which provide some character development and more feelsy stories.
Then, there are the serious arcs. These more dramatic arcs are where the major plot developments occur. Starting more than 50 episodes into the anime, the early serious arcs establish future antagonists as well as add to worldbuilding and character development. As it goes on, they start to build up plotlines that eventually converge into the dramatic climax of the story.
One shouldn’t dismiss how powerful Gintama can be despite being a comedy, there are many recurrent themes in the story such as confronting one’s past, learning that one can have a family even without blood relations, that no matter how low you feel, there’s always someone that still loves you and wants to see you again. After sticking with these lovable buffoons for so long, watching them struggle and facing such conflicts hits hard, and reminds me of how great the pay off can be when watching long-running anime.
These don’t come without its flaws though, and they are more tangible to argue than the comedy where it’s more often “this is funny, this isn’t”. Gintama has a tendency to “over-redeem” its antagonists by giving them sad backstories before their defeats, same goes for characters that we have never seen that are given dramatic spotlights that makes it hard to care. And one could argue that in the final parts you could really notice that Sorachi really didn’t have most of this plot in mind before because it pulls lots of new stuff that suddenly takes big importance.
Whether you’re into these parts or not, one also has to remember that Gintama is a comedy first and foremost and shouldn’t be approached only for its serious moments. Many fans can agree that in the long run, the comedy was always the better part. And one point near the end, Gintama becomes almost devoid of comedy and its serious arc after another, causing division among fans. But these serious arcs deliver the emotional punches and without them you miss a lot of depth of the characters, but you also wouldn’t appreciate them without their humorous moments. This whole package is what keeps the journey going on.
Make an anime so anybody can tell which is it by its silhouetteI have always believed that comedy is the most subjective genre out there. What you find funny may not be funny for someone else and most of the time can’t exactly explain why, yet I’ll try my best to explain it.
Gintama is very known for its “lol random XD” style along with lots of toilet humor (jokes about poop, piss, and other gross stuff). I have seen more than 600 anime with around 400 having the comedy tag (some anime shouldn’t have it but w/e), but there isn’t anything like Gintama’s humor. I look at all the comedies I have seen that are filled to the brim with high school settings, fantasies, romcoms, and teenagers. While I don’t really complain as I do devour them a lot, Gintama stands out like a sore thumb in this genre as it attempts things that you wouldn’t expect to see anywhere else.
One of the most famous aspects of Gintama is how it breaks the 4th wall. Heck, there is no 4th wall in Gintama, that thing was nuked since day 1. Here you have filler episodes explaining why it is necessary to make filler. Directly telling you they’re on verge of cancellation. They tell you an episode will be 5 minutes of a still frame because they send people on vaction. They literally call their editosupervisor dumb. Characters fight over their placement in popularity polls and even put the author on trial for his colossal fuck ups.
Maybe I haven’t seen enough Shaft anime from the 2000s but Gintama is an unique anime when it comes to its meta humor. It is hard to think of some things as “flaws” when they literally tell you they are flaws and you wonder if it is intentional. Gintama has some issues like forgetting character motivations, worldbuilding aspects and other developments in the long run but then they go and say “Yo, this thing was forgotten, the author is dumb retarded” or “We have gotten complaints that many don’t know what Gintama’s end goal is…well we don’t know either” and use these flaws to create more jokes. Even while I believe there are some flaws here and there, I give props to them for embracing that awareness to create an unforgettable experience.
The modernized Edo is a setting that really feels like a work of passion. Before writing Gintama, Sorachi constantly changed the story, but he always knew that he wanted to keep the feudal Japan style and one can see how much he wanted to show it. Every building and background is kept in this mix of feudal-modern look, with background characters always wearing kimono and traditional clothes. It makes for a very charming and unique, yet simple look that I was attracted to since I watched it for the first time.
Like I previously said, some elements at least in my opinion feel forgotten for a long time. For example, Amanto are often shown at the start but nowhere to be seen in the middle parts, or does anyone remember when cars could fly? But while some aspects are forgotten, Gintama doesn’t hesitate to exploit this flexible setting to create all sorts of ridiculous scenarios. Aliens transforming body parts into screwdrivers to fix a PSP, making an entire arc about fanbases fighting over an idol, or sticking to the simple stuff like sending love letters. The sky is the limit in the world of Gintama.
Cast and character interactions
Can’t believe it took this long to get here but this is the meat of what Gintama has to offer. A big, diverse and energetic cast of characters making up its hilarious scenarios, this section could easily be an essay of its own but for sake of keeping word limit I won’t get into specific characters.
Gintama is (in)famous for its rather slow start where they introduce many characters slowly, but it pays off as you see the many chemistries that characters can have with each other, making for a very vivid and energetic feeling. One goes from “Who is this guy that just showed up” to “Hell yeah, he showed up!” because you can’t wait to see what he brings with his antics.
Gintama characters, as so often happens in comedies, have their general joke that will be used often, but it all depends on the situation and who they are with. You have Gintoki that is usually a lazy bum doing whatever he wants but his character adapts to who he is with. Banter with his rival Hijikata, being buddies with the homeless Hasegawa, being a father figure for Kagura who has her family away, etc. And every character also has their own way of interacting with Gintoki and everyone else as well. This makes character interactions be much more than just a mesh of archetypes.
And something that I personally love is that the cast fits into the trope of “World of jerkass”. While most characters are good people deep within, they are shallow and selfish on the surface, making good material for ridiculous scenarios that can backfire spectacularly. The Yorozura are asked to save the world? Too dangerous, but what if they were to meet hot girls and make tons of money? Sign them up! Two characters are found in a problematic situation? You bet someone will backstab someone for personal gain, perhaps both will actually try to. A problem can be solved by dialogue to reach a fair conclusion? Fuck you, I got mine.
If you ever wondered how Gintama is able to keep a comedy going for so long, this cast is the main key. The cast is the main reason I gave it more of a chance despite many jokes not getting me. But I liked their designs and personalities, and not to mention that many early episodes threw bits of backstories that made them feel more interesting and always wanted to learn more. I felt that if given time, they could make for a great cast. And this brings me to the next point.
Gintama had already bloomed a long time agoWhat is the purpose of life? What is at the end of the universe? When does Gintama get good?
In the community there exist mindsets when it comes to consuming new anime such as the 3-episode rule or another that I call one-episode-or-bust. Both with valid arguments, but both agree that the start of an anime is important. It’s when an anime must try to hook the viewer in. But if you have ever been, or seen someone interested in Gintama, you often see people say “It has a slow start”, “Give it till episode X”, or “it clicked for me here” as if it was an exception.
While putting so much time is indeed ludicrous, I do firmly believe that Gintama is something that improved itself as it went on, and that it indeed got better at playing its cards as it went on. My main takes on that matter are the next:
- Slow introduction: The cast of Gintama is made of more than 10 characters and it does take its time introducing them as well as spending time into worldbuilding (that will absolutely be relevant later on). An issue that I saw with each introduction is that the chemistry that I praised so much hadn’t developed yet, many times a throwaway character in the episode is “forced” to take part in the banter with the protagonists which just...doesn’t work. I also previously mentioned how characters do have an archetype, and an issue in some debuts is that the jokes can run out of steam fast (this is an issue for episodes that only revolve around one or two characters all-throughout). This might seem contradictory to my statement that they can last for hundreds of episodes, but remember not all characters appear every episode. Having a character not appear for several episodes works marvels so that they don’t feel too milked out.
- The “Odd Jobs quest” episodes: The synopsis did say that we follow the Yorozura in their odd jobs business, but a flaw I see in this formula is similar to the previous point. We are usually introduced to a throwaway character that just doesn’t fit the chemistry as well as other side characters, and oftentimes they are given a dramatic moment that most of the time falls flat because it is someone you barely know. This problem extends not only to single episodes, but entire arcs as well. Someone unknown is given the spotlight whom we will never see again. This formula however was used less and less giving way to my next point.
- Using its cast and chemistries better: At this point there isn’t anything I haven’t already said about how good character interactions are in Gintama, but I do feel that it needed to be pointed out that this is something that slowly evolves despite sounding like a basic thing to do in a comedy. The previous formula that I explained started to be replaced with more sitcom-esque scenarios of “dumb shit happens” where this aspect shines more. Going to the pool to meet X and Y characters, playing a video game and find out A and B are fans of the game too, etc.
- Higher abundance of arcs: Gintama is a slow burn and many people recommend not to binge it at the start for the episodic formula that I explained earlier. But as it goes on, we have more and more arcs (both comedic and serious). These arcs have a central plot that keeps the viewer more engaged than the standalone episodes and make for a more bingeable experience.
Reviewing anime really is a pain. In short, living is a pain... I want to become a cheeseburgerI hoped to give a more serious insight on what Gintama is about and what to expect from it. Time after time, I see people just try to sell the anime with clips (that may honestly work better) and the promise that “it gets better” without going very deep into it, and I simply myself just haven’t seen many reviews of Gintama around here in years.
This review also isn’t meant to “absolve” or excuse the anime from its problems. As random and insane as it gets, one can still properly analyze it. It has its own way of creating great humor and good emotional moments, but can also has its faults at being too cheesy sometimes and is prone to exploit some gags too much.
Many people may easily be overhyped (or annoyed) when they see these clips and see it dominate the MAL rankings, or just be hesitant because it's too long of an investment. This is a legitimate issue that varies from person to person but I do think that long-running shows can have great payoff, and compared to the seasonal comedies we get, Gintama’s early episodes are worth it.
I made that investment. and while it was indeed slow and rough at times, today I can confidently say that Gintama is one the best experiences I have had in all media.