Monday, January 3, 2011

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei by Koji Kumeta

What do you get when you mix a suicidal middle school teacher with a class full of unusual students who run the range from cyber-bully to stalker to illegal immigrant? A lot of amusing situations, mixed with more serious ones. Some are in the classroom and others take place outside as the teacher is sent out to help his students. One of my favorite parts was about a girl who had become a shut-in and refused to leave her home.  The teacher and one of his students convince her to come to the school, but she then decides not to leave and wants to live in the school.

Many of the situations are highly improbable, but amusing. This is very much a cultural satire and pokes fun at many manga stereotypes as well. (For example, the cyber-bully tells one girl "UR just a panty character, so flash em already." This girl appears in nearly every chapter with her short skirt fluttering.) I found myself giggling several times at the highly dramatic dialogue and character stereotypes successfully being played for laughs.

The art really stands out. It is bold and almost modern-art looking, with some fun visual elements that resemble traditional asian art. The layout is really nice; clearly showing the reader where to go, but never dull. The author isn't afraid to step his characters outside the boundaries of the panels or use unusual shapes and design, which is nicely complimented with most of the base panels being well-spaced and not too crowded with action.

Since most Americans aren't very familiar with Japan's cultural references and most of the wordplay is lost in translation, there is a very handy guide to the references.

4 Stars

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