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“What if I had died?”
Kafuka Fura is a high school girl with a supremely positive attitude to life. So when, as she’s walking to school through the cherry blossoms, she comes across a man trying to hang himself, her first action is to stop him. He’s not best pleased, especially as her optimistic view of the world makes it impossible to understand his despairing state of mind. “What if I had died?” he demands. “You didn’t really want to die,” she comes back at him, brimming with confidence. “You were trying to be taller.”
So imagine her surprise (and his) when the two (‘who should not have met’) meet again in Class 2-F where Nozomu Itoshiki (Mr. Despair) announces himself as her new homeroom teacher. The chapters that follow introduce us to the students of 2-F: Hikikomori (Shut-in) Girl, Kiri Komori; Super-Love-Obsessed Stalker Girl, Matoi Tsunetsuki; bandaged Abiru Kobushi, thought to be the victim of domestic violence; Meru Otonashi, Poison Email Girl, etc. etc.
In some ways, the most poignantly amusing chapter is #10 ‘This Class Has Many Problems, Please Understand.’ Nami Hitou suffers the label ‘Ordinary Girl,’ which she doesn’t appreciate in the least (especially after a quick summary of the everyday use of the term, which is, let’s face it, rarely complimentary.) And if there’s an ongoing narrative thread, it has to be: will Zetsubou-sensei manage to transform the lives of the students of 2-F with his special brand of negative thinking before he finds the perfect place to commit suicide?
The first volume of ‘Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei’ (‘Goodbye, Mr. Despair’) comes much-heralded, especially as Del Rey are the first publishers to bring out Koji Kumeta’s work in English. And what a challenge it must have been for Joyce Aurino to translate and adapt, as it’s filled with puns and cultural associations; those helpful Del Rey Translation Notes have rarely been more useful or informative. How else could we understand that Bilingual Girl Kaere’s name also means ‘leave, go back, or return’ or that Fusafusa can be a way to read the numbers 2-3-2-3 or can mean ‘fluffy;’ there’s so much to learn…
Koji Kumeta’s artwork is a joy: his distinctive style is deceptively simple and starkly inked. The full page chapter headings are stylish and striking, evoking traditional Japanese woodcuts, with chapter titles borrowed from original Japanese literature, such as ‘Beyond the Tunnel Was Whiteness’ which is a line from ‘Yukiguni’ (‘Snow Country’) by Yasunari Kawabata. (And how do I know this? Because the wonderful Del Rey Translation Notes explain the many references that those of us not yet well-versed enough in Japanese can learn from!)
As each chapter introduces a member of Class 2-F and their unique personality trait, this first volume is inevitably episodic in construction. There is, of course, an anime TV series (not yet available over here, natch) but on the strength of this first volume, I imagine it would have to be extremely well made to improve on the off-beat humour, clever pacing, and striking artwork of the original black-and-white manga.
The wickedly dry humour in this manga comes from following the remarkable success of Itoshiki-sensei’s negative influence on the unusual personalities in his class – and his remarkable lack of success in repeatedly attempting to commit suicide. In spite of the episodic narrative, there’s plenty to amuse the mind and delight the eye; more, please!
|Score:||8 out of 10|
|Date Published:||Sun, 26 Apr 2009|