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Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei 1: The Power of Negative Thinking Paperback – February 24, 2009
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From School Library Journal
Grade 10 Up—This award-winning series makes its first appearance in English. Kumeta utilizes satire and dark humor to bring to life Zetsubou, whose name, when written horizontally, means "despair." He is a high school teacher intent on killing himself. Each of his attempts is thwarted by Kafuka, the most optimistic girl in the world. Each of the saves, however, nearly kills Zetsubou, and he shouts, "I could have died," leading Kafuka to believe that he truly wants to live. Zetsubou is assigned to investigate odd situations with his students, which include a girl who refuses to leave her house and another who appears to be getting abused at home (but turns out to be fighting animals in her spare time). Kafuka accompanies him and tries to find the positive in every situation. Over-the-top characters, including a student returning from study abroad, whose sole role is stated to be showing her panties, and subtle satire make this title best suited to older high school students, who are most likely to understand some of the humor. The story is told in a student-by-student/case-by-case basis, but the suicide attempts and other continuing subplots do work their way through the individual chapters. The artwork is simple with few details and leaves something to be desired, but it does its job in this quick read. Sayonara is a suitable purchase for libraries with generous graphic novel budgets.—Sarah Krygier, Fairfield Civic Center Library, CA
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Top Customer Reviews
Kumeta-sensei excels in biting satire of Japanese society and the world at large. While some of the jokes will be obvious to the American readers (such as the one about naming rights - a sports arena near me has changed its name four times in the last ten years), others will be more difficult to comprehend unless one is more familiar with Japanese society. This isn't a manga for everyone. Readers who don't like very dark humor will not find this funny at all. I would recommend it to those who already know a little about Japanese literature, pop-culture, family and school life, etc. The more one knows, the greater the fun derived from reading this series.
That said, the notes in the back of the volume help a lot. They are detailed and cover much of what needs to be explained. They do not always fully clarify the puns related to characters' names and such, but I am still grateful to the translator/editor for providing them. The background signs in the drawings themselves are not always translated either, with a note that to do so would disturb the artistic integrity of the pages. While I agree with that somewhat, I still wish I knew what all of them say. I suppose that's another incentive to learn more kanji.
"Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei" revolves around one young, eccentric teacher Nozomu Itoshiki. Always depressed and thinking of dying (that's what he says, anyway, and he has a guidebook for that purpose), Mr. Itoshiki is actually a good teacher, well, a much better teacher than you might imagine, for these unique (mostly girl) students in his class including Miss Kahuka (her penname), the most optimistic girl in the world, and the stalker student, a "shut-in" student, and a very shy student who keeps sending poisonous email, and....
The comic started in 2005 and has been serialized in "Weekly Shonen Magazine" since then. The unpredictable comedy is based on the characters' exaggeratedly eccentric behaviors, which often lead to unexpected and hilarious results, but the comedy also heavily relies on the parodies and pop culture references. As more than four years have elapsed since the first publication of the series, some of the gags are now obscure, hard to understand even for Japanese readers. Fortunately there are many jokes and the character-driven story never lets up ... and all the girls are charming and funny ... in their own peculiar ways.
Manga artist Koji Kumeta has created a very unique world in which old-fashioned Japanese culture such as kimono costumes and old wood school buildings co-exist with modern technologies like cell phones and pop culture references. His illustrations are meticulously drawn and not a single space is neglected. Sometimes jokes are crammed into such small spaces as TV screen or newspapers the character is casually watching.
[TRANSLATION] This means that translation is virtually impossible. I was truly surprised at the decision of Del Ray to publish the English edition because their job must have been extremely a tough one. Though I disagree with some of the words they chose (I think it is "National Team of Japan" not "Representative"), English translation is very good as a whole. Del Ray's book has also a 12-page translation notes explaining some of the obscure references to Japanese culture.
[NAMES] Most characters have strange names. I never met someone with a name like "Itoshiki," which is part of the comic's jokes. The fact is most character names are puns which are often very silly read in original Japanese. For example: the timid girl's name Meru Otonashi means "Silent Mail"; Chiri Kitsu means "Exactly"; Kaere Kimura means "Go Home, Kimura" and is also a joke on Japanese pop singer's name Kaera Kimura; Abiru Kobushi means "Get Hit with a Knuckle"; Kiri Komori means "Always Confined"; Tsunetsuki Matoi means "Eternally Stalking"; "Nami Hitou" means "Ordinary" and so on.
Volume 17 of the comic has already been released in Japan (May, 2009), proof of the popularity of the comic. I sincerely hope that Del Ray will keep publishing the book, but you may not find "Zetsubou Sensei" as funny as I do for the reasons I explained above. I believe it is worth a try, though, for the delightfully strange characters you will meet in the book.
The manga itself is great. I liked the zany characters and the strange sense of humor. The characters drive the comedy, and they are an odd bunch. All of them are extreme in some kind of way- extremely depressive, extremely happy, extremely neat, etc. It could be zany, but a lot of the humor is understated, which I appreciate. If you like dark comedy, you'll like this. I was especially impressed by the comedic timing here.
There isn't much of a plot, but that's because it's slice-of-life. The art work was simple, but I liked it. It's not extraordinary, but it is distinct. Both the plot and the art are fine as they are.
The problem here is with the translation. The English is fine, but there are too many jokes about Japanese pop-culture. Sometimes I could almost sense the question mark floating over my head. At one point, the translator muses that even Japanese audiences are probably baffled by some references. If that's so, then we America-jin don't stand a chance.
There are comprehensive notes in the back, but when you have to pause and read a cultural note to get the joke, the humor is lost. There were several instances where I felt the translators could have substituted a reference that would have been more recognizable to Western readers. Also, there were too many unnecessary notes, such as translations of signs in the background. They cluttered up the pages, and I sometimes had trouble finding the note I was looking for.
Manga fans often complain that changing cultural references makes the translation less authentic, but there needs to be a balance between aunthenticity and accessibility. The job of a translator is to try to give the reader the same experience as the overseas audience, and that means making some changes. This manga has lots of funny bits that are easily understood in any culture, but most of the ones dependent upon culture references left me flat. It's kind of hit and miss. All in all, I'd say that this is a great manga that needs a better translation.