The Symptoms of a Sick Shounen

I like shounen manga. Maybe not as much as I used to, but quite a chunk of what I watch/read can be classified under that. It’s the most common type of manga and is commonly derided as being lame and retarded. But that’s only because it is sick. With the Shounen Sickness (SS). Not all shounen manga are sick with SS. We have One Piece, Bleach, D-Gray man, FMA etc which are all fine series. Then. there are the mildly afflicted ones, like Naruto and the severely life-threateningly sick. What are the symptoms of SS? Let the case studies below demonstrate.

Firstly, there’s the never-ending cycle of guy1 beats guy2, guy2 says, "You amuse me. I shall show you my true power now." Then guy2 beats guy1 up, guy1 says, "Is that all you got? I shall show you my true power now." and beats guy2 up. guy2 now says, "Actually, I was only using 50% of my power. I shall show you my true power now." before beating up guy1. Repeat till there’s space for a 2 page spread of a winning super move. This is extremely annoying and I curse and swear when this happens. The biggest culprit? Samurai Deeper Kyo. I can’t even remember exactly how many books there are, but I swear the above situation has happened over 20530383 times. Utter rubbish.

Attack Monsters!
In super moves, besides the customary move name shout, sick shounen will always have metaphorical beasts in the background. This can actually be good if used in the correct way. But no, like cocaine, people just have to abuse it. Who’s guilty? Air Gear, Samurai Deeper Kyo, Eyeshield 21, Get Backers. Phoenixes, dragons, Poseidons, Serpents, Crows, Sharks whatever, we’ve seen them all. Takahashi Rumiko is one artist who uses this to good effect. In the Shishihoukoudan and Herb arcs of the Ranma 1/2 series in particular, we see tigers and dragons once in a while faint in the background that actually subconsciously make the reader feel the power of the characters. Compare this to Oh!great’s crows that appear when Itsuki does a supermove. The crows replace the character totally. One of the on-looking characters even said something like, "Wow look at the image of the crow he projected!", to which another replied, "Oh that’s nothing. It’ll get clearer as he goes stronger." Now, before this scene, NO ONE HAS EVER MENTIONED THAT USING INLINE SKATES AND ATTACKING POWERFULLY SUMMONS MYTHICAL GIANT BEASTS. One can only think of the word bullshit. At least Air Gear has great art.

Cancerous Power Levels
This is a symptom typical of shounen. As shounen manga are normally about getting stronger, for the show to go on, the good guys must continue to face challenges. That leaves 2 solutions - the enemies become stronger, or the heroes become weaker. The first is the more common option, and is normally the lesser evil of the two. The second, if presented carelessly, just comes across as lame. Example: Bleach fillers, where Ichigo loses his Bankai and Shuppo just because Rin is "cute". But if done right, a weakened hero can make things interesting. Example: Kenshin in the final arc of Rurouni Kenshin. In most cases, enemies get stronger. So here lies the problem. The seesawing of power balance becomes tedious, as the good guys tend to always gain new moves or awaken hidden beasts deep inside them. A good shounen manga would have its main character defeat enemies not through new skills, but utilising existing skills creatively. That would then slow down the powergaining. Another problem was that the constant introduction of high power levels makes the earlier enemies seem like retarded boasting fools. This is a big problem if earlier bosses were presented as "big bad guy". An example of a manga that tried to prevent earlier villians from fizzling out was the Flame of Recca manga. It’s a good manga, but after Recca defeated Kurei midway through the story, he was not given a single difficult fight till the final boss. He was too powerful, since Kurei himself is mega powerful. On the other hand, Dragonball just introduces new worlds where even bigger, badder enemies appear out of nowhere and the older baddies are all dead. One Piece is dangerously doing the same, made obvious thanks to the bounty system. If Luffy’s 1000000000 bounty shocks all in the OP world, then there aren’t that many people stronger than him.

 The Infinite Comrade
This is when the good guys are pacifists or charming people who defeat the bad guys and gain their respect. The bad guys turn good and join them, so the group gets bigger. Which means the next battle would need more enemies so they can have 1 v 1s. And the vicious cycle continues infinitely. Here’s what happens in sick manga like Get Backers, Naruto, Kyo and Rave.

  1. Main character beats 1 and gains his respect. Enemy joins the party and fights alongside Maincharacter (MC).
  2. MC and E1 fight E2 and E3.
  3. E2 and E3 join.
  4. MC, E1-3 fight E4-8.
  5. E4-8 join.
  6. MC, E1-8 fight E9-17.

and so on. By the end of the story, every fight gets 2 seconds because there just isn’t enough time to go through all the fights.

The Undead
Shounen manga main characters never die. Unless they are old and have finished teaching the youngsters. If you gain main character status, either through the artist’s decision or by popular demand, you’re set for life on that manga. No worries about nuisances like death, cannon fire, millions of tiny sakura-like zanpakutous or bleeding to death. Hey injuries actually make you stronger in shounen! Brings out the inner beast, these pesky blood-letting outlets. Frankly, this is what irks me most. I enjoy a good battle most and the fact that characters don’t die is just like playing Warcraft with "It’s a good day to die" mode on. No suspense and fear at all. Death is what makes a battle exciting. High stakes gambling always pwns a free game. I knew Renji wasn’t going to die, even if he was minced up by Senbonzakura. Just knowing that he isn’t dying makes all his lines before his final attack irrelevant and rubbish. To make matters worse, he rests a bit and gets back into the fight after… a few chapters. I’m a lot more interested in manga like Gantz, Vagabond and Gunslinger Girl thanks to their brutal, ruthless battle scenes. Characters can be happily chatting one frame, and dead the next from a sniper/marauding Buddha. Such unpredictibility injects pure suspense and intensity into the fighting, to the extent of me sometimes trembling and getting nervous while reading.

The Tournament
This is mainly an old symptom, a relic of the 1990s. Back then, every shounen manga had a tournament. Tournaments are an easy way for 1 v 1 battles to take place, with audience cheering. What’s the point of having cool fights if no one’s there to be impressed right? Unfortunately, dear Anzai Nobuyuki who gave us the great Flame of Recca has really outdone himself. Negatively. MAR is all about the tournament, except he pushes it to the extreme. No preparation or character building, nothing is shown outside of the fights, it’s just fight, win, fight, lose, train, fight, win etc. Why have boring training sessions? Just dump all the characters inside another dimension where they can train as long as they like without the nuisance of limited time. MAR is an acute sufferer of SS.

5 Responses to “The Symptoms of a Sick Shounen”  

  1. 1 Anga

    Nice, that pretty much include all reasons why i skip almost completely all shounen titles nowadays. It feels i am watching same thing over and over again.

  2. 2 deftoned

    I applaud this post!! This is percisly why most shonen action series bore me to death.

  3. 3 tj_han86

    I would like to clarify that I do like good shounen. Just not bad ones. The biggest problem that shounen stuff have is the overused formulas in their vain attempts to be hits rather than a good manga.

  4. 4 kwok

    Why do you think I don’t read shounen?

    Leave the mainstream and join the dark side boy.

  5. 5 Saria

    Oh, awesome! I was thinking of writing a post similar to this when writing a review of Bleach. I know where I’M linking to! :O

    Great work.

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