The Clash of Civilizations
Eyeshield 21 v7-12
Story by Riichiro Inagaki
Art by Yusuke Murata
Translation by Allison Markin Powell
Lettering and retouch by James Gaubatz
Edited by Frances E. Wall (#7-9) & Yuki Takagaki (#10-12)
The second year of Eyeshield 21 picks up right where the first year left off — with the Deimon Devil Bats about to do battle with a visiting American team. To make matters worse, Hiruma makes a bet with the American coach — if the winning team doesn't win by ten or more points, they'll be exiled from their home country. The resulting battle is epic — and while I won't give away the final score, neither team covers the spread and the Devil Bats wind up having to leave Japan for America. It's in America, the team undergoes the typical sports manga "special training" in the form a hellish "death march" from Houston to Las Vegas, only to return to Japan for the start of the fall tournament and their first opponent — a team that's scientifically analyzed all their strengths and weaknesses!
Along the way, Sena and Monta try to figure out what happened to the Devil Bats' old kicker; the Devil Bats befriend the visiting American team with a night of (underage) drinking; the visiting American coach is forced to confront how his virulent racism has hurt his team in the long run; the short-handed Devil Bats team up with the Wild Gunmen to enter a beach football tournament; and Sena accidentally tries out for an NFL team (and makes the cut!).
The number of new players slows (you can only have so many main characters, after all), but they do pick up a tight end (Natsuhiko Taki), a cheerleader (Suzuna), and a coach (Doboruku) on their trip to America. On the other hand, the number of weird new opponents starts to accelerate. New teams include the NASA Aliens (the visiting American team alluded to in the last review), the Bando Spiders (an all-kicking team), the Amino Cyborgs (the sports medicine team), the Sankaku Punks, the Yuhi Guts, the Hashiratani Deer, the ultra-tall Kyoshin Poseidons, and several unbelievable beach football teams.
There's a noticeable slowing of the pace in these volumes — there are fewer football games overall and a lot more extracurricular activities. But Riichiro Inagaki manages to keep everything light and entertaining, and the slowdown is mild compared to the sophomore years of many other Shonen Jump series. The last few volumes do introduce a tournament — one of the great all-purpose time killers — but it's wholly appropriate for a sports manga.
At their core, characters remain unchanged, but there are attempts to humanize them to increase their dramatic possibilities (Hiruma, for instance, is still devious schemer but shows a softer, more vulnerable side when nobody's around). Only a small handful of characters are transformed to the point where they lose their comedic edge — Jumonji, for instance, goes from being a punk to being one of the most dedicated members of the team, and Mamori's overprotectiveness mellows into more typical managerial oversight. But if Inagaki really needs an over the top comedic personality, he can always focus on the characters from opposing teams...
Artistically, Yusuke Murata completely abandons his earlier attempts at realism for a spare, stripped-down cartoony style. For a couple of characters, like Kurita, the change is for the best...
This is a definite improvement over the first attempts at a pseudo-realistic Kurita, which clashed with his totally unrealistic body style and were hideously unappealing as a result. The stripped-down style also allows Murata and his studio to draw more complicated compositions more quickly. Here's a diagram of blocking positions from volume 8 that shows the sort of wide-angle shot of the field that's totally absent from the first several volumes...
Murata also starts showing more of a shift towards metaphorical depictions of on-field maneuvers. For instance, there's the RPG-style shields around the blocking assignments in the panel above, and also the totally symbolic depiction of Sena's devastating new cross-over step, the "Devil Bat Ghost"...
Unfortunately, there's also a near-total disappearance of extreme exaggerations that dominated the football scenes during first year. In some cases, this can be attributed to Sena's growing confidence on the field making his opponents seem less monstrous, but for the most part it seems like a bit of time-saving measure. Fortunately, the overall improvements in the underdrawing and storytelling almost (but not quite) make up for the loss of those unique elements.
Overall, the second year of Eyeshield 21 does a great job of weathering the first stage of the "Shonen Jump slowdown," even if the art loses a bit of the edge that made the first volumes so unique. A nice diverting read. Tomorrow: Volumes 13-18!
The Shonen Jump Slowdown
I refer to the "Shonen Jump slowdown" a few times above so I figure I'd probably clarify what I mean. The first few volumes of a Shonen Jump series always seem to have more action going on than all of the subsequent volumes.
For the first year (six volumes or so) the creators are just trying to throw as much stuff out there as possible so that if they get canceled everything can be brought to a satisfying conclusion.
During the second year, the series has caught on and there's no need to move at such a rapid pace. Things are still moving forward, but the emphasis shifts from the overall plot to more general character development.
By the third year the series is a hit, but material needs to be churned out a furious pace to meet the needs of the SJ marketing machine and the creator is starting to run out of ideas. Fight scenes become longer, panel counts drop.
By the time the fourth year rolls around, the series has lost whatever original momentum it had and come to a dead stop. At this point, the series often does a "false ending," wrapping up its current storyline as quickly as possible and starting a faster-paced story to help retain reader interest. Of course, the new story eventually starts slowing down again...
Let's use Bleach as an example. In the first six volumes, there are lots of things going on — Ichigo gets his powers, fights armies of hollows, confronts a rival, and has to deal with the unexpected spiritual awakening of his friends. In volume seven, Rukia gets deported back Soul Society, and that plot dominates the second six volumes. Nothing is resolved, but the characters are still learning a lot about their own powers and how the Soul Society works. But after the twelfth volume, there's practically no forward movement on the plot. The fight scenes become longer and longer with less and less at stake, even as everyone's supernatural powers become more and more incredible. New characters are introduced at an incredible rate, but they're mostly red herrings that have nothing to do with the plot, thrown out there merely to slow down Ichigo. Then, in volume 21, the Soul Society story comes to an abrupt (and totally illogical ending) and we get a new status quo and a new set of enemies.
For some reason, this pattern really only seems endemic to weekly shonen manga, and is most pronounced in Shonen Jump — probably because it has the most aggressive multimedia marketing machine.
Am I the only person who sees this? Am I totally wrong here?