Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei Vol. #04 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, August 06, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Even holidays are no match for Zetsubou's despair
Writer/Artist: Kouji Kumeta
Translation: Joyce Aurino
Adaptation: Joyce Aurino
What They Say
Suicidally depressed high school teacher Zetsubou-sensei, a man for whom the light at the end of the tunnel is the coroner inspecting his glazed eyes, continues his attempt to endure life's suffering while teaching a classful of cute girls. Will Kafuka Fuura, the most optimistic teenager on earth, ever convince her beloved sensei to look on the bright side of life? Or will Zetsubou and his students end up lobotomized and starving in a third-world dictatorship? All this, plus a Zetsubou-sensei Christmas!
When I was given the chance to start reviewing Zetsubou-sensei from Volume 4, I took the opportunity not knowing a whole lot about the series beyond its vague reputation. I was basically coming in blind (the earlier volumes having eternally languished on my personal "to buy at some point" list) but liked what I'd heard about the series's content: a suicidal teacher, loads of black comedy, and for some inexplicable reason a whole flood of translator's notes. All this sounded pretty appealing to my tastes.
Having now read through a couple of volumes, I can honestly say that this is ... not what I expected. At all. Not that this mismatch of expectation and reality necessarily turned out to be a bad thing in this case -- as far as gag- and pun-heavy comedies go, Zetsubou-sensei is a surprisingly entertaining entry into a genre that I've found otherwise tends to fall apart under translation and adaptation into English.
It probably helps that Volume 4 is front-loaded with entertaining material; after a passable chapter where Zetsubou reflects on being part of society's dregs, Kumeta shifts to a hilariously demented storyline where Zetsubou's class tries to end Christmastime-related suffering by protesting the (ahem) activities at a love hotel and subsequently setting up a "suffering tree" to kill the mood. The follow-up chapter is equally entertaining for a lot of the same reasons, which revolve around Chiri relying on increasingly unethical methods to fill up the dead space in Zetsubou's apartment; a slightly later chapter earned as many laughs when Zetsubou decided to win society's eternal sympathy by becoming a career student, a lifestyle that's more familiar to me than I should probably admit. There's a universal appeal to the best of these jokes that I haven't seen a whole lot in this style of comedy manga; so while, say, only a handful of readers outside of Japan would understand the "kurushimimasu tree" pun without the explanatory endnotes, the follow-up gag about stringing up annoying people like ornaments pretty much transcends cultural barriers.
Of course, as with any series that's so heavily invested in cultural jokes -- 15 pages of translation notes' worth! -- the humor is frequently hit-or-miss, with a few chapters eliciting more blank stares than laughs. Admittedly, there's one case where I'm willing to give an especially weak chapter the benefit of the doubt: a story where Maria goes around hitting people who say stupid things might've been funnier if I'd been more familiar with the Japanese comedy tropes that inspired her rampage. But for the most part, the misses come from a basic failure on Kumeta's part to recognize when running gags stopped being funny five pages ago, such as when entire chapters are dedicated to people getting second opinions or stuffing their mouths with sushi rolls.
Quite a few strong chapters make this an enjoyable read overall, if not a completely consistent one.
Mania Grade: B
Art Rating: B
Packaging Rating: A
Text/Translation Rating: A
Age Rating: 16 and Up
Released By: Del Rey
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei