Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei Vol. #05 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Repeated gags alone do not a comedy make
Writer/Artist: Koji Kumeta
Translation: David Ury
Adaptation: David Ury
What They Say
Zetsubou-sensei has won a trip to a hot spring, but when he finds several of his students there in the bubbling pools, he launches into a tirade about the evils of detoxing. To Zetsubou-sensei, detoxing is a metaphor for sanitizing the world of the very complexities and idiosyncrasies that define it. So put down that bar of soap and pick up volume 5 of Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei.
In my review of the last volume of Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei, I was struck by how generally entertaining the jokes were in spite of the frequent references to Japanese culture or puns; while these sorts of things might very well read wonderfully in their native country, they generally don't translate (literally or figuratively) for audiences who haven't lived immersed in that specific language or culture. Unfortunately, the fifth volume of Zetsubou-sensei is far less successful in breaking free from the constraints of gag- and pun-heavy manga; if anything, it's a shining example of how badly things can go wrong when bringing heavily culture-dependent humor over into another language.
Like with last volume, the unfunny bits can be chalked up to basically two factors. On the one hand, a huge number of the jokes in this volume -- even more than last time -- depend on uniquely Japanese puns that make virtually no sense outside of that context (and barely make any sense even when provided context by the translation notes). Whether this should truly be seen as a strike against the source material is a more philosophical question; after all, the series was created with a Japanese audience in mind, and it's not exactly reasonable to expect Kumeta to anticipate the fact that Zetsubou-sensei would be shipped off to America years later. But the end result -- that I, the American reader, am slogging through pages upon pages of characters cracking obscure jokes about their "minotake" or "snow melting away" without getting anything out of them -- is hard to ignore, regardless of whether the fault lies with Kumeta for over-relying on cultural jokes in this volume or with the reader for not knowing enough about the Japanese language to "get" them.
(Curiously, the cultural notes are thinner in this volume than last time, at "only" ten pages. Numerous times I found myself looking back to the endnotes for an explanation of one of the cultural references, only to find nothing of use.)
The other place where the humor fails -- and something I have no problem blaming Kumeta for -- is the series's frequent re-use of running gags far past the point of being funny. For example, one chapter here deals with Zetsubou's students detoxing at a hot springs; the joke about how they become bland, even-tempered people after detoxing is amusing for a bit, but winds up being the focus of the entire chapter. Another has a girl getting away with pranks because people think she's too obvious of a suspect for it to be true, which stops being clever after the first couple of horribly antisocial crimes she commits. Although these are two of the most egregious examples in this volume, they're far from the only ones; and in this volume's case, without many universally-funny gags to compensate, they're much more annoying.
I'll give credit where credit's due, though: I did laugh out loud at a couple moments of inspired genius where Zetsubou's class takes a ... let's say ... unconventional approach to making sure their series isn't accused of plagiarism.
One of the side effects of Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei's format is that readers can more or less skip entire volumes with impunity. Because of the heavily culture-specific flavor of many of the stories in Volume 5 -- and the beaten-over-the-head comedic approach of the rest -- this would be a good time for most readers to take advantage of that option.
Mania Grade: C
Art Rating: B
Packaging Rating: A
Text/Translation Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Released By: Del Rey
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei