At the close of 2017, I was officially a full year behind on reading Weekly Shonen Jump, a crime against my past self and all possible future selves.
It's sort of hard to overstate what a lot of the material out of Jump means to my writing about comics, let alone my entire experience of the medium, so, let's just get going with stuff that hit me in the January issues alone.
When I was reading the Dressrosa arc of One Piece last year, I was also way, way behind in my reading. Weirdly, something about that arc made me feel like I was constantly behind, no matter what. I haven't felt like that during the current arc of Sanji's wedding, and while I think technically I came in earlier in the arrival at this particular island, a lot of it seems to have to do with the type of character's at hand.
Dressrosa was big and full of boisterous characters with rich stories, but the continual detour to explore Law (who, don't get me wrong, I adore) and Kyros made me feel like I was downloading stuff instead of going on a journey.
Big Mom and Germa do not feel this way.
Regardless of what I don't already know about Sanji's past or how Big Mom runs her kingdom, both of those things are just fucking brutal and between the design of Whole Cake Island, Big Mom's actions, and the actions of Germa, it was easy to get the feel of what's going on.
Oda is unfairly good at creating a mood with characters we've never met before because of his knack for expressions and ambiance, and that means that what he can do with the characters we know extremely well is on another level. The above sequence of Sanji trying in vain to light his cigarette over and over in the rain as he finds out his wedding is a sham is one of my favorite sequences in the history of the series. It's just crushing and beautiful.
The Promised Neverland
What the fuck can I even say about Promised Neverland? Most of the wacky things I've half-heard since I fell way behind are things I don't think I've even read yet, and yet the twist at the end of March/beginning of April blew my head out the back of my skull. When this series started I predicted it would run for a long time and was recommending it to people long before it gained the traction it has now. I'm thrilled to see how it's exceeded my expectations (2 million tankobons in print as of October of last year!!).
When I took this screenshot and realized that the series was only at chapter 21 at the beginning of the year, I kind of did a double-take. It's astounding how much this series manages to pack into a single chapter. A large part of that is obviously its verbosity, but that verbosity compared to other series is deceiving: just because they talk a bunch and it's all very cerebral doesn't mean they're actually just droning on any more than the other series that are running, especially when there was a time Naruto would talk for like, six fucking chapters in the middle of a fight.
Promised Neverland isn't just wordy, though: it's got layers. Writer Shirai Kaiu
illustrator Demizu Posuka are equal parts of this equation, and there aren't many other writer-artist teams that I want to see the process of more. The above page is the equivalent of a battle in a lot of other manga, and this is a major exchange with momentum of its own, a resolution of its own, intrigue of its own, and all of this is not only a major plot point of its own, but it ends up being a bit of direct foreshadowing. The pacing and execution in individual pages, individual issues, and its entire arc are in such an alarming amount of harmony.
I... really, really identify with the struggles of Soma's father, Joichiro. One does not need to be a once in a generation talent to get way too into something--a technical study, a literary or philosophical subject, an art--and go so far down the rabbit hole so quickly and intensely that one day you look up and you don't understand who you are, why you're there, or--importantly--what to do next. To have and hold a purpose so intensely is so often a painful thing specifically because it often leads to a loss of purpose. It just... fries those circuits.
Writer Tsukuda Yuto and illustrator Saeki Shun have this way of depicting these kinds of serious things in heavy-handed, melodramatic fashion. My personal favorite was the time Soma was learning about the intricacies of bear meat and there were all these really cheesy, lifelike renderings of bears all over the chapter.
But Joichiro's struggle is depicted as above, him hiking into the unknown in harsh conditions. For how plodding these pages are (the one on the right is most illustrative of this style), the nuanced transition back into the real world hits me so hard! "So tomorrow's the big day." stated flatly in an empty panel. His struggle is so dramatic, so fully-rendered and fleshed out, and the mere fact of him having an important life event the next day:
The arc in which the Black Clover crew find themsevles in the witch forest was easily the most plot-heavy to date, introducting a lot of new characters and new myth to go with them, as well as to flesh out a world that still really feels like it has a gaping hole in it.
I can't put my finger on it, and I'm hoping that regularly reading the series again will give me some hint, but despite getting an anime, mangaka Tabata Yuki's fairly-straight-shooting Shonen tale constantly makes me feel like something's missing. All the filler "we're on vacation!" chapters in between major fights feel exactly the same to me! Asta's power (the main character is a rare non-magic user in a world full of magic users but he has an incredibly powerful sword that nullifies all magic) actually feels more broken the more that I read the series, which is the opposite of where I saw it going when I first started reading.
I have more I want to write about what I thought Black Clover did really well during that stretch, as well as My Hero Academia (Togata and Sir Nighteye are top 10 superhero characters all-time for me) and even some of the great art that's being done in the Boruto manga, but I'll save it for another month of coverage. I still have... a lot to catch up on.
(Murata Yusuke is a monster)