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“Jujutsu Kaisen” and “Chainsaw Man”, two new “shonen” manga to watch closely

Overview of the manga “Chainsaw Man” and “Jujutsu Kaisen”. © 2018 SHUEISHA Inc.

Lfans of Japanese magazine productions Weekly Shonen Jump, manufactures manga hits in Japan, were impatiently awaiting their arrival in French bookstores. Released on February 6 and March 11 respectively, Jujutsu Kaisen and Chainsaw Man also have in common that they tell – though in very different ways – stories of demon hunters.

The hero of Jujutsu Kaisen, Yuji Itadori, a high school student, finds himself confronted by the occult forces and is enrolled in a school of exorcism the day he sees himself possessed by the millennial demon Ryomen Sukuna. If the creature gives him extraordinary powers, it also condemns him to certain death since his new exorcist colleagues aspire to put Sukuna out of harm's way.

Plate extracted from volumes 1 and 2 of
Plate extracted from volumes 1 and 2 of “Jujutsu Kaisen”. JUJUTSU KAISEN © 2018 by Gege Akutami / SHUEISHA Inc.

At the helm of the series, a 27-year-old mangaka, Gege Akutami, bottle-fed to the successes of Jump by his big brother and whose work is bubbling with references. The most seasoned readers will no doubt recognize a hint of Bleach in the fight against demons, Naruto for the cohabitation of the hero with a harmful entity but also of Yu Yu Hakusho, excellent series by creator Yoshihiro Togashi (Hunter x hunter) for the inner torments and questions of the hero.

Dog-chainsaw hybrid

Less cerebral, more centered on an enjoyable action and without (too much) moral, Chainsaw Man tells the sad fate of Denji, an over-indebted, enslaved and candid orphan who is reminiscent of the hero of the film Danny the Dog. Struggling with mobsters who force him to kill demons to fuel their traffic, the teenager perishes violently before resuscitating thanks to Pochita, his pet, a small demon with the hybrid aspect of dog-chainsaw. The two bodies merge. From then on Denji will be able to change into an anthropomorphic chainsaw and fight against his enemies.

Plate extracted from volume 1 of
Plate extracted from volume 1 of “Chainsaw Man”. CHAINSAW MAN © 2018 by TATSUKI FUJIMOTO / SHUEISHA Inc.

An upside-down synopsis? It's normal: its author, Tatsuki Fujimoto, had largely surprised with his previous series Fire punch, an ultra-violent apocalyptic fable for the informed public, carried by a torch man who suffers perpetually but tries to master his power to avenge the death of his sister. Again, the mangaka experiences many narrative and visual tracks flirting with gore and cinematic references to slasher. For the duo Denji-Pochita, the author invokes, far from it, the complicity between the two heroes of the animated series Adventure Time.

Officiating this time for a younger readership, Tatsuki Fujimoto claims to have been able to draw just about anything he wanted. And throw here and there all the familiar codes of the shonen : rivalry with a character, a power suddenly acquired by the hero, a pretty heroine, in particular.

Prolific bubbling

Since their publication chapter by chapter from 2018 in Japan, these two sensations intended for large adolescents have known over the weeks an increasing popularity. This in a genre at half mast, where the readership is aging, but has also started looking for a new blockbuster that can take over from finished series like Naruto and Bleach, or advanced as One Piece (still running since summer 1997).

Plate extracted from volume 1 of
Plate extracted from volume 1 of “Chainsaw Man”. CHAINSAW MAN © 2018 by TATSUKI FUJIMOTO / SHUEISHA Inc.

Connoisseurs and publishers see in this wide variety of stories that are rubbing shoulders at the moment in the prestigious publication Weekly Shonen Jump an era perhaps comparable to the auspicious period of the 1980s. At that time, teen readers of Jump found pages to pages of successful series that had little in common: Dragon ball, Hokuto No Ken (marketed in VF under the name Ken the survivor) or City hunter (marketed in VF under the name Nicky Larson).

In 2020, they can follow sagas ranging from the crazy scientifico-survivalist narrative Dr stone to the chase thriller The Promised Neverland passing by the fantastic fresco Demon slayer which pulverizes sales and whose total circulation has exceeded 40 million copies, or even the series of superheroic learning My Hero Academia.

“We find somewhere a certain editorial richness, a form of experimentation, and what made the strength of Jump : to grow unknown authors with rather original ideas “, sums up Ahmed Agne, co-founder of the Ki-oon editions, which won the timpani in France with Jujutsu Kaisen.

At the writing of Shonen Jump, we concede, speaking of Chainsaw Man, quoted by the specialized magazine Atom : “We were aware of pushing the editorial line of the magazine to its limits.” Indeed, the title was far from having received unanimity among publishers in its early days.

Editorial boldness

The first volumes of such comics, thought out over time and drawn at an infernal weekly rate, often have weaknesses. This is the case here.

The social framework at the Mad Max in which lives the hero of Chainsaw Man is not really exploited by its author, which is a shame. Instead, the protagonist is exfiltrated into a somewhat sanitized anti-demon agency. We also do not know if the mangaka shows parody to the register of teen manga when he gives, as motivation, a challenge to reach his hero: touching a pair of breasts, which seems to him unthinkable, being a outcast teen.

Plate extracted from volumes 1 and 2 of
Plate extracted from volumes 1 and 2 of “Jujutsu Kaisen”. JUJUTSU KAISEN © 2018 by Gege Akutami / SHUEISHA Inc.

Others will blame Jujutsu Kaisen to simply compile good ideas from previous opuses. But it is not so much the ability to do something new with deja vu on the part of Gege Akutami that worries: the manga shonen is like SF literature, it is self-quoting perpetually. Here, Akutami's raw graphic style and the design of his monstrous creatures convince. This is less the case with his concepts of powers and “attacks” of exorcism, which he only succeeds in explaining over the fighting by accompanying them with large intermediate notes, cutting a little spontaneity and adrenaline essential to such stories.

It is therefore difficult to predict whether these editorial audacities will pay off. Even if Ahmed Agne, from Ki-oon editions, is not worried: in France, Jujutsu Kaisen is the second best manga launch from its publisher behind My Hero Academia.

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