U19: trying to stand out in the world of YA dystopian fiction

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This monday has marked the beginning of what will be six consecutive weeks of new series beginning in Weekly Shonen Jump, an unprecedented occasion that’s set to include a couple of important milestones in the magazine’s history. Each Tuesday over this period I’m going to be writing a post on the debuting series that week, be it a simple review or something deeper. We continue this week with Yuji Kimura’s U19. SPOILERS FOLLOW.

Dystopian fiction written for young adults is *everywhere*. The trend appears to be much quieter nowadays, but you only have to cast your mind back a couple of years to see a world where you couldn’t turn a corner, enter a bookstore, see a movie at the cinema, without encountering these YA dystopias. The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner and the countless imitators were, and continue to be, big business. This isn’t to say they weren’t a thing earlier; you only have to look at Battle Royale or Lord of the Flies to understand that these stories have existed for decades, but the big pop culture push for them has definitely come in the 21st century, and each work seems to inform the other, to the point that you can kind of just put a template together for how these books go. Heck, with twitter accounts like Dystopian YA Novel they may well have done this very thing. It’s pretty homogenised at this point, and it takes a very special twist to stick out from the herd.

For all the things that U19 has going on, it most definitely lacks this crucial X factor.

It could be a lack of subtlety, it could just be the prevalence of the genre, it could even be something lost a little in translation (as excellent a job as Viz Media have done with the first chapter), but there’s just several concepts and moments that feel just a little *too* on the nose. This write-up as such isn’t really about deciding whether U19 is a good comic or not (I don’t dislike it, and think that teenage readers will absolutely love it if it delivers on the second chapter), as much as just examining what these things are that stand as roadblocks to a stronger or more unconventional story.

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The ‘poster manga’ of Weekly Shonen Jump

Unsurprisingly, the four largest characters on this cover star in the series I'm talking about today

Unsurprisingly, the four largest characters on this cover star in the series I’m talking about today

If you’ve listened to my latest appearance on Manga Mavericks (and why wouldn’t you have, it’s some grade A stuff), you’ll have heard me, Colton and Sid talk a good deal about what the current ‘poster manga’ of Weekly Shonen Jump are. Today I’m going to expand on that a little bit by profiling the four biggest titles in the magazine right now, and to chat a little about why they’re so dang popular. One of the answers is probably a bit obvious, I’m sure.

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We Never Learn: A Healthy Approach to Talent and Aspiration

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This monday has marked the beginning of what will be six consecutive weeks of new series beginning in Weekly Shonen Jump, an unprecedented occasion that’s set to include a couple of important milestones in the magazine’s history. Each Tuesday over this period I’m going to be writing a post on the debuting series that week, be it a simple review or something deeper. We start this week with Taishi Tsutsui’s We Never Learn. SPOILERS FOLLOW.

Dearest reader, were you ever considered good at something at school? Perhaps even noted as being advanced at a subject, or having it singled out as a ‘talent’ (an admittedly difficult concept, but a useful one for this particular series)? If so, was it something you cared about? Was it something you pursued, or was there another passion inside you, for something else and if so, was it something you were even any good at?

I was pretty decent at academics, at least up to the point where I had to really try, but that’s a different kind of frustrating story of youth. Despite getting good scores in maths, science, english, all that classic school stuff, I only ever really wanted to think about music and art, two areas where I just couldn’t make any headway, whether through anxiety, impatience, or just an outright lack of what people would call talent. I don’t think any encouragement to stick to what I was good at made any difference, and as someone who never made it as far as university, it didn’t really matter. All the same, reading the first chapter of We Never Learn had me wishing that it existed when I was younger, simply because it’s a comic, aimed at teenagers, that actively talks to them about the very idea of not giving up on the things you want to do, even if you’re awful at them.

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Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links: A Peculiar Sort of Nostalgia

img_1700Did you know that Kazuki Takahashi’s original Yu-Gi-Oh! is just over twenty years old now? In that time it’s never really left the popular consciousness, having broke into the west, produced a shockingly popular card game, several video games, multiple animated series, and a pile of increasingly complicated spin-offs that I’m not entirely sure I can name all of. What a stunning accomplishment for one of the weirdest and most off-kilter titles published in Weekly Shonen Jump. As part of the celebrations of this impressive anniversary, Konami released a new phone game, Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links, a free-to-play title implanting us all in a virtual world as several characters from the original series, playing a very interesting variant on the actual card game.

Rather than giving players the full-fledged experience of the actual card game; 8000 Life Points, 40-60 cards, 6 phases per turn, and more recent additions like Synchro (?), XYZ Monsters (??) and Pendulum Summons (???), Duel Links gives us Speed Duels, featuring half the cards, half the life, and half the amount of main phases, less space on the board for monsters and spells, as well the removal of… Just about everything introduced in the various spin-off shows, from mechanics to characters. This is at least partially about accessibility and the pace often required of mobile games, but there’s a much stronger vein running through the design choices made in Duel Links capitalising on that particular period where Yu-Gi-Oh! was at its absolute peak worldwide, during the Duelist Kingdom and (perhaps more notably) the Battle City arcs.

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First up it has these playable characters from across the original series, from Yugi himself to Joey Wheeler, Maximillion Pegasus, and even Tea Gardner and Mako Tsunami, a character who barely plays the card game and an absolute bit player respectively. It relishes in these character choices; Players might not want to *be* Rex Raptor or Weevil Underwood, but the reward of unlocking them still feels like something because you *remember* them. As of this writing there’s not one character from later series; no-one from GX, Zexal, 5DS, or any of the others. These characters have their own popularity, but none of them were present for this period of mass nostalgia that Yu-Gi-Oh! temporarily attained. Even in the wider internet consciousness these things lean towards the original series, thanks to stuff like popular online parody series Yu-Gi-Oh! Abridged.

Connecting to these characters provides the second chance for nostalgia, in the card choices available to the player. As someone who hasn’t actively played the card game since I was somewhere around 14 years old, I can’t confidently say it is the case with every single card featured in the game so far, but each character deck explicitly features recognisable cards from the show *and* the early sets released for the card game itself. From the obvious, featured cards, like Dark Magician, Blue Eyes White Dragon, and Relinquished, to cards more associated with what you’d get in an early booster pack, like Hane-Hane, Feral Imp, or Crass Clown (look, right, you’d recognise them if you saw them), there’s just enough of these classic cards to stimulate the tingly little nostalgia gland right at the base of your skull.

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The life points and deck size are easily explained away, but it’s quite notable that 4000LP was the standard set in the anime with the Battle City storyline, and that in practice having a deck of just 20-30 cards leaves you with a nice tight play style that emphasizes the opportunity, every single game, to play with a small selection of these classic monsters. In a larger deck you might not see your Dark Magician in most games, but once you’ve reduced the deck size considerably the odds are much, much higher. It’s about providing those key show moments, where you draw that most desired monster, get it on the field and destroy your opponent in a clutch moment. Evocative of the show, and surprisingly effective at keeping the games short and enjoyable for the player.

Even the events and story pander to this. Duel Links’ core story is literally just Battle City in a virtual world, placing you in what very much looks like a virtual replication of Domino City. The first event is literally a tribute to Duelist Kingdom, down to the star chips and main opponent in Pegasus (who’s only unlockable through this special event no less). There’s no fooling anyone involved in either development or actually playing the game as to what’s going on here and what feeling they’re trying to evoke.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with what Konami are doing here. If anything it shows the first real bit of savvy in their design choices in a very long time. It’s not even like they’re abandoning the spin-offs that have informed Yu-Gi-Oh!’s games and cards since; in 2015 they released Legacy of the Duelist, a game that explicitly celebrates each era of the franchise, allowing you to recreate duels from all over the series. It’s right there for the core audience, a more robust game on console systems. What they’ve managed to provide here is a slimmed down take on Yu-Gi-Oh! that makes the most of the collective memory of the series, and has the capability to snag a larger audience as such. Who will, presumably, spend more money casually on the micro-transactions featured in the game. A smart take all around, that celebrates the original series in just the right way.

Duel Links is available on IOS and Android right now. The characters  featured are from the original Yu-Gi-Oh! manga series, the former of which available from Viz Media in print and digital, and being covered by Friendship! Effort! Victory! in the future

Things I’ve Done 2014-2017 Part 2: Tim & Max, and We Have Issues

Not everything I’ve done has been guesting on a manga podcast. In fact I’ve been on one more podcast, and co-hosted another. Probably more of a mark of the horrific lack of reliability that I’ve had all along, they’re still good stuff all the same, and more than worth writing about here as cherished products and contributions.

(I don’t think we came up with a logo or image for this pod. Must remedy)

Tim & Max Learnt Everything They Know About Life from Popular Culture

A sequel podcast of sorts to our short-lived attempt to solve all the problems rampant in popular culture that we’d done on the Geek Syndicate, TAMLETKALFPC was and continues to be mine and Tim’s irregular series about the valuable life lessons our life attached to screens, books, speakers, and such similar mediums, going through various periods of our young lives, and then onto specific forms of entertainment and the like, including that greatest of influences upon us both, the Star Wars. Like Manga Mavericks, we run long, to an almost unreasonable levels, especially for something so introspective, but I feel confident that the 9 episodes we’ve managed to put out so far have been quality pieces of entertainment, and the guests that Tim has managed to line up along the way have been fantastic. To say nothing of Tim himself.

Well, I *say* to say nothing. I’m gonna say a bunch. Timothy Swann has been a hell of a co-conspirator, able to tolerate my worst impulses, and doing the majority of the legwork for every episode of the show, despite whatever obstacles might get in the way. I couldn’t ask for a better co-podder, and is a fantastic pal. I’m sure if I’d ever pulled it out on my end we’d be much further along by now.

There’s been a lot of value in these shows, especially when it comes to getting the ropes of podcasting with other people. My approach to solo-casting may impress people occasionally, but it often comes down to me being very particular, as well as incredibly nervous about giving people a bad time. Getting to have lengthy, relaxed chats with Tim on the microphone has been a crucial learning experience when it comes to stepping outside the FEV comfort zone.

Look forward to more Tim & Max in the future, but in the meantime I *highly* recommend our episodes on Politics (Featuring James of 2 Grown Men, and We Have Issues), and Comedy (featuring comedy expert Josie). They’re good shows, where Tim, our guests and I all delve deep into topics we’re particularly interested in.

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We Have Issues

It would be fair to assume from all I do both here and on social media that I’m mostly about Japanese comics. A TRICK! A RUSE! Before FEV even existed I was a presence on the Monkey On My Back Podcast, talking about a healthy MIX of Japanese and Western comics (with the occasional room for eurocomics but I need to up my game there). But yes, since late 2010 I’ve been doing little 5+ minute contributions for Nick and company, reviewing comics, talking industry nonsense, or whatever comics-adjacent stuff I can get away with. With the relaunch as We Have Issues I started out the gate with a series on the History of Manga, covering RIGHT UP TILL THE ACTUAL POINT MANGA HAPPENS, which brings us back to that whole unreliable thing again but, despite that disappointing failure to keep something up (fnarr fnarr), I’ve since been keeping up a pretty irregular series of contributions whenever I can, through varying times for the podcast, both good and bad. It’s a good show, and a great platform to just gush about stuff I like, or even to crap on stuff I hate, though as mentioned in a previous post, WHI has an unoffical lean towards comics positivity, and that lesson has been one of the most important things when it comes to doing my own comics commentary, in an area of the internet where cynicism tends to rule over all.

You can find all my contributions (and the occasional other episode where the word max turns up in the episode description) over on this link here, and all History of Manga contributions in this series of links you’re seeing now. Wait, that didn’t work out. One more HERE.

That ALMOST catches you all up on everything of interest I’ve done. But not quite. I’ve still got one more thing I’ve done, and it’s… It’s not amazing, but I’ve got a lot to say about it, and want to come back to it at some point. Look, it’s a let’s play youtube channel, right? Jesus.