Hungry Marie: Letting Jokes Breathe

Recently Weekly Shonen Jump has debuted six new series, an unprecedented occasion that includes a couple of important milestones in the magazine’s history. I’m going to be writing a post on each individual debuting series, be it a simple review, a tangentially-related topic or something deeper. We continue with Ryuhei Tamura’s Hungry Marie. SPOILERS FOLLOW. I CANNOT EMPHASISE THIS ENOUGH THIS TIME. I AM GOING TO SPOIL A MAJOR SEQUENCE FROM THE FIRST CHAPTER TO EXPLAIN MY POINT. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Comedy in comics is both easier and harder than you’d think. The structure of sequential comics is totally suited to controlling the pace of the reader, allowing a solid delivery of comedy on roughly the timescale an author may want, but it still has to rely on that reader to play ball with the format to get the author’s intended delivery. This is to say nothing of the humour that can turn up in comics aimed at teens; for every carefully constructed laff-fest there’s an obtuse, reference-reliant affair, or a comic that talks down to the audience, assuming they just want randomness, yelling, and monkeys (not that comics like these can’t be good. There’s at least one article about Bobobo-Bo Bo-bobo or Taizo Mote King Saga in the future). Doing funny comics, like *properly* funny comics, requires a special touch.

Weekly Shonen Jump isn’t really lacking for these gifted talents. Akira Toriyama, Hisashi Eguchi and Masaya Tokuhiro are class A examples from decades past, and the likes of Ryo Nakama and Hideaki Sorachi are successfully making readers laugh without fail, but this time around I’ve been given the opportunity to talk about the author who I personally think is the funniest Jump has *ever* had, and the one particular way he’ll use page after page to properly allow a single joke to hit. This author is Ryuhei Tamura, author of Beelzebub, and launching his second series recently with Hungry Marie, which has actually made me laugh so much that I’ve cried.

Seriously.

I wasn’t kidding about spoilers

I’m going to try to explain why I love Tamura’s style of comedy using one particular sequence from the first chapter of Hungry Marie (link to Viz’s free release, so you can have the best possible context), which I feel best uses his sense for the absurd, and uses space, both on the panel and within the chapter, to properly highlight the madness within.

To set the scene: our main character, Taiga, has seen the girl he likes, Anna, practice a dark, magical ritual, and has been kidnapped and bound by her and her father in an old church to be used as a sacrifice to resurrect the daughter of Marie Antoinette (yes, “the cake lady”). That’s mental. That’s actually insane, as far as set-ups go for a scene. But it’s in this moment, where Taiga is facing the end of his existence, that he confesses to Anna, illuminated by lightning. She blushes, and we get the corny romantic sentiment of it being as though he’d been struck by lightning.

HUUUUUUUH INDEED!!!

This is where the panel sizes really come into play. We get a huge vertical panel that draws the eye, showing Anna’s reaction to the confession. In any other series this would be a huge turning point, and I suppose it is, as the joke finally reveals itself: Taiga didn’t just feel like he’d been hit by lightning. He actually has, and appears to have been obliterated by it. It’s such an expertly revealed rug pull that I felt totally pulled into Anna’s reaction, just freaking the heck out at the absurdity of what happened.

The slow reveal, the moment by moment disbelief establishing what just happened with the lightning, it’s all pitch-perfect, helped by some expertly handled lettering that I should have mentioned on the last page. It’s considered an invisible art, and when it’s at its best you’re not even noticing it at all, but reading over this chapter again and again I continue to be awe struck by how perfect a choice this chunky, goofy-ass font is. It doesn’t really pop out, but  it really gets across the tone of the character’s voice, and the scene in general, which really helps this drawn-out joke land home, along with the completely reduced expression of Anna, still blushing from the confession seconds ago, but also freaking out at the ridiculously unlikely event that’s just happened in front of her.

Of course it isn’t that simple, and leads to the big hook of the title, but as a scene in itself, and an example of the sort of comedy I love from Ryuhei Tamura, it’s pure excellence, even in isolation like this.

Some final words on Hungry Marie, to fill out what’s felt like a somewhat slight article: It’s a fantastic twist on the genre of genderbent comedy (which I’m sure has to have a better genre name by now), and nails very soft referential humour and big comedic moments. I’d hesitate to call it my absolute favourite of the six new Jump series, but it’s a *very* close call.

Hungry Marie is available in English from Weekly Shonen Jump, produced by Viz Media, and available on IOS and Android, as well as their own website. The first three chapters are now available for free on Viz’s website, which almost softens the blow of taking a month off of writing on this site, right? RIGHT?!

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