Yankee’s: Northern Aggressors, a Sports Team, and Japanese Punks

The cover of the first volume of Yanmega.

The cover of the first volume of Yanmega.

According to manga author Miki Yoshikawa, she had to rewrite the first story to her maiden series Flunk Punk Rumble three times, twice for two different annual Kodansha magazines, and once more when the series became serialized in Weekly Shonen Magazine.  One has to admire her dedication to her craft.

As I have grown older and have become further separated from my not so wild youth, I have developed very little patience for high school life series.  Practically speaking, this is because as of this writing I have been out of high school for over ten years, but it is also because I feel far too many of them are far too formulaic.  However, an author can set out to make a high school life series that’s meant to be fun, and author Miki Yoshikawa succeeded in doing just that with her series Flunk Punk Rumble (ヤンキー君とメガネちゃん Yanki-kun to Megane-chan).  As an aside, I don’t like the translated title one bit and will be referring to the series as Yanmega.  The individual story arcs are short and concise while also doing one thing most other Shonen authors fail to achieve, growing the characters.

I’m not sure why, but many high school life anime and manga series tend to follow one of two paths: the high school romance or the high school sports competition.  Neither genre is bad—I’ve enjoyed and still enjoy my fair share of them—but it does begin to wear on readers or viewers if their options for high school life series are limited to these two storylines.  Of course, there are slice of life series as well—Lucky Star, Hidamari Sketch, K-on! are the first two that come to mind—and while they’re good series in their own right, slice of life series tend to become stale over their syndication.  I can understand how it can be difficult reusing the same seasonal and school related themes, but there comes a point where an author needs to recognize the limits of bit comedy.

Yanmega, while being a high school life series, does utilize many of the same seasonal and school related themed stories, i.e. Christmas, Valentines Day, Culture Festivals, Sports Festivals, etc., but author Miki Yoshikawa really only uses each of them once.  On occasion she does use a few of them twice, for example New Years or the Culture Festival of the main characters’ school, but only because the first time through they were one story shorts, or were used to talk about the festivities from a different vantage point.  The Culture Festival is actually the best example of this as it’s explored three different times throughout the series.  The first time is, as I explained, a one story short where the series’ heroine, Hana Adachi, is trying to convince the protagonist, Daichi Shinagawa, to participate in the festival, despite his contempt for it.  The second and third times the author returns to this particular event displaying Daichi in a position where he begrudgingly participates, once as the vice president of the student body and the other as the organizer for his class.  All three are very different takes on this one event, which manages to keep the respective stories fairly entertaining.

It was the length of each story arc that made reading the series bearable, though.  Many times in a Shonen, authors expand on a story to the point it becomes far too long.  For me, once a story arc begins creeping over six volumes, it’s becoming too long.  But when they are kept from a little over a volume in length to roughly four volumes, I feel satisfied, not only because the stories are quick reads, but also because they advance the overall narrative.  Aside from the long college entrance exam story arc beginning in volume seventeen and ending in the final volume, every story arc is kept within one volume.  I found this allowed for many of the above mentioned themes to be explored, plus it also gave readers a chance to see the activities of the other characters in the one story shorts between longer arcs.

By the middle of Yanmega, Miki Yoshikawa also managed to progress smoothly between arcs as well.  Many times in longer syndicated Shonen manga there is an odd lull between story arcs, and it generally upsets the flow of the series.  But when an author can make a smooth transition, it keeps the readers engaged with the story.  In addition to keeping the readers engaged, it allows for one other important aspect of fiction writing to occur.

The five main characters of Yanmega.

The five main characters of Yanmega.

I am speaking of authors growing the characters they have created.  I think it’s safe to assume many people enjoy watching a character develop over the course of a series, not just in the possessions they own or the abilities they can wield, but also in their personality and outlook on life.  Shonen manga in general tend to fail in the latter regard, but every so often an author will make an effort to grow the characters.  This is what I probably enjoyed most about Yanmega because the main characters actually grow, as teens do in real life.  The most noticeable change is in Daichi, from his withdrawn personality in the first story to becoming more personable by the last.  Even a handful of minor characters undergo personal development and there are even changes in the relationships between them.  Despite the series focusing on the five main characters, the world around them is much larger and ever changing, even if those changes are subtle in nature.

Yanmega may not be one of my favorite Shonen manga series, but it is different enough to set it apart from many other Shonen series.  From the character development to quick story arcs, there’s very little to be disappointed with about the series.  I did find Miki Yoshikawa’s attempt at romance to be a bit poor in quality, but it’s not the mainstay of the series and it can be easily overlooked.  There are also a few gaming Easter Eggs strewn about the series, and if you take the time to skewer each panel, you may come across a few you recognize.  Yanmega is definitely worth reading through at least once, but like me, you may wish to spread your reading of it out over a period of a few weeks rather than in one sitting.

Work Info
Flunk Punk Rumble (ヤンキー君とメガネちゃん Yanki-kun to Megane-chan)
By: Miki Yoshikawa
Under: Kodansha, Shonen Magazine
Official Site: http://kc.kodansha.co.jp/content/top.php/02065/1000002576
More Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flunk_Punk_Rumble


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