Do you find this world too ordinary? Your future looking dim? Reality on cruise control? Fear not… Life can still be dramatic!
BELIEVE by Minami Kuribayashi
Send your brilliant dreams soaring beyond the howling wind
And repeat the vow you made before
Nobody can ever overwhelm passion in motion
Let the hope shine in your eyes
As you searched for something to believe in
You overcame your weaknesses and took flight into the distance
You helped bring meaning into my life
I now hold this feeling dear
The old me made the present me
I’m going to find my shining star
On the other side of the world
After a lot of breaks, this week’s Under Your Radar covers Medaka Box, a manga series by NisiOisiN of Monogatari fame (who handled the story) and Akira “RIROLAND” Akatsuki, a former hentai artist (who, of course, handled the art). The series ran in the Japanese Weekly Shōnen Jump until recently, running for exactly four years’ worth of issues. It received two seasons’ worth of anime adaptations, the second of which had the subtitle Abnormal. There was also a series of light novel adaptations, as well as a spin-off manga titled Good Loser Kumagawa.
Medaka Box opens deceptively, with a story about a girl named Medaka Kurokami, a girl with an overbearing personality and ridiculous power who is always right. She had just become the student council president of Sandbox Academy as a first-year student with 98% of the popular vote. Always by her side, a guy by the name of Zenkichi Hitoyoshi is dragged into the student council as her first appointed member.
We open with an arc about her handling suggestions that come into the suggestion box she created as part of her election platform, but then goes into becoming a combat-centric series that isn’t really about the combat. Rather, Medaka Box‘s strengths come from the philosophical undertones of the work. Everything is symbolic in some way. The skills they use to fight and the characters’ personalities are treated as one and the same by the story, and the variety in skills thusly equates to a variety of personalities. This became perfectly clear with the final arc, the One Hundred Flowers Run, in which every single named, living character makes an appearance and is recognizable instantly.
In a way, the series is also a parody of combat shōnen in that every character’s blood type is AB, one character is introduced with 12,858,051,967,633,865 skills and claims that any manga that goes past ten volumes is just riding on its own success, one character is introduced solely to exist, and an antagonist is introduced who can erase anything, including his own wounds and his opponent’s existence, but can never win. There are many other parodic parts to it, but saying too much more would ruin the point of looking into things yourself. So, how does a series like this get adapted into 24 episodes of slow-moving anime that sells poorly, despite coming from the same studio that made memetically epic hits like Gurren Lagann? Simple. The slow start just kills its momentum completely. The manga has 9 story arcs. The manga starts getting interesting from the fifth, which starts roughly one quarter of the way through the series. The anime only adapted the first four, ending with a cliffhanger by introducing Misogi Kumagawa at the very end of the penultimate episode, followed by the next episode being an adaptation of Good Loser Kumagawa, with a rather fitting character breaking the fourth wall at the beginning and basically saying that the anime won’t be continuing.
Some would say the slow start is bad. And, I have to admit, it isn’t all that great, but just like its lackluster ending (which you can honestly avoid rather easily by opting for one of the three earlier stopping point the series gives you), it has one solid detail about it that makes it somewhat irreplaceable in this work. That is, simply, that it needed to exist in some form for the work to retain thematic consistency, which it actually did manage for the entire series if you knew to read into everything.
On the surface, Medaka Box is a work about a girl who’s always right and a friend who protects her from the shadows while being dragged along. Underneath the surface, you find that the combat is all personality-based conflict following a central theme, a work that is thematically consistent to the utmost degree. It is hindered by a slow start and a slow ending, but overall, it’s a lot of fun. Medaka Box‘s anime has been licensed by Sentai Filmworks, who will be dubbing it and have put both seasons up on The Anime Network for streaming (Season 1, Season 2). Both seasons of the anime are also available on Crunchyroll. There is no English licensor for the manga as of yet.
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