Snap Discussion is the weekly round table discussion on a topic relating to Japanese pop culture as selected by the almighty Snapodile. Each week the SnapThirty team will weigh in with their thoughts on that week’s topic all with the hopes of providing some interesting and perhaps even conflicting view points on the matter at hand. This week’s topic is Friendship, Effort and Victory: The Spirit of Shonen Jump.
For this topic we each looked at the legendary manga magazine Weekly Shonen Jump and the iconic series that made themselves home in the pages of the magazine. Viz Media has called Shonen Jump manga ‘The World’s Most Popular Manga’ and it is hard to debate them on that. Here are some of our own personal experiences.
For those who have followed our site, you’d likely have come to discover that it is no secret that I am a superfan of Yoshihiro Togashi and his manga. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to once again talk about how good Togashi truly is and how his often unconventional manga embodies the spirit of Shonen Jump in ways that many might not expect.
Togashi has had two major successes in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump, Yu Yu Hakusho and the currently ongoing yet frequently on break Hunter x Hunter. Both series are truly iconic and classics of Shonen Jump in their own regard but I’d like to explore Hunter x Hunter in the context of the spirit of Shonen Jump. I believe that despite it being so often considered a ‘deconstruction of shonen’, Hunter x Hunter proudly conveys the message of Jump all the while challenging its audience to reevaluate what that message really means.
The series follows Gon a young boy who dreams of becoming a hunter in order to hunt down and find his father whom abandoned him as a baby. Along the way Gon quickly learns the truth of this harsh world, it is survival of the fittest. He quickly makes friends with another boy his age named Killua, who has similar yet ultimately different family hang ups, the two bond and forge a friendship that will take them on a globe trotting journey for Gon’s father. However as their journey goes on, the more their friendship must face its share of trials and tribulations.
Ultimately the crux of the series is the friendship between these two, with every major event teetering around the fulcrum that is their relationship. Togashi understands this and masterfully draws every ounce of pathos from these characters and the very reasons they are friends. It makes it all the more powerful a moment when their friendship is tested in the Chimera Ant arc as Killua sees the friend he loves and cares deeply about, go down a dark path. Togashi imbues their relationship with deep connection, understanding and passion, making every interaction genuinely sincere and capturing the spirit of Shonen Jump ‘friendship’.
On top of that you have the theme of ‘effort’ which is conveyed primarily through protagonist, Gon Freeccs. He is almost always perpetually the underdog. Never the strongest character in the room, never the brightest, but always the one willing to put the most effort in to improve himself and become stronger not only for himself but for his friends around him.
Togashi once again flips this theme on its head when he has Gon sacrifice everything he has worked for in a sheer moment of rage, throwing all his effort out the window to gain all the power he will ever possibly gain. While other manga would show this fantastic transformation as an amazing thing and in a positive light, Togashi shows this in a completely negative tone. Gon discarded any effort he had put in for a quick power boost, Togashi looks upon this as a cheap way out. Everything worth earning comes through hard work and effort and this moment really goes to show that short cuts will ultimately have consequences and for Gon it truly does.
Likewise with the theme of ‘victory’, Togashi deconstructs what it actually means to win. Often ending in anti climax, Togashi ends most conflict in an ambiguous or surprising manner often declining the audience a pay off until a later time, or giving characters a victory they didn’t exactly want or expect. Perhaps the most fascinating ‘victory’ in Hunter x Hunter is the tragic finale to the Chimera Ant arc, which sees characters simultaneously victorious but also losing so very much. It is really a testament to Togashi that he can create so many conflicting emotions but what is really wonderful is the way that he never loses sight of those three values of Shonen Jump: Friendship, Effort and Victory.
Friendship, effort and victory. Three words that inspire all kinds of, well, inspiring thoughts and emotions. If you’ve ever seen a movie, or read a book, or done something really cool in this thing we call reality, you’ve experienced these words in action. But where not talking about these words within a vague sense today my friends, no, we’re talking about them as the driving force behind a certain company that you may have heard of. You know them, they’re that name that’s on all the far reaching anime and manga that seem to have an end date of infinity. I’m talking One Piece, I’m talking Bleach, Naruto and, an example that shall be elucidated upon briefly, My Hero Academia. Franchises beloved by many and bought by even more, these romps through fiction pave the way for a subset of imagination that will have kids and kids at heart across the globe smiling as they ponder the coolest fight scenes and the most awesome speeches. My friends, let’s talk Shonen Jump.
So you know the deal, shonen series throw us into an explosive world full to the brim with quirky characters, quirkier characters and that one guy who thinks he’s better than all the quirky characters (I’m looking at you Sasuke). But regardless of their easily determined archetypes, Shonen Jump series have a propensity to become something far more than the sum of their parts. As I oh so briefly mentioned earlier, my go to example this time around will be My Hero Academia. This is partly because of how well it encapsulates the self prescribed motto of the company and partly because it is an awesome series and if anyone disagrees I will fight you on the nearest school rooftop…okay, so I‘m not going to do that, but it’s still a great series.
Anywho, My Hero Academia grabs my attention in regards to the shonen way through its ability to turn even situations with the smallest stakes into a grand emotional rollercoaster. Case in point; Midoriya and Bakugo. As schoolchildren with dreams of the top, these two rivals will let nothing stand in their way when it comes to achieving their dream. Effort in a nutshell. The lengths which these two go to propel themselves forward is insane, to the point where a school project becomes a near life and death struggle. Sure it was a combat exercise and these two possess superhuman abilities but still, even within their world these guys took things to a whole new level. Seriously, although they were chastised in universe, their situation really makes you take stock and wonder just how much you’re putting into your life. Is it 100%? Because in My Hero they put in 100%. Maybe even 110%, because screw math.
However, despite the sheer effort that these two characters put into their personal goals, there is something that still yet trumps them; friendship. Okay, it trumps one of them specifically, Bakugo, because they’re the cool guy loner type. Midoriya on the other hand is the embodiment of shonen friendship. Refusing to make an enemy of a former friend, Midoriya instead bestows upon Bakugo the title of goal, setting his sights beyond the back of the one who walks before him. Sure, it isn’t the most stereotypical definition of friendship, but it is one nonetheless. Of course you do have your more traditional relationship between Midoriya and his actual friends, but the two example are truly strongest once compared. After all, friendship is as complicated as it is simple. It all depends on your perspective and the perspective of those around you.
Finally comes victory, the end, the finish line reached…or is it? Though this particular term is the result of hard work and determination, it does not necessarily mean the cessation of said actions. Yes you are allowed to enjoy a moment of success, everyone is, but not at the cost of stagnation. As I’m sure you’re all aware, shonen series contain an exorbitant amount of energy within them, to the point that they perpetually continue forward (I’m looking at you long, long running series One Piece). Every victory is merely a stepping stone to another, greater success and characters seldom rest on their laurels, they’ve got stuff to do. Serious, game changing stuff…well, that or saving the world again because it is never not under attack.
Look, what I’m trying to get at here is that the spirit of shonen is simply the fact that it has spirit. A spirit that allows it to take concepts we all know and experience everyday of our lives and turn them into something that exists far beyond reality. Friendship, effort and victory are far from foreign concepts, but their application can take us to worlds that exist on every portion of the spectrum that is the unknown.
There was a time early in my life wherein which I would look towards adults with a certain sparkle of envy. In my mind, THAT was when an individual has the capacity, both mentally and monetarily, to enjoy all of what life has to offer. For me, well…I had my copies of Shonen Jump’s Bleach and Naruto, and I was happy, yet there were the adults doing “grown-up” things like driving cars and drinking coffee, and, for some unexplainable reason, I wanted that. At the age of twenty-two…I have that: I can’t wake up without a coffee, and my car is my lifeline. Without either I cannot make it to my job; the one thing that puts money in my pocket which, in turn, is the one thing that allows me to go on living my life. Looking back, adulthood doesn’t have the same wonder I imagined it did when I was younger, but my mother told me it was going to be this way, and it’s somewhat my fault that I never listened, so I have no-one but myself to blame when adulthood hit me like a tonne of bricks. Now, being in this living situation, I work only to fuel my appetites which, funnily enough, centre around bulk-buying Shonen Jump Manga. I love the contents of a Shonen series, but moreso than that I love the connection to my childhood that it allows. Now, as an adult, I realise that the Shonen Jump modo of Friendship, Effort, and Victory, is not just a triplet of nice-sounding words to inspire young boys that don’t know any better. They’re words that can be applied to life even now as someone no longer in that demographic and, on a very personal note, they are words that help me get through the monotonous series of compulsory events I call my life.
Back in 1998, Hiroyuki Takei entered the public eye with his hit Shonen Manga Shaman King. While my mind was not on Japanese comic books at the time, being four years old, I did eventually catch up to my Japanese counterparts when, in my later years at high school, I managed to find myself a less-than-legal copy of the series in it’s entirety. Back then, I loved it, but I quickly came to forget it. Fortunately it was not because of Hiroyuki Takei’s inability to write a compelling Manga, it was simply my adolescent mind that digested it on a very basic level. Now, as an adult, I have decided to go back and purchase, volume by volume, the entire series so as to, once again, experience this Manga as a whole remembering that, despite what I had forgotten, it was a Manga I thoroughly enjoyed. I had no idea that the story of a young Shaman fighting in a metaphysical war for existential supremacy would speak so deeply to me; a twenty-something year old with a standard job and, honestly, not much to complain. Though I had come to terms with the almighty power of Friendship, Effort, Victory before reading through Shaman King, once again, it was the Hiroyuki Takei series that truly hit me the hardest.
Yoh Asakura, the series protagonist, wants to live a life much the same as myself. Yoh feels as though ones life should not be spent in anxiety, and that happiness should be the true goal of every individual rather than that of social standing, financial gain, and material possessions; something I also agree with which, come to think of it, is quite a hypocritical thing to say considering I work long hours to get more money so that, in turn, I can buy more Shaman King. Quite a pickle, huh? In that regard, Yoh’s character speaks to me on a level like no other character has, but then Yoh starts to develop, and I find that I do too. Eventually Yoh meets Manta who, unlike him, lives a life FULL of stress, panic, and everything associated with, for lack of a better word; misery. As you’d imagine; Manto finds something in Yoh that helps him grow to become a stronger individual not preoccupied with the goings-on of those around him but instead taking the time to think about himself, but what’s even better is that Manta unlocks something in Yoh that, for the most part, he has never had; friendship. This then forces Yoh on a path of inner development the likes of which he thought he’d never walk. This too speaks to me on a profound level, and so…I too grow. Shaman King helps remind me that, as much as I want to live a life of singular happiness, it is not all that worth being spent alone. I look to my friends, my family, all my relationships, some of whom I run this site alongside, and I smile internally knowing that they each give me something else to live for, another reason to grow, and a greater chance at happiness.
Because of this alternate level of development, Yoh’s resolution burns brighter than it ever has before. Sure, he still wants to live a life of complete and utter happiness, but now he understand that so does everyone else. His goal now shifts, he still wishes to be Shaman King, but now not for a singular purpose but for the combined happiness of the known world. He is willing to make the “sacrifice” not just for the sake of himself as an individual but for the sake of all those that he shares this planet with, friends and enemies alike. He then begins to train, develop his skill, sharpen his mind, and polish his techniques for the sake of becoming the Shaman King and shaping existence in a way that will benefit all living beings. While my real-world application of this not-so-subtle lesson isn’t as generous as the example given by Yoh, it does inspire me to do more for those around me, even if that means just trying to be a better human being. Unfortunately things aren’t as black and white in the real world as they are in the pages of Shonen Jump so it’s difficult to make a swift transition akin to that of Yoh’s, but success comes after this step, that’s why it goes Friendship, Effort, then Victory.
Now the final word in the Shonen Jump slogan is one that I feel needs no example; Victory. Of course, at the end of the story, the protagonist always wins. It simply would not be a Shonen Jump Manga without such an element, but the idea that Yoh does beat the “bad guys” and gain a certain sense of inner happiness after the events of Shaman King would not mean as much had he not made friends along the way, and made a genuine effort to do right by them all and, of course, by himself. That’s not to say that the “Victory” within the motto is of less importance that the “Effort” and the “Victory”, in fact, I feel as though it is the most important. While “Friendship” and “Effort” force us to make an instant change for the better, “Victory” gives us hope, one that is not immediate, but one that will reside in our minds as we build relationships and struggle towards achieving our goal constantly reminding us that we will make it, no matter what!
Sure, I’ve spoken about myself quite a lot throughout this write-up, and I apologise to all of you who found this to be an act of narcissism above all else, but I assure you this was not my intention. I feel as though a good Manga, Shonen Jump or otherwise, is one that can allow you to learn from it, otherwise…why read it? Sure, for the sake of fun, but I tend to enjoy things so much more when they speak to me on a level that is far deeper than the surface. Shaman King, I believe, is a perfect embodiment of the Shonen Jump motto not only because it follows the themes of Friendship, Effort, and Victory in and of itself but because it inspires me to do the same for the betterment of my own life and, I feel as though…it truly has. Perhaps I’m the only one, and perhaps I have digested this series in a way that would be considered wrong, but I’m not sure that entirely matters because when I look at the volumes of Manga sitting on my shelf I can’t help but crack a smile, and as I finish up my portion of this article I can’t help but get teary-eyed thinking about what Shaman King and Shonen Jump’s Friendship, Effort, Victory has inspired me to do. Feelings like that, they’re simply incomparable.
When I think about a role model in anime that I really looked up to as a kid, and still do admire even as an adult, I can’t think of anyone else other than Himura Kenshin, and Rurouni Kenshin is perhaps one of the more grown up IPs in the Shonen Jump lineup, one that would go on to influence the likes of One Piece even. When I think about the values of Friendship, Effort, and Victory, I don’t think Rurouni Kenshin embodies these in the most apparent and literal sense, but when you really read between the lines and really try to understand these characters, you most certainly see those three labels of Shonen Jump shine through.
While Rurouni Kenshin seems to portray a battle of good and evil, it really never admits to do so. In fact, Himura Kenshin would never consider himself to be good or someone that should be seen as a hero, despite the admiration he receives for his deeds. For you see Himura’s past is filled with blood, and in his own pursuit for righteousness he wronged many people, innocents even. He would later turn his life around, but never once attempting to be forgiven, but rather being a better human being from a certain point and sticking to that resolve. Effort to turn his life around for himself and using his personal growth to make the world a better place? Totally.
But what about Victory? Again Rurouni Kenshin is not so clear cut in that regard. Whether it’s Kenshin’s journey or even the events that unfold around him, victory always comes bittersweet and not a clear cut example of good triumphing over evil. Now the biggest adversary in the anime and manga was Shishio Makoto and his elite Ten Swords, but even when Kenshin overcame these foes, and Shishio above all… he never saw it as the triumph of good over evil, or the triumph of right over wrong… but rather the triumph of his ideals and beliefs over that of Shishio’s. You see, Kenshin never once judged his foes, even Shishio, for their stance or believes, but at the same time Kenshin stood by his own just as Shishio did. Victory? Yes and no…
Now comes Friendship. Rather than using Himura Kenshin himself as an example here, I’m going to talk about Sanosuke and his interesting rivalry with Anji the Monk. Now when they first meet in the forest, Anji takes in Sanosuke as his student to teach him a technique. You see despite his painful past and resentment, Anji still lives by the values of his Buddhist faith. He trains Saonsuke and teaches him the Futae no Kiwami punch technique. Later on Saonsuke learns that Anji is one of the Ten Swords, and more notoriously known as Anji the Destroyer. Despite being friends, they fight each other in what is perhaps the most emotionally charged battle in the Rurouni Kenshin manga and anime (I think the comedic portrayal of this fight in the live action films is the ONLY thing I dislike about the adaptation). No matter how close they came to killing each other, their friendship and bound just never ceased. Each punch was almost executed out of respect and adoration… you just need to see this battle to believe it. Friendship? Absolutely, but it shows that friendship between two people can persist even when they are at the opposite ends of the battlefield.
Rurouni Kenshin is something that really shaped my overview of the world, the values to carry in life, what it means to have resolve, and above all the blur lines between good and evil, right and wrong. Friendship, Effort, and Victory, even those constructs are coloured grey.
What does Shonen Jump mean to you? What are some of your favourite Jump series? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Next week’s topic is ‘With All Your Might: Anime and Manga’s Greatest Fights‘.