Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei (Comic)

I’m currently creating a fansite for Kumeta Koji’s comic, Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei. For now, it’ll be a fairly simple affair, with reviews and reference information about each volume. Since one can find most basic information about the series from Wikipedia and fanart on any of a number of fanart sites (e.g., Danbooru or Safebooru), I’ll focus on my own impressions of the series, and some more detailed information than what one finds on more general sites, like when different memes or characters are introduced, or how the different translators have dealt with the source material.

For now, here’s a draft of my overview of the series as a whole:


So, introducing Kumeta Koji’s Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei. Though much of what I’ll present on this site is plain, factual information, perhaps I’ll say up-front that I adore Zetsubou-Sensei. With the sole exception of Yotsuba&! (its spritual opposite, I suppose), it’s my favourite comic series, and the anime adaptation is one of my top five. So, though it’s not my style to go over-the-top fanboy, almost everything about the series appeals to me so much that I can only write from the viewpoint of a fan.

With that disclaimer, I’ll start with a few words on the series as a whole. The title means “Good Bye, Mr. Despair,” possibly a reference to James Hilton’s Good-Bye, Mr. Chips. That is a literal translation, so why the North American publisher, Del Rey, decided to use the Japanese title here confuses me. The fansub I have of season one of the anime uses the title “So Long, Mr. Despair,” which has a decent ring to it, I think, better than the unwieldy (in English) “Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei,” and gets the meaning across just fine. At least the average anglophone can look at it and know right away what it means. That said, Del Rey did mostly redeem themselves by adding the subtitle “The Power of Negative Thinking.” The twist on Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s classic The Power of Positive Thinking fits the tone of the comic very well. I don’t know if they consulted Mr. Kumeta, but I imagine he would probably have approved the addition.

Regarding the comic itself, Kumeta uses a satirical tone throughout the series, and almost every chapter revolves around roasting some societal problem or personality quirk, like shut-ins (hikkikimori), perfectionists, stalkers, media hype of all kinds, comic conventions – there’s even a page on TV Tropes dedicated to listing the tropes Zetsubou-Sensei undermines!

As one would expect, Kumeta definitely favours a dark sense of humour. The protagonist’s rampant cynicism is the comic’s hallmark joke, which leads him to attempt suicide multiple times per volume. He even tells a student in chapter four that the true love is best expressed by double suicide.

Kumeta also keeps up a frenetic pace. Text fills some pages like wallpaper, and jokes come fast and often, not only in dialogue but in the background art and text lists on the sides of panels. Luckily, the minimalist art style prevents the panels from feeling too chaotic. There’s no unnecessary detail, and no colour. Literally, black and white dominate the palette – even shades of grey are kept to a minimum. The art does its job well, though – the characters are distinct, the action is clear, and overall I find it quite stylish and appealing.

The series does have the fault, though, of falling into a pattern after the first two or three volumes. Most chapters begin in the classroom, a topic is introduced,  Sensei declares that some aspect of that topic leaves him in despair, there’s some dialogue, then everyone goes into town and finds examples of that topic. Though the solid material usually holds up the unimaginative presentation, the series could use some more variety in its later volumes.

On a final note, I’ll mostly cover what’s available in English, and at least for now I’ll focus on the comic rather than the anime. Though both versions are excellent, the comic is currently more easily available, though once I get caught up with the comic I’ll probably look into adding a section for the anime, as well.

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