MANGA REVIEW | "Show-ha Shoten!" - Volume One
There is no entertainment profession that’s as challenging as being a comedian. With comedy being a subjective thing, making the entire world laugh is easier said than done. It’s a craft that’s taken years for people like Jim Jefferies, Ali Wong, Dave Chappelle, and Randy Feltface to master, even if they seem natural performing it today. Show-ha Shoten!, a new series from Death Note artist Takeshi Obata and mystery novelist Akinari Asakusa, showcases the hardships of humor, on top of the strategies one must initiate to get the simplest of laughs.
Show-ha Shoten! begins with a flashback, as Shijima fails to make a departing friend and love interest chuckle. Swearing to see her again, Shijima aims to become the funniest person in Japan, an art he’s perfected thanks to his submissions to a popular comedy show. However, his stage fright makes it impossible not just to take the mic, but also to speak up during normal tasks. Fortunately, that’s where former child actor Higashikata comes in.
Sworn to become the only person ever to win both major Japanese stand-up and sketch comedy awards, Higashikata has got the charisma and charm. What he doesn’t have is a proper straight man, on top of a good way to come up with proper routines. After discovering Shijima’s secret, Higashikata does all he can to make him his comedy partner. Thankfully, after a cunning plan at a culture festival, Shijima reluctantly agrees. When the two hit the stage, the magic begins!
One of the great things that Show-ha Shoten! does is show why the comedy world is a tough one to break through. Right when the story starts, it’s clear that the road towards laughter is paved with one hurdle after another. Sometimes it’s stage fright; other times, it can be a bad joke. Any little thing can throw a comedian off their game, which is where Shijima’s strategic skills come into play.
It is absolutely key to know your audience when being a comedian, and Shijima knows that. He and Higashikata’s first skit at the culture fest was crafted for their peers, knowing full well what would make them laugh. Later, when trying to convince his family to let him be a comedian, Shijima then caters bits that would make his parents and sister laugh. It takes a little outside-the-box thinking, but that sort of thing is necessary if you wish to take on a tough crowd. (It reminds me of when Jimmy Carr played at a hospice event, and opened with the lines, “We don’t have much time. Well...I do!” to a big laugh from the audience.)
That strategy element is what I hope will keep Show-ha Shoten! an interesting read. It’s fun to peel back at the layers of how a bit works, seeing its skeletal structure before its meaty form takes to life. How Shijima writes the gags is also crucial to his fight with stage fright. What started as uttering a single line over and over again evolves into giving bigger punchlines for the entire bit. Having a partner like Higashikata not just aids in ridding the stage jitters; his performances punch up a funny joke to be even funnier.
However, as of now, we only know of Higashikata’s previous occupation. What hasn’t been revealed is why he left acting in the first place. We don’t know how deep the back story goes, but I am curious to see what originally made Higashikata walk away from the spotlight. On top of that, what was it about comedy that made him want to go back to it? The possibilities being the back story are endless!
But let’s not focus on the future of the narrative; we must instead keep our eyes on the present volume. And one of the shining aspects of Show-ha Shoten!’s debut is its art style. We already know that Obata’s a great artist, what with his work in Hikaru no Go and Bakuman. Here, he reaches a new level of comedic brilliance with Shijima’s punchline reactions. Eyes bugging out, jaws dropping to chest, and even snot running down are captured with ridiculous flair and care for the art form. Even funnier is when the manga tries to bring a “menacing” tone, especially when it comes time for Shijima to perform for his family.
There’s a lot of potential to be found in Sho-ha Shoten!, and its premiere volume sets the premise up great. The question that remains is whether or not it’ll land the punchline right. Fortunately, Asakusa appears to have a big knack for tickling funny bones, and teaming with Obata seems to have aided in pushing his jokes further. Given all these elements, one can certainly hope that Sho-ha Shoten! succeeds at headlining Radio City Music Hall, rather than be broomed off by Sandman Sims during Amateur Night at the Apollo.
Promotional consideration provided by Chantelle Sturt and Mandy Earles of VIZ Media.