The limited series Bunkiten recently came to an end in Weekly Shonen Jump, but you might not know about it. This is because it was published exclusively via the digital version of the magazine, and wasn’t picked up for English translation by either VIZ Media or Manga Plus – a shame, considering that most things make their way over these days.
Penned by Kimi wo Shinrakuseyo! author Kazusa Inaoka (which has now been seemingly delisted from the VIZ Media website), Bunkiten is worth investigating not only as a new series in the Shonen Jump line-up (something we do often around these parts), but also as an interesting evolution in Shueisha’s publishing strategy. Believe it or not, this Japan-only digital-only series could spell big things for Jump’s future.
A Fun, Tightly-Constructed Afternoon Read
To be honest, I dived into Bunkiten with very low expectations. Much like my experience with Burn the Witch’s first season, I find it hard to care about a series when I know it’s only going to be around for a couple of chapters – my brain has been rotted by long-running shonen. Nevertheless, what I found was a surprisingly fun afternoon read, and leagues better than the author’s previous work.
Bunkiten follows the story of protagonist Shion, who wakes up one day after some introductory setup to find that he has lost his memories of the past two months. That wouldn’t usually be a problem, but he finds out that he has made two girlfriends in the meantime – his childhood friend Ruka and his step-sister Ichika.
Immediately, the mention of a sister – blood-related or not – might have you raising your eyebrows. But that brings forth an interesting comparison: a lot of my time on Twitter as of late has been spent reading webcomics that artists publish themselves via their accounts. Of course, Soichiro Yamamoto is a good example of someone who has seen success thanks to this practice, but recently I’ve been enamoured by Yomu’s ongoing Ganbare, Douki-chan series.
— よむ (@y_o_m_y_o_m) September 13, 2020
Much like Douki-chan, Bunkiten benefits from slightly ecchi elements – in Yomu’s case, his art and his characters designs; in Inaoka’s case, the incest-complecet premise. This gives it an entertaining quality that is hard to qualify. What’s more, its short, digital format gives it the same vibe as something you’d stumble across on Twitter one lazy afternoon – before you know it, you’ve read the entire thing.
Adding to this is the fact that Inaoka’s storytelling on Bunkiten is undoubtedly more refined than it was on Kimi wo Shinrakuseyou!. While I didn’t dislike that series, I would be lying if I said that there was anything about it that interested me: I didn’t continue reading past the first chapter. In this sense, Bunkiten not only benefits from its interesting premise – finding out who is Shion’s real girlfriend – but builds on it well; Inaoka is clearly much more suited to mystery storytelling than love comedy.
On the whole, Bunkiten is surprisingly tight. It executes its amnesia-ridden mystery quite well, using core motifs and key devices to anchor its developments in a way that Time Paradox Ghostwriter failed to do. It also has a surprising amount of thematic consistency: its title means ‘crossroads,’ and the back-and-forth between the two girls works quite well in terms of selling the idea that, no matter the circumstances, you will always come across your soulmate.
What Does Bunkiten Mean for Weekly Shonen Jump?
Given that the series isn’t available in English, perhaps a more interesting question for our English-speaking audience will be what exactly this means for Weekly Shonen Jump. To my knowledge, Bunkiten is the first series to be published exclusively via the digital version of Weekly Shonen Jump – the magazine’s series do tend to end up on digital storefronts as collected volumes, but individual chapters are usually published via Jump Plus. So, what is the reason for this shift in publication strategy?
The simple answer would be the success of Jump Plus. It is no secret that the digital manga service has been on a bit of a roll as of late: from SPY x FAMILY to Kaiju No. 8, Weekly Shonen Jump’s digital little brother has been pumping out success after success while the legendary magazine’s line-up stops and starts. In this sense, it would be easy to see Bunkiten’s digital-only publication as a simple way to entice more readers and grab a piece of the pie.
— 少年ジャンプ編集部 (@jump_henshubu) July 20, 2020
Nevertheless, Kazusa Inaoka is not the type of author that would, realistically, tempt many people into buying the digital editions of Weekly Shonen Jump. True, he did tempt me, but it is my job to do these sorts of things, and his past series haven’t seen massive success. Doubly strange is the fact that this series was limited to seven chapters from the word go – if Jump really wanted to tempt more people into buying its digital editions, then wouldn’t they give it a bit more of a fighting chance?
The situation regarding romance series in the magazine itself isn’t all that rosy, either. We Never Learn is coming to an end sometime soon, and other than Ayakashi Triangle, there isn’t really any series that can help fill the love comedy quota. Along with sports series, this is key if Shueisha wants to maintain balance across the line-up – a key tenet of modern manga publication.
With all of this in mind, it seems likely that Bunkiten’s digital-only publication is intended as a bit of a ‘test run’ for author Inaoka. By limiting his new series to seven chapters and taking it out of the print magazine, Shueisha would be able to test his talents irrespective of the pressures of serialization and avoid trying to get another series to replace it in case of failure. And Bunkiten won’t even be the last series to undergo such treatment: Bugei Michiyuki NERU by Hiraga Minya will start in the next issue to replace it.
Hiraga Minya (Utsurou Toki no Naka de) will start "Bugei Michiyuki NERU", an exclusively digital short series about martial arts, in Weekly Shonen Jump Issue #42. pic.twitter.com/zEgPaeHXgg
— Weekly Shonen Jump (@WSJ_manga) September 13, 2020
Such a practice would not be entirely unusual for Shueisha. Weekly Shonen Jump has always taken a chance on rookie authors, and the one-shot system has long since been a vehicle for authors to ‘test out’ their ideas before committing to a serialization proper. That’s how One Piece started, along with Gintama and Naruto – only authors with previous successes, such as Tatsuki Fujimoto and Akira Toriyama, tend to jump right in.
In this sense, Bunkiten is just the logical next step in Shueisha’s publication strategy. But it is quite a big one. Experts have been saying for a while that lowering circulation numbers and increased volume sales might make maintaining paper magazines untenable in the long-term, and this might be the first step in Shueisha transitioning to an all-digital magazine along the lines of Manga Goraku in the future.
Still, that future is probably a long time off.
You can read Bunkiten in the digital editions of Weekly Shonen Jump issues 33/34 through 41. Given that this practice will probably continue into the future, let’s hope VIZ Media and Manga Plus pick it and others up ASAP!