Whenever there is a commercial hit, there is always an attempt by publishers to capitalize upon and recreate its success. That is why so much merchandise is put out every year, along with anime adaptations; you could also say that the entire invention of battle manga as we know it was due to Fist of the North Star’s success. And yet, when it comes to Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, I can’t help but worry that Weekly Shonen Jump is learning all of the wrong lessons – capitalizing upon and attempting to recreate its success in the worst possible ways.
The main culprit of this is the Weekly Shonen Jump line-up. Out of the sixteen new series that joined the magazine so far this year, four of them have been about the supernatural or demon-themed: Bone Collection, Ayakashi Triangle, Phantom Seer, and Our Blood Oath. The line-up can then be further divided between serious and comedic series: the overabundance of gag manga in the form of Moriking, Magu-chan, Me & Roboco etc. has already been dealt with in a separate article.
What this means is that, out of eighteenth new series, only seven do not fit into distinct categories and thus appear more unique. But even then, not all of them have succeeded: Time Paradox Ghostwriter, for one, opened with an interesting premise but quickly squandered that with poor writing and haphazard pacing. Guardian of the Witch, too, suffered as a result of its paper-thin characters.
Even when new series do succeed, such as MASHLE, they are surrounded by a legion of others that look and feel exactly the same. Here is where the influence of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba’s success comes in. Clearly, the growing subset of supernatural and demon-themed series in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump is due to a desire to capitalize upon the record-breaking success of Koyoharu Gotouge’s series, and sometimes not even subtly so: while Bone Collection feels more like a Rumiko Takahashi series, Our Blood Oath clearly attempts to replicate the ‘bond of siblings’ that lay at the heart of Kimetsu no Yaiba.
Certainly, there are series that are a little more original, such as Phantom Seer, which is more of a mystery series. Yet, even then you have Ayakashi Triangle, which is clearly just the yokai from Kimetsu no Yaiba rendered in Kentaro Yabuki’s art style with plenty of boobs and ass – it’s tiresome.
Furthermore, I’d argue that the core appeal of Kimetsu no Yaiba has nothing to do with its supernatural leanings or bond between siblings: instead, it all comes down to the female characters.
Editor of Shogakukan’s shojo magazine Sho-Comi Masami Hatanaka was onto something last month when said that the “most-read shoujo manga this year” was Kimetsu no Yaiba. In her interview with Alu, she pointed out that the level of support among girls was just as high as among boys, and that Jump’s readership is now made up mostly of young women. What is the reason for this? As was brought up by the unfortunate controversy last yearsurrounding the ‘impossibility’ of female editors at Jump, most of these female fans are ‘women who like manga for boys’ – in other words, they’re not interested in the kind of romance or boys’ love stories that tend to dominate the shoujo landscape.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba stands out particularly well on account of its female characters, who are almost never objectified and instead stand on an equal footing with their male counterparts. The only male character who is obsessed with a female one, Zenitsu, is constantly ridiculed and almost never taken seriously, in fact; and the character designs, too, are very feminine, featuring lots of long hair and even earrings on the protagonist.
Masami Hatanaka says that it is the fact that Tanjiro has to put “effort” in to achieve his goals that is one of the main reasons why Kimetsu no Yaiba got so popular. I would have to disagree. Although the old adage of “friendship, effort, and victory” has long since been abandoned, there are plenty of series in Weekly Shonen Jump where the protagonist has to train and struggle to achieve their goals. It’s much more likely that the female audience, instead, wasn’t inundated with this type of story, and therefore felt fresh to them once they were introduced to it.
Speaking of introductions, one of the big factors in Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba’s success was undoubtedly Studio ufotable’s anime adaptation. The series was never really that popular in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump before it became an anime, hence why its success took so many by surprise.
What’s the deal? In my view, ufotable took source material with mainstream potential, hitherto hidden from public view, on account of its female characters and elevated it to success. It’s quite simple.
Nevertheless, this isn’t something that Weekly Shonen Jump can easily replicate. Anime projects require a large amount of funding and cooperation from third parties, so it stands to reason that not every Jump series gets animated. (Well, apart from Jimoto ga Japan.) So while cross promotion is, for the most part, off limits, the Jump editorial department is content with serializing the same type of series – to the detriment of the line-up.
Even if the editorial department were to commission series that actually capture the core appeal of Kimetsu no Yaiba (the female characters) then this risks affecting the integrity of shonen manga. At the end of the day, female fans enjoy male-oriented comics because they are different from what is aimed at them; while the shonen demographic is not necessarily made up of one genre, there are certain expectations.
To try and replicate Kimetsu no Yaiba’s success, then, is a zero sum game: either you lose faith with the female fans, or you end up filling the line-up with the same kinds of series. The problem here, of course, is the fact that publishing is not done for the sake of art, but ever-higher and ever-increasing profits – here we see the contradiction between artistic self-expression and the laws of capitalism. But that is a topic for another time.
For the time being, stop serializing supernatural series, Shuiesha.
You can read Weekly Shonen Jump via VIZ Media.