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If you’ve ever taken time to browse the manga selection at your local bookstore, it’s likely that you’ve seen Viz’s Shonen Jump line of manga. They all sport white bindings, a $7.95 price tag and usually take up quite a bit of shelf space. The line, devoted to manga meant for younger male readers, largely (but certainly not exclusively), feature either preteen or early-teen boys with special abilities. These young guys are often traveling with adults or older teens who they are somehow better fighters and magic-trick-of-the-book users than.

Recently, Viz launched a new line, Shonen Jump Advanced. Like the regular Shonen Jump line, these books are also aimed at adolescent boys but this time more of the older teen variety. The creators of two of these books, I”s (pronounced Ai-Zu) and Hunter X Hunter already have popular series released by Viz.

Hunter X Hunter, by Yoshihiro Togashi of YuYu Hakusho fame, actually doesn’t seem to have a lot to separate it from the regular Shonen Jump line. It features Gon, a kid who sets off to become a Hunter (special, elite people who hunt treasure, magical beasts and whatnot) to find his father. Along the way and upon reaching the Hunter training grounds, he encounters a fairly standard group of friends: Leorio, who’s just in it for money, Kurapika, who wants to become a Hunter because Hunters can access the places he needs to go to avenge the deaths of his people, and Killua, another boy Gon’s age who’s only undergoing Hunter training because all the less dangerous things bore him. There are others, of course, but with the exception of the first villain of the piece, they all seem to be fairly disposable at the moment. While the book itself was enjoyable and never comes close to reaching the cringe inducing unreadable-ness that I’ve encountered in some other shonen manga, it does feature the main factor that keeps me away from most shonen manga: the kid who’s apparently better in all ways to all the adults around him. Now, I can accept that a kid who’s fifteen or so can out-smart and out-fight an adult if he has enough natural ability, training and intelligence. I can’t quite stretch my mind far enough to accept the same of ten-twelve year old kids doing the same. I seem, however, to be somewhat in the minority with this opinion, as this particular genre seems to be going quite strong. Still, I am rather interested in a few plot points - primarily Gon’s searching for his missing father, and Kurapika’s quest for revenge. It looks, however, as if the next several books will be devoted to the insanely difficult training all aspiring hunters have to survive.

I”s, by Masakazu Katsura, creator of Video Girl A.I., on the other hand is a book I was fairly sure would be a keeper when I first flipped through it, and I was right. Like Ken Akamatsu’s Love Hina, this is a romance for boys, which means it’s told primarily from the guy’s perspective (in this case, the rather shy and awkward with girls; Ichitaka) and features more than its share of bra and panty shots, but we’ll ignore that particular aspect as an unavoidable side effect. Now, when I say “shy and awkward with girls,” I don’t mean a little mumbling and stuttering and not knowing what to say, I mean that he’s so worried that he’ll do that, that he shuts himself off completely to the point where he comes off as a disinterested jerk.  s we begin, Ichitaka has just been shown a swimsuit spread in a magazine that his crush, Iori, posed for (apparent, Iori was unaware of just what kinds of pictures she’d be posing for when she agreed to the spread, though I’m not sure just what kinds of pictures she thought they’d be). Now, mind you, Ichitaka has never actually had the nerve to approach Iori or even hold a normal conversation with her, giving Iori the distinct impression that he doesn’t like her, which you really can’t blame her for. Unfortunately for Iori, the magazine spread pretty much declared open season on her as far as the boys at school are concerned, leading to verbal and even physical harassment. Fortunately for her, Ichitaka (and a baseball bat that tends to just magically appear when needed) is there to come to her rescue. Unfortunately for Ichitaka, he always ends up looking like one of the harassers. Iori, however, is a smart girl and is able to look past the circumstantial evidence and realize that it wasn’t him, though that isn’t to say that he doesn’t manage to get himself into enough trouble with her on his own. Throughout the book, Ichitaka is bolstered onward by his memories of his childhood friend, Itsuki’s, encouraging words, establishing her as a very important part of his life. A part, we learn at the very end, who likes to walk around the house dressed in just her underwear and who has apparently come to stay with his family, not a good thing for his budding romance. Oh, and the art is some of the better art I’ve seen in manga, too.

A bit of a mixed beginning, all told. While I’m not sure just what sets Hunter X Hunter apart of the regular Shonen Jump line, I”s, while clearly meant for boys, would certainly not fit in there, and girls whose primary experience with manga was the rest of Viz’s Shojo line would likely be scared off by the bountiful and provacative underwear shots. While I like the idea of the Shonen Jump Advanced line (just as I’d like to see a similar division of shojo titles for both younger and older readers) I hope that future offerings are more clearly distinguished from the regular Shonen Jump line, like I”s.

- Megan B. Moore

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