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Medaka Box Steadily Improving

After uninspiring beginnings which have placed it in danger of cancellation for months, Medaka Box is finally starting to find some direction in its plot and character development.

The series follows first-year student Medaka Kurokami (pictured, right), the newly-elected student council president, who is impossibly near-perfect in every area, including academics, athletics, and looks. She sets up a suggestion box in hopes of helping students in need and improving the school. She is joined by her childhood friend, the comparatively normal Zenkichi Hitoyoshi (pictured, left), who does not wish to join the student council, but does want to stay close to Medaka.

The problem with Medaka Box has never been the characters. Medaka complements her excellent mental and physical traits with a strong personality, which generally presents itself in humorous ways. One recurring scenario is for her to stand immediately behind someone and exactly mimic their pose (example). Zenkichi is the closest the series has to a comedic straight man, and is the only character with which the audience has a chance to relate. The secondary characters are all diverse and interesting, though some of their traits feel forced, as though the author is trying to make each new introduction live up to the absurdity of Medaka.

Instead, the problem Medaka Box faced upon its debut was the similarity of its plot template to existing series. The core concept of Medaka, that a small group undertakes tasks to assist whoever asks, was already shared by two currently-running series in the same magazine: Gintama and Sket Dance. Granted, there are some notable differences; Gintama mostly uses this format as a device to launch other, more involved plots (whether gag or serious), and Sket Dance splits the focus of its absurd humor between the three main characters, unlike Medaka Box, in which most of the focus is on Medaka herself. Still, the comparisons (especially between Medaka and Sket Dance) are apt, and they gave Medaka a rehashed feel in its early chapters.

Recently, though, Medaka Box has moved away from its original short-form gag stories and has introduced an overarching plot. The story currently borrows less from the specific Gintama– or Sket Dance-like formula, and has broadened its style to more typical shonen action. Most importantly, the spotlight once monopolized by Medaka is now being shared by Zenkichi and the rest of the student council, and by no coincidence, fan interest in Medaka Box is growing. In particular, Zenkichi is proving to be essential to the quality of the series. In this setting of absurd people with ridiculous abilities, the most interesting character is undoubtedly Zenkichi, who struggles to overcome his normalcy and remain by Medaka’s side. His recent battle, which began in chapter 33, has been the best instance of character development the series has offered to date. It will be difficult but critical for the author to continue to expand upon someone designed as an antithesis to the main character.

Furthermore, the author will be operating under pressure to improve. Medaka Box entered the bottom 5 for the first time in WSJ Issue 35, 2009 (July 27), and has since never been out of the bottom 5 for two consecutive weeks. (Explanation of the “bottom 5” now in the Terminology section of the About page.) It’s receiving some support from volume sales (Volume 2 sold over 82,000 volumes in its first two weeks), and it is receiving a drama CD adaptation, but, behind Neko Wappa!, is one of the series most eligible for cancellation. Given the eight-week delay between chapters and their placement in the table of contents, it’s possible that Medaka could soon escape the bottom 5, but it will need to finish this arc strongly to have any chance of long-term survival.

Medaka debuted in Weekly Shonen Jump Issue 24, 2009 (May 18). The series is written by Nisio Isin, author of the Monogatari light novel series, of which Bakemonogatari has already received an anime adaptation, and the Katanagatari samurai epic, whose anime adaptation is currently airing. Isin is not new to manga, having previously worked with renowned manga artist Takeshi Obata (Hikaru no Go, Death Note) on Uro-oboe Uroboros, a 2008 one-shot in Weekly Shonen Jump. Medaka is drawn by artist Akira Akatsuki, previously known for the brief 2007 WSJ series Contractor M&Y.

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