A lot of Yamashita's earlier work seems to be the equivalent of what you'd see in a typical 4 panel gagfest. That is, the Pokemon with Jokes type, and yet, he finds a way to make the jokes bizarre nevertheless. They end up falling in the middle of the spectrum anyway just by virtue of his sense of humor.
You can typically find other mangaka as well who have a similar sense of humor within a collective 4 Koma such as the Pocket Monster Gag Battle. However, the artist is only given several pages, and unfortunately the ones who are really good never last long enough. LIKE THIS GUY'S psychotic strips.
That's also what gives Yamashita another edge. He works solo and has longevity on his side. And having worked so long at this, he's even started to creep into graphic novel territory. In a sense, it really is no different than your newspaper comics, with the (usually) four panel dailies and then your longer sundays. In later books, even though comics are still divided into strips, they follow various plots (albeit brief) and it's a bit more cohesive. The only other Pokemon gag series I know that has cohesive (and I used that loosely) plots is the Coro Coro Pocket Monsters serial staring Isamu and his off kilter Clefairy. I should mention that those comics crank the insanity to eleven.
You know, speaking of newspaper comics, I do have the collection of sunday comics from Ashura Benimaru Itoh. How do they stack up?
Don't let the selective effort fool you, Benimaru can illustrate (NOTE: contains questionable content). Nice!
And he scores major points for referencing EarthBound directly in a newspaper comic. Who cares about Mario, that's way too easy. Itoh's got an impressive resume of franchises he's worked with, including my beloved Kirby, Pokemon and MOTHER series. Man, I'd love to have been him just for that.
Still, I feel these comics would've worked better, and lasted longer, if they were treated like Japanese comics and didn't try to mimic western newspaper comics to the letter. Some of the material doesn't deliver as intended, and while I know the kind of irreverent humor found in Japanese comics wouldn't make it past printing censorship, I think the Pokemon comics would've gained a stronger audience if not a bigger one if they had the same tone. Itoh also has a love for western culture, so he might not have been up for it.
Mind this, Itoh's strips were during the time where all adults thought "POKEYMON IS FAD", so it had a lot more critics and cynicism. The Simpsons were big and so was South Park, so you can't tell me Japanese styled humor wouldn't've drawn a crowd, and it certainly would've stood out among many US funnies essentially trying to copy Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes (because they basically all do, just "edgier". In fact, Calvin and Hobbes takes from the really early Peanuts comics). Then again, this was also during a time where anime haters hating anime for the sake of being anime was pretty high up, too.
But I digress. Back to Mr. Yamashita...
The Japanese Wikipedia lists the loose continuity of Yamashita's series, and all the major players. I won't copy the list verbatim, but I can tell you that looking through the comics, I've seen how he took what were gag Pokemon at first and then fleshed them out into reoccuring characters. There's Meowth, who happens to be a thief. Squirtle appears to be a cheerful straight man, alongside Pikachu. Farfetch'd is always challenging people into battle, and shows off by coming to the rescue with his sword like leek. There's a Swablu who's obsessed with cleanliness, and an Abra who's about the most useless superhero ever. Alakazam is a schoolyard professor, and Mewtwo is like the Dick Dasterdly of the series (always trying to trap Pokemon, and it always backfiring). Then there's your gag characters like Slowpoke and Quagsire, who both happen to be Yamashita's favorite Pokemon (why else would he nickname himself "Yadon"?). They exist purely for jokes based on sloth or stupidity.
And then there's Jynx.
Yes. That. Jynx plays the love obsessed ugly chick who thinks highly of herself. Oh man, the last time I recall that role being played was in a Tex Avery cartoon. Of course, she didn't start off this way...
She wants to kiss everybody, and has no standards (well, okay. She won't touch Grimer), and I can't think of one Pokemon that isn't afraid of her presence. Even the Pokemon that controls time can't be bothered.
And since this is Aqua Bunny, it's even listed that the family of Nidos are cast members (minor perhaps, but enough to get listed). Yeah. That's right. Somewhere other than this site (and maybe art communities, I dunno), and in JAPAN no less, someone has ascended the Nidos into a higher plane of usage. In Japan. I don't think you realize how big that is. You are hard pressed, hard pressed to find Japanese fans of Nidos willing to do the same thing (and no, sexualizing the heck out of Nidoqueen most certainly does not count). So I just have to give "Yadon" bonus points, brownie points, e-cookies and how ever many internets he could possibly care to receive for that. AND THEY'RE CUTE. Call me biased, but it's my article! >:( I'll tack on a 3x multiplier to everything I said I'd give him.
Speaking of cute, though, it's interesting that the chibification of the Pokemon has essentially become his actual style. When you look at the older works, they started off closer to the Sugimori models, yes even Jynx. Art evolution (or de-evolution if you think super deforming your models is a detriment to character design) began and his own signature style took over. And I don't know one person that doesn't happen to who draws something long enough.*
*The difference between drawing something on model many times before your style kicks in, and then drawing something to conform to your personal style, is that the latter usually turns out off model regardless of how stylish it looks (which doesn't make it a bad thing), while the former retains design nuances because you've drawn the character so many times you subconsciously know how they should look. Like I know Nidorina has three claws, four spikes, three toes, a tail and where the points on her ears specifically rest.
It's no wonder I got into his comics just for the pure sake of enjoying them. He could probably hook you in with your favorite Pokemon, too, and he gives them all pretty fair shakes (last time I did anything like that was back in 1999-whenever I finished Poke Legends). You won't get that in a lot of other 4 panel comics, the Coro Coro serial, or even the more serious comics like Pokemon Special. They may take a more Pokemon of the Day approach but that's about it.
You know you want more.
And because this is Aqua Bunny, this one with Persian has a silhouette of Nidorina.
Sure, there are other artists who do a couple of 4 panel gag comics that are also Poke centric instead of trainer centric, but I feel they pale in comparison. Take Santa Harukaze for example, and compare this to a similar strip by Yamashita.
I feel that in direct comparision, Harukaze's works aren't nearly as expressive, or as engaging. He also tends to fall into the trap of making too many Pokemon + Joke strips, with a few of them hitting that range of "I can't even find anything visually exciting about this", which when you can't even understand the language hurt it that much more (I doubt these types are gut busters even if I could. A lot of the game-based trainer gagfests are four straight panels of dialouge and I can still tell something guffaw worthy is going on).
Even his Jynx pales in comparision, characterization wise, and I get the feeling Yamashita started this trend first. Still a funny comic, though. For what it's worth, there's still plenty of good material, but it's definately flatter (and sometimes stiffer with the character design). I mean, I like Porygon and I think this one is pretty creative.
And here's some more from Harukaze. Some are better than others, but all give an amusing range of the Type A and Type C kind of gag humor.
Generally speaking, I feel there's no reason not to pick up one of Yamashita's comics, and moreso not to like them. It's full of humor that anyone can appreciate, from fans to casuals to people who ignore Pokemon. Sometimes the humor is irreverent but never at the level that the Coro Coro serial gets. It's got a reoccuring cast of ascended Pokemon (considering that's basically how he created his cast to begin with) in stories with no continuity, so that should inspire anyone who wants to make a Pokemon comic without getting heavily invested. All the Pokemon models are simplified and cute, even the overdesigned legendaries of the fourth generationand beyond are adorable. Jynx is partially an exception, but when you consider the blank faced anime design Jynx usually has, you'll appreciate Yamashita giving her distinguishing features at all. Every Pokemon is represented! And represented in a funny way too. You can't tell me you've never wanted to see a stoic Pokemon put under the lens of humor.
Yamashita has even drawn some art for a few Pokemon cards (I dunno if these were only in circulation in Japan, however), so people have got to like him. So, yeah I know this comes off as a plug for his works at this point, but seriously, if you like domesticated Pokemon/funny animal stories, I think you'll really be pleased to find your own copies of some Manga (check to see if you live near a Japanese market that also has a bookstore). Even if you like trainer comics, there's several strips that are just based on Red and other humans in the series, but these take a back seat to the Pokemon, and you never see humans in any of the more story focused...stories (except one about Red trying to catch Mew and failing). And if you're part of the extreme camps who don't like Pokemon or think a Pokemon's place is in the Pokeball (or in nature doing...absolutely nothing), I still say if you find one of these books, flip through it and see if one strip out of hundreds doesn't make you laugh. I defy you not to.
I hope you've enjoyed all the bonus strips I've scanned of so many Pokemon comics, and maybe now you're more interested in Pokemon comics, silly ones, too!
Appended Update - 5/26/13
For all you fans of Pokemon 4Koma, I have some mixed to good news. Thanks to the free comic book day that recently passed, I've found that VIZ Kids will be bringing some of them over under the name Pokemon Pocket Comics. Keep your pants up, though (haha, never thought I'd say that), we aren't getting Yamashita goodness. Instead, we're getting... *groan*... Harukaze's stuff. And just like that, the energy just died.
Okay, so I'm going to all sorts of extremes, but seriously, it looks like we'll soon have some of the comics from Santa Harukaze to behold. The best thing about this is that now I can finally put an illustrator to these comics, because it isn't listed anywhere else as of this update (wait a while, Bulbagarden'll get to it and everyone'll think they found it first :P), and, in an ideal world, this'll get general fans interested in silly Pokemon centered stories. Ain't nothing wrong with more of that.
The worst thing about this, in the perspective of this article, is that I was unfortunately right. +_+;
He also tends to fall into the trap of making too many Pokemon + Joke strips, with a few of them hitting that range of "I can't even find anything visually exciting about this", which when you can't even understand the language hurt it that much more (I doubt these types are gut busters even if I could...) - Patrick
Sadly, you can usually tell just by the layout of things if something is really good, or just worth a few chuckles at best. And good God is it EVER dependent on Type A. Not a good thing for non-religious followers of the franchise. Nevertheless, I gotta do my part and provide the scans, being a strong advocate of Pokemon centered stories. So, uh. Yeah.
And the other two pages for good measure: Scan 3 Scan 4
From scans one and two, I really have no idea what's going on in the Team Bad comic. Like, English can't make that more comprehensible. A Chilly Reception would benefit from what's called a "beat panel", but it's cute otherwise. Scan two has standard fare 4koma material, so it's good.
Further, in scan three, I'm not feeling the first comic at all, this is where having a dynamic style could help sell it... and maybe being a little more clever. The second is more cute than anything, but hard to follow with the odd placement of callouts (can't really blame VIZ here). I'm gonna call ignorance on Scan 4's Flames, guess I gotta be a BW fan, and finally A Feat seems like perhaps it was translated too literally? The gag and the dialogue seem inconsistent, and again, I'm not sure if I should concerned with VIZ or the source. Sometimes, Japanese gags are just awkwardly structured to us gaijin. *shrug*
A revelation I've had when doing some quick research on Santa Harukaze is that he's actually known for making some rather off-the-wall stuff. I mean, just take a look at his Sonic the Hedgehog material. Notice how he cuts loose there. I feel like I can't really fault him for the Pokemon comics, because now I'm starting wonder if he's only doing the illustration, and someone else is at fault for the dry direction. Feasible, but then you'd ask "why doesn't he bring some of that vivid zaniness to the Pokemon comics?" My best guess is that someone above him is telling him not to, which sucks, because he could at least make up for the direction with some more dynamic art. Sometimes you're only as good as the material someone gives you, though. *another shrug* It does seem typical of the Pokemon company to put the artistic restraints on when it comes to their IP, but it doesn't explain all the other 4komas.
*throws hands up* ACK, I DUNNO MAN! \O/
Anyway, I feel like VIZ missed out and hopped on the wrong wagon. The only thing they noticed was that "Pokemon" was painted on the side of it. They didn't know who was driving and where it was taking them. Maybe they don't know about Yamashita? Maybe they can't get a hold of his stuff for legal and/or licensing reasons? Who knows?
Well, thanks for reading. If you're interested, keep an eye out for Pokemon Pocket Comics, (supposedly) available October 2013. I'd still look out for Yamashita comics instead whenever you get an opportunity, given the option.
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