Thursday, November 21, 2019

Why I'm Excited for Finger Guns

I never - and I mean never - post about a comic until the week it comes out. This is a personal blog, not a news site, so I read solicits and press releases and maybe tweet about them, but that's it. So when I write an article about a comic over two months before it's in-store date, you know I mean serious business. Guys, we need to talk about Finger Guns.

What if you could make someone feel whatever you wanted, simply by pointing your finger at them? And what if that magical, surreal ability belonged to two troubled teenagers who need emotional control more than most? Welcome to the world of Finger Guns, a new Vault Comics series launching early next year.

I didn't get a press release about Finger Guns from Vault. Instead, I saw them tweet out a Hollywood Reporter exclusive on the 2020 series. When I first saw this tweet, I read a one-sentence premise, saw a single image, and had one thought come into my mind.

This is manga as fuck.

With the recent launch of the Shonen Jump app, thousands of chapters of the best manga in the world have been unleashed for just two bucks a month. After getting caught up on Dr. Stone, I dove into a series called Bakuman. From the creators of Death Note, Bakuman tells the story of two middle-schoolers who make a pact to become manga artists together.

Bakuman depicts the very real world of creating manga in Japan. From the glitz and glamour all the way to the stress and even hospitalization. The protagonists even end up published in Weekly Shonen Jump - in which Bakumon was serialized in real life - and goes deep into the magazine's format and the business.

While a fictionalized, semi-autobiographical story about kids who create manga sounds cool enough, it also serves to deconstruct many of the classic tropes seen in shonen manga. The two protagonists, working under the pseudonym Muto Ashirogi, attempt a number of times to create a classic battle manga with lots of punching and kicking.

But that's not Muto Ashirogi. They're different. The stories they create are more nuanced, emotional, and overall different. Not that you don't find that kind of stuff in One Piece or Naruto, but Ashirogi takes a more personal approach to manga. When they finally have a career-making hit on their hands, they choose to end in a satisfying way instead of letting it drag on forever - just as the immensely popular Death Note ended after just two years.

Bakuman ran a little longer than Death Note, but still ended where the authors intended, fulfilling the goal Ahirogi set for themselves in the first chapter. Despite it's brief run, the manga covers ten years of the duo's career and in that time they get a few series and a handful of one-shots published in Jump, but they also come up with ideas and pitches for a lot of different manga series that don't go anywhere. We don't actually get to read most of their manga, but the glimpses we get are far more interesting than any superpower school I've ever seen.

Between Dr. Stone and Bakuman, I actually tried catching up with another ongoing series: Black Clover. I'd read the first volume and wanted to read more, but I restrain myself from collecting more than the first volume of a long series. Thankfully, we have this new app! But here's the thing: Black Clover is just another boring, generic shonen battle manga. I don't care how many people recommend it, I still feel like it's something I've already seen a million times.

In further exploring the Shonen Jump app, I've found myself subconsciously ranking and rating different series on a new scale. How Muto Ashirogi is this series? Would Ashirogi make this? Would they like it? I know I probably shouldn't judge a manga based on the style of fictional creators. Hell, even replacing Ashirogi with the creators of Bakumon itself wouldn't be right. I'm not doing it on purpose.
So. Finger Guns. It's not just a series with a premise that hit's all my favorite feelings (smart and innovative, but also weird and stupid) but it's also the first western comic I've seen that passes my new scale for judging Japanese comics.

Finger Guns isn't just manga as fuck. It's Muto Ashirogi as fuck.

In the Bakuman universe, the Ashirogi duo is best known for a series about middle-schoolers who play dumb pranks but think they're amazing. Their big break was a one-shot about a world where you can buy people's "intelligence." In our world, the original Death Note "pilot" was about a  normal middle-schooler instead of a high school genius.

Now tell me the premise of Finger Guns isn't something Muto Ashirogi would create? It (I'm guessing) takes a goofy concept seriously to look at emotional maturity. It's not about a superhero and doesn't look like it'll have any action. And if you read creator interviews you can tell their personal experiences play a big role. Everyone involved with Finger Guns describes the characters as "teenagers" but the artwork makes them look thirteen, fourteen at most, so you can tell right away that this is going to be 100% chunibyo.

I'm not saying every shonen manga is about kids at a school where they learn to fight some kind of enemy but end up fighting each other for the most part, nor are any of those inherently bad. And I am well aware that superheroes don't dominate western comics. I read a lot of indie comics and, yes, they are very different and personal. But that doesn't mean they're all unique. A lot of comics these days, no matter where they were made, feel the same.

So when something like Finger Guns comes around and sets off my Ashirogi Alarm, I get excited. More excited than a favorite series coming back from hiatus. More excited than a creator I love starting something new. It's not just because it sounds like a manga - plenty of western comics do.

It's because Finger Guns blasted out of nowhere in a sea of comics I feel like I've seen a million times - a sea that spans both hemispheres - and it showed me something I've never seen before.