Earlier last year, I picked up some serious amounts of manga. Which has only been on the rise since that last post. It’s neither here nor there, but among the volumes of manga I picked up was “Honmani Kanjani Eight!!” (Real Kanjani Eight!!). Given Ryo Nishikaido’s withdrawal from the group, and former member Subaru Shibutani’s solo debut last month; it was time to read and review this series.
It’s the perfect storm for me. It’s cheap manga, complete set, Johnny’s Entertainment, and attractive idols… Surprisingly, I’m not a giant fan of Kanjani Eight. I didn’t really even know about them until I saw this manga on shelves! It’s a bit of injustice that I’m only getting into them, considering that they have gone through some serious line-up changes recently. Before diving into the manga, I think it’s important to know about the actual group first.
Kanjani Eight, formed as eight members in 2002. Their original concept was to be Johnny’s “modern enka group”, which was maintained until about mid-2006. Afterwards, the group transitioned to a pop-rock sound. They were originally composed of eight members; You Yokoyama, Shingo Murakami, Ryuhei Maruyama, Shota Yasuda, Tadayoshi Okura, Hiroki Uchi, Subaru Shibutani, and Ryo Nishikaido. As of 2019, they have released 36 singles, and nine studio albums. On top of various sucessful tours, Tv programs, dramas, etc.
However, Hiroki Uchi was only active in the group from 2003 to 2006. He withdrew from the group due to a medical situation. Last year, in April 14th (2018) Subaru Shibutani announced that he would be withdrawing from the group at the end of his contract (December 31st 2018) with limited activities until that date. Last month, Ryo Nishikaido announced that he would be leaving Kanjani Eight, and Johnny’s Entertainment entirely. As of now the group is continuing as five members.
With the facts of the real deal listed, it’s time to get into the manga! The manga serialized from 2007 to 2010. Despite the title we follow protagonist Asato Kuramae, a young woman whose band has disbanded. Her older sister, to drag her out from her depression has Asato hired at her company, Johnny’s Entertainment, to do the behind the scenes photos for the idol band; Kanjani Eight. Asato has some experience with photography, but absolutely hates idols. When she says this aloud, it certainly causes some problems between her and the group! Yet, forced by her sister, as well as by her own motivations, Asato persists in the job, and finding herself really getting to the real Kanjani Eight.
This series I was expecting to fall a bit closer to the Ayumi Hamsaki manga, or something closer to Idolish7. I anticipated it to be more autobiographical of the group, but told from the perspective of a self-insert character. In a sense, Asato is that self-insert character, it’s a bit obvious from seeing the author’s self portrait and then Asato’s design.
However, ‘Real Kanjani Eight’ isn’t a auto-biographical manga. Not only Asato and her older sister, but several more original characters join the cast. We have Sakura, Asato’s former bandmate turned solo idol, and Maru the former drummer with a crush on Asato. A second camera man, Yukimura, a writer Hanako Imoto, a few ghosts, a few animals, and a lot of fans join the cast as well! While Kanjani Eight remain the main focus of the series, rather then just re-hashing their career in manga format, they’re given a… manga alternative universe to act in? The manga is grounded in the group’s actual career timeline, but has room to have some manga-only deviations.
We see not only Kanjani Eight grow as individuals, with their strong suits explored within the series. Real fears, likes and dislikes, and tendencies of each member/habits (I consulted a real life fan I know to confirm), are used to explore them as characters and people. There’s only so much those characteristics that can be pushed, so having them interact with Asato, gives the story more depth and conflict. I came to learn about Kanjani Eight, and left feeling pretty attached to the fictional characters as well!
I appreciate seeing the artist grow as the series progressed. Comparing the covers, the artist improved a lot over the course of serialization. It becomes more… confident. I don’t know how to describe it, since it’s consistent but there was a lot of subtle improvement. Miyauchi plays with panel layout and composition within the panels. The details become more focused and emphasize without coming off too cartoony, unless that was the goal. However, like many series, even the most recent chapters come off quite dated art and story-wise.
One of the major issues of this series is that there’s not too much conflict. Any issues the characters go through, gets solved within a few chapters, especially in the last two volumes. As I read more manga, it becomes a bit clearer to me each time which authors were given hard deadlines to finish the story, and which ones were asked to continue for as long as possible. This series is really impressive given it’s materials. It was published in a for-real manga magazine, with five volumes, twenty chapters, starring a real-life boyband; that’s not an easy feat to pull off!
Another issue the manga runs into is that the art is incredibly hit or miss. Even when I bought it for cheap, I was pretty turned off by the style initially. It took awhile for the art to grow on me. There is a balance when using real people in a series, or as a reference of making them similar to who they actually are, but also stylizing them. Miyauchi does a fairly good job of keeping them handsome, but more relatable on covers. Fans will immediately recognize the line-up of faces at a glance. However, there are issues of their more cartoon-y or caricature usage for gags/humor in the series. There’s a balance between everything, especially since chapters would have to go through Johnny’s to get approval, but for being among their earlier and longer real-idol manga projects; it’s a solid start.
The last point is the double edged sword; appeal. Yes, this was released back when Kanjani Eight were in peak popularity, so it sold fairly well initially. There was also the factor of not only fans of the group, but just Johnny’s fans or idol fans would pick up copies. The audience beyond that is fairly limited, even for second hand markets. Unlike the Ayumi Hamasaki manga, there’s no real nostalgia affect. It’s also not quite old enough to be a collectible item, nor was it limited in release. It’s a bit too long and broad in storyline to really capture a specific era of the group. There’s original characters so it really doesn’t quite fall into being a biographic either. It’s left in a weird nebulous space of existing, but not quite collectible or essential for fans to seek out.
That’s just me being nit-picky though. When it comes down to be enjoyable to read, yes it is. There’s enough ‘get to know member x’ to help you along, side characters worth investing some feeling into, and a surprising amount of gags that might get a laugh or two out of you. The Japanese is fairly straight forward, with furigana used throughout to help with trickier words. While it does show some downsides to entertainment industry, especially in latter chapters, it never gets too dark. Surprisingly, it also got a sequel that’s also five volumes long too! For idol fans, or Johnny’s fans it’s pretty cheap to get to pick up a copy. For just casual fans, don’t fret, you’re not missing much.