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For 40 years, 'Kochikame' manga offered a window on Japan

A fan picks up a copy of the final volume of Kochikame, along with a weekly Shonen Jump magazine at a bookstore in Tokyo's Takadanobaba district.

TOKYO -- The popular Japanese manga series "Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Koen-mae Hashutsujo," better known as "Kochikame," ended its record run in September.

The slapstick manga appeared in the Shonen Jump weekly comic magazine over four decades. A total 200 volumes of the manga have been published. "Kochikame" was recently recognized by Guinness World Records for most volumes published in a single series.

Kochikame tells the tale of a police officer nicknamed Ryo-san and takes place in the district of Kameari in northeastern Tokyo.

This issue of Shonen Jump printed the last episode of Kochikame.

Sept. 17 was a big day for many fans -- publication day both for the series finale in Shonen Jump and the completion of the 200th volume.

"When I read through episodes, memories of my own experiences that are linked to each story came back like flashbacks," said Toshihide Sekine, a man in his 40s who works at a bookstore in Tokyo. "I realize that Kochikame is one of few mangas I have spent my life with."

The end of Kochikame is an event in itself. Copies of the 200th volume immediately sold out in bookstores in Kameari. Shonen Jump lauded the series as "never to be beaten."

While Japan has many long-running manga, such as "Golgo 13" by Takao Saito, Kochikame is rare for a comedy in that each story is self-contained, rather than running over several weeks or months. It also stands out for running so long in Shonen Jump, one of Japan's most popular weekly manga magazines, which is known for being quick to ax works that fail to attract readers.

 "It is a good time for the finale, with the 40th anniversary of the comic series and the publication of the 200th volume," said author Osamu Akimoto, although he said part of him wanted to keep going. Akimoto expressed disbelief that a manga series aimed at boys could last for 40 years. 

A long story

Writers and scholars have some theories to explain Kochikame's longevity. "It was perhaps because Kochikame had a steady home it could go back to anytime," said Masaki Tsuji, a scriptwriter for "Tetsuwan Atom" ("Astro Boy") and other TV anime.

The series' themes vary from building plastic models and gaming to heartwarming episodes of life downtown. Some even have a science fiction tone.

Osamu Akimoto, second from right, holds up an award from Guinness World Records on Sept. 14 in Tokyo.

"It's the fate of comedy manga to hop from topic to topic and spice up stories to keep readers from getting bored," said Tsuji. "These comics can often go too far afield, and their charm may fade over time. But Kochikame readers can feel safe: Ryo has his home base," said Tsuji. That home base is the neighborhood koban, or police box, where Ryo works. 

Go Ito, a Tokyo Polytechnic University professor and manga critic, said a major attraction of Kochikame is its ability to pick up on the latest trends, such as advanced technology, and current affairs, starting in the early 1980s. Ito said Akimoto shifted the focus of his stories with the arrival of an era in Japan when children and youth are mass consumers.

The stories often incorporated new technologies such as mobile phones and the internet much earlier than most people in the real world. Many episodes followed a pattern: The hapless Ryo would come up with a scheme to make a fortune using some innovative tool, but fail in the end. "The manga piece has managed to stay evergreen and engage old and new readers by adding fresh water to the old container continuously," Ito said.

Koji Nanba, a professor at Kwansei Gakuin University who studies media history, thinks the author's endless effort to stay current was a major selling point for the stories. "Kochikame is valuable evidence of historical changes in media tools and social trends over the decades," said Nanba. "It's just like a scroll that illustrates history."

According to the Sept. 17 issue of Shonen Jump, Akimoto plans to unveil four new manga in the fall. The author said he will continue to illustrate because he wants to discover a new self. He also said drawing manga gives him fresh opportunities to look behind closed doors.

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