Time Paradox Ghostwriter 001-003 – Manga Review
Synopsis: The future of Shonen Jump manga is here! Literally! In the microwave! (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)
(Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
Time Paradox Ghostwriter opens with the potential to be an introspective story centered on one Teppei Sasaki who grapples with a relatable internal struggle tied to his quest to break into the manga industry. Unfortunately, the series seems eager to undermine itself, as subsequent chapters pull the series from that possibly deep line of introspection into a more typical info-manga about working in the industry/an out and out fluff piece for Shonen Jump itself. Let’s Jump In!
Time Paradox Ghostwriter opens with a flash forward, teasing audiences with the sci-fi aspect to come. It has to do this, because what immediately follows is 23 pages of a much more grounded story used to introduce us to our lead, Teppei Sasaki. The core of Teppei’s story is rife with relatability. Teppei Sasaki is your typical early 20s aspiring artist/writer. He’s struggling to break into the industry, yet refuses to give up due to his intense passion. In one way Teppei is Jump’s readers fantasy about joining the manga industry directly challenged, with brutal honesty about how difficult it can be to break into the magazine. In another it’s an honest account of how unforgiving and uncompromising breaking into any creative industry is. The struggle isn’t just, can he break in or can’t he, but also an internal one as Teppei isn’t sure what he even has to say as a budding author. He has no great passion, beyond wanting to be a Mangaka. In this way Time Paradox feels deeper than the rest of Jump’s line up, taking a harder look at its main character than most typical additions to the magazine. That said, it’s not without its own fantasy elements, one’s that irk me so much more the stale Shonen Tropes I’ve so often complained about before.
For as real as Teppei’s story can feel, there’s a lot of Shonen Jump boot-licking in these pages. For starters, there’s the literal exclusive focus on Jump. For as much as Teppei whines over his inability to get his manga published, there’s no effort to shop his work around to different magazines. Shonen Jump is but one of many manga magazines across Japan. While yes, Jump is the biggest, it’s hardly his only option. I might be willing to buy that we’ve simplified the behind the scenes, cutting out other publishers, purely to keep the story approachable for less knowing audiences, if not for a couple additional elements that paint Jump as a bastion of unassailable quality.
After a short character introduction Teppei meets with his editor, who’s been assigned to him after he won a rookie award, to try and mold him into a bankable author. While the editor himself is eventually revealed to be a villainous-esque character, more on that later, he spouts lines about Jump being some great bastion of quality. That only truly unique stories, with creativity and passion, get published in Jump. As someone who has been reviewing Shonen Jump in earnest for half a decade now? That’s hogwash. Jump constantly publishes turds, titles that are extremely derivative and lacking in personality. What bothers me so much about this is how self-aggrandizing it is of Jump to publish something like this, promoting a fictionalized version of Jump where they’re beyond reproach and never, ever wrong. Heck, we literally just had a Jump addition this year that ripped off Attack on Titan, rather blatantly, just to get attention.
It doesn’t stop there though. After Teppei is rejected twice, redoubling his effort each time, we finally catch up to the flash forward. Teppei reads a Shonen Jump miraculously transported from the future and discovers White Knight, a 2030 Jump addition that screams with creativity, passion, everything he lacks. It comes on the heels of him accepting/deciding that he’s a failure. From there Teppei misplaces the Jump issue, understandably believes he’s hallucinating after multiple nights of no sleep, and sets about recreating the Chapter 1 he found so enthralling as his own, believing it to be his own creative genius that crafted it. It’s here then that my final issue with Shonen Jump’s portrayal comes into play.
Teppei breaks into Jump’s HQ and accosts his editor to read his newly finished work. The editor freaks out and becomes the total villain he’s been waiting to be– telling Teppei he has zero talent. It’s here that Jump’s editor in chief appears, willing to overlook Teppei barging in to give his work a true chance. Anything for manga. It’s fluff, pure unadulterated fluff, and only gets worse as the entire editorial department turns on Teppei’s first editor as soon as Teppei’s work turns out to be incredible gold. The portrayal here absolutely paints Jump magazine as filled with people who out and out know quality story-telling and are passionate, understanding, highly kind people. It’s not to say I think the Jump staff is awful. But real life is so often grey, with people heroes one minute, and villains the next. At its heart Jump is a business, and to see Jump publish something that paints themselves as pure hearted heroes comes off as bordering on propaganda.
Still, by the end of Chapter 1 I saw real promise. My issues with Jump’s portrayal aside, there’s a great story to unfold here with Teppei’s own internal struggle to be creative, to produce a hit, and the realization that comes with Chapter 2 that in truth he’s nothing more than a plagiarizer. Unfortunately, Chapters 2 and 3 largely deflate my excitement, as the series actively undermines Teppei’s struggle with having unwittingly become a plagiarist.
Plagiarism is a big issue. It’s one every creative type fears and honestly one audiences seem to care little about. When Teppei realizes he’s become a plagiarist it’s a big moment, and something he struggles with. Though, because the story is Time Paradox Ghostwriter, he kinda needs to succumb to his desire to be successful, over his desire to be honest. Here that’s basically what happens, with the internal rationalization to go along with it. He’s stolen work from the future, and outside of diverging Timelines allowing him to continue to get copies of a manga that will now no longer exist in his future, Teppei sees it now his duty to continue to re-appropriate this other author’s story.
My hope had been that Teppei might become a corrupt lead of sorts, like Light Yagami. Someone we root for initially, only to gradually realize he’s the out and out villain. Unfortunately Teppei ends up absolved of his plagiarizing woes quite quickly. After an awkward confrontation with Itsuki Aino, the High School Junior girl who would’ve eventually become White Knight’s author, where she challenges him on how he came up with her story, Teppei is left off the hook. Despite the impossibly on the nose similarities between her story and ‘his,’ including the name itself, Itsuki is too naive to recognize that she’s, in all absurdity, been plagiarized. She vows instead to be Teppei’s rival and craft an even better story, ultimately absolving Teppei of any true consequences for his mistake.
I’ve seen people lambast the idea of anyone getting miffed over Time Paradox’s plagiarism angle, noting that this the story involves Time travel, how could you possible compare the two? The trouble is Plagiarism, regardless of fanciful story elements, does exactly as Teppei describes in Chapter 2 – it robs the world of the real story. Plagiarism is so often forgiven outside of academic settings. In the industry, behind the scenes, it’s taken seriously, but it often feels like readers do not care if something they like has stolen origins. In truth when an author or artist plagiarizes, particularly from someone who hasn’t managed success, you have robbed the world of their original story/work. Audiences aren’t going to want to start a second book series that is the plagiarized version’s inspiration because it’ll basically be the same story, just with superficial differences. The author who has suffered plagiarism is forced to abandon their work and create anew. While Itsuki is portrayed here as perfectly willing to do that, with a big smile on her face, it’s not nearly so easy in reality and that makes Time Paradox’s portrayal so frustrating, undermining a real issue many artists wish readers and admirers would take so much more seriously. (As an aside, true accounts of successful plagiarism are few and far between, so it’s not as if it’s a rampant, unchecked issue. Just a frustrating one, in particular with how disinterested non-creative types can be.)
So, what’s my verdict on Time Paradox Ghostwriter? We have a title here that had real potential to be a character piece, something where we deep dive into Teppei, and perhaps the author’s own personal woes, about the struggle of creativity. We might still do some of that, but the way the series has chosen to handle the plagiarism aspect makes me dubious how deep a character study we can really expect. Instead I think we’re much more likely to get Bakuman 2.0, with insight into the Jump creative process and publishing being a prime component, as well as Itsuki and Teppei’s rivalry, however that plays out. I think we’ll still challenge Teppei in regards to continuing to plagiarize White Knight from the future, but I don’t expect strong writing in this effort anymore.
As for if the manga will be a success? Despite my misgivings I kind of expect this title to be a hit. While authors are often urged not to do stories like this, it’s generally seen as gauche to write about struggling authors, I think this is the kind of story that Japan readership will be eager to eat up. Jump’s main demographic is likely filled with teens who dream of becoming mangaka, and this story is likely to connect with them immediately. The fantasy/sci-fi angle of Jump issues coming from the future probably gives it an added bonus too, particularly as any reader identifying with Teppei finds the issue of plagiarism so readily swept away, keeping the fantasy of the reader being able to do the same chaste and pure.
For as down as I have been in this review, I am still curious as to exactly what the author intends to do with various elements. How is the Itsuki of the modern day going to become Teppei’s rival? Will the microwave perhaps present problems for Teppei and his ghostwriting? Will he actually find himself growing disillusioned with plagiarizing another’s work and find that doing so isn’t fulfilling? There’s also little hints, like the image above, that could indicate, depending on how much thought our author is putting into this, that the story intends to challenge something related to my complaints about audience reaction to plagiarism: Readership’s general disinterest in the authors themselves. There’s a lot of questions that are still in need of answers and as much as I’m more of a downer on this title, I am still eager to be pleasantly surprised.
That’s it for this week! Let me know your thoughts on Time Paradox Ghostwriter!
Time Paradox Ghostwriter is published weekly in Shonen Jump.