At first Hayate the Combat Butler by Kenjiro Hata and Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei by Koji Kumeta might not seem like manga with a common ancestry. The sense of humor and storytelling is quite different in both manga. Hayate has a very traditional design for a comedy manga in Shonen Sunday where as Zetsubou-Sensei is very stylized. But when we realize that Kenjiro Hata used to be an assistant to Koji Kumeta we begin to see greater similarities in their styles. When we look at, Katte ni Kaizo, a manga they both worked on together we can see how Hata was influenced by Kumeta. Hata’s work on Heroes of the Sea Lifesavers is clearly influenced by his mentor. Hata would go on to develop his own style in Hayate while Kumeta would further continue to refine his own style in Zetsubou-Sensei. I have compiled some samples from each manga to help illustrate this evolution.
Above are two panels from the early chapters of Katte ni Kaizo. He has a standard layout of panels but is not afraid to deviate from the norm. On the lower left had corner of the first page we see the increasingly smaller and smaller panels that spiral inward in a style that Kumeta likes to use especially when he gets to frenzied points in the plot. Everyone’s hair style is bold and distinct but can be drawn with no shading or line work and often is. On first page we get two reaction shots with black backgrounds that Kumeta uses for bold reaction shots but on the second page we see how he does more sedate reactions. The first page also shows us Kumeta’s love of charts, lists, and diagrams in the background for comedy scenes and rants.
With Hata’s Heroes of the Sea Lifesavers one of this earliest solo works where we get to see the beginning of his transition to his own style while still seeing traces of his influences. All of the backgrounds, especially the beach side restaurant and it’s foliage, look very much like the backgrounds one would see in Katte ni Kaizo. The hair is more detailed than Kumeta’s but it still retains some of Kumeta’s stylization. The reaction shots are similar but you never have the drastic all black backgrounds that Kumeta likes to use for extreme reactions. Also Hata seems to always have some bit of background scenery in panels whereas Kumeta will often not draw a background at all. His paneling is very standard Shonen Sunday paneling as opposed to the more unconventional paneling of his mentor.
Above is about the best comparison you can ask for. The cover on the right is the original cover for Heroes of the Sea Lifesavers and the cover on the left is the newly drawn cover for the reprint that was released along with Hayate volume 25. Hata’s coloring and shading have changed with the difference in technology over the years. His hair is much less like Kumeta’s and now has a greater amount of line work and shading. The male characters seem taller and a bit more svelte. We can also see a distinct change in overall character design especially in the eyes.
With this page from a recent chapter of Hayate we see the full transformation. One of Hayate’s old classmates named Souya has the same name and character design as the main character from Heroes of the Sea Lifesavers but is clearly drawn in Hata’s modern style. The backgrounds, hair styles, eyes, and foliage are now much more inline with Hata’s style. There has been a slow but gradual shift towards Hata having his own style while still retaining traces of his mentor’s.
Kumeta himself has changed in the meantime as well. His work on Zetsubou-Sensei has become extremely stylized compared to his work on Katte ni Kaizo. The hair is now almost always one uniform shape with the absolute minimum of coloring and line work. Backgrounds are mostly nonexistent and extremely minimalist. The use of charts, lists, and diagrams as well as they very unique paneling has only increased. He has taken everything that made him unique back in his Katte ni Kaizo days and intensified it stylistically.
I’m not sure whose art style I prefer but both styles suite the subject matter of their comics well. It does make me wonder how much art style effect story and vice versa. I will conclude by stating that I hardly consider myself an expert on sequential art especially as compared to several of the people I regularly read. So one of the main purposes of this article is to throw this skeleton of a concept up and see what readers with a greater understanding of manga artistry can extract from it.