Manga Zombie, written by Udagawa Takeo , was published in Japanese in 1997 by Ohta Shuppan. The book covers a range of thirty-one Japanese manga artists active primarily in the 1960s and 70s. Some of the artists are relatively well-known in the English-speaking world, while others are famous or cult figures only in Japan. However, they are all, in some sense or other, "outsider" artists and figures of the sixties and seventies cultural underground. Most of them spent the bulk of their careers in short-lived magazines oriented towards graphic sex and violence, like Manga Erotopia. Some, however, saw success in more prestigious publications like Garo and mass-circulation mags like Shonen Jump.
The selection of artists was made by Udagawa Takeo on the basis that they represent the most authentic and exciting work being done in the medium before market forces (in Udagawa-san's point of view) squeezed the artists' freedom of expression to an absolute minimum in the late seventies.
Udagawa Takeo is a commentator on 60s/70s Japanese fringe culture, concentrating mainly on the manga scene. He is the co-author of Manga Jigoku-hen (Suiseisha, 1997) and J.A. Cesar no Sekai (Byakuya Shobo, 2002). He's also the author of Fringe Culture (Suiseisha, 1998) among other works. He's an informed, passionate and critical advocate of the artists he chooses to champion.
ComiPress has teamed up with Udagawa Takeo and translator John Gallagher to publish an online version of the English-language translation of Manga Zombie. This project's goal is to open up a wide range of lesser-known but valuable artists to the attention of the English-speaking world. It will help inform opinion and debate on manga and manga history in general, and will do so from an insider's perspective, while adding the background information and context necessary for the English-language reader.
By Udagawa Takeo
Translated by John Gallagher
Burn manga. Especially Eighties manga on.
Burn these pre-programmed comics that have been churned out ever since manga turned into a business. Burn these bastard things conceived in boardrooms and born as products.
For example, love stories that go on...and oon... and ooon...and oooon.
Burn them. Stories about heroes beating the odds through sheer grit and friendship. Burn them.
'Interactive' stories swinging any way the reader surveys tell them:
Burn. Them. All.
Come out of the grave, manga!
Screaming and streaming blood and sweat, pages spattered with artist's crazed flesh, manga that grab and throw you deep into the warped and fucked-up pit of the artist's mind itself. And leave you there.
To live it. And manga, staggering on their very last legs, drawn so the artists could eat one more day.
Come back. All is forgiven.
For me, the manga in this collection are all greats - giants of incredible kitsch and camp. They anesthetized my mind and took me to another world. They need a bigger audience. They come from another age, when manga was on a par with street performance, not part of any recognized scene. The conditions were extreme. Some of these manga were drawn by people who'd have literally starved if they hadn't been paid for them that day. Just the fact that they exist is a miracle. Others were made by artists doing their stuff in nameless pulp magazines, and had their series dropped by whatever grubby suits they were dealing with. Maybe the howls of outrage you hear in their work were there long before they put pen to paper. Anyway, their manga are steeped in outrage on every page. Some of these people were even working for fairly respectable outfits, driven by some blind creative urge. The moment they let these urges really rip, they found themselves kicked out far beyond the pale.
Whatever. They've all gone to untimely graves. In Japan, you'll find them buried on the bargain shelves at used bookstores. Or abandoned in the farther reaches of rural attics. Their resale value is: zero. The number of interested buyers is: zero.
In this book, I want to hit back at any idea that these manga are trash, lowbrow fare. I want to defend them from the scorn they've been heaped with. And along with the manga themselves, I want to see these artists get the acceptance they richly deserve. It's my way of trying to put these tortured souls to rest:
By Udagawa Takeo
Translated by John Gallagher
The artists I've covered in my book Manga Zombie all went against the grain of manga as just a commercial product - whether they realized it or not. They're something different. They shine. Especially set against manga made for sales purposes only. These are forgotten artists who worked in pulp genres and got pushed out of the scene when the massive-sales weekly magazines took over. They were monomaniacs, possessed muscleheads, spinning worlds of ultraviolence and eroticism...all of them now forgotten in the brave new shiny world of commercialized manga. A lot of readers will not like what they see here. Some will be truly outraged. But these works are the real thing - scabrous, scandalous, a danger to all comers. They're what manga is all about.
These artists may even have the power to help the manga genre to smash out of the commercial cellblock it's been locked into. That's what I hope. That's why I wrote Manga Zombie.
There are lots of different theories about when manga started - at least as a commercial art form - and we won't go into them here in any great detail. Some have put manga Year Zero right back in the middle ages. Other people trace the art form to the woodblock artist Hokusai in the mid 1800s. Still, it's going a bit far to say that the manga form is really so old. For a true manga scene, you need two things - printing technology good enough to accurately reproduce manga artists' drawings, and a large-scale white-collar readership to buy the stuff.
It goes without saying that you can't have 'manga as an art form' without top-rate, creative manga artists. But at the same time, you can't have 'manga as a product' without a developed middle-class readership and modern printing technology. That's the point - manga are works of art and commercial products at one and the same time. Manga's been a schizophrenic, conflicted business from the word go.
Anyway, a quick tour of modern manga history will look something like this: first, Japan opened up to western influences in the late 1800s. Western-style newspapers and magazines started up, and they ran single-frame political cartoons, just like you can see in western papers today. A big middle-class readership developed after World War I, and the magazine market diversified to cater to these new readers. Then their kids started buying magazines of their own. Along with serialized novels and illustrated stories, these early kids' mags carried manga. Single-volume manga books arrived on the scene in the twenties. Famous early titles included Norakuro, Bōken Dankichi and Tanku-tankurō. Basically, Japanese manga followed the same development path as western comics up to this point. The big break came with World War II.
To the sixties
The war effectively wiped out the existing manga community completely. A lot of artists were forced into open support for the war effort, along the same lines as Hergé, the creator of Tintin. But unlike Hergé, they didn't bounce back to popularity after hostilities ceased. The post-war scene was fundamentally different in every way - the artists, the graphic styles, the size of the market and the way it was structured. (One minor note, though - it's now becoming clear that at least some of the pre-war artists were already using the cinematographic style made famous after the war by Tezuka Osamu.)
As soon as the war ended in 1945, two types of manga boomed - akahon and kashibon. There was also the closely related theatrical style of kami shibai. Let's take them one by one.
Akahon means 'red books'. These were cheap manga churned out by small, fly-by-night publishers. They weren't sold in regular bookstores, but on racks at the magazine stalls. Kashihon means 'rental books'. As the name implies, they were displayed for rent at commercial lending libraries. The format was a bit larger than akahon. Kami shibai ('paper drama') was a cross between manga, theater and peddling. Wandering artists would push carts around the country, with manga-style pictures mounted on the back. When they stopped on the street and gathered a crowd of kids, they'd read out the manga story off the back of the pictures, displaying them one by one. Then they'd try to offload candy and trinkets.
The various scenes often overlapped. Many artists were involved in two of them (or all three) at some stages of their careers. Some of them went on to become superstar manga artists, but most of them were nameless nobodies and stayed that way. TV killed off kami shibai completely by the mid 1960s, but this semi-theatrical art-form had a big influence on manga. A lot of the traveling artists found work in the kashihon rental genre, which somehow survived to the late 60s (outliving the pulp 'red book' trade by a few years).
As the economy began to take off in earnest, during the 60s, the scene shifted to monthly manga magazines published for kids by major firms. Tezuka Osamu shot to fame in this kind of environment. But this youth-oriented mass market wasn't the only scene developing at that time. Another genre - known as gekiga (literally 'drama comics') - sprang up, with Osaka rental-manga artists forming the core group. Gekiga took a much more hardboiled approach. The graphic style was heavily influenced by the realism of American comics, and the good guys didn't always come out on top at the end of the story. The main players like Saitō Takao and Satō Masaaki developed gekiga as a Japanese version of the crime-thriller comic. Other artists like Mizuki Shigeru and Shirato Sanpei were also loosely associated with the scene.
So, the manga scene as a whole split into two camps in the sixties. There was the mainstream, headed by Tezuka Osamu and other artists influenced by him - Ishinomori Shōtarō, Fujiko Fujio (of Doraemon fame) and Akatsuka Fujio. And then there was gekiga.
The manga system
The late sixties were a period of explosive growth in manga sales. Growing baby boomers and economic growth pushed up the numbers of readers and the amounts they could afford to spend. In late 1968, sales of the manga weekly Shonen Magazine topped the million mark.
A lot of factors went into Shonen Magazine's success. The main one was the huge popularity of the baseball epic 'Star of the Giants' (Kyojin no Hoshi). Even more to the point was the expert marketing of the anime version, made all the more potent by the commercial tie-in with the massively popular Tokyo Giants baseball team. But any account of Shonen Magazine's breakthrough has to include Kajiwara Ikki, the original scriptwriter of 'Star of the Giants'. His story perfectly tapped into the conflicted mentality of sixties Japan. This was a country launching itself headlong into the economic big time, but unnerved by the sheer pace of change, and haunted by the past. The hero of 'Star of the Giants' personifies the issues. He breaks through near-impossible odds to realize his dream of baseball stardom. When he gets there, he crushes his rivals with displays of incredible guts and willpower. And yet he finally ends up alone, unloved, and beaten.*1
By the sixties, manga were being churned out in industrial quantities for weekly publications. So, the artists' work practices had to evolve to keep pace. There was no way a one-person operation could cope anymore. Instead, teams of artists came together, splitting the workload between the main artist, junior graphic artists, colorists and scenario writers. Or - to put it more accurately - the sheer volume of output demanded by the weeklies drove artists who wanted to work alone to extinction, no matter how talented or popular they were.
The sad fact is that underlings like junior artists and colorists got no kudos at all in the Japanese manga system. They slaved away like serfs in some Renaissance print shop, while their Maestros got the fame and the glory. Time and time again, the more talented of these 'assistants' (as they're known) have tried to go independent and set up studios as in their own right. They often find that it's an uphill struggle, thanks to the years they spent forced to produce work that mimicked their employer's style.
But things were different for the scenario writers. Writers like Kajiwara Ikki, Koike Kazuo and Takizawa Kai all emerged as independent artists during this period. They created far more complex plots than ever seen before in Japanese manga, stories that could appeal to an older readership. In this sense, there was a change in quality as well as quantity in the growth of the manga market to mass-production scale. A lot of these writers had backgrounds as novelists, playwrights and editors. Their effect on Japanese manga history was something along the same lines as Alexandro Jodorowsky's on French bandes dessinées.
Alexandro Jodorowsky, of course, was the writer who teamed up with Jean Giraud to create L'Incal under the name Moebius. The Moebius pseudonym, which Giraud came to use for his science fiction and fantasy work, was born in 1963. In a satire magazine called Hara Kiri, Moebius did 21 strips in 1963-4, and then disappeared for almost a decade. In 1975, Métal Hurlant (a magazine which he co-created) brought it back and in 1981 he started his famous L'Incal series in collaboration with Alejandro Jodorowsky. Until then, Giraud's output had just consisted of riproarin' Westerns. But together, they made a lasting impact on French graphic art.
In much the same way, writers like Kajiwara Ikki got together with artists from pulp rental manga and illustrator backgrounds - Kamimura Kazuo is maybe the best example - and achieved extraordinary things. Together, they helped create a much bigger readership - and not just for kids' comics. There was also a whole range of gekiga mags for teenagers and young adults during these years.
The roots and rise of gekiga
Where did the hardboiled gekiga style originate? Printing presses were up and running again very quickly in the bombed-out cities of post-1945 Japan. A lot of them published cheap scandal sheets known as kasutori magazines. Kasutori is a kind of swill left over from sake brewing. It was nobody's drink of choice, but in the mafia-run marketplaces nestled among the ruins, it was certainly a necessity for many. In a similar vein, kasutori mags offered a reliable mix of tits, ass and scandal. They were known as 'manga for adults', but in fact the main content was the articles. The late-sixties teenage gekiga scene sank its roots into this rich compost. (Caricature manga from the late 1800s formed another, deeper layer of mulch.)
The gekiga scene teamed pulp artists and up-and-coming writers as the central force driving publications like Manga Action, Manga Goraku, Manga Sunday, Young Comic and Play Comic. These mags were equivalent to the French Barbarella and L'Écho des Savanes, and to the Italian porn genre generally known as 'fumette neri'. The graphic style was gritty and realistic, and the storylines - produced by dedicated scenario writers - meshed seamlessly with the pictures on the page. The sex scenes either subverted or just demolished all the going rules on graphic content. When you grew out of manga for small kids, what was the next stop? Gekiga. Of course.
The late sixties and early seventies were the golden age of the Japanese counterculture. It was also an age of great diversity in manga. No doubt this was a reflection of the times, whether by chance or design. Most kids born after the war had their heads buried in manga from even before they could read. Now they were growing up and going their separate ways. At the same time, every year of explosive economic growth racked up the pressure one notch more in every area of their lives. Politically, this was a great age of student radicalism, but change was at work everywhere - in the arts, in how people worked, in people's family lives and in their sex lives.
In terms of graphic art, this wave twin-peaked with the magazines Garo and COM, Japanese counterparts to the American alternative and underground 'zines. Garo, published by the tiny independent Seirindō, was an experimental gekiga mag. COM, founded by Tezuka Osamu, was manga-oriented but also experimental in tone. (Garo, for example, published Shirato Sanpei's meisterwerk Kamuiden, while COM featured Tezuka's unfinished series Phoenix (Hi no Tori). Dozens of other artists, old and new, manga-oriented and gekiga-oriented, penned innovative works for these publications. A lot of the leading lights were already involved with the gekiga mags mentioned above. And a lot of them went on to become major stars.
Shojo manga and Fleshbomb gekiga
The other area of major change in the manga scene during the seventies was shojo manga, manga for tweenie girls. From their base in the magazine Shojo Comic (published by the major company Shogakkan), artists like Hagio Moto and Takemiya Keiko tackled themes like gay love and female sexuality that had previously been considered taboo. Where they led, others like Yamagishi Ryōko and Ohshima Yumiko followed. And although she produced very little work in total, another artist who can't be ignored in this transition is Uchida Yoshimi. She used ultra-fine lines to create extremely delicate atmospherics in her stories.
The late seventies also saw the flowering of gekiga at its most extreme, even as the genre was losing ground as a whole within the manga world. In a crazed quest to plumb the darkest depths of the human subconscious, artists like Miyaya Kazuhiko, Fukushima Masami and Sakaki Masaru created worlds of extreme claustrophobia peopled by supermuscled action heroes. Their gekiga were so extreme that I like to call them by the separate name of Fleshbomb gekiga (nikudan gekiga).
It may not be immediately obvious to the eye, but the Fleshbomb crew was involved in a parallel project to the shojo manga artists. Both groups of artists were trying to look into the deepest recesses of their heroes' psychologies. At the same time, the Fleshbombers pioneered a new combination of traditional Japanese graphics with the sensibility of American comics. And even though Fleshbomb was gekiga at its most extreme, there was an equally extreme lyricism in the work of Miyaya Kazuhiko, for example. Again, this links up with artists like Nijūyonen Gumi in the shojo manga scene. But when the chill winds of commercialism really started blowing in the eighties, artists like these were too uncompromising to survive the cold.
About the money: manga in the eighties
The political thrills'n'spills of the sixties and seventies were now over. The original manga generation was all grown up and moving onto more serious fare. The major manga publications all suffered declining sales.
But magazines that were willing to target a slightly younger readership instead started to grow fast. Shonen Jump was the star of this trend. Eventually - by the mid nineties - it was selling four million copies a week, and the mag's sales then rose to a mind-boggling five million. From the start, Shonen Jump's strength lay in what was known as its 'Great Two' system. Pillar One was watertight contracts binding artists exclusively to the publication. Pillar Two was comprehensive reader surveys; the artists had to keep high ratings in them or face the ax.
The traditional manga system was a much more hit-and-miss affair than the 'Great Two' style of business. But this is where I'd like to nail my colors to the mast. Shonen Jump succeeded - in selling manga as a commercial product. And that's all. Their system has leeched the art out of manga. The artists are interchangeable, like spare parts in a machine. But the 'Great Two' system offers publishers stability, and all the major companies have adopted it.
So for manga, the seventies were all about quality, and the eighties were all about quantity. Exclusively binding artists' contracts and dictatorial reader surveys spread right through the industry. At the same time, the major houses crafted carefully-balanced multimedia strategies, tying in their products with anime spin-offs and merchandising drives. The individualistic, demented side of manga got knocked on the head in the process. The loners and eccentrics lost their forum.
The only expertise publishers now cared about was how to sell manga in greater volumes. The plotline and graphics were now a secondary issue. What mattered was the pressing the readers' buttons with pinpoint accuracy. The marketing cybernetics took over, and manga became consumer information circulating within a cybernetic system of pleasure...
By the late 1990s, the manga market was saturated, and shrinking. Best-selling manga were still being published to wide public acclaim. But the market was now so fragmented it was almost impossible to even grasp it as a whole. The real difference from the seventies is that there is no-one trying - or capable of trying - to produce work that appeals to a broad section of the public, or appeals to a broader understanding. The artists, the manga and the readers are now all locked into separate micro-markets. Publishers and artists battle for dominance in each of them, but know little or nothing about what's happening elsewhere. It looks like 'manga' as such is dissolving into thin air on its gentle slide into extinction. You hear lots of reasons for the decline of manga - the fragmentation of the market, the rise of computer games and other non-manga media. But you don't hear any clear-cut solution.
But wait - what about the rise of otaku culture? What about the spread of manga and anime in France and across Asia? What about the way Japanese manga and anime are influencing the arts and media of so many cultures worldwide? On this showing, it looks like Japanese manga/anime is enjoying its greatest success ever, and doing so on the strength of its graphic and narrative content.
But I wonder am I the only person who thinks that manga is going down a creative cul-de-sac abroad, just like it has in Japan?
Postscript: Ladies' Comics and Lolicon
Even as the manga market shrank through the eighties, there were some major new developments afoot beneath the surface. I'd like to cover them quickly here.
One was the emergence of 'Ladies Comics' for adult women. A decade earlier, shojo manga had broken a lot of ground on taboos against recognizing and depicting female sexuality on the page. Basically, ladies' comics took over where shojo manga left off. The readers lapped it up and clamored for more graphic content.
At the other extreme, the otaku subculture started surfacing in the early eighties. The otaku libido found its forum in Lolicon (Lolita Complex) manga. Sex between equal partners is, of course, the very last thing on the Lolicon mind. The genre is heavily into master-slave fantasies, drawn with a pedophiliac slant. What's more, the movement didn't start in the major publishing houses, but right down at the grass roots level. From the late seventies, Lolicon was being produced and sold in the dōjinshi (amateur fanzine) scene. 1979 saw the arrival of fanzines like Shibēru (Cybele) and Ningyō Hime (Doll Princess). They featured a lot of body modification and necrophiliac fantasies that tied them in with Goth culture when it later emerged.
You have to give these amateur fanzines something for their cultural foresight. But they did carry scenes featuring minors being raped - and they invited their readers to get off on this as a thrill. Kubo Shoten produced the first professionally-printed Lolicon magazine, Lemon People, which stuck to the same lines. From there, Lolicon sensibility spread out through the whole industry in diluted form. Voices of protest calling for some form of control over this content started being raised in 1989, when a manga-crazed student called Miyazaki Tsutomu went on a necrophiliac/cannibalistic killing spree of little girls in suburban Tokyo. Protests erupted again every time some similar atrocity happened.
Otaku culture is overwhelmingly male, and its take on sexuality contrasts strongly with the more liberated, human approach of 'Ladies' Comics'. The difference is another indicator of how fragmented and compartmentalized the manga world has become. These issues of sexuality and sexual expression are sure to trigger more culture wars in Japan about 'socially harmful manga' in the future.
*1: Hailed as 'the Don of gekiga', Kjiwara Ikki kept his finger on the pulse through the seventies with a string of similar hits like the 'Star of the Giants' series (drawn by Kawasaki Noboru), 'Tomorrow's Joe' (Ashita no Joe, drawn by Chiba Tetsuya), 'Ai and Makoto' (Ai to Makoto, drawn by Nagayasu Takumi). But the times changed sharply in the eighties, and he stopped selling. His last years were shrouded in sickness and scandal. He died in 1987 at the age of 49. His work only started being revalued in the late nineties.
My face nearly burned up when I first came across a series called 'The Rapist Monk' (Nyohanbō). I was seventeen, and still in high school. It was 1974. I was browsing through a magazine whose title - Manga Erotopia - pretty much said it all. Ryusui, the powerful hero of the manga, was carrying a horse on one shoulder and penetrating a slutty princess from one end to the other at the same time. Even I was shocked.
Fukushima Masami was born in Daiseicho in 1948. Daiseicho is a fishing port on the freezing Sea of Okhotsk, and his father was a trawler man. His mother ran off with a lover when he was still a small child, and his father abandoned the family shortly after. The young Fukushima was reared by his brothers, heavy laborers. He gravitated to manga "for the money." He got his break in a monthly called COM after a frantic period of mailing work around. (COM was founded in 1967 by Tezuka Osamu as a forum for emerging experimental artists. This was partly in reaction to the success of the alternative magazine Garo).
By 1967 he was out of school and scraping a living as a sketch artist in Shinjuku, Tokyo, when the manga artist Mori Masaki took him on as an assistant. He also started getting his own work published. It a glance it looks pretty normal. But the signs of his later direction were already there, in his heroes' expressions - and heavy musculature. And in his slutty heroines. He debuted under his own name in the magazine Comic VAN, with 'March of Death' (Shi no Kōshinkyoku).
The Slasher Nun started life as the heroine of a picaresque tale of derring-do, set in the stirring days of the Meiji Period. This was a clamorous age between 1868 and 1912 when feudal Japan opened itself up to western influences, good bad and indifferent. The tale is set just north of Tokyo, in the yakuza mafia underground. The heroine, Onatsu, is abandoned by her Mafioso husband, who wants to further his nefarious career. Justifiably upset, she slashes him to death and, child in tow, embarks on a pious new career of her own - as the death-dealing Slasher Nun. The resulting heady brew graced the pages of the well-known artistic magazine Manga Comic, under the title Hitokiri Ama. (This work is technically classified as a gekiga, a hardboiled genre with higher production values and artistic input per page than a typical manga.)
However, this was just the beginning. A run-off version of the manga in book form takes things a stage further. Here, the Slasher Nun sports a three-fingered claw for a right hand, and comes from a hidden community of deformed villagers. 'Slasher Nun' is already developing what we have to hail as the Masami Touch: a forceful blend of disturbing women and grotesque villains, a twinning of beauty and cruelty. In his preface to the book, Fukushima declared: "I only went into manga to make money. The manga is all. The artist doesn't matter."
Running for three years in the magazine Manga Erotopia, this is Fukushima's longest work, drawn to the script by Takezawa Kai. The hero is a mysterious monk called Ryusui, battling the powers that be on a personal quest to break through to true Buddhism. He is Brother Ryusui, and always surrounded by many woman. Maybe he is practicing the Diamond Sutra in the true sense of the word. Because he justifies murder if it helps turn his ideals into reality.
Part I is set in the early 1800s. In Japan this was a decadent age. It was clear that the shogun's regime was starting to crumble. The monk Ryusui walks the land from one end to another spreading poison wherever he goes, in a study of the aesthetic of evil. When corrupt officials try to crush the people's sexual drives, Ryusui chants the Sutra of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy - and sends the bad guys packing with his supernatural powers.
Part II is set in a prime nerve center of the Japanese erotic imagination - O-oku, or the shogun's harem, a strictly girls-only space (except for the shogun, of course) in the bowels of Edo Castle. Time has moved on, and the government is now in a state of ever-accelerating collapse. Ryusui makes his entry and takes the fight to the shogun's chief counselor Ii Naosuke. With the collusion of the grand harem mistress Himekoji, he kills the head counselor and seizes power behind the scenes. However, his real target is Edo Castle itself, and the shogun's court.
The plot now careers from (kind of) historically accurate to wild fantasy. Two real-life characters appear as fellow-conspirators against the shogun: Saigo Takamori, a fiery samurai radical, and Katsu Kaishū, the shogun's wily naval commander. Ryusui joins their grouping. (In western terms, this would be something along the lines of the Incredible Hulk teaming up with Jimmy Hoffa and the CIA to assassinate Kennedy.) And together, they do it! The shogunate is overthrown, and the way to a New Japan is opened. At which point Ryusui is confronted with a new enemy - a savage brain-sucking barbarian by the name of Boolliver. They fight. To the death. We last glimpse the victorious Ryusui disappearing into the flaming depths of Edo Castle...
Ryusui comes back to life for Part III, which is set in the late 1800s. Japan is now open and westernizing rapidly, which gives the hero a new set of opponents. Among them is the "Merchant of Death" Iwasaki Yataro, founder of Mitsubishi, and the real-life Scottish merchant Thomas Glover, who was on the scene in Nagasaki at the same time.
The finale sees Ryusui back in Tokyo, bent on overthrowing the government yet again. Crashing a waltz gathering of Japan's new elite at the Rokumeikan dance hall, he faces the ghost of the grand harem mistress Himekoji in the ultimate showdown...
The changeover from feudal to modern Japan was a real event, and a real revolution. The fictional character Ryusui's ultimate aim is to keep the cycle of revolution spinning until it hits anarchy. Hell opens up all around him on his journey through the story. But it doesn't feel like a tragedy - more like a heart-stopping dash through great danger to a new world. Created by some earthshaking, chaotic Power.
'Pirate Ship of Hungry Slaves' (Gareisen) 1975-1976
Fukushima Masami hit the peak of his progress in the period from 1975. All of his works around this time have the same features in common - excessively muscled bodies, startling layouts, and heroes that morph in stature to something like living gods as the storylines progress. 'Pirate Ship of Hungry Slaves' is set in the Japan of the late 1800s. The hero, Shachi, starts life on land but soon runs into trouble. He is found guilty of looting cargo from a shipwreck. The local magistrate punishes him savagely by executing his wife and setting Shachi himself adrift on the open sea. He is saved by a pirate princess called Hime with a strong resemblance to the eighties cult movie star Divine, and her faithful African servant George. Together they join to take on the shogunate, but their pirate forces are put to the ocean floor by government naval squads, and the three main characters are separated. Shachi later finds the princess again, only to see her executed in front of his eyes by his nemesis the magistrate. Their child is executed next, and Shachi is force-fed its flesh in a long drawn out torture sequence. The experience drives him insane.
George, meanwhile, ends up touring with a traveling sumo troupe, and is forced to display his strength by pulling a giant wagon, etc. Finally, using some pretty unconventional methods, Shachi, George and Hime get to take their revenge on the magistrate.
'Pirate Ship' was published in Manga Hot, with a storyline by a writer, Kobori Yō, working for Studio Ship. Fukushima worked out a great many aspects of his mature style in this very strong work, featuring some excellent scenes such as the princess Hime's torture sequence and the pirate-shogunate sea battle.
Fukushima now stopped work for the young readers' magazines he was involved with, and delved into the bizarre world of his subconscious to get his own images onto the page. The graphic style of the creation myth 'Saint Muscle' showed Fukushima's strong similarities to American action comics Later this had a major influence on other extreme-action muscle manga such as 'Fist of the North Star' (Hokuto no Ken).
'Prince Shōtoku' is another tale based on a real-life historical figure, the seventh-century ruler who played a key role in making Japan a Buddhist country. Normally, Shōtoku is pictured as a kind of Yoda figure - all sweetness, light and Buddhist wisdom. This was not the Fukushima way. In his manga we go over to the dark side, to Prince Shōtoku as an avenging occult spirit. His opponents are the powerful Soga clan, originally strong opponents of Buddhism in Japan. To get even with them, the resurrected Shōtoku (who's broken the laws of the underworld) has to challenge Enma, the Buddhist Prince of Hades. The battle is joined by the Red Army of Hell - a league of dead souls seeking to liberate Hades, with backing from the Buddha himself - and turns into a three-sided free-for-all.
The manga's love interest is also triangular - Enma's wife Benten (the Goddess of Knowledge) is also Shōtoku's lover. The stakes now reach as far as the question of who will conceive a new Being transcending the space-time continuum...
As well as 'Saint Muscle' and 'Prince Shōtoku', Fukushima published a number of other works in the productive years of 1977 and 1978. As the name suggests, 'Mugen, Empress of the Yoshiwara' (Arinsu-koku Jotei Mugen) is set in the huge pleasure district of old Edo, the Yoshiwara. The storyline centers on a 'super sex contest' waged by the vengeful courtesan Mugen. Chigira is a near-future science fiction manga set in the pre-Millenium Tokyo underworld, featuring fast-growing foreign mafias, paranormal floods, drug-crazed religious sects, etc. Fighting them all is the eponymous hero Chigira, armed with his trusty 'M61' automatic. 'Beastly Baseball Legend' (Jūkyūden) chronicles the doings of a homicidal batter and a beanball pitcher as they try their luck gambling on baseball games.
To the end of century...
From 1978, Fukushima went into a severe slump. Even when his name appeared on magazine covers, there was no sign of his manga inside. Friends like the songwriter Nakanishi Rei held events like the Come On Fukushima! Party, but the creative juices just weren't flowing any more. He published a few works over the following years - 'Love-hate Sisters' (Aien Shimai) and 'Scorpion Nun' (Sasori Ama) - but they lacked his old power. Running in the magazine Young Comic, the series 'Isaac's Ark' (Isaku no Hakobune) was canceled in mid-series in 1980. This began a decade of silence for Fukushima, broken only in 1990 with the book 'Resurrection Crest' (Yomigaeru Monshō). Then the silence began again.
Such is fate. A Fleshbomb manga artist like Fukushima is pretty much bound for destruction. Drawing at the extremes he went to would warp anybody. But the manga scene without him has suffered a sharp, severe temperature drop. I first started searching for Fukushima in person in 1995. The night before I started I had a dream about him, covered in blood, screaming Pay me, if you want to know about me! I got as far as his ex-wife, a music teacher in Saitama (near Tokyo). She assured me that her ex-husband was on the verge of a comeback. I believed her, and the Fukushima Renaissance Cult was born at that moment. The mission: bringing back total manga, affirming the entire range of humanity, good and bad. It developed far beyond my imagination. As The Rapist Monk puts it "Extremism makes miracles".
To quote the man himself: it's not a hundred percent necessary for Fukushima to be morally perfect. It's all in his work, and if he starts drawing again, who can say what he'll come out with? I'd like to join his ex-wife and other fans in calling out to Fukishima Masami:
Postscript: The return of Fukushima, and beyond...
Just as I was screaming "Coooooooooome Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!" (in the 1997 edition of Manga Zombie) - whaddya know? A gaggle of publishers were thinking along the same lines. As a result, Ohta Publishing Co. brought out a reissue of 'Saint Muscle' to healthy sales. The following year, Suiseisha published my survey work Fringe Culture, which covered Fukushima Masami among others. So, interest in this artist was definitely on the rise again at this time - at least among a few offbeat sections of the media. When - gasp! - the maestro himself got in touch with Ohta Publishing, in July of 1998. Meaning I got to meet him, along with one of Ohta's editorial staff. Unfortunately, he never divulged the real reason he'd remained silent for over a decade. But he did let us know he was planning a comeback. (The interview was published in the magazine Quick Japan.)
The real push to get Fukushima's work back in print more or less coincided with his resurfacing in public. Ohta reprinted 'The Rapist Monk' in three volumes, along with 'Prince Shōtoku'. Bijutsu Shuppan chimed in with 'Gladiators, Stars of Rome' (Kakutōshi Rōma no Hoshi) and 'Mugen, Empress of the Yoshiwara'. And then in 1999 the real action started - two brand-new Fukushima series. 'The Ballman' (Gyokudan) appeared in Pachinker, a mag dedicated to the Japanese gambling game pachinko. And in a real blast from the past, the series 'Restless Breasts' (Bōnyūkyo) graced the pages of that randy old goat Manga Erotopia.
Both series covered about fifty pages in total, a good two volumes' worth of work for demanding weekly publications. (Though technically Erotopia and Pachinker were what the British call 'fortnightlies' - i.e., released every second week.) Anyway, as the clock ticked towards the millennium, Fukushuma Masami was back in a big way, a cult hero-figure in certain journalistic circles.
However, in early 2000, Fukushima went into another major slump again. His age was probably one factor. He was now in his early fifties, and writing weekly manga is physically draining. There may have been artistic differences with the scriptwriters too. But I think the main problem for Fukushima was that his new stuff didn't achieve the sales figures he'd been hoping for. The Big Comeback flopped, and he was yanked brutally offstage: the mags dropped his series. Silence fell...
Though not completely. He still commanded enough of a following to republish single-volume works like 'The Nothingness of Swordsman Musashi' (Musashi no Mu) and Chemistry. But the weeklies (and therefore commercial success) remained out of his reach. However, in 2005, he got another break - the weekly Shūkan Manga Times started running his series 'Edo Decadence' (Edo Deka). This was a major coup: Shūkan Manga Times is an imprint of the mighty publishing house Kodansha. But the series was axed after only six months.
Another Fukushima manga run by a Kodansha mag fared even worse. Comic Afternoon dropped 'Super-Citizen F' (Chō-shimin F) after a single episode. Fukushima just couldn't seem to take his chances and turn them into achievements. Why not? No doubt there are a million reasons, but the heart of the problem is that Fukushima couldn't produce anything to beat his earlier creations, like 'San Muscle' and 'The Rapist Monk'. His whole style changed after 1978 - more delicate lines, more female leads. He was trying to negate his earlier work, and if anything that was the ultimate cause of his repeated slumps afterwards. Violence and supermuscles were the whole essence of where his art was coming from.
He must have realized this himself, because 'The Rapist Monk Returns' (Nyohanbō Returns) marked a real comeback of his earlier style. The series made its abrupt appearance in Sasuperia, a porn mag not on sale in general bookstores. As the title suggests, 'The Rapist Monk Returns' follows the modern-day adventures of the resurrected hero Ryusui. The series got a lot of attention from people in the scene, but sadly the magazine itself failed to survive the year.
All is not doom and gloom in the Fukushima camp, however. The third reprint of 'San Muscle' came out at the end of 2006 to good reviews. And it seems to me that - at long last - Fukushima Masami has got a handle on what kind of work he should be drawing. As of now (2007), he's in the process of working up his next manga. I expect lots of supermuscles, lots of violence...
All about love...and hate
From the publication of his debut work, Sakaki Masaru's lifelong obsessions as an artist were very clear: "The love, the hate and the passion that lurk beneath the surface of everyday life." 'Tsuyuko's Grave' (Tsuyuko no Haka) is a melodramatic tale abounding in all three.
The setting is a farming village in the present day. A child's father has been murdered and his sister abducted. Now a teenager, he sets out on a journey to track down the culprit. On the chase, he ends up in a car crash and loses his memory. Fortunately, a young farm girl comes across the scene in time to save him and nurse him back to health. Before you know it, they're in love and thinking of tying the knot. However, the girl's father has other ideas. He's the killer. His 'daughter' is actually the young man's abducted sister. Everything will be revealed if the traveler regains his memory. Time for another murder – but this time the plan fails, the kid survives and the shock brings his childhood memories flooding back. The stage is set for the final catastrophe.
Remote farming villages, murderous Oedipal urges and incest – the plot is like something out of a Greek tragedy. But the really outstanding quality of 'Tsuyuko's Grave' is a sense of claustrophobia so deep it's almost impossible to describe. The seething passions and drives on display in 'Tsuyuko's Grave' were to be a feature of later, better-known works by Sakaki. But, with its gripping claustrophobia, it's no overstatement to say that 'Tsuyuko's Grave' expresses Sakaki in all his aspects.
Sakaki Masaru (real name Miyata Yukinari) was born in 1950 in Fukuoka Prefecture in the northern part of Kyushu. 'Tsuyuko's Grave' was published in 1968 by Tokyo Manga Shuppan; he followed it up with the single-volume works 'The Noodle Angel' (Rāmen Tenshi) and 'The Baby' (Akanbō).
The late sixties in Japan were a turbulent and conflicted period. Like Paris and Chicago, Tokyo saw its fair share of riots, sit-ins and student protests. However, at least some of the forces creating the drama were specifically Japanese. The economy was surging ahead at a breakneck pace, as the major Japanese corporations conquered one foreign market after another. As they graduated from school or college, more and more kids were sucked into these corporations or their sub-contractors. They were welcomed with strict regimentation, brutally long working hours and rigid discipline. While the world learned to call them 'corporate samurai'; but in most cases they were stressed-out, frustrated corporate serfs, suffering acute mental claustrophobia at the very bottom of an ironclad hierarchical pyramid. Young company employees in effect formed a new social sub-class.
One of the best-known gekiga artists who documented their emotional landscape was Miyaya Kazuhiko (also covered in this collection). He became a major influence on Sakaki Masaru. Sakaki was working in much the same mold, but his work lacked the literary style and ideological edge displayed by Miyaya. In fact, it was pretty naïve, crude stuff by comparison – which is part of its appeal. Sakaki was certainly the better artist when it came to getting raw emotion across to the reader. He belonged more to the street. Miyaya's influence was on his drawing style, especially on the way he drew the human form in muscleman mode. This had always been an area where Sakaki had his own particular strength, but he polished his skills through observing what Miyaya was doing.
Shortly after Sakaki came to Tokyo in the late sixties, he shifted his focus to seinenshi – mass-circulation mags aimed at the male teenage market. Manga Erotopia ran his series Ai to Yume (Loves and Dreams), with an erotic storyline of a sexy heroine suffering the attentions of a musclebound laborer. All stereotypical enough, but at the same time Sakaki was honing his craft as an artist to the point where he could produce a gripping, high-impact erotic graphic story. He was also starting to get inspiration from more exotic sources.
This became apparent with the appearance of a string of works in the late seventies in mags like Zōkan Young Comic, Comic King, Manga Erotopia and Manga Hunter. The human anatomy and coloration schemes are influenced by American graphic artists like Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo. At the same time, his graphics are becoming denser; in a sense, he's overtaking his old role model Miyaya. That said, he was a typical Fleshbomb gekiga artist – constantly missing deadlines and having series pulled by magazine editors.
The series Hero is an outstanding part of Sakaki's portfolio, and a work which allowed him to display his full range of talents in the Fleshbomb gekiga genre. Drawn to a script by Takezawa Kai, it delves deep behind the scenes of the Japanese professional wrestling world. (This is OTT costumed wrestling on American lines, about as far removed from sumo as you can possibly imagine.) The hero is a gentle giant with the requisite exaggerated physique. Once scouted, he starts training to wrestle in the bad-guy role. He gets the required moves and gimmicks beaten into him, and even gets cosmetic surgery to make him look more evil. All set, he enters the ring for his first crack at the championship. In fact it's a sure thing – which is the dilemma. The match is rigged from the start. All the hero has to do to become the champ is have sex – with the champ.
Being King of the professional wrestling circuit comes at a price, however. His girlfriend finds out about his homosexual affair and kills herself in a fit of despair. As a result, the hero decides to go straight and win under his own steam in future, but things quickly spin out of control. He finally gets thrown out of the wrestling scene, and was given very strange sanction to. He ends up spending his days washing dishes in the backroom of a drinking den, being called Good-for-nothing. His nights are spent as a slave, under the lash of an S&M dominatrix.
And there endeth the tale. The storyline has a lot in common with Miyaya Kazuhiko's works 'Wrestling Hell' (Prōresu Jigokuhen, scripted by Kajiwara Ikki) and 'Fleshbomb Life' (Nikudan Jinsei). But Sakaki's grasp of anatomy in Hero owes a lot more to American graphic conventions and artists like Frank Frazetta. Partly thanks to these influences, the density of the page gives the work a really powerful impact.
Sakaki's debt to American underground comics and graphic novels can be seen in his unfinished series Requiem. The title is a playful pun on the English word 'requiem'. The Chinese characters mean – roughly – 'A Dream Picture of Soul-Sucking Spirits'. The story, such as it is, concerns the doings of Undine, a water-spirit-cum-witch, and her faithful sidekick. The action is about present-day witches, witch-hunters, and the people who hate them and want their revenge. The plot really goes nowhere, though. The whole production is a bustier-popping fantasy epic, with strong influences from Vampirella (popular at the time and available in Japanese), and Frank Frazetta. The emphasis throughout is on graphic style, while the plot degenerates into a tangled mess.
It's easy to imagine the frustrated editor reaching out to grasp the plug, and giving it a good hard pull. (The editor in this case worked for Zōkan Young Comic.) Such is the tragedy of the whole Fleshbomb gekiga genre: the artists poured their hearts and souls into perfecting the graphics, public and plotlines be damned. At any rate, Requiem deserves kudos for transplanting the styles and techniques of the American seventies underground into the Japanese scene.
Up to this point, Sakaki's stories featured lots of sexy heroines and muscle-clad heroes. But for all the goings-on between them, it's very difficult to get any real sense of passion, love, hate or general male-female madness off the page. His productions had a weird emotional blankness about them. But in the series 'All About Love' (Renai-ron), he tried his hand at depicting a whole range of different boy-girl scenarios, and finally made a breakthrough into deeper territory. The development was mirrored in his drawing technique. His lines lost the clumsy quality they'd had in favor of a clearer, sharper style. In part, this had something to do with the quality of the script writer, Okazaki Eisei , who achieved notoriety with Kamimura Kazuo's gekiga 'The Age of Cohabitation' (Dōsei-Jidai). 'All About Love' is the novel's Fleshbomb version.
'All About Love' was published as a series of self-contained episodes. Episode 3 – 'Where To?' (Doko e?) – is the story of a young couple's descent into madness. Yoshiko is a high school student who's just given birth in a public toilet. We find her, holding the baby's corpse, walking down a street with her boyfriend Takashi. The graphic images are an impressive series of slaps across the face – the labor scene in a public toilet at Shinjuku Station, splashed across a full-page spread; the wimpy boyfriend Takashi hallucinating as he lugs the dead baby back to his house; the couple's frantic sex scene on a train when the normally tough-as-nails Yoshiko finally loses control.
'Where To?' is the highlight of the nine-part series, which appeared in Zōkan Young Comic. I have to admit that the series as a whole lacks the same flair.
As the genre went out of fashion, most of the Fleshbomb manga artists stopped publishing in the early 1980s. Like his fellows, Sakaki Masaru now entered into a prolonged Dark Ages. The Renaissance started in 1998, when Fukushima Masami resurfaced and started publishing again. Suddenly, Sakaki was back in business – his premier work 'Love and Dreams' was republished in part, and Sakaki started drawing again.
According to one version of events, Sakaki spent his personal Dark Ages running a yakitori stall. (Yakitori = getting medieval with chickens; dismembering, skewering and grilling them like heretics of old, then displaying their remains to the faithful over toasts of beer or saké.) There's no way of knowing this for sure, because Sakaki was the most self-effacing of gekiga artists. The one certain thing is that whatever he was doing, it had no connection whatsoever with gekiga.
There's a certain manga artiste who went through a similar period of trial in the 80s – I'm thinking of Azumi Hideo, prince (till he fell) of the pedophiliac Lolicon genre and prophet of today's moe boom. After alcoholism left him homeless on the streets, he was forced to give up manga. He eventually found menial work at a gas company. He told his story in the autobiographical manga Shissō Nikki (Disappearance Diary), which became a bestseller. Even after his comeback, Sasaki Masaru shied away from using his Dark Age experiences like that. I think it's because whatever he had to go through was a lot more medieval than anything Azumi Hideo found himself up against.
Right now (2007) the comeback is at a standstill because of ill health. Time will tell. Get well soon, Sakaki Masaru.
Miyaya Kazuhiko. Fanatic? Extremist? Narcissist? He answered to all these descriptions and more. His work takes us far beyond the narrow confines of his chosen genre. In his Nikudan Gekiga series, he explored the worlds of combat sports like boxing and wrestling, in true Fleshbomb fashion. But there were other forces at play. The series is also a homage to his hero Mishima Yukio, the ultra-controversial, ultra-aesthetic and ultra-rightist author who shocked the world with his gory suicide in 1970.
Miyaya was especially drawn to the image of the downtrodden loser, desperately trying to make a comeback. His fictional heroes and his real-life hero were losers in the end. Just like the Japanese Empire was the loser, in the end. For Miyaya, this was an integral part of the fascination. Like Mishima, he was spellbound by the titanic violence and energy of pre-war and wartime Japan. Like his hero, he searched for some way of focusing that energy and violence on the present day, and reviving it some form - if only on the page. In different ways, both of them paid the price for their delusions. The gekiga in the title of the series Nikudan Gekiga (Fleshbomb Gekiga) is a play on words meaning 'starving to death'. This may be a pointer to Miyaya's state of mind - he believed in illusions, but he knew at the same time that they could never be real. Just like pre-war Japan.
Miyaya Kazuhiko was born as Murase Hajime in Osaka in 1944. After a childhood spent moving with his family around the country, he wound up in Tokyo in 1966. By this stage of his life he was already reading and absorbing the influences of Ishimori Shōtarō (later Ishinomori Shōtarō) and Nagashima Shinji. Success came his way quickly. By 1967, he was being serialized in COM with the story 'When We Go to Sleep' (Nemuri ni Tsuku Toki), a love story with a deaf girl and a racing driver as the protagonists. This started a career in teenage gekiga and mania mags lasting into the early seventies. Miyaya was recognized as the successor of the veteran Ishimori Shōtarō, and as the savior of the gekiga scene. During this period of new-found fame, he even found work doing graphic versions of foreign movies, like Captain Scarlet.
Disciples of Miyaya
Miyaya's success was not a question of pot luck. He was a completely new phenomenon in the gekiga scene, with an unprecedented subtlety in his draftsmanship. He storylines were also something new to the genre, absorbing highbrow literary influences from writers like Oe Kenzaburō, Haniya Yutaka, Mishima Yukio and Tsukamoto Kunio. The recurring scenes of freaky sex in his early works owe a lot to novels of the time, especially Oe Kenzaburo's novel Wareware no Jidai (Our Genaration). Narcissistic characters masturbating with anally-inserted dildoes and bottling their ejaculations; teenage guys petrified of pregnant women and pregnancy; gay love scenes between western men and Japanese boys - all these call Oe and his fellow-literati to mind.
The world of Miyaya's works was liberally sprinkled with fashionable props from the late sixties and early seventies - rock and jazz, flashy cars, bikes and bikers - again in homage to hip writers of the period, like Itsuki Hiroyuki and Ōyabu Haruhiko. Along with the Stones and John Coltrane, these writers were part and parcel of student culture at the time, and it's no surprise that Miyaya shared the same tastes. What was really original about him was that he brought these tastes and influences into the gekiga genre.
The savior of gekiga didn't have to wait long to gather a great many disciples around him. The core of the group consisted of artists who worked as his assistants before going independent - Sakaki Masaru and Hiroki Mafuyu. Other gekiga artists like Fukushima Masami and Nakajima Norihiro (both covered elsewhere) were not so directly affected by Miyaya's style, but they were certainly conscious of his work as they drew their own material. For a time, the mags were flooded with wannabe Miyayas. And for a time, Miyaya was up there with Tezuka Osamu, the revered 'god of manga' himself.
Miyaya's work got a lot more political between 1969 and 1970. This shift was accompanied by a love affair with a woman called Nishiyama Naoe, and this was probably one reason for the change. For Naoe was the daughter of Nishiyama Kōki, a hardline right-winger who had major backroom influence in the political world. Japanese ultra-rightist groups form an underworld of their own, with their famous black 'sound trucks' as their most visible symbol. The trucks still ply the city streets, blaring propaganda and WWII marching songs - with the police turning a blind and fairly sympathetic eye. The movement's foot soldiers are a saddish mix of dropouts, nutcases and members of various downtrodden minorities, but the top brass live comfortable, well-connected lives. Nishiyama pere was one such man, the head of a group called the Shōwa Restoration Union - the idea being that the emperor should take all political power back again. There were lots of radicals before WWII who believed in this idea, and it was sometimes hard to tell the extreme right from the extreme left among them. In the post-war period too, writers like Mishima Yukio found inspiration and food for their obsessions in radical emperor-centered fantasies. It was fairly natural that Miyaya, who was smitten with Mishima, would fall for a woman with Nishiyama Naoe's connections.
However, the path of true love doesn't always run smooth. Naoe's father was incandescent with rage when he heard of the proposed match between his daughter and Miyaya. So, the pair was forced to elope to the large industrial city of Nagoya (think Pittsburgh) in February 1971. (Miyaya covered the story in his autobiographical Like a Rolling Stone (1969) and again in 'Live and Love' (Sirene, 1978). Happily, Nishiyama Senior soon bowed to the inevitable, and wedding bells rang out a few month later. The ceremony was lavish, and the tabloids had a field day. Headlines about the "Gekiga Artist Planning Revolution" and the "Right-wing Big-wig's Daughter" confirmed Miyaya's A-list enfant terrible status.
Now that he was financially secure, his work took on a more radical and experimental color. 'Abode of the Genitomillenial Demons' (Seikimatsu Fukumakō) is an erotic splatterfest hymn of love-hate to Miyaya's hometown. 'A Worm-eaten Chronogenical' (Sei Shokki) opened with a narcissistic nude self-portrait by Naoe. (The bizarre titles of both works are puns on 'genitals' or 'pudenda'. The translations are approximate.) 'Demons' was first was brought out by Seirindō, the publishing arm of Garo magazine. Both works got a lot of public attention.
At the same time, Miyaya found himself getting a reputation as 'artistic' and 'difficult'. Part of the difficulty was that his work was a free-for-all of contrasting ideologies and literary influences - nationalism and anarchism, Mishima Yukio and Oe Kenzaburō. Moreover, it's very doubtful that he had any clear idea of what these writers and ideologies actually stood for. When you look at his stuff today, a lot of the difficulty involved just seems like intellectual posing. I can't hide the fact, though, that Miyaya the poseur has a certain charm. A lot of writers of the period were terrible pseuds - including me.
Miyaya kept pushing the limits of the gekiga genre through the mid-seventies. But not all of these works sold well, and gradually he made his style more purely entertaining. This was to keep Naoe and himself in the style they were now accustomed to. One of the outcomes was the series 'Wrestling Circuit: Hell Version' (Puroresu Jikoku Hen), published in 1973 in the mag Gekiga Gendai. It was scripted by Kajiwara Ikki, his writing partner since 1968. As the title suggests, this is another behind-the-scenes look at pro wrestling, based on the life story of the villain Nikkei (ethnic Japanese) wrestler Great Togo. However, Kajiwara just couldn't seem to get the main character both right, and Miyaya bowed out of the series. Although the series continued with a fresh artist called Ishiwata Shūichi, it was eventually pulled.
Miyaya's comment on the failure of the project sounds pretty thin - that he was writing "gekiga for the hard core fans, not hit comics for the masses". This was not the only damage his career suffered around this time. Another series in the mag Gekiga Sunday, which had been developed as a masterpiece, was cut. The series, 'The Geocentric Theory' (Tendōsetsu), was a hardboiled story about a politician's bodyguard versus a right-wing gang out to assassinate his boss. One part of the plot acts as a chilling prophecy of real-life things to come: the gang plans to plant nerve agent on the bullet train. Twenty ears later, the religious cult Aum Shinrikyō attacked the Tokyo subway system in the same way, using the nerve gas Sarin.
The gekiga genre entered its golden age in the late seventies. A string of artists found a forum for their highly experimental work in the youth-oriented Zōkan Young Comic, published by Shonen Gekiga-sha. They included Hirata Hiroshi, Sakaki Masaru, Suzuki Ryosei and Ishii Takashi. They also spread the good word about current underground American artists like Frazetta and Richard Corben. These were legendary times for hard core gekiga fans, who read manga like some kind of new bible.
Needless to say, the folk at Zōkan Young Comic followed Miyaya's career with close interest, and 'Wrestling Circuit: Hell Version' made a big impression. The magazine now gave him a chance to break out of his ongoing slump by commissioning a three-series Fleshbomb project. The result was his masterpiece, which came out as 'Fleshbomb Life: Onizō's Story' (Nikudan Jinsei Onizō Hen), 'Fleshbomb Life: Resurrected Motherfuckin' Giants Baseball Team' (Nikudan Jinsei Fukkatsu Mamauri Giants) and 'The Fleshbomb Age' (Nikudan Jidai).
Part One - Onizō's story - is a wrestling adventure, but Miyaya's take on the sport is well ahead of its time. This was an age when pro wrestling had a large, fanatical and naïve following. By contrast, Miyaya was one of the first commentators to look at wrestling as a performance art, and to accept that the games were rigged as a matter of course. In a kind of high-octane version of Fight Club, a handsome but third-rate wrestler called Yashagami Ryūzō spends his time out of the ring taking on lions in a series of fights to the death. These underground bouts finally make a superstar of him. (In his looks and career, the hero weirdly foreshadows the real-life career of the wrestler Ōnita Atsushi.)
Part Two takes us into the world of baseball, hence the title Mamauri Giants - a pun on the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants. The hero, Donoue, is a pitcher (oddly resembling Giant Baba) with a serious problem: he's not confident about his looks or his abilities. This causes him serious problems on the field, until Yashigami Ryūzō - the hero of Part One - takes him in hand. Thanks to Ryūzō's mind control, the wimpy Donoue turns into a ferocious, straight-down-the-line winner, a champion worshipped like a god by the fans.
Indeed, the whole story has a rater trippy, religious feel to it. Ryūzō is an ex-wrestler now able to let his pent-up inner violence really rip; Donoue, as the story progresses, reaches the point where he takes on yakuza in hand-to-hand combat to the death. But when these ultra-violent scenes are being splashed across the page, we find inserts picturing Donoue's state of mind - with the pitcher floating in space, in yoga poses. This probably means that Donoue's mind is now approaching some sort of unity with the divine. But why is he in space? And why the yoga? Maybe it was just the drugs kicking in for Donoue (and Miyaya himself).
Both Part One and Two of 'Fleshbomb Life' exhibit scenes of extreme sex and violence. There's a heavily gay-narcissist steroid at work throughout, and Part Two takes up where Part One leaves off, cranking things up to quite a pitch. It's hard to make out exactly what Miyaya was aiming at in some of the more depraved scenes - maybe he was trying to spice up the storyline, maybe trying to show his readers a good time. Anyway, the scene where Donoue gives it up for the first time - in a rapid turn of events that segues straight into a fist fuck - is not to be missed. Neither is the recurring phrase "I'm gonna pump some sunshine into youse guys!"
Part Three of the 'Fleshbomb Life' series was titled 'The Fleshbomb Age' (Nikudan Jidai). It's a form of nightmare, you could say - Miyaya's apocalyptic alternative rendering of Japan's twentieth century, in all its pulverizing violence. The story features a writer called 'M', who resembles Mishima Yukio in more ways than just the initial. He doesn't just look like Mishima. He also leads a fanatical private army much like Mishima's Shield Society - a group of muscular young men bedazzled by the author, who dolled them up in outrageous Captain Scarlet/SS-style uniforms. This time round, M is the mentor figure to a washed-up boxer called Takei Suteo. Under M's guidance he makes a miracle comeback, culminating in a bout against the former World Champion.
Meanwhile, M's private army kidnaps a gaggle of the nation's best and grayest politicians and financiers, forcing them into Tokyo's Budokan arena. There, they're forced to watch the fight of the century - a loser-dies gorefest between Takei and the World Champion. But why, why? M explains that the show is all about "giving some bollocks to a society that's descended to brown-nosing the impossible". Which straightens things up immensely.
One thing does become clear when the revels begin in the ring - Takei has surpassed his mentor to the nth degree. With his back to the wall, the only thing that can save the challenger is his iron will and honed-to-perfection physique. A final last-chance punch finds the champion's jaw, and he drops KO'd to the canvas! At the very same instant, Takei's life deserts him. He's given it his all.
The 'Fleshbomb Life' series brought Miyaya a second round of commercial success, and in this final installment you can see a return to his former radical, experimental style. In terms of his career this was a disaster, and he would later end up on the ropes himself because of it. Something of his fate is foreshadowed in the character of M, his beloved Mishima Yukio, stalking the pages of 'Fleshbomb Life' and spewing out incomprehensible 'literary' verbiage. (At least it's incomprehensible to me.)
Sirene, an autobiographical gekiga
In Japan, lots of novelists are mainly interested in Me. Autobiography is a dominant genre. This isn't the case at all with manga or gekiga, but now Miyaya made an unusual break in this direction. His work remained radical and experimental, but it increasingly mutated into what you might call Me manga - gekiga as autobiography. Well, more accurately, Me and Her manga. In the past tense. This was after he got divorced from Nishiyama Naoe.
Thus Seiren, which ran in Garo magazine. It's the story of a young man drawn to a beautiful woman (= the former Mrs. Miyaya), how they blissfully got it together, and how she led him to destruction. There is a great deal more than that to the story, however. The central event of the plot is the real-life siege of a group of Japanese Red Army activists at Asama Lodge in Karuizawa in 1972. This was an extremely hard-core group - the leading cadres had just tortured and killed a dozen of their own members to prove how very sincere they were about the whole thing. Against this violent backdrop, the couple at the center of Miyaya's story struggle through their own claustrophobic tempests as lovers and artists.
Seiren opens with a stunning double-page spread of the human nervous system, upside-down. The drawing doubles as a group of withered branches outside the railroad station at Karuizawa. Gazing over the lush resort district, the 'nervous system' (in fact the hero, and Miyaya himself) muses to itself "This is my prison cell. And that's fine by me." In fact Miyaya had a summer home there apart from his house in Nagoya. The villa was part and parcel of his former marriage, because it was a gift from Naoe's neo-fascist father. This was his 'prison cell.'
Seiren has a storyline of sorts - the hero's encounter with a beautiful enchantress slash stand-in for the artist's ex-wife. But in general it's a completely incoherent piece of work, and the series never reached any kind of conclusion. It's as though Miyaya had lapsed into some kind of beautifully crafted artistic autism. There were reasons for this. He still wasn't making anything like the money his talents deserved. And he was still struggling with pent-up feelings toward Naoe. However hard he tried, these feelings forced their way onto his pages. The turn to autobiography forced him to confront his own dark side in a very damaging way. From this point on, his works became even more confused in their motives and chaotic in form.
'The Peacock Wind Harp' is also set in the resort town of Karuizawa, but it's a very different place. For the period is the final months of the Second World War. This dark and melodramatic tale is Miyaya's attempt to sublimate his feelings of isolation and claustrophobia into a lyrical style of gekiga. The first half of the work was serialized in the mass-circulation magazine Big Gold, and later published in book form by Keisei Shuppan.
An old woman called Sara lives out her last days as a prisoner in her own home. The man doing the imprisoning is Ebio, her heir. He has secrets to keep as he awaits her death. He's homosexual, and he's a murderer. He killed his first love (the beautiful Rōza), chopped her up and threw the remains into a natural vent rising from the malachite rocks which was called the Peacock Cave. Now he has a dream - to turn the macabre site into a natural wind harp, and play performances to a series of carefully selected young men. He eventually comes across a stunningly beautiful target, but the boy's beauty hides a poison that will lead the hero to his destruction...And so the story careers on through one of the artist's obsessions after another - Karuizawa, inheritance, gay love and a certain captivating girl.
'The Peacock Wind Harp' is a work spinning further and further out of the artist's control, and it leaves a number of serious questions in its wake. Why did Miyaya publish the piece as a gekiga? What stopped him from putting out this material as a novel? What made him confront his inner demons to this extent? And why did Miyaya force himself onto such a painful, difficult path?
Living the Present
Founded in the 1980s, the mass-circulation mag Big Comic Spirits boosted its sales on the back of hugely popular works like Takahashi Rumiko's Maison Ikkoku (One-minute Maison). Not many people remember that the first ten issues carried a series by Miyaya called 'The Tiger's Daughter' (Tora no Musume).
It comes as no surprise that 'The Tiger's Daughter' is, once again, modeled on Naoe. It's a romance between a neo-fascist gang boss's daughter and a simple-hearted, honest young student. He's awfully pure. He rides horses in the college equestrian club. It was only when I read this work that I realized Miyaya wasn't capable of producing a fictional story. It's all about The Girl - and his messed-up feelings about her. Which goes to show how badly he'd been bitten. Most romance manga in the eighties had a harder edge (e.g. "former-biker-gang-member-turned-star-designer's carefree resort holiday love triangle with wife and mistress" type stuff). In comparison, 'The Tiger's Daughter' stays in cloud cream-puff land, one has to admit. Still, Miyaya was drawing his own version of reality as he was trying to live his way through it. In his own way, he stayed real.
The eighties were pretty much the decade of the decline and fall of the gekiga genre. Fukushima Masami lost his pace. Sakaki Masaru disappeared. And Miyaya Kazuhiko lost his platform in the mass-circulation mags. It was a cursed age. That said, Miyaya put in the occasional sporadic appearance in the best-selling Young Jump, but he'd lost his old spark. Apparently, some of his stuff was accepted, then shelved and remains in storage. Some Miyaya freaks swear that a sumo series he drew still lurks in the vaults of Young Magazine, published by the heavyweight Kodansha.
Anyway, the times were changing. For good or ill, the old radicalism of the sixties - with its heavy overtones of machismo - was on the way out. New critiques like postmodernism and feminism moved center-stage. What emerged from the wreckage was the otaku cult, trapped in the endless apocalypse of the everyday. The otaku set off on a vector away from the body and from heartache, in quest of the perfect fantasy image of safety: the pubescent computer-graphic idol. Left high and dry, the gekiga mags changed course or died. Such were the eighties.
Miyaya followed his own extremist path to the end of the line. But his narcissism led him back toward himself. And at the moment he got there, he saw something that even he couldn't draw. The implosion was magnificent.
Still Miyaya soldiers on in some unknown location, despite his divorce and rumors of his death. He has announced that he's still working, and storing up material for future publication. When I heard that, I was overjoyed in a really simple, straightforward way. Hope at last for Fleshbomb gekiga! But at the same time I wondered why Miyaya has kept going in this extremely difficult genre. What's he going to draw now that Naoe's out of the picture?
Akiyama the unstoppable
A lot about George Akiyama is shrouded in mystery and myth. Fact 1: he's a veteran manga artist who's spent the last thirty years and more at the cutting edge of the art-form, and he still shows no signs of slowing down. Fact 2: he has the true artist's gift of sensing what's coming down the line. Long before they happened, both the Aum Shinrikyo death cult and the anime Evangelion are weirdly foreshadowed in his work.
As for the more mundane details of his biography, who knows? A trawl through the internet will tell you that George Akiyama was born Akiyama Yūji in Tochigi (near Tokyo) in 1943. And also that he quit high school to work at a book wholesaler's in Tokyo's Kanda district, the center of universe for bibliophiles in Japan. Some time later he kick-started his career as a manga artist with a spell as assistant in the studio of Morita Kenji. But how much of this is true? In one interview, he claimed that he came up to the big smoke to become a TV personality, and that he became Morita's assistant by pure chance. (He also insisted that he'd gotten his high-school diploma.) Whatever.
It's generally held that he debuted in 1966 in Bessatsu Shonen Magazine with 'The Skeleton Kid' (Gaikotsu Kun). In fact, he'd already put out 'The Storm Ninja' (Arashi no Ninja) the year before as a kashihon manga. From the start, Akiyama was a riddle wrapped inside an enigma. His early works were light-hearted gag manga, like Patman X and Horafuki Dondon, both published in Shonen Magazine. ('Patman X' was especially well-received, and won the prestigious Kodansha Manga Prize). All very giggleworthy, and they're still great fun to read. But at the same time, in 'Marquis de Sade' (Sado Hakushaku) he showed a darker side – which would come to the fore in his later, more serious works. 'Marquis de Sade' mixes childish gags with some very dark humor indeed, as when the character Katsu Shintaro gets his eyelids stuck together with an industrial superglue. ('Marquis de Sade' came out in the magazine Bōkenō.)
Starting with Derorinman in 1969, Akiyama cracked out one scandalous manga after another for a full two years, into 1971. Then he capped things off with a hugely publicized disappearing act. Let's go through this period step by step.
Derorinman is the story of a kid whose father tries to kill himself, seriously mutilating his face and chest in the process. The event traumatizes the kid into delusions of grandeur, and he takes to the streets on a mission to save the planet. Like a latter-day Don Quixote, he's ready to pay life and limb to protect the innocent. Like Don Quixote, it all goes wildly wrong from square one. Maybe the most memorable part of the story is the series of (pretty simpleminded) philosophy q-and-a sessions with Dunce Mask – actually the hero Derorinman himself in another guise – who operates under the motto “Might is Right!” The series first appeared in the mass-circulation mag Shonen Jump in 1969. It made for surprisingly heavy-duty reading in such a tweenie/young-adolescent-oriented publication.
(True Akiyama otaku will want to note that Derorinman was republished in a slightly different version in Shonen Magazine in 1975. The hero's family gets a fresh look among other minor changes, but the series still has a more adult cast than its host mag. There was also novelization which appeared in Variety in 1979.)
Derorinman shared a lot of qualities with two other Akiyama manga that he drew around the same time, Ashura and 'The Moneygrubber' (in Shonen Magazine and Shonen Sunday respectively).
'Ashura' is set during a famine in medieval Japan. Ashura, the young hero of the story, has a serious problem with his mother: crazed with hunger, she is on the verge of cannibalizing him. The manga's full-on depictions of cannibal behavior led to public outcry, and the story got officially blacklisted as a danger to public morals in a number of prefectures (the Japanese equivalent of states) nationwide.
'The Moneygrubber'(Zenigeba) tells the tale of Gamagori Futaro, a man so poor he can't scrape five yen together to save his sick mother's life. He subsequently embarks on a warped quest for ready cash, killing his wife and kids in the process. Then he kills the detective investigating the murders. He then broadens his scope, becoming the boss of a factory and polluting the surrounding area so that hundreds more get sent to their graves. (Real-life incidents of industrial pollution like the infamous Minamata mercury poisoning case were still fresh in people's memory at the time.) Suicide is Futaro's final flourish. The story later became a movie starring Kara Juro.
Terorinman and The Moon
The late sixties saw the rise and fall of the Japan Red Army, the most violent and radical leftist group in the country's history. Their exploits gave the time a certain feeling (pleasant for some people) of decline and fall. The Red Army also reminded many of another radical group in a different age of decline and fall – the Shinsen-gumi, a doomed band of hard-core shogunate loyalists who made a last-ditch stand back in the 1860s. (Nowadays, the Shinsen-gumi is back in the public eye thanks to a year-long costume drama on the national broadcaster NHK in 2005.)
The final stages of Terorinman feature both a supercharged version of the Shinsen-gumi and the 'Army of the Moon', a group modeled on the Japan Red Army. However, the setting is neither the 1860s nor the 1960s but a sci-fi future. It's actually quite a serious look at both past and present in a space-opera style. Voyagers from the planet Vega reach earth and demand that the planet stops being a galactic hermit. (There are obvious parallels with the American Black Ships of Commodore Perry's fleet. Perry steamed into Tokyo Bay in 1853, in a terrifying display of superior technology, and demanded that Japan open up for free trade.) On earth, the (neo)Shinsen-gumi and the Army of the Moon struggle for first access to Vegan support and technology. In the three-way struggle that follows, the Vegans come to the conclusion that they'd better destroy the planet. So they unveil their ultimate doomsday device – a weapon codenamed 'The Moon'...
The same doomsday device appears in another Akiyama work in 1972, Za Mūn (or 'The Moon' as transcribed in Japanese). It appears that he lifted the no-hope ending of Terorinman and blended it into the finale of later series, which appeared in the mag Shonen Sunday. In 'The Moon', the forces of the planet Kenneru attack the earth using a flesh-eating fungus as a biological weapon. (The attack comes courtesy of a conspiracy by Kinokuniya Shoemon.)
Only a bunch of kids stands between the human race and the flesh-eating fungus from outer space. Voluntarily contaminated and already doomed, they press forward to the counterattack – love and comradeship are all they have to fall back on. Just before the big push, they celebrate the marriage of two of their number, Sansau and his lover Kateika. But then they fall, one after another. The last sound they hear as they die is the howling of The Moon. Thus endeth 'The Moon'. In Terorinman, the only difference is that the final howl goes to the eponymous hero. The tragedy stays the same.
'The Moon' is a kind of coming-of-age story disguised as a blockbusting yarn about robots. In that sense, I get the feeling that Akiyama was the forerunner of a whole swathe of later works by other writers, from Kidō Senshi Gundam (in the late seventies to Shinseiki Evangelion in the nineties, and in the new century, Bokurano. But the sad fact is that nobody save a few diehard fans remembers Akiyama's 'The Moon'. Maybe it's because the plotline was so completely OTT. Or maybe it's the way Akiyama kept pulling badly-judged visual gags in what's supposed to be a basically serious story.
Let me tell you about my life...?
Anyway, the George Akiyama story as it's unfolded so far has brought our hero a good deal of fame and fortune. It's at this point - 1971 - that he puts out a bizarre manga autobiography and stuns all and sundry by announcing his retirement.
Kokuhaku or 'Confessions' laid bare the secrets of Akiyama's soul episode after episode as it appeared in Shonen Sunday - "I was a child of mixed blood" (this was still a shocker in 1971 Japan), "I am a murderer" (which draws a gasp even today) - and so forth. And each episode carried a new confession: "Last's week's confession was a lie". Having dragged his readers through a wilderness of violence, loneliness and despair, Akiyama breaks off the series in a grand finale featuring himself in a chorus line of characters from the script, laughing and dancing off into the sunset, calling "Gooodbyeee!"
Unfuggin'believable. The only thing is, this isn't exactly like the ending of Evangelion, with the full cast of characters shouting "Congratulaaations!" It's exactly the same.
The Kid with the Eyes of a King
Did Akiyama reach some kind of Enlightenment during the time he vanished amid such huge public uproar? No - he didn't change a jot, I'm delighted to say.
After he emerged back into the spotlight, Akiyama put out yet another controversial series, in Shonen Jump in 1972. 'The Hill of Roses' (Bara no Sakamichi) tells the story of Domon Ken, a highly idealistic kid with a special gift and a special problem. The gift: he possesses 'the Eyes of a King'. The problem: his mother is insane, and he's constantly worried that some day he's going to end up the same as her.
By chance, Ken comes into a vast fortune in money and real estate. His idealism immediately takes over, and he decides to "build a utopian village for pure-hearted children to live in". And he decides to do it all alone - we see him desperately lugging huge rocks across the landscape, while his friends look on and wet their pants laughing. Ken keeps trundling on like the damned Sisyphus in the Greek legend, condemned to roll rocks around for eternity. But he doesn't give up, and he doesn't give in. And as time goes by, his friends start changing their minds, and joining the good fight.
This bald summary of the story so far might give the impression that we're dealing with a really wholesome piece of work here (though the insanity scenes are pretty unrelenting). But, at the climax of the story, abruptly - maybe the series wasn't selling well, maybe Akiyama himself wasn't happy with it - we find Ken floating lifeless in a harbor. He's pulled out and put on a respirator, but never regains consciousness. In his coma, he fantasizes about his life as it should have been but wasn't - with a mother who stayed sane, a father who didn't run off, and a marriage partner he truly loved. After three episodes of this, he dies. The series finishes off in It's a Beautiful Life mode, showing how the people he touched in his life heal their wounds and return to fulfilling everyday lives.
Akiyama's work had always had a kind of missionary touch to it, with a vague urge towards saving humanity. In 'The Hill of Roses', this impulse takes on a more concrete form - the building of a utopian community. The series is also very interested in money, and how to get maximum use out of it. It's interesting that even when planning for paradise, Akiyama maintained a cool, hard-headed realism, hidden but definite.
The road to Enlightenment
From this point on, Akiyama shifted his focus to a more adult market. Not immediately though - Shonen Jump published 'A Young Man Turned to Ash' (Hai ni naru Shonen), the story of vampire who found his calling by virtue of suffering from a blood disease. There was also the gag manga 'World's Number One Complete Loser' (Dohazure Tenka Ichi). But, on the whole, the main thrust was erotic works with lots of upskirt shots, sex scenes soaked with every fluid imaginable, incest, gay scenes etc. Pure entertainment.
With series like 'The Wandering Cloud' (Furōgumo, in Big Comic Original) and 'Frogs and Toads of the Japanese Archipelago' (Nihon Rettō Gamagaueru), Akiyama established himself at the top of the heap in the world of shonen shi - magazines aimed at young to middle-aged male audiences. His series The Pink Curtain, printed in Manga Goraku became a movie directed by Moho Jun. But for all his success, I thought that he was turning into just another porn peddler in the late seventies, and I lost interest in him for a while.
But actually, looking at his more recent work, Akiyama's blue period may have been a necessary trip to the sin bin. He later moved on to draw manga that skillfully blend the opposing themes of sexual desire and spiritual enlightenment. The best example of this is 'The Philanthropist' (Hakuai no Hito) in Big Gold. He wouldn't have been able to achieve this without the experience of drawing adult-oriented manga.
'Son of The Buddha' and Aum Shinrikyo
In the eighties, George Akiyama made his creative comeback on the pages of Shonen Jump with two works - 'Son of The Buddha' (Shaka no Musuko) and 'Gonzui the Fisherman' (Kaijin Gonzui). By now, what was known as the 'Jump System' was already in place throughout the Jump magazine conglomerate - i.e., the editors rigidly controlling the artists, with the editors making sure the plotlines and graphics followed what reader surveys told them would sell best. 'Son of the Buddha' and 'Gonzui the Fisherman' can only be read as direct assaults on the 'Jump system', carried out right in the belly of the beast. Did Akiyama turn himself into Terorinman? Or maybe something more along the lines of Don Quixote? These two anarchic series certainly tilted at one gigantic windmill.
As he drew 'Son of The Buddha', Akiyama was knight errant and prophet rolled into one. Scene after scene of the series foretells the rise of Aum Shinrikyo in uncanny detail - only the guru's face is different. Akiyama's guru first gains recruits through a dramatic ploy - launching a bio-attack, and then providing an antidote to the public. Dressed up in a Sai Baba-style getup, he spends day and night in intimate 'spiritual exercises' with three sisters belonging to his cult. Ten years down the line, reality bit even this detail - Aum also had three famous sisters among its membership (famous after the 1995 terror attack, anyway). Other details are more fantastic - the Son of The Buddha is actually a puppet for a shadowy group called Freezone, which is modeled on the Freemasons; the plot climaxes with the sudden appearance of a flotilla of UFOs.
I interviewed George Akiyama for a book I wrote earlier (Manga Jigoku Hen) and asked him about the connections between 'Son of The Buddha', Aum Shinrikyo and occultism in general. His answer was "I just drew what my editor told me to". I felt he was dodging the question for dear life. Or should I say to this day I hope he was.
It has to be said that "Son of The Buddha" suffers a severe hangover from Akiyama's porn period I mentioned earlier. There's lots of gratuitous nudity, pants, bikinis, miniskirts, mile-long legs and cetera. Granted, the hangovers hardest to cure are the ones best forgotten. Given its abrupt ending, the series probably had trouble keeping its ratings up. Still, as it faces into the twenty-first century, 'Son of The Buddha' continues to throw a multifaceted new light on the present.
The trauma of Gonzui the Fisherman
'Gonzui the Fisherman' fared even more tragically then 'Son of the Buddha'. George Akiyama has never darkened the pages of Shonen Jump since. Gonzui is an ex-slave washed up on a desert island. The story is about his fate as shared with his fellow castaways. Not that the series had much breathing space to develop - after a great opening fanfare Shonen Jump cut it in fewer than ten episodes. Maybe the way the hero was drawn was open to charges of racism, well or ill-founded (this was a persistent problem in Japanese manga throughout the eighties). Maybe the readers didn't warm to the graphic sadism on display from the word go. Anyway, it was cut.
Personally, my favorite character in the manga is Azusa, a mentally unbalanced fisherwoman who appears at the beginning of the story and takes care of Gonzui because she can't distinguish him from her dead son. So I was really disappointed by the brutal plot change in the middle of the series, where the entire adult population of the desert island was shipped off to another location, leaving the manga populated by a half-naked, strictly kids-only crowd. In other words, Akiyama was jumping on the Lolicon bandwagon - the craze for sexualized prepubescent characters was in full swing at the time. Anyway, from asking around I get the feeling that 'Gonzui the Fisherman' ranks right up there at number one or two as a trauma manga among guys in their late twenties.
A force of nature that knows no limits
Even now, George Akiyama is still on the boil. Already he has a string of entertainment works for the young male seinenshi market under his belt, like 'The Wandering Cloud', 'The Pink Curtain' and 'Kisaburō the Female Impersonator' (Onnagata Kisaburō, in Big Comic Original Zōkan). But he still keeps producing one scandalous series after another in a nicely-balanced sequence -Lovelin Monroe in Young Magazine, 'The Philanthropist' and 'The People You Can't Get Rid Of' (Sutegataki Hitobito) in Big Gold. Then there's 'Kūkai, Master Buddhist Teacher' (Kōbō Daishi Kūkai) in ALLMAN...and the list goes on.
These works are all still scandalous and brimming with anarchic spirit. George Akiyama really is the last of the titans. Other manga writers of his generation have mellowed with age; not Akiyama. He keeps pushing the envelope as hard as he can. And his lifestyle shows no sign whatsoever of any drop in his prodigious energy level. Even his addictive lying (?) is still in full throttle. He's not just a manga artist with his hands. He's a manga artist in every fiber of his body.
Growing up tramatized...
At present, two series by Akiyama are in magazine publication - 'The People You Can't Get Rid Of' and 'Kūkai, Master Buddhist Teacher'. In character, they're both continuations of the series 'The Philanthropist'. Both of them cover the life of Ninomiya Kinjiro, and his philosophy of satori (Buddhist enlightenment).
'The People You Can't Get Rid Of' is a love story between Yūsuke - a dim, unemployed truck driver who's no great hit with the ladies - and Kyōko, a bento shop worker who was traumatized when raped as a teenager. It seems as though their relationship is going to make it - or so Akiyama sets it up. Suddenly, though, Kyōko starts spouting the doctrines of "The Lake of the Godhead" (this is a fictional cult, but it could easily pass as just about any one of Japan's 'new religions' that cater to the lonely, the poor and the ignorant). Yusuke's body breaks into occult spasms, and the story as a whole plunges into a spiritual world, as Tsunoda Jiro always desicribes in his manga.
In Vol. 1 of the book version, Yūsuke refers to the vagina as 'The Sacred Portal' when accused by the "Lake of the Godhead" congregation of raping Kyōko just the night before. -In fact, he'd done no such thing. He'd just been trying to get laid in his normal way.
At one time, Akiyama enjoyed considerable commercial success with the string of works he drew for kids' shonen magazines. Even so, he must have given his young readers a fairly heavy dose of trauma with his sharp sense of wrenching controversial life problems. And then there was his graphic style, which was such a mismatch - nothing bold or dramatic, all faltering wispy lines.
Even now that they're grown up, his readers (and I'm one of them) still appreciate his particular ghastly kind of weirdness. Maybe we can do that exactly because we've grown up. I get the feeling that the kind of relationship Akiyama's fans have to his work is the best kind going.
"I don't talk about this very often, but I actually died once...Astral projection, is it? Well, I was floating in space, and all behind me it was pitch dark. It was just like being in hell." (Interview in QJ magazine #14)
After his (temporary) death, Murotani Tsunezō went on to draw a series of hellish works based on his hands-on research, the two most outstanding being 'Hell Boy' (Jigoku Kun) and 'Doll Hell' (Ningyo Jigoku). The backgrounds in 'Hell Boy' are especially striking, and they couldn't get much blacker. They really do seem to bear witness to time spent in the underworld.
Murotani Tsunezō was born in Osaka in 1934. His background was relatively comfortable, his family running a clothes store. He was manga-obsessed from childhood, and especially loved Imoto Suimei's 'Longboots Three Musketeers' (Nagakutsu Sanjūshi). These three musketeers consisted of two humans and one monkey, with their boots worn on their heads in a clear departure from original Alexander Dumas version. Anyway, their adventures were one of the things that sparked the young Murotani's imagination.
He kept drawing incessantly right through the difficult years of World War II, when he was evacuated to a rural district in the southern island of Kyushu. His schoolmates there were hard-as-nails country kids. Near the school stood 'Fight Hill'; the custom was to go there after school and slug out any little disagreements they had during class time, with an older boy refereeing. As a city slicker cast into a den of feral rednecks, Murotani was an obvious prime target for hazing. He managed to save his hide, however, by drawing caricatures for his classmates. The permanent moral of the story for him was "If you can make people laugh, you'll survive". His Kyushu years impacted his later work in other ways, too. The hero of 'Hell Boy' is based on his Kyushu school janitor's son.
After the war ended, Murotani stayed involved with amateur manga circles, but his main interest had shifted to oil painting. After he graduated high school he applied to study art in Kyushu University, but his manga experience must have taken its toll. He was turned down, and now became a 'wandering samurai' - a high school graduate studying for a second shot at the college entrance exams. But he kept drawing manga, and his first break came during this period from an unexpected source - the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, which took him on as a cartoonist.
Working with the Mainichi opened up a new path for Murotani - a path with no exact equivalent for artists in the west. Regular appearances in the Mainichi stable of children's papers (Mainichi Shōgakusei Shimbun and Mainichi Chūgakusei Shimbun) led on to a flourishing career in 'educational manga'. True to their name, educational manga tackle the subject matter of school textbooks - which are very often masterpieces of crushing boredom - and try to get the goods across in a more graphic and interesting manner.
So, when Murotani finally headed for Tokyo and art school, he already had a good degree of success under his belt. His student years were spent absorbing influences from Picasso and Matisse, and painting in oils in the surrealist style. All the while he financed himself by drawing educational manga, but his horizons soon broadened. When a friend got published in a manga magazine he decided to try his luck outside the educational field. The result was 'Naughty Turbo Kid' (Wanpaku Tābō), published in 1958 in the magazine Mangaō. From this point through to the mid-sixties, Murotani put out a string of gag-filled manga series aimed at young kids. With one major exception: 'Thriller Kid: The Terrifying Fly-Man' (Surirā Kozō Kyōfū no Hae Otoko). The Fly-Man is heavily influenced by fifties pulp sci-fi. The offspring of a wartime biological weapons experiment, he wreaks his revenge in a school setting. Both the setting and the horror-story element pointed towards Murotani's future; for the time being, however, he stuck with the gag manga for kids.
Apart from the fact that he'd died already, there were a couple of factors that spurred Murotani towards drawing horror manga - his experience of surrealist painting, his voracious reading of fifties sci-fi novels, and the imagery of fifties sci-fi movies all had an influence. A major shift in his work came in 1967 with the publication of SF 'Sci-fi Theater: Alternative Earth' (Gekijō Dai-ni no Chikyū) in the Mainichi Chūgakusei Shimbun, which catered to high school kids. This kicked off a series of works heavily indebted to fifties sci-fi; the most successful of them was 'Spaceman' (Supēsuman), which the Chūgakusei Shimbun ran over three years. The story - the interplanetary quest of a multiracial group of teen space crusaders - was a big success with its high school audience, thanks to its perfectly-calculated mix of horror, sci-fi and eroticism. In fact, 'Spaceman' is a plausible forerunner to Galactic Railroad 999 (Ginga Tetsudō 999). The period of 'Spaceman' was a highly productive one for Murotani; he also put out the series 'Microman' (Mikuroman: no connection to the toy by the same name produced by Takara) and 'Time Patrol' (Taimu Patrōru) among others. All were published in the Mainichi Chūgakusei Shimbun, and all bore the same imprint of fifties science fiction.
In the heavily regimented world of manga production, Murotani was unusual in being a loner; he employed no assistants. He was also a technical perfectionist who eschewed the use of screentone in his backgrounds. But when the pace got just too frantic, he had to compromise. His nephews, wife and sister-in-law pitched in as a kind of artisinal family, setting up the studio, pasting and screentoning (literally) in the background. By the late sixties, Murotani was getting a lot of name recognition, and the big time finally started to beckon. 'Flash-Bang' (Pikkari Bii) and 'Go For It, Pyūta!' (Faito Da! Pyūta). Both hit the big screen as anime, and he began publishing in the massive-circulation weekly tabloid magazines known as shūkanshi.
However, fame brought its own problems. Murotani's distaste for screentone still hadn't deserted him (he was coming from a fine arts background, after all). But drawing in background shading by hand took a tremendous amount of time given the volume of production now demanded of him, he became more and more overworked. And the major tabloids were big business. Their main content was celebrity scandal, their main concern was the bottom line, and they showed precious little consideration towards the manga artists they carried as a minor sideline. Editors kept an eagle eye on the manga artists, and they didn't hesitate to cut whole sections without consent let alone consultation.
Murotani created his masterpiece in this harsh and pressurized environment. This was the Jigoku - 'Hell' - series.
Jigoku Kun (Hell Boy) forms the first half of the 'Hell' series. It was serialized in a magazine aimed at younger readers, so Muortani laid on the gore with a fairly light touch. The hero's mission is pretty grim: "The villain gets sent to hell every single time". But even so, 'Hell Boy' is a fun piece of work with a character all its own. The hero has a strong appeal, along with surreal characters like the Undead Dad (Mannnen Totsan), the bone-marrow munching Dokurobotan, and a constantly varying cast of hellish ghouls. You get the feeling that Murotani himself had a lot of fun himself making this work, from a lot of different elements that appear: the elaborate page compositions, the ultra-realistic depictions of hell, the offbeat hero, the ultrasexy heroine, and the mixed cast of supporting characters, sometimes beautiful and sometimes cruel.
The highlight of the series is the third episode, 'Devil Fire' (Akumabi). Here, Murotani gives free rein to one aspect of Hell Boy's character: he's devilishly cool. The villain of the piece is a student who dabbles in arson in his free time. Hell Boy uses his magic powers to stick the criminal's arm onto his (the criminal's, that is) forehead. This episode also introduces the character Akutsu; he's quite the square, a good husband and father and the manager of a construction company. Yet at the same time, he's a fiend towards the evil (in this story he traps the student/arsonist/villain). In fact, 'Hell Boy' is an extremely righteous piece of work; you can feel Murotani's anger towards the villains, and his strong sense of justice - to the point where Murotani's own anger comes across as a mangaized enactment of divine wrath. And this is one of the things I really like about 'Hell Boy'. At the same time, however much Murotani's vision was based on his near-death experience, there isn't a hint of religious feeling or teaching in the series. 'Hell Boy' remains quite cool throughout.
Jigoku Kun was put out in book form by Ota Shuppann in a single-volume set along with Surirā Kozō Kyōfū no Hae Otoko (Thriller Kid: The Terrifying Fly-Man). It remains a great read.
The second half of the 'Hell' series was aimed at an older readership, and it shows. Murotani cranked up the horror level and gave stronger voice to his outrage in episodes like 'Doll Hell' (Ningyō Jigoku), 'Insect Hell' (Mushi Jigoku), 'Jirō the Ghost-Devil' (Kaiki Jirō) and 'Pavilion Hell' (Pabirion Jigoku). Among them, the strongest episodes are 'Doll Hell' and 'Pavilion Hell'. They're also quite political.
'Doll Hell' is a revenge drama starring Misuzu Reika, a traditional doll-maker and atomic bomb survivor. Gifted with magic powers, she decides to take an appropriate form of revenge on the American pilots who dropped the bomb - by turning them into dolls. The pilots (one of them a woman) will remain alive, trapped inside the dolls' bodies. There is an underlying eroticism in the scenes where Reika works her magic, and in the appearance of the blond blue-eyed American character Jane, now transformed into a living doll.
In 'Pavilion Hell', a kid visiting the Osaka International Exposition of 1970 gets lost among the crowds, and somehow finds that he's wandered into hell. There are two kinds of demons, he finds - black demons and white demons - and the black ones are the masters, lording over and discriminating against the whites. Soon a war of liberation starts, with the young hero caught up in it. The plot is thickened with a trans-dimensional romance between him and a female knight of the liberation army. This aspect of 'Pavilion Hell' points forward to Takahashi Rumiko's Urusei Yatsura (Lamu, the Invader Girl).
This kind of socially aware horror manga wasn't particularly rare in this period, and it's hard to deny that Murotani was aiming for large sales when he drew the 'Hell' series. What really makes the 'Hell' series stand out from the rest is the way hell itself is depicted. Unlike other artists working on similar material, Murotani doesn't rely on local Japanese traditional art or folklore at all. If anything, his underworld and the demons who live there are drawn in a quasi-surrealist style. Here we see Murotani the modernist in action.
In the mid seventies, Murotani dropped out of the youth-oriented shōnen magazine scene and shifted his focus back to educational manga. The pace of work required in the weeklies is absolutely crushing, and this was partly the reason for the move. But the major factor in the move was that he left Japan for a sabbatical year in Paris towards the end of the seventies.
Murotani's Parisian year was spent cruising the major galleries, starting with the National Library, the Musée Carnavalet and the Museum of Fashion. A year is a really long time in manga, and normally it'd be unthinkable for an established artist to go a whole year without publishing anything at all. But by shifting to educational manga again, Murotani had fixed himself up with a reliable and steady source of income. Hence Paris.
Towards a complete 'Hell Boy'
Since his return from Paris to the present day, Murotani has continued to keep his main focus on educational manga. And he had remained tremendously successful in this line of work. His biographical manga like Himiko, Katsu Kaishū and Date Masamune went through anything between twenty and forty-two reprints. (Himiko was the shamanistic prophet-ruler of the Yamatai, a third-century forerunner of the Japanese state; Katsu Kaishū was the shogunate's last naval commander; and Date Masamune was a famous one-eyed feudal lord from northern Japan). He's also opened up new areas in educational manga, such as the history-of-science dramas he put out in popular Japanese science magazines like Newton and Einstein.
However, he ran into serious trouble with his 'Mohammed and Islam' (Mahometto to Isuram-kyo), which was withdrawn among protests by Muslims offended at the portrayal of the Prophet in pictures. He also had a run-in with the French government over the inclusion of his anti-nuclear poster Moon Over Mururoa in an exhibition that coincided with a state visit by the President of France to Japan. The sponsors of the exhibition, a department store called Yokohama Sogō, pulled Murotani's work from the show; this time the furious protests came from the artist himself. In both cases, Murotani stuck to an uncompromising freedom-of-speech position, and he declared that he 'absolutely refused to recognize any taboos against freedom of expression'. He still had his old unyielding sense of anger and passion for justice. I think that's why he was able to stick to his guns in the face of considerable pressure.
Murotani Tsunezō has continued to publish educational manga to this day, while also keeping active in the anti-nuclear movement. He also teaches at the Lifelong Learning Center, and plays tennis in his free time. (There are unconfirmed reports that he's practiced his volleys against a number of world-famous structures including the Parthenon and Arc de Triomphe). He still has a lot of ideas in his head, and plans further installments of 'Pavilion Hell' and other projects like 'Murotani's Grotesque Greek Mythology. He's also planning a complete, finalized version of 'Hell Boy' - in the unlikely event that the series could ever be wrestled to a halt'. In any case, Murotani Tsunezō is still an artist worth keeping an eye on.
A natural high
As a manga artist, Kaze Shinobu has a pretty unique approach to his trans-dimensional material. He opens up his subconscious and draws what appears to him without plan or pause. It's a kind of automatic drawing. Maybe his editors press for changes later on in the process, but fundamentally that's his method. Apparently he holes himself up in a purpose-made cardboard pyramid to give the astral juices a chance to flow. With his psychedelic color sense and oddball drawing habits, you might reasonably suspect that Kaze's creative processes are chemically assisted. But that's actually not the case. His trances are naturally induced. To reach them he lives a healthy – almost monkish – existence. He's practically a vegetarian, which is very rare indeed in today's Japan (oddly enough, given its vegetarian past).
Kaze Shinobu was born in 1952 in Yokosuka, a city near Tokyo with a large US naval base. His manga-obsessed childhood was immediately followed by a spell as assistant in Dynamic Pro, a manga studio run by the artist Nagai Gō . After gophering on 'Kikkai' (Kikkai Kun) and 'The Most Boring Guy in School' (Gakuen Taikutsu Otoko), he debuted under his own name in 1970 in the mag Gekkan Shōnen Magajin with the story 'One-Dollar Hospital, Inc.' (Hyakuen Byōin). (Japanese readers of his well-known later works are stunned to find out that Kaze started off as a comic manga writer for younger kids, but 'One-Dollar Hospital' was just such a 'gag manga' (as they are locally known). The story featured lots of black humor and seems to show influences from the recently-released movie M.A.S.H. (Kaze himself claims, though, that the main influence was the TV comedian Morikawa Shun.) At any rate, there's a comic streak running through all Kaze's work right into his later, more transcendental works like Zeus.
While the young Kaze was busy creating gag manga with idiot heroes, his collaborators at Dynamic Pro were looking much further afield. In particular, they were reading the cult French graphic novelist Philippe Druillet. When he looked through Druillet's Lone Sloane, Kaze was blown away by the ultra-intense coloration and 4-D graphics. He wasn't slow to pay homage. His own work immediately started taking on Druilletesque characteristics like the Frenchman's intense sharpness of line. And as he moved away from gag manga, Kaze really started to come into his own as an artist.
In 1977, Kaze started serialization of what can be justly called his masterpiece – 'Ryū, Strongest Man on the Face of the Planet'(Chijō Saikyū no Otoko, Ryū). This last malign blossom of the 1970s draws on just about every aspect of the decade's countercultures and mashes them face to face in one single work.
The Antichrist roams the earth with the face and clothing of Charles Manson. 'Ryū, Strongest Man on the Face of the Planet' shows the continuing influence of Philippe Druillet on Kaze Shinobu, and there is homage as well to the Art Nouveau master Alphonse Mucha.
Other influences come from East Asia. Christ calls Bruce Lee back to life, in a reflection of the seventies Kung Fu boom. And what's really interesting is the absurd way this Kung Fu fashion is combined with the contemporary 'Spiritualist Craze' spearheaded by the real-life religious cult GLA (headed by its second leader Takahashi “Michael” Keiko) and the writer Hirai Kazumasa, author of the New Wolf Guy Series, who is supposed to be closely connected to the cult. 'Strongest Man on the Face of the Planet lampooned both. There are also logos echoing Yokō Tadanori.
'Ryū, Strongest Man on the Face of the Planet' followed a wayward path both before and after publication. Originally, Kaze planned for the hero and his rival Dokyo to be involved in a gay love affair. The general outline was for a blockbusting karate/sci-fi/gay/horror set of themes. But when he broached his ideas to Nagai Go and the team at Dynamic Pro, they persuaded him to abandon the gag manga style and take a more 'serious-minded' line.(Hence the story as it finally appeared.) However, the spectacular final illustration of the earth splitting in two was in Kaze's mind from the very start.
'Ryū' was first published in Shōnen Magazine in 1977. Unfortunately, the series was too occultist in tone to get enough support from the readership (as constantly surveyed by the mag) and it crashed to a premature death. However, it was later brought out in book form by the publishers Asahi Sonorama, and again in 1996 by Kadokawa Shoten, in 2002 Hutaba-sha.
Kaze's work found a ready audience among one section of the sci-fi readership. This group took its inspiration from American comics and graphic novels, and they recognized something new and exciting in what he was doing. As a result, the Japanese sci-fi scene became one of Kaze's main platforms for publishing single-episode works and short series.
The occult was big news in the late seventies, and Kaze's 'The Kid who Who Ran the Government' (Gabamento o Motta Shōnen) followed the trend. In this self-selected anthology – and his other works of the time – Kaze developed the unique essentials of his later spiritualist-occultist phase. Again and again, the plots revolve around Armageddon, the near-extinction of humankind, and the recovery of post-apocalyptic humanity in some more highly evolved state.
Kaze followed this flurry of short works with a period of inactivity. But during this time, he gained new audiences abroad for his previous work. Among others,'Being a Guy Is All True Grit' (Otoko wa Dokyō) was published in Heavy Metal, and Heart and Steel was published in Epic. Still, elaborate work like Kaze's took more time and energy than he could muster, and his productivity reflected that. What little else he managed to put together in the late seventies was put out in sympathetic and relatively undemanding sci-fi mags like SF Magazine, SF Adventure and Popcorn. The readers were bug-eyed cognoscenti to a man.
The eighties works 'Ghost Man' (Reitai Ningen), 'Love Goddess New Girl in School' (Aizen Tensei) and 'Flowerbird, Bright Moon and Cool Breezes' (Kachō Fūgetsu) were included in the anthology 'The Kid who Ran the Government'. But Kaze put out lots of other short works in this period that were never anthologized. Many of these were published in mags aimed at young girls, or shōjo zasshi. – For example Puchi Furawā, or Petit Flower, which published Kaze's 'My Scary Auntie Midori' (Midori no Obasan ga Kowai).
In this story, a young girl is knocked down at a traffic crossing. Later, she finds that her friends and family start to act weird. They're completely cold to her. Worse, her youthful aunt Midori trails her like a skirt, impossible to shake off. At the very end of the manga, it turns out that she's been dead since the accident. 'Auntie Midori' is in fact an angel, and she herself is a ghost haunting the place where she died. It's an early version of The Sixth Sense, in other words, and Kaze handles the plot very skillfully.
Another memorable Kaze work from the eighties is 'Last of the Bikers' (Saigo no Bōsozoku). Japanese bike gangs are another distinct modern subculture, with their own costumes, rites of passage and even Chinese characters. While not quite as dangerous as the classic Hell's Angels, they certainly caused a storm in urban Japan in their late-seventies heyday, before membership went into steep decline. 'Last of the Bilers' is set in a post-apocalyptic urban landscape, and features stunning graphics of bikers gunning their way through the ruins. In my opinion, Kaze helped pave the way for Akira. 'Last of the Bikers' was published in the sci-fi mag Popcorn as a full series.
'A Tale of the Moon and the Wind' (Ugetsu Monogatari) took Kaze off on a quite new tangent, since the story is set in medieval Japan. However, the graphic style owes a lot to the Art Nouveau maestro Alphonse Mucha, and the combination of style and story works up a unique atmosphere. One of Kaze's own favorites, 'The Moon and the Wind' languished for years before finally coming out under the Seiryusha imprint in 1996. It looked as fresh then as the day it was finished.
Corny and camp
During the eighties, Kaze spent a lot of time schmoozing around at sci-fi conventions in the States, investigating the goings-on and coming home laden down with merchandise. As Nakako Shinji reports in the book Violence and Peace, during this period Kaze had a major thing for low-budget American sci-fi flicks, starting with Wonder Woman. Apparently he loved their particular blend of cheapness and trashiness.
There was obviously some common ground between these movies and his own sensibility – for example, the way that he couldn't resist inserting gags into 'Ryū, Strongest Man on the Face of the Planet'. There's a similar style in later (but not particularly recent) movies like Ed Wood and in the rising popularity of deliberately corny styles. Kaze's work isn't exactly kitsch as such, or camp either, but definitely shares something in common with a lot of eighties camp Americana. I'm thinking along the lines of Tim Burton's Mars Attacks. For my money, Kaze was the only Japanese manga artist to nail down this kind of spoof pop-art sensibility with real finesse.
Kaze's overseas connections carry over to the way he draws his heroines, who often have a fairly exotic quality about them. They're modeled on the Haga shoten Star series. In terms of their costumes alone, Nikaido Kuniko (the heroine of 'Ryū, Strongest Man on the Face of the Planet') clearly looks to the risqué heroine of the American comic Vampillera for inspiration and glamour. Although Kaze never watched Barbarella, he was a major Wonder Woman fan – especially as played by Linda Carter.
He was also a fan of Japanese science fiction, especially the movies Sukeban Deka and Bishōjo Kamen Powatorin. Minamino Youko, the female lead in Sukeban Deka II, was a particular favorite, and the scene where she appears in the movie with her mask split in two was particularly stimulating for him. Kaze also drew UFO illustrations around the themes of Bishōjo Kamen Powatorin, which are worth a look.
The daily grind
In the nineties, Kaze experienced a frenetic period drawing two series for Tokyo Sports, a daily tabloid newspaper. Tiger Mask the Star and Roppongi Soldier were both scripted by Maki Hisao. Personally, I was really doubtful if Kaze could sustain the pace of producing his kind of highly-wrought graphics on a daily basis. What made the projects possible, I think, was that they lacked his normal science-fiction and multi-dimensional pyrotechnics. However, that's not to say that both series don't pack a lot of punch. They do. I'd like to think that the main reason Kaze changed his style here was that he wanted to appeal to a new readership. Anyone who reads them can see that the scripts – with their offbeat ideas and ultra-cool heroes – mesh brilliantly with Kaze's crisp graphics.
Tiger Mask the Star is set in New York. The hero, Tiger Mask, is a homeless downbeat in his normal, everyday life. The villain Tiger's Cave is really original – a cross-dressing mafia don with a penchant for S&M. There's a similar sado-masochistic streak running through 'Roppongi Soldier', the story of an ex-kickboxer private eye. The series is very detailed on Tokyo's Roppongi nightclub and entertainment district, which the scriptwriter knew very thoroughly. The fight scenes in both series are just the same as the ones in 'Ryū, Strongest Man on the Face of the Planet', and just as powerful.
The artist as prophet
In March 1995, the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyō launched a deadly attack on the Tokyo subway, using the nerve gas Sarin. Under the absolute leadership of the half-blind guru Asahara Shōko, the group had attracted a large following of elite science students attracted by Asahara's distorted end-of-the-world blend of Buddhism, yoga and science fiction (Isaac Asimov was a major source of inspiration). The subway attack was planned as a prelude to an assault on the parliament building and a coup to set up an Aum Shinrikyō dictatorship. It was in many ways the most shocking event in Japan since Mishima Yukio's spectacular suicide in 1970, pointing as it did to a deeper and unexpected malaise in the entire culture, and especially among the young.
Kaze Shinobu's daring reaction to the event was his 'Aum Armageddon Plan is Go!', (Harumagedon 'Aum Keikaku' Seikō Seri!) published in the weekly tabloid Flash Zōkan and edited by Arita Yoshio. The manga was an exercise in alternative history, prophesying what Japan would have been like under an Aum dictatorship. The climax depicts Asahara – grown to monstrous proportions – smashing the parliament building in a blaze of light. The extraordinary spread won praise from Taku Hachiro, then appearing in the well-known magazine Spa!.
Maybe Kaze had finally learned to cope with the pressures of producing work for the daily newspapers and weekly mags. Whatever the reason, from 1995 his work in all genres started to show a real resurgence in spirit. Later, Kaze had a major spat with the artist Tsuji Naoki over copyright issues relating to Tiger Mask the Star. However, this did nothing to slow down his creative surge, which has continued up to the present. The ultimate reason for this surge lies in the nature of modern life in Japan. 1995 wasn't just Aum's year. It also saw the Kobe earthquake, which killed five thousand and left the city looking like Akira had jumped off the page. In other words, the boundary between modern Japan and the world of Kaze's imagination was being obliterated. Kaze Shinobu increasingly began to reveal himself in his true form – as a prophet of urban dystopia. Either that or reality was finally catching up as the millennium approached. You be the judge.
A voyage into Greek mythology
In 1996, Tokuma Shōbo published 'Zeus' (Zeos), Part One of Kaze's excursion into Greek mythology. The story: Chaos gives birth to Uranus (heaven), Gaia (earth) and Eros (love). They in turn parent many gods who form the first-generation pantheon. Uranus becomes an overbearing tyrant and is overthrown because of this by his child Chronos, but Chronos ends up just as bad an oppressor himself. He devours his own children one by one because of a prophesy that one of them will steal the throne. But there's one survivor who got away – Zeus. Zeus takes out Chronos, rescues his devoured siblings, and takes charge of the show on Olympus...And that's just the first half of the story. 'Zeus' in fact covers only as far as the eponymous hero's birth.
'Zeus' is chock-full of Kaze's science fiction style and multi-dimensional pyrotechnics . It's a fantastically enjoyable story. Kaze still has a lot of great manga left in him, and there are still lots of full-color unpublished works slumbering in the archives at Dynamic Pro.
During the seventies, I used to devour Zōkan Young Comic because Miyaya Kazuhiko and Sakaki Masaru wrote for it. While devouring, I often came across single-episode gekiga by Suzuki Ryōsei. And they were weird. I pushed them to the corner of my mind marked 'unpleasant memories' - and there they stayed.
Years later - actually, when I was researching this book - I bumped into his stuff again. I was fishing through the gekiga magazines in the National Diet Library, and suddenly there he was. An ex-editor at Zōkan Young Comic told me that right from the start, Suzuki was gunning to become An Artist. This was when he was coming out with gekiga like 'Puberty? No Thanks!' (Seishun Danki) and 'Youth Blood Cherry Street' (Seishun Chizakura Dōri).
Suzuki finally managed to make a highly Artistic gekiga with his one and only ever work dealing with social issues - 'The Rough Guide to Davy Jones's Locker' (Gyōfuku Ki). It's a story about a sports teacher who ends up marrying a badass girl he used to teach (this isn't seen as particularly scandalous in Japan). Then it gets creepy. Day by day, the wife starts to morph back gradually into a little girl. One day, the couple find themselves in a sleepy seaside town, when something decisive happens inside the girl-woman's body... The husband is completely freaked out at what's happening. The rest of the gekiga follows his descent into insanity.
To be honest, Suzuki Ryōsei's graphic style was crude and outdated even for the time. Still, his work gives off the stench of real life in its own strange way. Poverty and violence in dreary provincial towns just after the war - when he draws these themes, he really gets down to the bone. He was especially good at capturing the twisted mentality of a certain kind of seventies adolescent. This is a kid who's missed the boat when it comes to fashionable student politics but is still too young to care about a car and a mortgage, and who's a big fan of third-rate porn gekiga. Something about the way Suzuki attempts to give them literary names makes it easy to imagine that he spent a lot of time in the company of kids like this. Without a doubt, Suzuki had his finger right on the pulse for a short time around 1978.
Anyway, the brute fact of the matter is - whether he worked his fingers to the bone trying to be an Artistic gekiga writer or whether pumped out third-rate porn, the money was going to be just the same. “One day, he just went postal”, says one of his ex-editors. He had good reason. He ended up as a hack porn artist before disappearing from the scene.
After writing the above, I heard that a signed drawing by Suzuki was hanging in the Contemporary Manga Library. It was dated April 9, 1979. This was just before he lost it. The Manga Library doesn't even have his name on its files, but Suzuki Ryōsei left this small scrap of paper behind him to prove that he once existed.
Incredibly Strange Manga Part 3 Outsider Style: Difference between Manga and Street Art
She sported an eccentric hairstyle much like the lowbrow artist Rock'in Jellybean. Her leather micro-mini was topped off with a psychedelic tattoo-design t-shirt. The blurb proclaimed her to be "The Glamorous Half-breed with the Broad Leather Belt!" Her name was Rika. She was the heroine of a Bonten Tarō's premier 60s gekiga 'Half-breed Rika' (Konketsuji Rika, published in Shukan Myojo.) (Despite the fact that many children had been born to parents of mixed race in the immediate postwar period, the disgraceful term 'half-breed' or konkestuji was in general use in Japan right up to the eighties. Even today, the common name for a child of an interracial couple is a 'half'.)
Through the late 60s and early 70s, Rika and her gang took on their enemies in one fight scene after another - the yakuza were one, the mysterious millionaire another. The series overflowed with a kitschy B-Movie style, influenced by stuff like Russ Meyer's Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Tōei action flicks. I'm crazy about catfight gekiga - I can't get enough of this series.
Bonten Tarō was born as Ishii Kiyomi in Tokyo in 1928. He was born with a heroic streak, and joined the air force in 1943 "because I liked the uniform. I wasn't remotely patriotic." The air force was getting ready for kamikaze defense of the home islands.
So, Bonten Tarō got stationed at Kanoya air base near Kagoshima, and flew as a pathfinder guiding kamikaze pilots towards the enemy ships in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Though he lost a troop of friends to the war, he came out of it himself like the cat with nine lives - "Worse luck", according to himself. He came out of the experience a purged and changed man, living life from moment to moment, obsessed with his own artistic journey and uncompromising in following it through all his remaining days. You could say he'd discovered religion.
I think that's why he chose his artistic name - Bonten Tarō. A bon-jin is a nobody. This bon (meaning mediocre) became the first part of his name. Bon-ten (Vishunu) is the Hidhu-Buddhist god who created the universe. The ten (meaning heaven) became the second part of his name. And the given name Tarō is blue-collar incarnate - Jack, Mac, Horst, Jimmy. So Boten Tarō - the multi-genre artist joining the mundane to the celestial to the mundane - was born.
During the heyday of 'Half-breed Rika' in the 70s, Bonten Tarō took Japan by storm. He entered pretty taboo territory when he branched out as a tattoo artist. Up until this time, tattoos were strictly yakuza style. They were applied by hand, in black and red only. Bonten created a revolution in the scene. His tattoo creations were a riot of color, and he developed and marketed mechanical instruments for applying them. He worked his art on the skins of famous actors like Charlie Sheen, and cult figures like Takenaka Rō. At the same time, he also developed a tattoo-influenced fashion line that won favorable mention from Pierre Cardin.
His greatest breakthrough came when Mohammed Ali got in touch with him personally, and asked him to design the gown he wore on the way into the ring. The resulting worldwide publicity led to fashion shows in Paris and London. He joined forces temporarily with the designer Yamamoto Kansai, sashaying down the catwalk in traditional courtesan's ultra-platform clogs and a sumo wrestler's loincloth. Audiences were breathtaken. (Bonten himself summarizes this period with the old Japanese saying 'When you're on the road, you cast off shame'.)
As if that wasn't enough, he used his experience as a band manager to break into the music business and record an album. He appeared on TV as an enka ballad singer.
And of course, he scored a huge success on his first attempt at writing a gekiga for a major weekly magazine. This was 'Half-breed Rika' in Shukan Myojo. The film version made by Tōei Studios (also titled Konketsuji Rika) starred another beautiful Rika of mixed-race parentage. Aoki Rika was the quintessential picture of 70s glamour, but she vanished without trace after a couple of movies and a single on vinyl.
Low Teen and Tokunan Seiichirō
There's a huge archive of Bonten Tarō materials at his home in Saitama Prefecture, just outside Tokyo. His wife is the curator. There are stacks of rare magazines that couldn't be found even in the Diet Library (the Japanese equivalent of the Library of Congress). I was astonished when saw the sheer range of his collection. But there's nothing at all from before 1964. That's when he met his wife.
For a look at Bonten's work before that, you have to go kashihon magazines like Low Teen. Low Teen was published during the 60s by Akebono Shuppan, and aimed at adolescent males. Each issue featured a roster of artists centered on the then-popular Kawada Mannichi. The content was heavily influenced by Nikkatsu action movies, and the stories featured clean-cut, gutsy teenagers facing life and love with pure hearts and a straight edge. Bonten Tarō was really taken aback when I showed him a copy of Low Teen featuring his 'Provoking Evil' (Aku e no Chōsen). "Did I really put out work like that?" was his comment. "I've never seen the draft of this in my life" chimed in his wife...
'Provoking Evil' came out in Low Teen #7, which also carried Tokunan Seiichirō's 'The Sky is Sometimes Blue' (Sora wa Haretari). It's a creation packed to the margins with Tokunan's 'drawing's-a-drag-and-I-couldn't-give-a-shit' sensibility. Tack on a pointless, moralistic ending (Tokunan did) and you have a perfect example of his style.
Anyway, to get back to Bonten's 'Provoking Evil'. What really sets it apart from other kashihon pulp stories is the way the plot piles one twist on top of another right through to the final page - without leaving a single loose thread. If you've read this far, you'll have realized that resonant, well-crafted plots were very scarce on the ground in kashihon circles (or what I call 'garage gekiga'). Usually, some kind of slapdash ending is tacked on in the last five pages - and in fact I love that approach too, as such. But 'Provoking Evil' is that rare thing in the kashihon market - a piece of work with a fully realized structure. It really deserves kudos for that.
And the draftsmanship. When you compare Bonten's drawing with Tokunan's 'The Sky is Sometimes Blue' you think - were these guys on different planets or something? The sky certainly doesn't look the same...
A tattooist's gekiga
Tattooists use human skin for their canvas, and they compose skin into a unified work of art. Mistakes can happen at any time, and they can't be taken back. Bonten Tarō's gekiga have a special life and strength that stems from his experience as a tattoo artist. You can see it most clearly in his cover illustrations. The covers for 'Half-breed Rika', for example, outdid anything else in the magazine for finish and technique.
He was a multi-talented star in the seventies, but one day Bonten Tarō just walked away from it all and became a painter. Staring death in the face as a kamikaze affected him in lots of ways no doubt. But I think the main thing it did to him was make him fearless. And free.
Takeuchi Kanko had vanished into thin air a long time before. I managed to track him down by an unbelievable coincidence. It was April 28th, 1997. I was just wrapping up an interview with the manga artist Bonten Tarō. We'd been talking about all sorts of things - kami shibai (a form of storytelling ancestral to manga, with wandering artists displaying short graphic stories from handcarts), tattooing (Bonten is liberally decorated), enka ballads..."Anyway, thank you so much," I was saying, "let's call it a day."
Bonten: Actually, speaking of [Mizuki Shigeru's] Gegege no Kitarō, did you know that Takeuchi Kanko was the guy who started the series?
Me: Actually, I'm collecting Takeuchi's series 'Kitarō, Demon of the Graveyard' (Hakaba no Kitarō).
Bonten: Really? He was with me for years. As my chief assistant.
Me: Jesus H. Christ! Are you serious?
In 1960, Togetsu Shobō published Mizuki Shigeru's 'Kitarō, Demon of the Graveyard', from a story by Ito Masami. But when Volume 3 came out, Mizuki fell out with the publishing house over money, and jumped ship to the publisher Sanyō-sha. He went on to bring out 'Night Tales of Kitarō' (Kitarō Yawai). Meanwhile back at Togetsu, Takeuchi took over the helm of 'Kitarō, Demon of the Graveyard'. The series was a smash hit as a kashihon, and ran to a grand total of nineteen volumes. Takeuchi took over at Volume 4, and cleared the decks with a general slaughter of Mizuki Shigeru's characters. Mizuki's signature character Nezumi Otoko (the Mouseman) met an abrupt end in the opening pages, killed by Kineko (Treecat Girl). Then Kitarō takes out Treecat Girl before squaring up to the she-demon Yasha. Kitarō's victory over her completes the clean sweep.
From Volume 5, Takeuchi populated the series with fresh characters like the ghost of Dracula and his assistant, Baneaze. Kitarō teams up with a mysterious Kumo-Otoko (spider-man) against them.
Until the first half of Volume 7, Takeuchi clearly struggled under the burden of drawing characters in Mizuki's style, and there's not much in the way of originality to be found in the ghostly goings-on up to this point. And there are lots of loose threads in the plot - Dracula and Baneaze, for example, suddenly drop out of the story for no good reason. Mizuki was a past master at western-style ghosts and black magic, and a very hard act to follow. I imagine that Takeuchi had great difficulty filling his shoes.
Takeuchi finally made the series his own by overhauling the basic graphic concept, and moving it in the direction of a more traditional Japanese style. Creating afterworlds and ghosts based on indigenous myths really allowed him to show what he could do. 'Kitarō, Demon of the Graveyard' now became a true original, and truly Takeuchi on all fronts.
Ghost town Tokyo
With the villain Baneaze out of the picture, Volume 7 saw Kitarō up against a new enemy - Jigoku Baba, or 'Hell Hag'. The plotline now careened toward a climax. Takeuchi's graphic style took a complete change of direction. His drawing became far more subtle and finely done.
In the second half of Vol. 7, Hell Hag (accompanied by a demonic nine-tailed fox) hit the bright lights of Tokyo, searching for - and finding - yummy human flesh. They're also on the trail of Kitarō, who's just saved the beautiful and mysterious Kitsuko. All hell breaks loose in Vols 8 and 9. Tokyo becomes the scene of a savage, all-out supernatural war. The action takes place in two parts of Tokyo in particular - the Katsushika and Arakawa districts, lying in the north and northeast of the metropolis. Both places are distinctly untrendy. They're gritty working-class islands of old-school spit-and-sawdust Tokyo - what the locals call the shitamachi (literally 'downtown').
These were the years around the time of the Tokyo Olympics, when the city was transformed from a collection of long-lived and intimate neighborhoods into a sprawling megalopolis. And was at this particular point of change that Takeuchi's very own special scum imagination seized the poorer parts of town and morphed them into a pandemonium steeped in local lore and superstition. I get the feeling that the shitamachi of this dark fantasy is one and the same place as his childhood home.
Takeuchi was born long ago, way back in the Meiji Period, in 1907. My grandfather (now deceased) belonged to the same generation. I well remember the stories he used to tell, about the dead. Our generation would call them 'urban legends' or something, but they were far more in-your-face than that. Even when I was growing up, death was always just around the corner in the shitamachi areas. With my own eyes I saw people killed in accidents lots of times, and suicides. Some of them stand out, like the time I saw a suicide floating in the river, and the two times I saw suicides on the train tracks. Anyway, when Takeuchi was drawing blue collar Tokyo and I was growing up there in the late 50s and early 60s, death was something close. I'd be surprised if it wasn't the same for Takeuchi - and his scriptwriter, Itō Masami , who was another fan of the Katsushika area.
The final showdown
The struggle between Kitarō and Hell Hag spills over and back between the real and spirit worlds, and involves a whole roster of hellish characters. There's Itachi-Otoko, the Fire Sorcerer God, the King of the River Monsters, the Madman of Graveyard Village, the Indian ghost Neshababa- and Enma, the traditional King of Hades. A number of humans are also caught up in the mayhem - the high-ranking Buddhist monk Sainen-Osho, the beauteous Kitsuko, and a private dick by the name of Narumi Hachiro. The epic struggle continues through to Vol. 19.
By the end of the series, all traces of the original artist Mizuki Shigeru are gone. It's 100% Takeuchi Kanko.
In the final volume of the series, Kitarō comes up against the Indian ghost Neshababa, who's trying to infect the world with an ebola-type flesh-eating virus. Her victims turn into zombies, stalking around for human meat. There's one particularly shocking scene where the zombies indulge in a feeding frenzy at a graveyard - but it's drawn with a weirdly comic touch. Maybe Takeuchi was trying to fob off his own conscience? Or maybe not.
In the final scenes of the series, Kitarō triumphs over all his enemies and ends up in the hospital. Here's there for a very special operation - to get the spirit of his grandfather, a wandering legged eyeball called Medama Oyaji - inserted into his empty eye socket. So he ends up normal. It sucks beyond all belief. Here was a character you believed up till now could fly, and he ends up...normal. Uugh. Anyway. Pressed on by the force of Japanese folk tradition and the violence of his own imagination, Takeuchi Kanko took Mizuki Sigeru's masterpiece and perfected a 'Kitarō world' that only he could have possibly created.
Otaku give Takeuchi's Kitarō a hard time: the graphics are crudely done compared to Mizuki's. The storyline has Crab-nebular sized holes in it. The characters suck. It's too depressing. Too gory. And cetera. Takeuchi - weep, reader - gets zero to minus respect. All well and good. And yet...what is it about Takeuchi's art? There's something primeval at work. If you look closely, you'll start to get the uncanny sense of being pulled back in time, back beyond the birth of gekiga and manga - even back beyond the dawn of the wandering kami shibai and before, to the freak shows, peep shows and clockwork dolls of pre-war Japan, and the roving street artists who pimped them around the streets. More than a feeling of terror, you get a sense of raging disgust from his pages. Mizuki Shigeru's Kitarō had a modern, pop-art sensibility. Takeuchi's version by comparison was grungy, vile, and disgusting. Give me Takeuchi any day.
The Dark Ages of manga
Kitarō belonged to the genre of cheap rental manga books known as kashihon. Another major Takeuchi work in this format was his Sanka series. Ethnically Japanese, the Sanka were an obscure wandering people something along the lines of European gypsies. The obscurity comes from the fact that they lived outside the traditional class system. They weren't even classified as outcastes. The story goes that they lived blameless lives in the deep mountains and river valleys. But there are doubts about when Sanka culture finally died out - and to tell the truth, it's not even clear if such a group ever really existed. Of course, the mystery has only boosted their counter-cultural sex appeal. In the twentieth century, some minor writers claimed Sanka status and wrote Sanka stories. In the main they were wild-haired Geniuses with Romantic Eyes and paisley cravats.
Takeuchi authored two works that more or less belong to this bogus tradition - 'Gale Force Sanka Adventures' (Sanka Kidan Shippū) and 'Sanka Mountain Blade' (Sanka Kidan Umegai, in two volumes). They came out under the Togetsu imprint. The manga were based the novels of Misumi Kan, the exceptionally wild-haired Grand Old Man of the Sanka literature scene. For OTT charm, it's safe to say the manga beat the novels hands down. Actually, Takeuchi Kanko was just one of a team of artists working on this project. Beside him was a whole roster of old-timers with roots in kami shibai - Numa Kiichi, Nannbu Shin and Kariya Kei. Each of them dragged their particular scummy appeal to the proceedings. Takeuchi contributed the title story to 'Gale Force Sanka Adventures'. He also penned the story 'A Record of Mountain Blood Laughter' (Umegai Kesshō Ki) in 'Sanka Mountain Blade'.
'Gale Force Sanka Adventures' is set in Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's main islands and (apparently) a stronghold of Sanka culture during the middle ages. The time is the 1500s. Civil wars are raging all over the country. The setting: a group of wandering Sanka. The problem: their patriarch's seriously ill. The solution: "the fresh blood and still-quivering liver of the Princess of Red Pine Castle". This according to a wrinkled soothsaying crone from China. Who's going to snatch the unfortunate damsel? Two stalwart young Sanka, Jaroku and Haraguro, are deemed up to the task, and they have to draw lots. (Their names aren't exactly from charm school - Jaroku means 'serpent six', and Haraguro 'black-bellied, cunning and vicious'.)
Haraguro wins the toss, and Jaroku doesn't take it terribly well. In a fit of pique, he slaughters the soothsaying crone and causes the sick patriarch's death. He has bigger plans - using special powers known only to his wandering tribe, he wants to make a big splash in the civil wars and become a famous warlord. His rival Haraguro is having none of it. He accesses the occult powers of the murdered Chinese soothsayer, and from there it's game on... Misumi Kan's source fiction is flamboyant enough. When you stir in Takeuchi's ultra-in-your-face characterization, you get a paranormal blockbuster in a class of its own.
However much the message got lost among the pyrotechnics, Takeuchi and his fellow artists probably had some kind of human rights statement in mind when they took on a story about the Sanka, the classic outsiders' outsiders. The paradox is that the work is brimming with words and phrases that are now considered offensive and banned from print. Even so, it'd be a real shame to shove it under the carpet just to stay polite. Takeuchi's Sanka material is an important historical source from another age, the Dark Ages of manga.
The Private Life of a Manga Artist: Bonten Tarō testifies...
Kashihon rental manga died a death in the prosperous seventies. Takeuchi Kanko was out of a market. So, he came to Bonten Tarō for work as a chief assistant. Bonten was kind enough to fill me in on a few episodes from those days:
"Kanko-san dropped by my house one day and asked 'Is there any work going?' So I said 'How about being my general assistant?' He was a really gifted draftsman - the fact is I learned a lot from him. So he ended up working for me for a good ten years or so, in my place in Yokohama. When I say he was my main man, I really mean main."
At this time, Bonten Tarō was active on a whole range of fronts, not just gekiga. He was a tattoo artist, fashion designer and enka balladeer as well. Takeuchi was his assistant in his manifestation as a gekiga artist:
"The funny thing was, he [Takeuchi] always tied some kind of cloth around his waist and hung a bottle opener from it. I'd sometimes be holed up in a rooming house somewhere finishing a project. As soon as I got back, sure enough he'd appear - bottle opener swinging. He'd march in and start grabbing beers. I was a round-the-clock drinker myself, and so was he.
"On the other side of the bottle opener he hung a cloth bag. He always had a notebook and pencil and stuff in it. When I asked him what for, he said it took him a long time to get to my place. (I lived in Yokohama, and he was living in Katsushika, across town.) 'So use this stuff to draw on the train.' He was constantly sketching people."
Like his employer, Takeuchi had multiple sidelines apart from being Bonten's assistant. He painted movie billboards and did portraits on the street to get by. Not that Bonten knew anything about that: the only information he got from Takeuchi was 'I live in Katsushika'.
"And he was quite the ladies' man. He was always bringing some different woman to the studio. Quite the old goat. He still had it. All the kids on my staff used to say - 'Where does he get the stamina? Where does all this energy come from in such a doddering ancient?' Did he have a wife? Not that I ever heard of. He'd bring someone along pretty much every day, and hang out with her here. Then kiss her off when she went. Every so often, a new woman would appear. 'What, you've changed girlfriends again?' 'Yeah. This'un's a keeper' he'd say, or whatever." At this stage of his life, Takeuchi was already past 60. Randy old bastard..."
Could Takeuchi Kanko actually still be alive?
And finally we get to the million-dollar question. Bonten Tarō continues:
"Is he still alive? Hmm...good question. Even after I stopped doing gekiga, I still used to run across him sometimes at Kata Kōji's new year parties. But he stopped throwing them over the past couple of years. So, Takeuchi's been off the screen for a good five years or so."
Takeuchi Kanko was still alive just five years ago! Even that was major news for me.
"If he was still alive, he'd be getting really old by now. Over 80, I reckon. Because he was over 60 back then. Still, I'd have given the old bollocks good odds for living to a hundred. Short and unstoppable, total mister eager beaver, y'know?"
If Takeuchi was still living it'd be a true miracle. At least for me.
"If you wanted to trace him after he quit drawing gekiga...how about Hashimoto Shoji? They used to be in the kami shibai scene together. He just might be able to help you out." Hashimoto Shoji is the guy who drew 'Beheader Demon' (Dantōki), the manga about parasite human copulation. Like Takeuchi, he came to the cheap rental manga scene from kami shibai.
The day after I interviewed Bonten Tarō, the team at my publisher's headed up a posse to track down Takeuchi Kanko. Alive, preferably. Here's my version of their findings:
They first got in touch with Hashimoto Shoji:
"I think the last time I met Kanko-san was Kata Kōji's new year party 5 years ago. We used to hang out drinking quite a lot together around that time."
Still this 5-year event horizon.
"If you're really serious about tracking him down, there's this guy in the Katsushika district, in Aoto - he's been there all along, so you should get in touch with him. Kikuchi Yoshinori. He used to be Takeuchi's neighbor. They often used to go drinking together."
Kikuuchi Yoshinori was a colorist of kami shibai, and he worked with Takeuchi at a kami shibai production company, Dai Nippon Gageki Kaisha. After that, he drew display at a department store.
"Kanko-san phoned me during the holiday season three years ago, but that's the last I heard from him" - which still narrowed the gap by two years. "He really loved his drink. Whenever he felt like going on a binge, he'd always come over to my place. And he wasn't a bad sort, so we used to do quite a bit of boozing together." No surprises there. But Kikuchi did have another lead - "There's one person who'll know if he's still alive, and that's Honda Michiko. She was his girlfriend, he was always around at her place."
So, on to lead number three. Honda Michiko was another fixture on the kami shibai scene, and sure enough she knew the full story: "Kanko-san? He died in Osaka, in his daughter's house."
At that moment, Takeuchi Kanko's death became a reality.
The final years
Honda Michiko continued: "His wife died young, and after that Kanko-san lived in a rooming house in Katsushika. Eventually, the place got demolished and he had to move. Now, even for a guy like him it's no good being old and on your own, right? So, he called his daughter who was married and living in Osaka, and more or less forced his way into her place. That was about three years ago. And about a year after that, he dies."
So he was dead. I nearly fainted when I heard. Starting with Bonten Tarō, the first thing everyone had said about him was "He was so full of life". And I believed them. I even thought that maybe he was still holed up somewhere in Katsushika, painting movie billboards or something.
When he heard about his death, Kikuchi Yoshinori shared some other memories of Takeuchi Kanko with me. He showed me two portraits, of him and his father, drawn by Takeuchi. "See the signature here? H.T.? Those are the initials of his real name, Takeuchi Hachiro. There'd been various theories about his real name - Takeuchi Hiroyuki, Takeuchi Hiroshi, Kujira Ippei, et cetera. So this was his real name.
Bonten Tarō was down in the far south, on the island of Okinawa. When he heard that Takeuchi was dead, he'd only one thing to say: "He had a good life."
A happy ending
Takeuchi Kanko was born in 1907 in Hyogo Prefecture, near Osaka. He was a kami shibai artist in the Osaka area before the war, where he made his name. He joined Kata's company, Dai Nippon Gageki Sha, and took his talents to Tokyo. When kami shibai went out of fashion he moved into the pulp kashihon manga book genre, but he also published on occasion in magazines from 1955, e.g., 'Sword-wind Ichikawa Utaemon' (Kenpū Ichikawa Utaemon, in the mag Tsūkai Book), etc. After his time as Bonten Tarō's assistant, he supported himself drawing movie billboards into his eighties. He moved to Osaka in 1994, and passed away the following year. He was eighty-seven.
This is the 'theme song' from Tokunan Seichirō's debut work, 'The Samurai Who Cut Through Shadows' (Kage wo Kiru Samurai). It's a story of the rebel warriors who fought the dying shogunate and its group of hand-picked heavies - the Shinsen Gumi, or 'Newly Chosen Brigade'. It's just possible you might be able to guess from the lyrics whose side the artist was on. The interesting point about this work is that the main elements betray a strong influence of Tezuka Osamu. And there's something in the graphic style of 'Samurai' that calls to mind Tokunan's later breathtaking achievements.
The only thing that gets me is that 'Samurai' was produced for the kashihon rental manga market - i.e., it's pulp. Tokunan was being pretty damn precious by giving it a Theme Song, no less.
'The Samurai Who Cut Through Shadows' came out in 1955, published by Tokodo. Tokunan was the manga-crazed kid in its purest form. He was sending manuscripts to Manga Shonen magazine from his childhood. From an early age, he was also a card-carrying member of the East Japan Manga Research Association (Higashi Nihon Manga Kenkyū Kai - despite what the name might suggest, more otaku than academic). Because of this, he was strongly influenced by the cursive lines and rounded forms of artists like Walt Disney and Tezuka Osamu. Unlike Tokunan's later works, this source material was based on historically accurate research.
The drawings of costumes and settings from the dying days of the shogunate were equally well-researched. Tokunan obviously took a lot of pains to get the details just right. 'Samurai' shows a certain kind of dogged, proud craftsmanship, and you get the feeling that he hadn't changed from when he was a kid. He was still the pure article.
After 'Samurai', Tokunan wrote a succession of ghost stories and other period pieces published under a variety of imprints. None of them were hits. It may be because he was still too much under the spell of Tezuka Osamu, and couldn't break free of the master's grip.
Another point is that Tokunan was in a bind at this time because he couldn't break into the monthly manga magazines, which were then at the peak of their fortunes. His stage was still the pulp kashihon rental genre. In order to keep his personal ship afloat, he had no choice but to pump out one series after another in a wide range of genres. He was caught in a very specific circle of manga hell - publish or die. Literally.
The strain soon told. Before long, the typical Tokunan manga featured seriously weird characters drawn in warped compositions with slapdash lines. He was obviously cracking up. It was then that the miracle took place. His work crossed the line from soldierly craftsmanship to some form of greatness - the circumstances were ironic, to say the least.
Everybody agrees that Tokunan's greatest works are 'The Human Clock' (Ningen Tokei) and 'The Cat's Mourning Suit' (Neko no Mofuku). But he was working up to these heights from long before, through a whole succession of prototypes. I get the urge to call this period 'Tokunan's early chill-out phase'.
Tokunan spent a short spell in 1960-61 churning out youth-oriented seishun gekiga under the alias 'Ichikawa Seiichi'. This was in the service of the publishers Akebono Shuppan, or rather their roster of kids' mags, such as Low Teen (i.e. tweenies) and Teen Ager. These were kashihon, pulp rental affairs published monthly or thereabouts as omnibus editions featuring multiple artists. The mainstay of the group was Kawada Mannichi, followed by Nagatani Kunio, Bonten Tarō (see separate article) and other usual suspects, all writing single-episode stories showing influences from Nikkatsu studio's action movies.
But, in this rich platter of thrills and spills, there was one odd man out: Tokunan Seiichirō. He concentrated instead on dark, gloomy stories that were bound to give his teenage readers deep bouts of depression. He really stood out as the negative face of the troupe. In the process, his drawing veered suddenly towards a harsh, edgy style.
The story 'As You Like It' (O-ki ni Mesu Mama) appeared in Issue 13 of Teen Ager. True to its title, the tale carries a Shakespearean cargo of lust, revenge and betrayal. A journalist working for a scandal sheet uncovers an explosive piece of gossip - about the woman who happens to be his younger brother's lover. The journalist's boss uses the scoop to blackmail the lover's father, in a startling departure from the paternalistic style of the average Japanese company manager. He also frames the journalist and gets him arrested. It's clearly time for action.
So the journalist's younger brother storms into the newspaper office for a climactic confrontation where he will prove his elder sibling's innocence and get the girl (he's been dumped) back. This is just the kind of gung-ho scene that the Teen Ager readership lapped up in a frenzy of youthful identification - and Tokunan breezed through it in just three lackadaisical pages. Behind the slapdash approach lay a good deal of bitterness and cynicism about the whole process on the part of Tokunan Seichirō.
The hero of 'Get It Done Right!' (Kata wo Tsukero!) is a restaurant delivery boy fresh out of reform school. On his rounds, he happens to witness a hit-and-run accident, giving blackmail a chance to rear its ugly head in this story, too. His former gang boss uses the incident to pressurize the kid back into the underworld. The only thing standing between him and a wasted life of petty crime is a sympathetic police detective. And there you have the story, again a rather slapdash, cynical affair. What really brings tears to the eyes is the sub-plot that "The hit-and-run-victim hoarded bullion during the War" - it's so completely, pointlessly tacked-on.
Tokunan Seichirō's work was slovenly beyond belief. I think the reason why is that there were very clear inner tensions at work within this artist. His heart wasn't in these stories, but he had to sell out or starve. It's that simple. The result is on every page of his youth manga, set in a closely-observed, grungy rendering of downbeat urban Japan. His heroes live in surroundings of terrific squalor. The plots run like miscarried hardboiled detective thrillers. Authority figures like bosses and cops are self-centered and self-serving to the max. In fact, Tokunan's 'chill-out period' is also an abyss, dark and deep.
Tokunan's later style had a strongly warped quality when he tried depicting his characters' inner worlds. But even his youth manga phase shares some points in common with the later Tokunan.
'Loitering Along' (Michikusa, in Teen Ager #15) is the story of a factory worker and a crossword puzzle. During a spell in hospital, the factory hand figured out the answers to a crossword puzzle, won the prize money and is now living off the proceeds. His ex-boss and coworkers are horrified by his slide into idleness and crossword otakuism. They decide to put him to rights and back to work. The strategy is to shame him back to the assembly line. The tactic is equally Japanese: everybody at the small-scale plant pulls together and keeps the place going, without replacing their absent colleague with a new recruit. (This behavior may seem bizarre from a western viewpoint. But, for example, a typical strike tactic in Japan during the 60s was for workers to lock their bosses out of the plant and then produce more without them. The mortified management were then putty in their hands.)
Even against this background, 'Loitering Along' rings untrue, and it's not just the idea of living off crossword-puzzle prize money. In one episode, the hero 'forgets' the answers to a puzzle because he's distracted by the jazz floating in from next door. In another, he barges into a bookstore, demanding to know if any magazines have printed his name in the 'list of finalists' for another crossword puzzle. These creepy scenes all feature the kind of skewed psychological-action drawings that show up in his later work.
Another workingman takes center stage in 'A Bare Face in the Rain' (Ame no Naka no Sugao, Teen Ager #19). His realm of endeavor is a surrealistic toy workshop, depicted pretty much along the same lines as the clockmaker's in Tokunan's meisterwerk 'The Human Clock'. Anyway, the goings-on in this toy workshop don't stay very cuddly very long. Before you know it, the hero's caught in a web of illegal gun manufacture and drug-selling. Again, the psychological inserts have the same twisted quality as we see later on in the artist's career.
A few years later, Tokunan Seiichirō brought out his masterpieces 'The Human Clock' and 'The Cat's Mourning Clothes'
'The Cat's Mourning Clothes' goes as follows. The hero is a high school student with the very odd name of Yubi Chizuo ('Finger Mapguy'). He lives in a cheap boarding house with a scummy river oozing by in front of it. The locals use the river as a handy place to get rid of their trash. Flies result. In abundance. The infestation gives Yubi Chizuo no end of trouble. One evening, a particularly large specimen buzzes up in front of Chizuo, and addresses him in fluent Japanese. Understandably shocked, our hero swats the six-legged prodigy flat on the spot. End of story? Not a chance. Chizuo finds himself haunted by the Ghost of the Talking Fly. And then he realizes that a mysterious black cat has started tailing him everywhere he goes...
A Buddhist nun called Kiriko moves into the room next door. That doesn't stop the Ghost of the Talking Fly (who lives in the wall between them) snoring all night and keeping Chizuo awake. And Kiriko may not be all she seems, either. Every night, the nun sneaks off somewhere into the darkness...
But the day comes when the Talking Fly takes its leave in a trail of ectoplasm, leaving Chizuo free to live life as a normal kid once more. The relief is short-lived, however. Pretty soon, the mysterious black cat is back on the scene - and somehow it's gotten itself injured. The thing is, the next time he sees Kiriko the nun, she's sporting the same injury. Chizuo decides to investigate her next nighttime foray...
Shocking sights are seen. There is blood, and the sucking of blood from live human flesh. Kiriko is of the Undead, a vampire. Enough is enough. Chizuo gets in touch with his landlord. But the neighboring room is empty, the landlord tells him, and has been for ages... And then. The ghostly Fly returns, transporting Chizuo in a flash into another dimension of spacetime!
Chizuo comes round to the landlord's voice telling him it's all been a dream. The madness is over. Except, Chizuo still has a nagging curiosity about the 'empty' neighboring room. So one day, he takes a peek. The vampire Kiriko is there. She shows herself to Chizuo in her true form, and then disappears -
And there you have it. Except that now the scene shifts to Chizuo's high school. It's a few days later, in Science class. For whatever reason, today's class is a study trip...to the morgue. And Chizuo's the only kid who's turned up for class today. He goes in. The vampire Kiriko appears before him. With her is the Ghost of the Talking Fly - her father, as it turns out, and a victim of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Kiriko and the mysterious cat are one - she took feline shape when she was stalking Chizuo.
A few days later, the corpse of a high school kid is discovered. It looked like he'd died in an accident, but nobody cared in particular...
When I talk about 'warped manga from a warping mind', I'm thinking about this kind of incoherent story. 'The Human Clock' is a lot simpler to explain. The hero is Yubi Chizuo again. He's a student like before, but this time round he's a dropout. He stays in his house, which is a family shop selling watches and clocks. He gazes and gazes at the clocks. Little by little, he turns into a clock. That is the entire story. It reminds me of Kafka's Metamorphosis.
'The Cat's Mourning Clothes' and 'The Human Clock' both crashed and burned on publication. Outsider Art a la Tokunan was nowhere on anybody's radar screen at the time. This was true even for intellectuals - let alone the blue-collar readers that formed the backbone of the kashihon pulp mag market. Tokunan's work was condemned out of hand for shoddy lines, go-nowhere plots, and all-round weirdity.
But the artist had to eat. So he had to keep going.
And in order to keep body and soul together, Tokunan undertook one last group of works - a set of historical dramas about the big-name samurai commanders from Japan's Warring States period, around the 1500s. Biographical manga like Tokugawa Ieyasu and Oda Nobunaga followed the various twists and turns of these military superstars' paths to the top. These historical dramas had something of the sinuous 'Tokunan touch' evident from his debut work 'The Samurai Who Cut Through Shadows' through 'The Human Clock' and 'The Cat's Mourning Clothes'. But at times somehow I get the sense that I'm looking at a different style entirely.
The sloppiest-drawn by far of these manga is Tokunan's very last work, 'One-eyed Hero Masamune' (Dokuganryū Masamune). The plot sticks to the historical facts, following the warlord Date Masamune's life from infancy to his teenage years, but again in a very lackadaisical way, leaving out lots of important factors (like Masamune's relationship with his mother and brother. It wasn't great - Mum tried to kill Masamune, and Masamune organized a hit on his brother. He commented later that this was okay, because they could "always get along in the next life".) Also, this version just relates the bare bones of some historically important happenings (like his father's death, and Masamune's dealings with the superstar samurai Toyotomi Hideyoshi). Why? Because Tokunan didn't really care about the times or the people he was drawing.
His research was sketchy, and his battle scenes are blurred. Every page of 'One-eyed Hero Masamune' is a direct message to the reader from the artist, saying 'No, I really don't give a shit'. What stands out above all in this manga are his scratchy lines, as they wobble aimlessly across the page. Terrible stuff. The end of a genius. An empty well. A river run dry.
Goodbye and fuck you very much, everybody...
'One-eyed Hero Masamune' ends with a scene of peasant uprising engineered by Masamune against Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the warlord who unified all Japan (before losing the jackpot permanently to Tokugawa Ieyasu & Family). The final picture shows a group of scabrous yokels carrying crude flags reading 'Revolt!' and 'Toyotomi's a Wanker'.
This final flag of protest - 'Wanker(s)!' - was really directed at a different target - but who? The readers who refused to get what Tokunan was doing? Or the publishers who chained him to a desk on starvation wages? I don't know. I kind of think that Tokunan was flipping the bird at both of them, and the whole world to boot. And that's exactly why he dropped out of the manga scene the moment he finished this story. He headed back to his hometown telling people "I'm going to sell watches for a living". And he didn't keep in touch after that.
So 'One-eyed Hero Masamune' stands as a solitary farewell finger, resentfully raised in the face of a cold, cruel world.
Imagine Norman Rockwell drawing a manga series...about a gay love affair between Abraham Lincoln and a lean-hipped, square-jawed cowboy. That's pretty much what Ishihara ("Japan's Norman Rockwell") Gōjin created with Yagyū Jūbē, published in 1967 in the mass-circulation weekly Shūkan Sankei. The president is, of course, a shogun - Tokugawa Iemitsu to be precise; and the cowboy is the samurai Yagyū Jūbē. This swashbuckling period drama is one of Ishihara's very few gekiga, and it displays in full his uniquely subtle artistic touch. The question is - how was an artist with such a polished style able to produce work at the frantic rate the weeklies demanded?
I think one reason is that Ishihara the artist was steeled in the white-hot conditions of immediate-postwar pulp mags - kasutori zasshi. ('Kasutori' was a rotgut saké brewed from dregs and drunk by the defeated Japanese. 'Kasutori zasshi' were the lurid magazines they enjoyed during the same period.)
Basically, Ishihara worked his effects in monochrome, by drawing and shading in India ink. He didn't touch screentone. Thinned India ink is an extremely unforgiving medium, and Ishihara's technique called for an astonishing mastery of shading. His monochrome pages are so finely drawn that you sometimes have to remind yourself that they actually are done in black and white. The accuracy and sense of speed in the fight scenes, the startling layouts, and the expert way the graphics get the characters' psychology across - all of these achievements look as fresh on the page as the day they were printed.
The graphic style is a lot like the Taiwanese manga artist Chen Wen's Toshu Eiyūden (Heroes of East Zhu Dynasty). The book version was brought out by Jitsugyō no Nihonsha.
A subtle eroticism
Yagyū Jūbē is a mangaization of the TV movie, and it was produced as a tie-in with the TV series. So it goes without saying that there's not a great deal of gore or graphic sex on the page. The real-life powerplays of the historical period were extremely complex and delicate. Ishihara's fictional characters march into the action waving "Look Mom I'm in a Period Drama!" signs and hurl themselves into every nook and cranny of the times that were. They meet everybody. They're in on everything. I'd be astonished at Ishihara's nerve if I could stop laughing long enough.
In other ways, the storyline resembles the TV drama series Mitō Kōmon. This famous hardy perennial was shot over hundreds of episodes from 1969 to 1997. Plot: a disguised elderly relative of the shogun called Mitō Kōmon wanders with his sidekicks into some district to right wrongs and do good. Oppressed but virtuous locals help him without knowing who he is. Corrupt and lecherous local officials take him and his merry men on in a massive swordfight (no visible blood or injuries) after the second commercial break. His right-hand sidekick produces Mitō Kōmon's kick-ass-status shogunate seal. Everybody kneels and grovels energetically. Villainous officials are scolded, bound and carted off for punishment. Virtuous locals are rewarded. Smiles, corny joke, and roll credits. Mitō Kōmon never changes.
In Ishihara's story, the retired Jūbē heads off around Japan accompanied by Tanaka Kunie (a movie star) and his doppelganger, the pickpocket Sankurou. They expose corrupt officials and crooked merchants alike, and cut them down with Yagyū Shinkage Style swordplay. It's the same story in each episode.
So far so...Mitō Kōmon. But. Looking frame by frame at Ishihara's dense India ink illustrations, you notice that he has crafted all his main characters - men and women - as alluring, seductive presences on the page. Each and every one of them wafts across the paper trailing an extraordinary aura of eroticism. Especially their eyes. They all have the slightly vacant, drifting quality know as nagashime - 'flowing eyes'. It gives them a phantasmal, decadent sensuality. It's entirely foreign to Mitō Kōmon or anything like it.
And there's another thing about Jūbē that goes beyond just plain old sexy. Sure, there are set pieces like where the naked group of nubiles sharing Jūbē's bathtub get attacked by an assassin. Or where another naked beauty is drawn dangling from the ceiling in an S&M scene. But the really charged scenes are homoerotic drawings of pretty, nameless young samurai who just happen to crop up in the story.
There's the scene where the hero get water-tortured while disguised in a manservant's costume, with the standard white hotpants revealing a lot of thigh. His interrogator, a cherubic young samurai, makes do with a loincloth and nothing else. There's the pirate scene where the young samurai is trussed up and stabbed in the throat. And plenty of guys in hot tubs. It's not laid on with a trowel, but there's a definite appeal towards the gay readership and readers who like gay themes. In a sense, 'Japan's Norman Rockwell' was doing extremely radical work by getting material this gay on the pages of Shūkan Sankei in the late 60s.
In an even more striking episode, Jūbē sneaks into the warehouse of an Osaka merchant and stumbles across a vast throng of deformed freaks hiding out there. They look like something out of an old bestiary from the time of the shoguns. But there's nothing pathetic or miserable about Ishihara's rendering of these semi-humans. Though drawn from his imagination, they're weirdly full of life and liveliness.
At the time he did Yagyū Jūbē, Ishihara Gōjin was the renowned creator of wholesome illustrations for girls' and tweenies' magazines. What was really going through his mind?
Just trying too hard
These days, Ishihara Gōjin is known as an illustrator for gay mags under the alter ego Hayashi Gekkō. (This separate hat isn't an alias. Multiple artistic names are very common in all Japanese creative circles.) Anyway, back in the 60s, he was all about tweenies and cute drawings as far as the general public was concerned - but sometimes his natural eroticism would just overheat on the page, and he often got editorial advice to tone it down. He also got into hot water illustrating a serialized novel for the well-known suspense writer Edogawa Ranpō (the penname's a homage to Edgar Allen Poe.) Ishihara's illustrations often gave away later parts of the plot, infuriating the writer. The fact is that Ishihara was probably just trying too hard. He labored under an extreme give-it-all-you've-got-and-more mentality.
The paradoxical reason why came out in detail in an interview he did with the magazine QJ. Basically, it all boiled down to his experiences in the war. Coming under friendly fire from his comrades in the Imperial Japanese Army shattered him. (These men were all heavily indoctrinated with the idea that they were to die together in the service of the Emperor.) From there his road led - reasonably enough - to the kind of anarchism where he could proclaim "I don't believe in any form of authority at all". For Ishihara, the logical conclusion of this stance was the primacy of desire - and not just his own. "If it's consistent with my own desires, I'll do whatever it takes to fulfill the desires of other people. And I'll do it by any means necessary."
When you look at it from this angle, Yagyū Jūbē is a mindblowingly radical piece of work. So that's what he was up to, I think -. He was actually using this major, major mass-circulation magazine Shūkan Sankei...There's something wonderfully villainous about it.
I think that Ishihara Gōjin was just one of a whole group of gekiga artists following the same villainous path. They were all WWII veterans, and they all drifted into the manga-ancestral kami shibai scene after the war. Bonten Tarō (see further down) was another of them.
Ishihara Gōjin was born as Ishihara Toru in Shimane Prefecture in 1923. From childhood, he was earning money drawing caricatures of famous actors. After school, he crossed to Inner Mongolia at the age of eighteen. He trained as a linesman with the local phone company, while odd-jobbing painting scene cards for silent movies. At twenty-one he was drafted; he served in an Army Intelligence. Demobilized in China at the war's end, he spent some time in Shanghai before returning to Japan. First, he painted cinema scene cards in the local town of Matsue. Then he moved to Tokyo in 1948 and went to art school at Nihon University. At the same time, he did illustrations for the pulp magazines known as kasutori zasshi (see above). At this point he discovered Norman Rockwell and turned his attention to doing portraits. After that he worked on many fronts - magazine illustrations, kami shibai and manga.
Ishihara's golden period stretched from the mid-50s to the mid-60s. He did illustrated books with Kawauchi Kohan, illustrated for Edogawa Ranpō, and co-created full-page spreads for Shōnen Magazine with Ohotomo Shoji. As of 1997, he was still actively wearing two hats at the age of 75. As Ishihara Gōjin, he was publishing in magazines like QJ and Sekimatsu Club. As Hayashi Gekkō, he was illustrating serialized gay novels in Sub (one of the famous Gay magazine).
I think the main reason for the resurgence in interest in Ishihara Gōjin was his re-evaluation by the critic Takekuma Kentarō, who did the interview with him discussed above in issue #1 of QJ. At the same time you have to remember that the Mondo boom was in full swing in the 90s. A lot of people got interested in him again in this atmosphere. I'm thrilled to bits that his densely worked style - completely opposite to the light'n'delicate graphic en vogue in the 80s - garnered attention again in the 90s.
The two finest examples of Ishihara's work in the 90s are probably Nazotoki Bottchan, published in QJ, and his cover illustration for issue #1 of Seikimatsu Club. Nazotoki Bottchan (Botchan: the Mystery Solved) is a series of bold claims about the single most prestigious novel in the canon of modern Japanese literature - Botchan, by Natsume Sōseki. After extensive independent research, Ishihara came to the conclusion that all the major characters are gay, and he backed up his thesis with illustrations. The Seikimatsu Club cover is a trippy multinational group portrait on the theme of the Sharon Tate murder in 1968. Manson shares the spotlight with AUM Shinrikyō's Asahara Shōko, Deguchi Onisaburo, Yahowha13, Anton Ravey, Alistair Crowley and Unarius.
Even now, the dense, extreme graphic style of Yagyū Jūbē is there and in perfect shape. Long ago, Hokusai signed his work as 'An Old Man Crazy about Drawing'. Ishihara Gōjin is cut from the same cloth.
Incredibly Strange Manga part 4 Dark Side of Gekiga: Decade of Gekiga
Let's get straight into Kajiwara Ikki's Lunatic Period (late seventies). This started when he shifted his focus to seinen-shi magazines aimed at young male readers. From this platform, he launched a series of ultra-violent karate-themed gekiga, including 'Karate: Hell Version' (Karate Jigoku-hen), 'New Karate: Hell Version' (Shin Karate Jigoku-hen) and 'Human Lethal Weapon' (Ningen Kyōki). These works didn't enjoy a warm reception by any means from the average gekiga fans of the time. Comments ranged from "He just recycles the same characters and plots over and over." to "It's too sadistic, and there's too much porn content."
Granted, these gekiga never achieved the immense popularity of his earlier works written for more juvenile readers, like 'Star of the Giants' (Kyōjin no Hoshi) and 'Tomorrow's Joe' (Ashita no Joe). And I have to admit that the storylines are basically all reheated. But, when you really think about it, this later body of work has a special significance precisely because it never sold well. Here, Kajiwara was truly able to express aspects of himself that he'd never done before.
(Technical details: 'Karate: Hell Version' and 'New Karate: Hell Version' were both illustrated by Nakajō Ken and printed in Shūkan Sankei. 'Human Lethal Weapon' was illustrated by Nakano Yosio and published by Nihon Bungeisha in Manga Goraku). 'Star of the Giants' was illustrated by Kawasaki Noboru and published by Kodansha in Shonen Magazine, as was 'Tomorrow's Joe', illustrated by Chiba Tetsuya. Kajiwara wrote this story under the pseudonym Takamori Asao.)
Kajiwara's karate gekiga all share three plot elements in common. Firstly, the heroes are all realistic blends of human strengths and weaknesses, both physical and psychological. (For example, Kiba Naoto in 'Bodyguard KIba' and 'Karate: Hell Version', Mikage Yosito in 'Human Lethal Weapon' and Mumon Onichiyo in 'Slasher Killer' (Zansatsusha). Secondly and by contrast, the heroines are completely different, perfect and indeed semi-divine in character. (Hinohara Nami in 'Karate: Hell Version', Asahina Kaoruko in 'Human Lethal Weapon' and Rosaria Ogin in 'Slasher Killer'. And thirdly, you get male father/teacher figures with overwhelming mental and physical strength - God figures, in other words. These include Daitō Tetsugen in 'Bodyguard Kiba' and 'Karate: Hell Version'; and Ōmoto Retsuzan in ''Human Lethal Weapon'. Both of these characters are based on Ōyama Masutastu. Also, the character Miyamoto Musashi in 'Slasher Killer' is a figure along these lines. ('Slasher Killer' was illustrated by Kojima Gōseki and published in Manga Goraku.)
So, Kajiwara was working through a set of similar themes in all of these works, and it seems pretty clear that he was searching for answers to some problems that had gripped his psyche and simply couldn't be avoided. Personally, I think he was grappling with the commercialization of the manga form, and trying to break out of the narrow confines that commercialization imposed on him.
In plot terms, the problem is posed as the hero trying to recover his family, which has been lost. The plot functions as a kind of Christian redemption drama, with the hero as Prodigal Son seeking reconciliation with his father (read God). But there's also a more esoteric and unorthodox angle to the proceedings, because the heroines are Mother Goddess or Madonna figures, and the hero seeks union and redemption through a Return of the Goddess...So the hero keeps resisting , even while he's being beaten on his knees as he kneels before the harsh Father figure. And he rises from his knees yet again to violate the Goddess figure, no matter how many times she has forgiven him. The hero's a living contradiction, oscillating between extremes. Why? Because he's human. Through these works, Kajihara drew a complete portrait of the human condition - including himself as a human being, oscillating between himself as Kajiwara Ikki and his alter ego Takamori Asao.
Here, I'm not interested in Kajiwara the sex-and-violence artist. I want to look beyond the gore and other fluids that splatter his pages, and search for Kajiwara Ikki the human being hiding behind all this. And I want to search for the message hidden in his work.
'Human Lethal Weapon': Child Gods on the loose...
Kajihara himself referred to 'Human Lethal Weapon' as a "half-autobiography, and in a sense the hero - Mikage Yosito - is indeed Kajihara's alter ego. It's not a very flattering portrait - the hero is a monster of blind ambition and self-centered egotism.
'Human Lethal Weapon' is a very long piece of work, spanning twenty-three volumes in all. The series was originally published by Nihon Bungeisha in the magazine Manga Goraku. It's a transitional work, spanning the closing phase of Kajihara's scandal-ridden Lunatic Period and the dawn of his personal Age of Enlightenment. The story kicks off with the (autobiographical) 'Kodansha Employee Violence Incident'. [In the Incident, Kajihara approached a sub-editor employed by Kodansha, the publishing giant. The Violence part consisted of Kajihara beating the unfortunate to a pulp. This was in 1983. Kajihara was 46 at the time. You might suspect a mid-life crisis, but Kajihara had been a violent right-wing thug forever.]
The publisher's blurb for 'Human Lethal Weapon' makes for heady reading: Mikage Yoshito is a graduate of the (ultra-preppy) Peers' School. In the course of his rise to power in the shadowy world of the underground, he meets Ōmoto Retsuzan - a figure said to be based on Ōyama Masutastu. To turn himself into a human lethal weapon, Mikage Yoshito joins Ōmoto's mafia group, the Kūshin Kai (literally, the Society of the Heart Made Empty). At the same time, he meets the man who will become his lifelong rival - Kikyō Jūhachirō. On his boss's instructions, Mikage travels down to Kyushu to expand the gang's turf. The target is the local don Kyokushō-Ken（Fist of Rising Sun. The bullet is Mikage. In Kyushu, Mikage encounters the beauteous Asahina Kaoruko, a blind woman who is also his rival Kyokushō-Ken's martial arts Master. He also discovers that she has a previous connection with his lifelong enemy Kikyō Jūhachirō. By cowardly means, Mikage takes Jūhachirō out of the picture. Then he kidnaps Asahina Kaoruko with intent to rape her. There follows a wild chase through the mountains, with Mikage fleeing Kyokushō-Ken's mob - each and every one of them panting for revenge. Thankfully, his boss Ōmoto Retsuzan shows up just in time and saves his skin. But Ōmoto is far from pleased with Mikage's performance in Kyushu, and offers him a pair of concrete shoes if things don't rapidly improve. Stunned by his boss's elemental talent for violence - and feeling like a squandered pawn in a bigger game - Mikage turns to his erstwhile kidnap victim, Kaoruko. After living with her for a while, he even fathers her child. To escape both Kaoruko and the child, he flees to the gang's New York Chapter. What awaits him New York? A mind-blowing all-out war of karate champs versus a savage Mafia-backed wrestling team!" Phew! And that just takes us to Volume 3 -
But, mercifully, the main building blocks of the saga are now in place, and so are the main characters. The unholy trinity of Father (gang boss Ōmoto), Holy Mother (blind martial arts master Kaoruko) and Son (Mikage) will occupy center stage throughout. The themes are straight Lunatic Period Kajiwara - Underground Mafia Wrestling Fight Club / Sex Secrets of the Hollywood Superstars / Death Match with the Uncrowned King of Wrestling / Karate Saves the Revolution in Country X / Anti-war Folk Singer's CIA Assassination Conspiracy...very 70s B-movie. In every case, Mikage gets into lethal danger, but Ōmoto charges in to save the day. Every time, the ungrateful Mikage attacks his savior - and gets himself into even bigger danger as a result.
The series was drawn by Nakano Yoshio in a relatively simple and straightforward style, especially compared to another Kajiwara collaborator, Nakajō Ken. In fact, there's no comparison between them. In Nakano's hands, the main characters all become stereotyped in appearance. Still, this means that the readers of 'Human Lethal Weapon' remember the work mainly for Kajiwara's contribution - as a story, not as visual imagery. Another benefit (?) of Kajiwara's simpler style is that the sex scenes look softer.
As the story progresses, Ōmoto becomes more and more godlike, while Mikage shrinks in stature to a Son Gokū （from Dragon Ball）figure 'playing on the palm of the Buddha's hand', as the saying goes (i.e., running around ignorant of his karma). It's very much a story of Mikage running away from what must seem like never-ending forgiveness and redemption - but this was very much the real-life Kajihara, too, during his Lunatic Period. And being Kajihara, things were bound to escalate, both on and off the page. Worse, being Kajihara Ikki and Takamori Asao simultaneously was like kissing the razor's edge. It was bound to lead to trouble. And it did.
[Kajihara went ballistic in 1983. His trial for the Kodansha Employee Violence Incident dug up a lot of nasty stuff about his past - kidnapping, attempted rape and extortion were all on the list. He was now an open target, and the media had a field day. He was even implicated in the untimely deaths of two manga artists working on projects he had supervised. (Their names were Sonoda Mitsuyoshi and Ono Shinji.) Suddenly, Kajiwara became a pariah. His magazines series were cut. His books stopped being printed and his reputation slumped.]
Still, 'Human Lethal Weapon' resumed publication after the media circus died down. But it was a changed work by a changed, more humane Kajiwara. The final episodes look forward to his later Age of Enlightenment. The saga ends with Mikage careening a car into the ocean - in a bid to save his own child's life.
The search for the Dark Side of Kajiwara doesn't stop with his early Lunatic Period. We press onward into his Golden Age for further rich troves of the extreme...
Kajiwara Ikki's 'Conditions of Manhood' (Otoko no Jōken) came out in Shonen Jump during the early 70s. The series was penned by Kajiwara and drawn by Kawasaki Noboru, in a revival of the combo responsible for the smash hit 'Star of the Giants' (Kyōjin no Hoshi). This time round, the story centered on an aspiring manga artist rather than a would-be baseball pro, but all the duo's familiar elements were still there – yakuza mobsters, desperate poverty and extreme plot twists. For all the success of 'Star of the Giants', however, the core readership of Shonen Jump – tender in years and sensibilities – didn't take kindly to the succession of graphic slaps in the face that made up 'Conditions of Manhood'. But the short-lived series had a longer afterlife. In later years, manga fans of a certain stripe re-approached 'Conditions' with fresh eyes, and found that it was an outstanding guidebook to Kajiwara's extreme world in general.
The blurb goes like this: "The hero, Hata Ichitarō, lives in the dorm of the factory where he works. His friend, a manga fan, loses faith in manga altogether when he reads a popular series about a young workingman – the machines have been drawn all wrong, without care or experience. Determined to seek satisfaction for his friend, Hata marches straight into the atelier of the artist, the manga star Aoyama. There, he finds out that the faulty machinery artwork comes from the pen of Aoyama's assistant, Tsukikage Hikaru. Aoyama then has Tsukikage drive him off to Tokyo's glittering Ginza, for an exclusive gala party for star manga artists. Young Hata gives chase. Bursting into an exclusive lounge, he finds Aoyama under attack by threatening yakuza, and he intervenes to drive them off. However, he sustains a serious head injury in the process. Using the blood from his head to draw with, he demonstrates to Aoyama how factory machines should be properly drawn. As a result of the incident, Aoyama asks Hata to join his atelier as his assistant..."
We're already wandering of the rails here, but Kajiwara's only starting to warm up. This is only the introduction, after all –
"After that, Hata starts working for Aoyama, and it is then that he meets a man with a face like Christ – Aoyama's chief assistant, Otani Sōsuke. Otani languishes in obscurity because he refuses to pander to the mass market, but Aoyama reles on him because he realizes just how talented his chief assistant really is. Shaken to the core by the passion of Otani's work, the young Hata breaks his connections with the grubby commercialists Aoyama and Tsukikage. With his newfound mentor, he embarks on journey of manga discovery into the unknown."
"Now penniless, Hata and Otani soon find themselves homeless. Driven to find shelter in a lumberyard at night, they ply the streets for money during the day, as kami shibai artists [see the glossary]. They win huge popularity with the children on the streets of working-class Tokyo, and even major manga publishers start talking about the pair. But the streets are the home of the yakuza, and the yakuza don't tolerate intruders. Hata and Otani are seized by the Kazamaki-gumi gang, and brought before the gang's boss – a girl. A really cute girl. A really cute High School girl."
"The girl is Female Boss Kazamaki Mika, and she has a test for the two artists. Her brother is a man possessed of brute strength and violent contempt for manga. Hata and Otani must create a kami shibai story that will make him laugh. If they can't, they lose their arms. Somehow, they succeed in their trial, and in doing so they win the friendship and trust of Mika and her brother, Chōgorō. At this point the rival Gōtō-gumi gang bursts in with fists at the ready, and Chōgorō suffers a serious head injury. Hata and Otani are now caught up in a yakuza turf war."
"Hata's former boss Aoyama's assistant – the craven Tsukikage – now takes camera pictures of Hata's and Otani's stupendous kami shibai drawings, and passes them off as his own work. In this dark period for the pair, their friend Chōgorō lies heavily wounded, and in addition they find themselves branded as plagiarists. Hata tracks Tsukikage down and confronts him, only to learn that Tsukikage grew up in extreme poverty as an outcaste person. (See the glossary) All his deeds up to now have been part of his struggle to escape poverty and discrimination. Learning this, Hata forgives him."
"The Kazamaki-gumi gang is now defeated and dispersed. With no place else to go, Hata ekes out a living in the slums as a heavy laborer, while still honing his drawing skills. The Kazamakis, Mika and Chōgorō, stake the little money they've rescued from their gang's collapse on a stall selling oden [Japanese hotchpotch, classic workingman's fare]. Hata and Otani join the couple, and all four live together. They decide to draw manga that will comfort and encourage the poor and the rejected of this earth."
"During their life together, the group learns more about Hata's mentor Otani. It emerges that Otani has plunged the depths of pure evil in the past, and embarked on the path of manga to atone for his deeds. His charisma shines all the brighter to them in the light of truth."
The storyline's painful to recount in words. Kajiwara's writes like some kind of manic DJ mixing samples of everything he's ever heard without even trying to match up rhythm or key. Every plotline he's ever made gets stitched onto the next any old how. The series of jolts and jerks gives birth to a weird breakbeat.
Kajiwara's later works feature three main elements – element the first being neverending plot recycling, element the second being obsessive violence, and element the third being sadistic sexuality. The first two are already present in 'Conditions of Manhood". And not just there. The series 'Of Flowers and Storms' (Hana mo Arashi mo) is the same. This work also appeared in Shonen Jump and was also drawn by – wait for it – Kawasaki Noboru. There are three main characters – the son of a Vietnam vet who slaughtered villagers in an incident during the war, the son of a photographer who died rescuing one of the village girls, and the village-girl survivor herself. This triangular tale of love and hate is mainly set in the world of kickboxing. 'Conditions of Manhood' and 'Of Flowers and Storms' appeared in the juvenile-oriented press, so the most sexual material was cut. Now at the peak of his popularity, Kajiwara didn't force the sadism angle as he was later to do. But if you look closely at works of Kajiwara's Golden Age, you can get a foretaste of the darkness approaching.
Gentle reader, if you've persevered this far, I'm sure you understand that I'm a pretty unusual manga fan. Maybe that's going too far. Maybe I'm not even a manga fan at all. The thing is, post-80s manga do nothing for me whatsoever. They come out in droves in magazines and book versions, and I scarcely glance at any of them.
During the 80s the manga scene forged ahead in terms of production quality and sales volumes. But the market started to shrink just as the Japanese version of Manga Zombie was published in 1997. Even so, the Japanese manga market is still vast in scale, and the art form gets a lot of hype from the government (and support from the masses) as one of those contents-rich industries that we Japanese can all feel really proud and pleased with ourselves about. Doctorates are written on manga, and have been for a good ten years. There are specialist manga critics, and cetera.
But none of these commentators have come up with an answer to the billion-yen question: why is the manga market stagnating, and how do you fix it?
Academia has yet to get a handle on manga, even in terms of theory. As a discipline, manga research has no generally accepted methodology. Right now, analytical studies are all the rage, and a lot of work is coming out from this angle, which attempts to deal with the medium as a form of sequential art. But the manga world is so multi-layered and multifarious that there's probably no single theoretical approach which could ever hope to capture it. One manga researcher who's been making a lot of waves in Japanese academia recently is the Frenchman Thierry Groensteen. Some of his stuff has apparently already been translated into English. (I'm still waiting for the imminent Japanese version, so: no comment.)
Anyway, Manga Zombie isn't (you've noticed) intended as a contribution to the scholarly debate. It's just an attempt to flag some forgotten manga and artists and shout hey! Is it theory? No. Is there a theory? No.
Take American comics. They're not all wholesome, healthy kids' fare. America also has its tradition of crime comics, dirty comics, or what's known as Tijuana Bible. Italy had its highly unwholesome fumetti nelli comics. And I want to highlight the many artists in Japan who jumped the rails of the 'respectable' manga tradition in much the same way. Lowbrow artists. Outsider artists. Their work shines with a glorious danger that no legitimate genre could ever generate. Okay, I'm on a mission from God. Even the official stars of Japanese manga history can look different – and sometimes better – after exposure to the Manga Zombie gallery of suspects. What I really want to say is that we should have a lot more range and freedom in the manga world. So I'm going to spread the word on as many outsider artists as I can every chance I get.
So, here endeth the Manga Zombie in this incarnation. But you know what they say about zombies. They have a habit of coming back.
Japanese manga have been getting a lot of attention overseas for years now. Most Japanese content comes from big publishing, and recently the most popular hit series go straight on sale abroad, too. The magazines they appear in are formatted the same as in Japan.
In France for example, Japanese manga are being translated and marketed so well that they're supporting the entire French industry. Meanwhile, the traditional bande desinée format (single volume of 48 full-color A4 pages, published annually or thereabouts) is going into steep decline. I don't know how it's going to turn out down the line, but obviously a lot of artists and publishers are getting heavily influenced by movements and styles from the Japanese scene. But this scene has been dominated by big business for more than ten years, and just churning out standardized product all that time.
The upshot of this is that you don't develop the kind of manga literacy that will let a manga cross generations, i.e. be something other than pop culture.
Maybe the only exception is the French publisher Editions Cornélius, headed by Jean-Louis Gauthey. Cornelius really takes risks, putting out off-beam works I've always loved – Mizuki Shigeru's NonNonBâ, Abe Shinichi's Les amours de Taneko and the Italian artist Roberto Raviola aka. Magnus' Necron. Just brilliant.
ComiPress: First of all, please introduce yourself!
Udagawa Takeo: I was born in 1957, and since the 80s I've been a commentator on popular culture, especially the music scene. Since the late 80s I've mainly concentrated on spreading the word about artists who don't get any recognition in the commercial culture industry. The name I give this field is 'Fringe Culture' [which is also the title of Udagawa-san's Japanese-language website].
ComiPress: When you first started writing Manga Zombie, why did you believe the authors featured are not as well-known as you believe they should? Why did you choose this format to promote their work?
Udagawa Takeo: Japanese manga artists have started getting a lot of international attention in recent years, but the spotlight is mainly focused on artists from the 90s onwards. I felt that artists from before then weren't getting their work properly valued by critics and commentators on the scene. So that's why I decided to get an English-language version of Manga Zombie out.
ComiPress: What makes the manga series covered in Manga Zombie and their authors so special in story telling? What distinguishes them from others?
Udagawa Takeo: Contemporary manga aren't story-driven - they're character-driven. The whole question is how successfully the artists can sell these characters (AKA kyara) to the readership. So, the readers don't really connect with the artists' vision in any significant way. Instead, they use the characters as raw material for their own fantasies. The emphasis is on creating scenarios - with themselves front and center. Under those conditions, you can't really get a proper grasp of a manga series as a distinct work of art in its own right. I feel that this approach to manga is just squandering the fantastic artistic legacy the medium built up during the 1970s, and just turning it into one more media-consumer product. So, I thought it was about time to set the alarm bells ringing - because of what's happening to manga.
ComiPress: What did you hope would happen as a result of your book being published? Did the results meet your expectation?
Udagawa Takeo: Manga Zombie came out in Japanese in 1998. From that point on, the books I covered started to fetch good prices in the used book market, and a lot of publishers started talking about putting out reprints. So I'd like to think that Manga Zombie made a pretty big impact overall.
ComiPress: When did the idea of translating your work into English first come about? Why did you decide to have it translated into English? Did everything go well?
Udagawa Takeo: Ever since the first printing of Manga Zombie in 1998, I wanted to put out a version in English. There's a whole side to manga that still hasn't been shared with a lot of readers out there, and I really wanted to get that across to as many people as possible.
ComiPress: Why did you choose to release the book for free online? Will there be a print version eventually?
Udagawa Takeo: The translated version going up online is just one part of the full Manga Zombie. I'm hoping that an English-language publisher will get motivated to print a full-scale translation. So, the online project is essentially a promotion for that.
ComiPress: How was your experience working with John Gallagher and ComiPress?
Udagawa Takeo: John did a great job translating the nuances of what I was doing in the original. And ComiPress is American-based, so I hope it can reach a lot of readers in the English-speaking world.
ComiPress: The online version of Manga Zombie contains some chapters never published in the printed Japanese version, but it's also missing some chapters from the original Japanese version; will we ever see the full work available online?
Udagawa Takeo: Well, there was quite a lot of revision needed for the online version, and I added a lot of new material as well. On the other hand, some parts were edited out, and I'd like to see these sections translated into English somewhere down the line, time permitting. But both John and I have day jobs, and it's pretty tough to get everything done on a volunteer basis, as we're doing it right now. Anyway, even if I did put the entire book online, I'd still want to expand it if there's a print version.
ComiPress: What would you like the readers who are reading Manga Zombie to watch out for while reading; is there anything subtle that are easily missed?
Udagawa Takeo: I think manga fans overseas don't get fully informed at all about what's happening on the Japanese scene. So I've tried hard to spell out what I'm doing really clearly in writing about these artists, in a way can get the full picture across. However, I've glossed over a number of areas in fairly general terms - especially the ongoing problems of [burakumin etc.] discrimination that are still there in Japanese society today. So, I'd like English-language readers to keep that in mind when there's any discussion of minorities and discrimination on the page.
ComiPress: Please tell us about your experience with manga, how did you first get into manga, what was being a manga fan like back in the days?
Udagawa Takeo: I've been a manga fan since the 1960s, but I'm not very familiar with the post-Eighties scene.
ComiPress: Do you think that many of the styles mentioned in Manga Zombie, instead of "falling victim" to commercialization, might have instead undergone a transformation and is being re-used in different forms in men's and boy's manga today?
Udagawa Takeo: Well, for example [Fukushima Masami's] 'Saint Muscle' (San Muscle) later had an influence on 'Muscle Man' Kinniku Man『キン肉マン』and Fist of the North Star (Hokutō no Ken). In the same way, a lot of motifs used in the works I covered in this book worked their way into later artists' serials. And I get the feeling that a lot of these later artists enjoyed commercial success because of this underground connection with the past.
ComiPress: What have been both the best and worst of manga?
Udagawa Takeo: The best manga are always the worst manga. And vice versa. Manga should never be 'healthy' or 'educational' or 'good for kids'.
ComiPress: What are some of your favorite manga and manga creators? Is there any work today that particularly interests you?
Udagawa Takeo: Fukushima Masami
ComiPress: What do you see for the future of manga? How has technology affected manga and how will it affect it into the future?
Udagawa Takeo: Manga is continually developing as an industry in Japan, but at the same time the artists' individual voices are getting drowned out and erased. It's becoming just another interchangeable media product. And I reckon that if the Japanese manga scene sees itself as something special or unique, it's going to end up creating just the same manga produced in other Asian countries, or Europe.
ComiPress: Thank you very much for the interview! Any final words you'd like to say to the English readers of your work?
Udagawa Takeo: Thanks a lot!
ComiPress: First of all, please introduce yourself! Who are you? What do you do?
John Gallagher: I'm from Ireland. I've lived in Japan for over ten years. I'm especially drawn to small subcultures (like male geisha) and minor artists (like Miura Jun). I'm a translator and sporadic writer.
ComiPress: How did you first get into the Manga Zombie translation project? How did everything come together? And how did it end up being published on ComiPress?
John Gallagher: I've been researching the male geisha subculture for the last few years. A friend set up a meeting with Udagawa-san because he's well-known as a researcher on everything arcane and offbeat. He showed up with some insanely recondite sound recordings of a male geisha taken in 1969. He also gave me a copy of Manga Zombie, and I decided to translate it during 2007.
From there, it was a question of raising interest in the English-speaking world, and I trawled around the net for a while, looking for likely forums for this material. When ComiPress contacted me and suggested doing something online, I ran it by Udagawa-san, and he thought it sounded good. Ultimately I'd like to see a print translation of this work, if that's feasible.
ComiPress: What do you think is so special about Manga Zombie? Do you agree with the message of the book? What do you hope the readers will get from the book?
John Gallagher: Manga Zombie really grabbed me from the first page - the artists were new to me in most cases, and there was a passion and intensity in the graphics that I really liked. These were all outsider artists. And Udagawa-san struck me as a really honest and committed advocate for revaluing their work. The focus was on them, not him.
I'm a bit less pessimistic about the current manga scene than Udagawa-san is, but I'm looking at it from a different angle. All the same, I agree that the scene in the 60s and 70s was especially diverse and exciting. There's an edginess about it that may be harder to find now.
I hope that readers of Manga Zombie in English will appreciate the freedom and eccentricity of the artists covered in this book - they're extremely loopy and often very transgressive. Really, I have no idea what readers will take away from an English-language version of Manga Zombie, but I hope they enjoy it. In terms of manga theory and criticism, I hope this translation will open up new areas of debate, and inform the English-language discussion more.
ComiPress: What was it like translating Manga Zombie? Tell us how you went about doing it.
John Gallagher: I had a whale of a time translating Manga Zombie. I wanted it to be fun to do and fun to read. I think it's a faithful translation, though a pretty free one. The Japanese is often very involved and academic. I did my best to make it a smooth ride in English. I tried to translate it at the rate of one or two essays a week, so there was a backlog by the time we started going up in ComiPress. There were the usual delays and interruptions that are part of any project like this. ComiPress did a really professional job on proofreading, editing, layout etc.
ComiPress: Why did you choose an online medium to publish Manga Zombie? Are you satisfied with the results? What plans do you have in the future?
John Gallagher: This is just a part of Manga Zombie. Ultimately, the goal is a print version. Obviously, going online connects you with a community of like-minded people, and raises awareness and interest.
I'd like to read more feedback from your readers about Manga Zombie in general.
The idea is to get Manga Zombie out in print in English.
ComiPress: Please tell us about your experience with manga, how did you first get into manga, what was being a manga fan like back in the days?
John Gallagher: Obviously, living in Japan and being interested in the language, manga are part of my life every day. I'm not an otaku, and I have no special insight into the scene. But I can't imagine Japan without manga. I caught the tail end of Garo when I first came over to Japan, and I was immediately hooked. Later on I got into Garo from the 70s. This was the manga read by manga artists to see what was coming up in the scene. So I bought lots of back issues and learned about the scene from there.
ComiPress: How do you feel about today's manga market, both in Japan and in the U.S.? Is the market lacking in "quality manga" as Manga Zombie described?
John Gallagher: I'm really not qualified to talk about the current scene as a whole - it's just too diverse. I think a lot of ComiPress readers would have a better handle on the situation than me.
ComiPress: What have been both the best and worst of manga?
I'd have to go with Ugagawa-san on this one. Manga should rot the brain. Hence Manga Zombie, and why I'm translating it.
ComiPress: What are some of your favorite manga and manga creators? Is there any work today that particularly interests you?
John Gallagher: I like a lot classic eccentrics like Hanawa Kazuichi, and especially Ebisu Yoshikazu. I'm also very fond of Watanabe Kazuhiro. Doing Manga Zombie has introduced me to a lot of others. Again, I'm not going to comment on the current scene.
ComiPress: What do you see for the future of manga? How has technology affected manga and how will it affect it into the future?
John Gallagher: Well, manga sales have slumped in Japan because people are turning to other technologies, especially the internet accessed via cellphone. Anyway, manga will live on, and of course will thrive in other languages and contexts in the immediate future. In Japan, the lack of diversity that Udagawa-san complains about isn't confined to manga, but affects all media. But I think the internet can be the forum where a lot of creativity can get out there, in Japan and elsewhere.
ComiPress: Thank you very much for the interview! Any final words you'd like to say to the English readers of Manga Zombie?
John Gallagher: As Udagawa-san points out, there are real treasures among the Japanese manga of the 60s and 70s. If you take the time to track down more of their work on the net or whatever, you'll certainly find something to amuse or shock or inspire you, whether you read Japanese or not. I hope that Manga Zombie can create that kind of interest in these artists.
Akahon: (literally 'red books'); cheap manga produced by minor publishers in the immediate postwar period. Akahon were sold in magazine stalls rather than regular bookstores.
Burakumin: before 1868, groups of people officially known as eta ('full of filth') and hinin ('non-humans') suffered systematic government-sponsored discrimination. They were confined to certain trades such as butchers and tanners, and lived in designated slum areas. When Japan modernized, they become known by the euphemistic term burakumin, and state persecution ceased. However, burakumin face weakening but still significant social discrimination to this day. Burakumin often feature in socially-concerned manga.
Edo: The former name of Tokyo (until 1868).
Fleshbomb: (nikudan); Udagawa Takeo gave this name to a genre of gekiga featuring extremely heavily muscled male characters.
Gekiga: (literally 'drama comics'); a hardboiled manga genre concentrating on stories featuring crime and violence. Gekiga originated in a loosely-knit circle of kashihon artists. Artistically, gekiga can be contrasted with the less experimental and densely-worked manga style of Tezuka Osamu and artists under his influence. Geographically, gekiga centered on Osaka, as opposed to the mainstream manga scene centered in Tokyo.
Kami shibai: (literally, 'paper drama'); a form of storytelling involving manga-style pictures displayed from the back of a traveling peddler's cart. This was a popular form of entertainment in the immediate post-war period. Many artists in the gekiga genre and manga generally started their careers drawing kami shibai pictures.
Kashihon: (literally 'rental books'); cheap manga books produced for renting out at commercial lending libraries. The format was a bit larger than akahon.
Moe: an amorphous yet defining sensibility in Japanese otaku culture, moe values cuteness, innocence and quirkiness in manga and anime characters. Though moe is distinct from the frankly pedophiliac Lolicon sensibility, some observers see a degree of overlap between the two.
Shogun: the military ruler of Japan before 1868.
Shogunate: the shogun's government, especially the regime of the Tokugawa family (1600-1868)