Miyaya Kazuhiko: A Magnificent Course to Self-Destruction
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?