Kajiwara Ikki Part 2
From Kajiwara Ikki Part 2: Searching for the Dark Side of Kajiwara Ikki
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.