Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku – Yuji Kaku

Shonen Manga has become fairly predictable, most taken on the tropes that popular stalwarts such as Bleach and Naruto tackle in their initial issues and then building from there. You often get the hero that the reader is supposed to identify with, they’re usually either forced into having some excellent powers that they have to learn to harness or they’re desperate to become all-powerful and show the world just how good they are at whatever it is that everyone else in the Manga is really, really good at.

That’s not to knock those titles, and its certainly simplifying Bleach and Naruto an awful lot, and initially I was worried that Hell’s Paradise was going to be more of the same. Here we follow Gabimaru the Hollow, a Ninja that has been captured whilst on an assassination mission. He’s given the punishment of being executed, except any time the authorities try to do so their attempts are thwarted. A master swordswoman, Yamada Asaemon Sagiri,  interviews Gabimaru and ultimately comes to the conclusion that despite his claims that he wants to do, he actually doesn’t and wants to return home to his wife, contradicting the legend surrounding him that he has no emotional connection to this world (and thus is “Hollow”).

From here the authorities decide to send him, along with other criminals, to an island. Each criminal is accompanied by an executioner, with Gabimaru being paired with Sagiri. Typically all of the criminals are violent in specific ways, one Kunoichi has the ability to kill via a kiss (or that is what I think she does as it’s only shown in one panel). It’s clear from the very beginning that Gabimaru is a highly skilled ninja (let’s just ignore the fact he was captured), that’s not the point of this Manga. What we have here is a Battle Royale scenario as the criminals all search the island for the Elixer of Life, many of them deciding that the way to ensure that they’re the ones who find it, and thus are awarded with a pardon for their crimes, is to turn on the rest whilst there will be others that decide to team up (though that hasn’t happened as yet).

This first volume is mostly predictable and there’s little character development, we get to establish some kind of relationship between Gabimaru and Sagiri and learn of their motives (Gabimaru wants to return home, Sagiri is a stickler for the rules and as she is a minority in a very male-led profession, has a point to prove), but it does set up the premise nicely and zips along at a decent pace, hopefully leaving further volumes to really expand on these foundations.

What stood out to me though is the amount of action within the panels, fights break out easily and we really get to see the level of skill that Gabimaru has developed. There’s a lot of gore too and in some moments it goes full-on Swamp Thing body horror as the fauna and flora of the island attempts to take over its new visitors. With that in mind, this is definitely a book created with a mature audience in mind, and squeamish readers are better off looking elsewhere. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on future volumes.

An advanced PDF was provided for review purposes from Viz Media and NetGalley.

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

Akira Volume 1 – Katsuhiro Otomo

Way back in July I wrote about the reasons I was glad that the Hollywood movie of Akira had been put on hold (though it’s still in the works), this time out I’m taking a direct look at volume 1 of Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga as its the book we’ve discussed in “Books with Pictures” this month.

Despite Akira being one of my favourite stories, both from the collection of manga’s and the movie, I’m going to try and remain unbiased, it’ll be tough, but let’s see how it goes.

For those who have never read the manga nor watched the movie, the basic plot is as follows. Tetsuo Shima is a teenage boy, part of a biker gang in a post World War III Japan in the city of Neo-Tokyo. After being involved in an accident, Tetsuo develops psychokinetic powers and is then thrown into the centre of a political and military based human experiment. The leader of the gang Tetsuo belongs to, Kaneda, gets pulled into a political resistance group as he tries to find answers regarding what has happened to his friend.

Flicking from page to page, looking at each and every panel, its astounding the level of detail that Otomo has put into each and every image, take the second bike sequence for example. Every action in every panel is clear and concise, the energy flows through the page and you really get a sense of the chaos of the running battle between Kaneda’s gang and their opponents the Clowns. In this volume there’s not a huge amount of dialogue, at times it often feels like Otomo is story-boarding for a movie (though the movie wouldn’t be released for another six years after the first chapter of the manga was released)

I’ve read through all six volumes many times, though it’s been a few years since I returned to them. So the one thing that surprises me is just how little of the story volume 1 actually covers. Within this book we are introduced to a few members of Kaneda’s gang (Kaneda, Tetsuo and Yamagata), Tetsuo has his accident and begins to develop powers that he struggles to control, we get more time with the Clowns than we people coming from the movie will have expected, Kaneda spends some time with the resistance group though Ryu is quite distant and Kei is reluctant to be around him and lastly we have moments with Colonel Shikishima, Doctor Onishi, Takashi (#26), Masaru (#27) and Kiyoko (#25). Other characters appear but aren’t named at this point in the tale (the key ones being gang member Kaisuke and the member of parliament Nezu).

So Volume 1 is a combination of world-building, setting up the factions that will feature in coming volumes and the beginnings of Tetsuo’s story. We see that Kaneda is the leader of a biker gang, though based upon his behaviour its unclear how he has gotten to that position, and my only conclusion is the sheer amount of self-confidence he has earns him the respect of the others. Tetsuo is only a minor member of the gang, and really looks up to Kaneda, but once his powers are unlocked he begins to challenge this position and we begin to see a different side of the boy, namely his incredibly short temper which are exacerbated by the side effects that his powers bring upon him if he’s not medicated properly, he later tries to control this using a cocktail of drugs that the Clown gang get for him with the manga closing after Colonel Shikishima offers him the help to unlock his potential and keep the negative effects his powers have on his body in check.

What volume 1 does offer us though is some interesting insights. For me, this particular volume is Otomo’s response to post-war Japan that he grew up in. Due to the treaties that were signed after the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima (which are kind of referenced by the image of an atomic like explosion that started World War III in this world), the US-occupied Japan throughout the years from 1945 to 1952 (and referred to as Operation Blacklist), despite Otomo not being born until 1953 the American occupation (the only time in Japans history that it had been occupied by foreign powers) had some major impacts on Japanese culture. The youth of the country began looking to Western media and behaviours, this saw the rise of the Bosozoku movement, teenagers began purchasing motorcycles and gathering in gangs, wearing colours and patches to state which gangs they belonged to. It comes as no surprise that these gangs reached their heights around the time that Otomo began writing Akira.

There’s also elements of the human experimentation programs from around the second World War and into the sixties with Japans Unit 731 and the US’ MK Ultra programs feeling like they could have been key influences on Otomo’s writing.

Going back to Kaneda for a moment, there is one worrying aspect to his character whilst reading this in 2019 and that’s his attitude towards women. Early on it’s established, he has had a sexual relationship with the girl who works in his schools’ infirmary, she tells him she thinks she might be pregnant with her basically telling him that the baby would be his. He couldn’t be more disinterested if he tried, his only interest is in her getting his gang their next batch of drugs for him (and testing the drug he snatched after the gang’s first altercation with Colonel Shikishima). Later on, he’s constantly trying to get it on with Kei, though she brushes him off at every turn. Now, this is admittedly typical teenage boy behaviour, and in fairness, he is something like 15 or 16 in the book, but it’s still a little disconcerting seeing the lengths he’ll go to to try and get what he wants from Kei.

Anime, Movies

Thank fuck the Hollywood Akira is on hold again

Hah! I think that title says it all doesn’t it?

For a bit of background, Akira is one of my favourite films of all time, I have a rough top 10 of all time affair, and alot of them move around, but there are two films that are definetly at the top of that table but it’s difficult to pick between them, one is Blade Runner, the other is Akira. Besides, if you didn’t know already, this blog is named after a location in both the manga and the movie, whilst my header image is taken from the movie itself.

The Manga collection is also one of my favourite books of all time. Now that thats out of the way lets get on with this.

Thank fuck the Hollywood Akira is on hold again!

There, I said it again. But why? Because quite clearly Hollywood doesn’t understand movies not of American origin and it goes all the way back to Magnificent Seven, which isn’t a bad film, but its not a patch on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, mostly because it doesn’t really understand that films intricacies. However, it, at least, tried to be its own thing and went with a totally different name. So for a fairer comparison, look at Ghost in the Shell. Now I didn’t mind Scarlett Johansson taking on the role of Major Kusanagi, I understand the white washing criticsms but I didn’t really feel like the Kusanagi in either the original movies or the Stand Alone Complex was particularly Japanese in appearance, plus she has a cybernetic body so the original Kusanagi could have picked any physical appearance they wished. I’ve only read through the Manga on one occassion so I can’t really make comparisons there.

Onto Akira then, why am I glad its being shelved? Firstly, because it doesn’t need to be made. Go and watch Akira after reading this, it hasn’t aged at all, it still stands up today, it still feels relevant, it still blows most major animated movies, be they Ghibli, Disney Production IG, Akira stands high amongt their very best work. It. Doesn’t. Need. Remaking. Re-mastering? Maybe, I’m certainly not going to complain about Katsuhiro Otomo returning to it to do a 4k Remaster (not that I have a 4k TV and I can hardly see either of the two cinema’s in my town ever showing it). Is there stuff that can be made better? Sure, there’s loads of stuff that was important to the Manga that wasn’t in the film, mostly because Otomo hadn’t finished work on the Manga when he started and finished the movie, and I’m hoping that the new animated series he’s going to be making will address things and finally give us a completed adaptation of the Manga.

Secondly, the film would be heavily Americanised, I mean they were going to take it out of its Japan setting and set it in Neo-Manhatten. Just, No. Thats a total misunderstanding of what Akira is actually about. They’ve got the basic plot

Set in a future city environment called New Manhattan, the sci-fi epic follows the leader of a bike gang who must save his best friend, who has been experimented on by the government causing him to develop dangerous and destructive psychokinetic powers.

So, ignoring the setting, okay, thats how you’d describe Akira to someone who hadn’t seen or read it, but thats not what its actually about. The whole thing is about Japan, about its rebuild after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were rebuilt, about the American occupation and how Japanese kids were being influenced by US media and forming Bosozuku. It’s about civil unrest, politics and a country thats coming to terms with both its dark past and it being thrown into the modern world (the Edo period had only ended around 120 years before Akira’s release), its position of using nuclear power as a large source of its national energy and the difficulties the populace had with accepting that only a few decades after such power had been used against them.

I’ll admit the film doesn’t outright address these, it takes repeated viewings, reading the Manga and learning more about Otomo and his idea’s to learn all of this. But once you do know elements of this you can see it within the film (notice Tetsuo’s pattern being the same as the explosion Akira causes at the start of the film and how the latter in itself is similar to that of a nuclear explosion). Thing is, I did kind of start to come around to the idea when it was announced that Taika Watiti would be involved, and in actual face they’ve not scrapped the whole thing entirely, but I’ll be incredibly surprised if it see’s the light of day let alone if its any good. Just give me that animated series, let me keep the 1988 movie and, lastly, leave me alone to re-read my Dark Horse Manga collection.