This week, we explore one of the many time capsules hidden across jungle landscape of Manga Island: Two works by one of the "Masters of Modern Manga," Buichi Terasawa. His career in the manga field is legendary, beginning under the tutelage of the "God of Manga" Osamu Tezuka; he continues to produce manga and digital works. A prolific manga-ka, he has his hands in manga, OVAs, video games and multimedia, and even film production.
Even though he was trained by Tezuka, Terasawa's art style is far from the cartoony characters of Astro Boy, and Phoenix. The characters are realistically rendered and his tech design is solid, streamlined and beautifully inspired. Often his shading and toning bear more resemblance to extremely sharp charcoal drawings, except that all the lines is much more precise. Although he is a master at black and white, Terasawa created the first Computer Graphics comic book series, "Takeru." He continues to push the envelope of blending hand-drawn 2-D, Computer 2-D, and rendered 3-D images, in such works as "Black Night Bat", "Gundragon" (where the main character is hand drawn and super-imposed onto live action and CG images), and various tutorial books to educate aspiring manga-ka in the techniques of merging computer and hand drawn art.
Before the days of Witchblade, Lady Death, and other more "cheesecake" style comics, Terasawa was powering teen libidos, bringing his brand of hot women in comics to Japan (and later to the world) in the pages of Cobra (often referred to as "Space Adventure Cobra")for the weekly boy's comic "Jump." Terasawa's comics often play out like hyper-kinetic James Bond adventures, where the stakes are high and the women are plentiful. I would go so far as to say, that he rarely draws "Women," instead he draws "Chicks" in the vein of Soryama pin ups, Barbarella, or Bond Girls of the Roger Moore era. A hallmark of Terasawa's style, the "chicks" in his comics are often nude or scantily clad (and somehow stuck in variations of 80's fashion). Like most Bond women, no matter how competent, heroic, or villainous the women are, they almost always fall for the hero. Perhaps it's less of a Bond spy thing and more likely the rock and roll aspects of Terasawa that inspires his buff guys and scantily clad women. I've always thought that in his press photos and interviews, he looked like he looks like he would be equally at home in manga, "Rock You Like a Hurricane" era Scorpions, or hanging with the sans makeup Kiss lineup.
Goku: Midnight Eye - Three Volumes Published by Comics One:
"Goku: Midnight Eye" is a hard boiled cyberpunk re-imagining of the "Journey to West" story of the Monkey King. "Midnight Eye" begins as the title character; Goku investigates a strange round of suicides among his former friends on the police force he was kicked off of. It's stated that he was kicked off for being too obtrusive, and his boss never mentions if his propensity to wear skinny ties, a shirt that reveals his chest, and a black "Miami Vice" style jacket factored into this decision at all. As a successful private eye, Goku takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of what is causing average police officers to kill themselves while staking out a crime syndicate. A series of events soon leads to his near death and subsequent rebirth as a man with an electronic right eye that can control any computer system, scan any frequency of light and is even powerful enough to set off world war three if he so decided. (I'm also guessing that he somehow can block spam and popups, get a free gmail account, and more than likely he will never have to pay to access adult sites again.) In addition to new eye of knowledge (the first corollary to the Monkey King story in which the monkey king is given the gift of enhanced vision when the gods try to execute him); Goku is also given a staff that is itself a technological marvel. The staff can extend almost limitlessly, allowing him to pole vault across the city, smash objects and people (jaws, feet, and torsos are never safe in a fight with Goku), and hang in corridors by using it as a pull up bar. Additionally the staff can be shoot laser-like force-bolts that can rip through flesh, metal and concrete, something the legendary Monkey King never had. Of course, Goku is ever stylish, and doesn't let his new found pole vaulting ability get in the way of driving his futuristic yet 80's style 'vette.
As Goku takes revenge on his former partner's killers we are introduced to many of the hallmarks of Terasawa's imaginative style, including pole dancing, laser shooting robot with handlebars on her back that is ridden by a dwarf tech-genius, hunter killer dragonflies and hired thugs galore. All in a day's work for Goku and his new found powers and abilities.
Like Bond before him, no task is too great and no woman is too hard to get (even if they act as if they are). Goku's six pack abs and non-chalant style seem to get him into the arms of just about any woman he wants. Of course like most heroes conquests, becoming their lover seems to mark all but the most wary and lucky girl for some kind of tragedy and death. Of course, if all the Bond girls and reformed femme fatales were always kept safe, where would we get all the revenge stories that keep great pulp action plots alive? And how would he be free to move to the next damsel in distress, or villainess who needs a smooth spy to show here the error of her ways?
Throughout the 3 volumes, Goku takes on bio-engineered super soldiers, satellite laser arrays controlled by super villains, holographic ghosts, genetically altered beasts, and slews of trained assassins both robotic and human. The non-stop action also takes Goku around the world, in submarines, jets, trains, bikes, ships and all manner of futuristic vehicles. His electronic eye is the ultimate gadget in all of this, allowing him to be a one man army that Bond was never able to be. It's his Q and MI-5 backup all in one. All this action is always beautifully rendered by Terasawa. His sense of action and motion, as well as his ability to keep the story at a fast paced clip is always a joy to read. That is, if machismo escapist stories are what you are in for. If I am going to read a futuristic detective story, I'll take Goku any day. Unrepentant and super cool, "Goku: Midnight Eye" fills area manga void left by whiny pretty boys, high school girl problems, and giant robots. Men are men, villains are super evil, and women are tough enough to be killers, and tender enough to always go for the good guy.
Kabuto - Two Volumes Published by Comics One:
In Terasawa's "Kabuto" (aka we are introduced to an alternate feudal Japan of the Daiei dynasty. Even though it is supposedly 500 years ago, the Japan of Kabuto is full of alien "gods," robots, castles that double as tanks (think Japanese castles combined with the space shuttle gantry mover), and a horde of supernatural enemies at every turn.
One of the most interesting things about the two volumes of the Kabuto manga is their chronology. The first volume deals with the supernatural ninja Kabuto and his band of four gods that travel with him. The God of the North (Genbu) is a Tengu Goblin that more akin to a statue come to life, the God of the South (Sazaku) is a typical Terasawa heroic hot girl, the God of the East (Seiryuu) is a childlike ninja, and the God of the West (Byakko) is a wisecracking cool guy swordsman and gun fighter. Kabuto himself can fly like his raven moniker using his wing-like ninja tunic. He also wields a talking sword that gives advice, can be summoned to his aid, and is more than a match for any of the demons that the band of heroes must face. As the team moves closer and closer to battling the Dark Lord (and possible alien) Kuroyasa Douki, the must battle minions, slave traders and various supernatural creatures. In order to defeat the Douki's tank castle they must commandeer the Dragon Manji craft, a gigantic manji symbol (a symbol of good luck that the Nazi's commandeered and perverted into the now infamous swastika) with a dragon head that can shoot ultra powerful energy beams. It's this kind of over-the-top a storytelling that endures me to Terasawa's works. The feudal Japan of Buichi Terasawa is still rife with evil, robots magical ultra weapons, and Nagel and Soryama, thong sporting women. A Japan entirely his own (and one that we see revisited in many of his other works), it's a place for heroes and villains of the larger than life variety, and woe be unto the commoner who is caught in the struggle between the two.
The second volume deals with the ancestor of the original Tengu Kabuto who is imparted with the power of the four gods as he lies between life and death. Without his team of super sidekicks, this new Kabuto must battle the supernatural beings that Douki now employs. As a one man army, Kabuto must be even more reliant on his wits and his sword if he is to take on the Dark Lord. The danger is even more real and the stakes seem higher as the battle escalates to an endgame. We see that when evil appears, there will always be an heir to the Tengu martial arts style to take up the winged ninja mantle and sword and defend the Earth.
I recommend "Goku" and "Kabuto" for anyone looking for well drawn escapist fantasy and heroes that aren't full of angst about their station in life. Both Goku and Kabuto have all the charm and wit of Bond with the cyber and fantasy elements that only manga can deliver. I also recommend hunting down the VHS OVA versions of both of these series if possible. Kabuto is more of a side story, while Goku is much closer to the manga version. Kabuto is worth checking out for the generation of fans who saw Ninja scroll when it first came out and want more (and in my opinion cooler) of the same. I may be clouded by nostalgia, but I smile every time I hear the power metal theme song that accompanies the violence and mayhem of the OVA. It was one of the first OVAs I saw that dared to be PG-13 or R and, and despite its short running time and differences from the manga, has stuck in my mind as what ninja anime should be.
If you want to check out more of this manga-ka's body of work the links below should direct you to almost everything you need to know. I hope you enjoy the rich art and style of Terasawa, until Manga Island calls once again.
Links to Buichi sites:
Comics One sites:
Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop. He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.