Manga Mania #28 (November 1995)

(cover art by Wil Overton)

While Babel II is the cover story, and there’s a pretty good article on the OAV series, the big thing here is a Go Nagai interview. Conducted at the San Diego Comic Con, it’s a pretty good potted history of his career straight from the man himself. And of course, it being Manga Mania, somehow manages to get a mention of Buichi Terasawa’s CD-ROM in there.

The third article was on Sol Bianca, which only warranted a single page and kind of had the vibe of “well if you like these other things, you might like this. Maybe.”

The Ghost In Shell movie’s UK screenings were announced. I went to see one of them at the Odeon West End cinema, it was not the greatest cinema experience, as it was not the greatest cinema. Also making the news was Koji Morimoto’s music video for Ken Ishii’s record Extra. Patlabor 2 was coming out on VHS, as was The Cockpit.

RecontamineTed 1995, a convention held at the Birmingham Grand Hotel, was mentioned in the news items. This is likely the first I had heard of it, and it would prove to be my first convention.  Angel Cop 5 was September’s best selling anime tape and there was another reader’s poll. I may have even sent one in, such was my fervour for anime at this point.

In the columns, Cyberdrome was mainly about ChibaMOO, where you could pretend to be a cyberpunk on the internet or something like that. Animatedly Yours covered the changes being made to Dragonball as it hit US TV screens, and Megabyte gave the SNES version of Doom 90%.

Julie Davis’ Manga Files covered Go Nagai & Kenichi Sonoda and Peter J Evans covered Astro Boy in his Screen Gems column.

Pretty good issue, certainly an improvement on a lot of the Manga era ones I’ve discussed so far.

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THINGS ANCIENT AND MODERN – Dororon Enma-kun Meerameera

“The animation I dislike immensely, even though it is kinda good, it’s good animation, it’s just good for the 1980s, not now.”

“I could not sit through 1 episode very well because of how retarded and perverted it was. I have never hated perverted anime but this was something out of its league it was that bad.”

Truly if you call yourself an anime fan , do not , i repeat do not watch this anime show.

Average and an ugly main character, He really looks horrible

boring .dropped after i saw that huge penis monster in the OP.” (how jaded do you have to be to be bored by penis monsters? Huge ones at that.)

I was kinda turned off by the art since it looks like a kids show” (says the guy with the Gintama avatar…)

Why are remakes always as crappy as the old ones ? The art is like, wannabe new but it still has this gay old feeling to it. And the story is pure shit and the ” comedy ” fails hard. True faGGotry show for you guys to sub.

Set in the past, and based on a 38 year old comic, Enma-kun clearly rubs some people up the wrong way.

It seems that it is the very evocation of the past that tends to upset people so. Why does a reminder of the past elicit this reaction? Is it because it is an unremembered past?

Or if you believe that the now is most civilised we have ever been – is the past a wild and untamed land of barbarians? Something that needs to be fought in order to maintain our civilisation?

It’s certainly not uncommon to find anime fans complaining about character designs or animation looking “old” and chalking it up as a negative. Particularly when it is used in modern material. Is it a reaction against a nostalgia that a younger viewer cannot participate in or that they feel actively excluded from?

Certainly I’ve been anti-nostalgia myself when younger, but I am more ambivalent to it now. And even then I had indulged in what LCD Soundsystem called a borrowed nostalgia for an unremembered eighties – a lot of my love of Urusei Yatsura is for how it invokes an 80s Japanese suburbia I’ll never experience.

And for all the criticism Enma-kun might get for being “old” it’s also received criticism for being too modern in some of the animation choices. The truth is it’s a very modern show, and if it tried to be anything but it would be a far less interesting show.

The reason it works so well is that tension between the past and the present that drives some viewers away.

The least obvious way is in how the show the goes out of its way to evoke the 70s time period. It drops in songs from the era, visual references, even current affairs references in a way that is far in excess of anything from the actual era would have done. It’s excessively 70s, more 70s than any show genuinely from that era and in doing so it is resoundingly modern. It’s what the 70s look like from 2011. It’s an affectionate view but a definitely a modern view. Something like an animated Heartbeat with demons and dick jokes.

The second way is in the changes made to the material. Ostensibly adapting the manga, rather than remaking the TV series, there are a number of key differences. Most obviously is Tsutomu, the human lead of the manga, is reduced to a near background character and Harumi, a school girl the same age, slotted into his role. Not only is this a nod to the marketing demands of the modern era, but she fulfils another role that is absent from the original material.

Harumi acts as a sardonic narrator and commentator on the material. She’s the viewer surrogate who points out the absurdity of not just the anime, but the original manga. When two characters show up, unintroduced, in one episode, for a completly throwaway scene, her reaction was exactly the same as when I saw that scene in the manga. It’s a complete non-sequiteur, and she calls it out in way that is very much the modern eye looking at the past excesses of Go Nagai. It’s also a reminder that this is a cartoon, something that happens a lot with both the cameos of Go Nagai himself (something he never shyed from in his own work) and many jokes that break the fourth wall.

Other changes to the material that reflect the modern nature of the show are in the censorship. As far as it might go in it’s vulgarity, and it goes pretty far, it stops shy of presenting actual nuditiy. At first you might think it’s saving itself for the BD/DVD release, but the censorship turns into visual gags of its own in later episodes as it becomes clear the characters themselves are also seeing the censorship.

Another notable visual change is in Enma-kun’s final attack, itself a seperate piece of nostalgia within the general nostalgia of the show. Enma-kun now vanquishes his foes with a giant mallet in a manner that is deliberately set up to call to mind show director Yoshitomo Yonetani‘s Gaogaigar (1997) and the Goldion Hammer attack. It’s another reminder that this is a cartoon given life by real people. It’s not something unique to cartoons but cartoons do it really well and it is part of their core popularity (see Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur or Out of the Inkwell). There’s an element of the theatre and music hall in the artifice of animation, and it’s a good creator who doesn’t forget that.

Finally, the other big change, or rather addition, is the presence of Enbi-chan. Enbi-chan comes from a 2000 self-parody comic, that reversed the genders of Enma-kun’s leads and amped up the sexual humour to obscence levels. Here she’s likewise toned down, but certainly a modern presence in this show that appears old on the surface. Despite being the more modern creation than Enma-kun she is not spared the barbs of Harumi’s commentary.

So why is it, despite all these modern elements,  it elicits reactions from people complaining that it’s old? 

I recorded an Anime 3000 podcast recently, and Daryl Surat talked about the realism of Osamu Dezaki’s work after I brought it up discussing one of his gag shows. After the podcast I think the word I was really looking for was something like earthiness or worldliness. That’s something that I feel is at the core of what rubs a section of anime fandom the wrong way, particularly about older material.

Well, Go Nagai has earthiness by the truckload.

Despite the modern polish of the animation, these are character designs from a 1973 manga, an analogue age that is likely beyond the memories of fans raised on the slick, clean look of 2000s anime. And Nagai was earthy THEN, so imagine what his work looks like to younger eyes now? It’s going to challenge their sensibilities and if their sensibilities are found wanting then you’re going to to get the sort of reactions I quoted at the start of this post. It’s kind of like how some people instinctively hate the countryside or certain cities. It’s unfamiliar territory for some people, some will get a thrill out of exploring it, others will be scared or not want to deal with it.

The ribald, near the knuckle nature of the humour will be too earthy for some too, but there are those who hated this show yet loved the show I will be talking about next, so I think the aesthetics are more important than the actual material.

It’s fitting that there is this tension between old and new within the material, because that’s is essentially what the plot of the show is about too. You’ve these monsters and demons from mankind’s history (Go Nagai is an equal opportunity myth mangler, all of history’s monsters seem to share a common origin here), that are thrust into what was, in the original material, modern Japan. We now have a Japan of 40 years ago presented through (and to) modern eyes.

NEXT… Yondesmasu yo, Azazel-san.

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Violence Jack – Iron Castle

And now, what may be my favourite arc of Violence Jack. There’s no doubt the original run is better, it came during Nagai’s peak years after all, but for sheer crazy remixing of another Go Nagai property, this cannot be beaten. Why?

It is the Mazinger Z chapter of Violence Jack.

Mazinger Z is Go Nagai’s seminal giant robot work from 1972 and revisited multiple times since them. We’ve already seen one sequel, Great Mazinger, and one alternate retelling, God Mazinger, referenced in Violence Jack. In turn, Yasuhiro Imagawa’s 2009 anime retelling of the series, Shin Mazinger Shougeki! Z Hen, would reference Violence Jack heavily, including this arc specifically.

This arc does not involve giant robots. Oh no. Instead it involves a blind black martial artist, Jim Mazinger, who uses the young Japanese boy Kouji Kabuto as his eyes. By having Kouji sit on his shoulders and pilot him like a robot.

Jim is obviously a mix of Jim Kelly and Mazinger, with a bit of Gorongo from Zuba and Barry Hercules from Starfleet/X-Bomber (maybe Jun Hono’s father too? I don’t think I’ve seen his character design though). While Nagai had used stereotypical “sambo” characters during the sixties in titles like Shameless School, he certainly didn’t persist with it as his career progressed. Which kind of makes the cultural ignorance defence harder to take when people use it to defend manga character designs that persisted with that stereotype into the 80s and 90s. If someone like Go Nagai, who frequently goes out of his way to shock and offend, could make an effort back in the early 70s, then nobody following him really has any excuse.

Jim makes an appearance in Imagawa’s Shin Mazinger as the body that Viscount Pygman uses through much of the series, before eventually shedding that body for something resembling his traditional form. That in turn has echoes of a scene later in this particular arc, albeit with a different Mazinger cast member. I also wonder if the spear and lion we see him with in the opening episode are a reference to Gorongo from Zuba. More on the insanity that is Zuba in a later Violence Jack arc.

We open the arc with Mondo and Ryoma encountering Jim and Kouji destroying some evil karate practitioners. Kouji explains their plight while we see Doctor Hell’s evil karate dojo. Eventually Hell sends Ashura and three burly karate types to attack Kouji and Jim’s dojo. I’m going to guess those three would be analogues for particular Machine Beasts (the enemy mecha in Mazinger), not sure which though.

They attack while Kouji is away from Jim, murdering their students and taking advantage of Jim’s blindness. They are about to win when Violence Jack makes his one appearance this arc (not clear if it’s a vision or something physical), giving Kouji the chance to leap onto Jim’s shoulders. And then remove some heads from other shoulders!

Meanwhile Ryoma and Mondo are spying on some Amazonian looking martial artists dueling in the river. Naked. These are Aphrodite and Diana, based on the female robots from Mazinger. Ryoma and Mondo get spotted and surrounded by the women.

Back at the dojo we get a lengthy training sequence where Jim is training kids in karate. Sayaka, Boss, Mucha & Nuke show up during this sequence.

While Jim and Kouji prepare, Hell makes preparations of his own. Ashura trains more evil martial artists, and Hell recruits a gang of gunmen and assorted other hoodlums under the command of Count Brocken. Yes, he is headless here too…

Things begin to escalate as Brocken’s men arrive at the Kabuto dojo, Ryoma and Mondo are caught peeping by Aphrodite and Diana and Hell has a visitor at his own dojo. Kouji’s presumed dead father, Kenzo Kabuto!

As Jim makes short work of Brocken’s men, while Kenzo challenges Hell to a fight, which Hell accepts. Jim and Kouji then face the other evil karate experts that Ashura has brought with him.

Alas, tragedy awaits Jim as he faces Brocken. Brocken appears to be using a sword, but fells Jim with three gunshots. How you may ask? Well, Brocken is actually a pygmy on stilts wearing a trench coat and fake arms & head! This is why this is the best arc in Violence Jack.

All is not lost though, for back at Hell’s dojo, Kenzo defeats Hell in front of his men, tearing his heart out of his chest.

Aphrodite and Diana mop up the remaining members of Hell’s army, dispatching Brocken with a rock to the head. We then get a brief epilogue showing the grave of Jim Mazinger and the Kabuto dojo move on with their lives.

This is probably the purest remixing of another Nagai property in Violence Jack, mainly down to the fact Jack barely features in it. Instead the focus is just on changing elements of Mazinger into a martial arts movie parody. The flexible supernatural nature of the series means you can buy a headless hoodlum like Brocken, after all we’ve seen giants, demons and psychics already. So the gag of revealing him to be the Pygman stand-in in a ridiculous disguise, is further out there.

That flexible supernatural nature comes back in a big way during the next arc, where we get a prison exploitation movie homage/parody. More on that next time!

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