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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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Violence Jack – Beast King

Back when I first read this, Beast King felt like the last gasp of Violence Jack as being shocking for shock’s sake. Suitably, it’s a direct follow up to Hell City Kanto (adapted as Evil Town in the OAVs) the last chapter that I found truly shocking. However going back again to write about this chapter, it didn’t seem quite as shocking. I’m not sure if that means I’ve been desensitised to phallic tiger tongues and beheadings, or if it was just the jumbled way it was arranged in the collections I read.

King Bomber

In addition to the return of Aira Mu from God Mazinger, the main source for this chapter comes from King Bomber (1976). As best as I can tell it involved teen drummer Shingo Hibiki who merges with the golden African statue, King Bomber to defeat his enemies. It’s probably a lot more complicated than that, the villain here seems named after a civilisation that King Bomber had destroyed earlier in history in his own manga.

Really simple to sum up this time, as Jack is barely in it, and that means we don’t get lengthy speeches or random shaming of the Slum King to confuse matters. The androgynous, abused, frequently naked, blonde waif Shingo Hibiki wanders into a jungle full of wild animals that escaped the zoo after the Great Kanto Earthquake.

Meanwhile, we meet the villain of the piece, Kibara. Who is, of course, an evil zoo keeper wearing a crocodile’s head as a hat. He’s trained animals to kill man, and is upset that strangers have arrived in his jungle. Not Shingo, but Aira Mu and her followers. Who, Shingo happens to come across when both decide to bathe at the same time. Aira almost comes a cropper at the hands of a wild tiger, but Shingo’s innate animal empathy saves her.

He returns with her to her settlement, where they have made a wooden statue of their saviour, Violence Jack that they call King Bomber. Kibara meanwhile is tearing through the forest hunting for Aira Mu. Sensing danger, Jack turns into his phoenix form and flies off.

If only his danger sense was a little more prompt…

The village is massacred and the survivors taken to Kibara’s camp to be tortured. Shingo was left behind and plead for the statue of King Bomber to rescue Aira. At which point Jack arrives and the pair merge into the statue, and Jack raises the tiger Shingo befriended from the dead (though it appears he’s just putting part of his essence into it’s body).

And the pair go and rescue Aira in the bloodiest way possible.

Unfortunately, the chapter seems to run out of pages and the final fight between Jack and Kibara happens off panel. All we get is Aira discovering Kibara dead, and Shingo lying in the broken shards of the King Bomber statue. A disappointing ending considering some of the sequences of carnage that other chapters have had.

Thankfully the next chapter is perhaps my favourite and full of some utterly genius moments of (re-)invention

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Violence Jack – Hyper Grapple

Violence Jack takes on Pro-Wrestling.

Iron Muscle cover

The main strip that’s getting referenced here is Iron Muscle, an early 80s series from Dynamic Pro that’s a lot of fun. It’s in the future sport genre, with the sport being Giant Robot Wrestling. That is to say, Giant Robot’s wrestling each other, not men wrestling Giant Robots.

Kouichi Hagane’s father was killed in a bout with Wilhelm Odin, and Kouchi takes his place in the ring. The first arc deals with Kouichi’s revenge on Odin, while the second is a tournament arc, with a guest appearance from Boss Borot! Maybe because it didn’t hang around long enough, but it doesn’t descend into Nagai’s apocalyptic tendencies, in fact it gets lighter as it progresses. Kouichi, Odin and Sakura, the muscular female grappler from the second arc all show up in this arc.

Boss Borot's cameo

Odin is yet another androgynous blonde pretty boy, which handily allows him to also fill in the role of Susano-OH‘s androgynous villain and leader of his/her band of mutants, monsters and miscreants. Susano himself finally appears, fully corrupted by his demonic side and aligned with the villains from his strip. Also appearing from Susano-OH is Ryoko, his sister (a minor character in the original) who we saw in the first arc of the revived Violence Jack series, Dragon Fort.

Also popping along are Gakuen Taikutsu Otoko’s Mondo and Tatsuma once again. While not playing that big a role here, they do attempt to tidy up the fact that they had died in an earlier arc. And subsequently got better. Though as I can’t read much Japanese, I have no idea how they tidy it up, but the art clearly shows Tatsuma remembering Mondo’s death in the Bazooka duel in Golden City.

This arc takes place in Aquapolis, a city that seems to have survived the worst of the Great Kanto Earthquake, but has become terribly corrupt with various man on man bloodsports taking place, the main one being an ultraviolent form of wrestling. Like all ultraviolent future sports, spikes are involved.

Heading to the city are Mondo, Tatsuma, the aforementioned Sakura and Kouichi, and of course, Violence Jack. On the way Kouichi tests his strength against Jack and becomes possessed with some of Jack’s power (Lady Violence Jack and Kid Violence Jack appear to be similar extensions of Jack’s power).

Meanwhile we see the city is being controlled by a three horned demon who sits on throne of naked women. Up until now we’ve had a few cosmic and supernatural elements, but this is our first out and out indication that it goes beyond Jack himself. This is Susano-OH, his form here is based on one of his earlier demonic forms that resembles Zenon from Devilman more than the later forms he takes when the book veers into the post apocalypse craziness that goes several steps further than Violence Jack in terms of scope.

Kouichi, like in Iron Muscle is searching for Odin, but he and Sakura end up entangled in Susano-Oh’s machinations. The pair, along with Mondo and Tatsuma, find themselves attacked by the gang from Susano-OH’s pre-apocalypse chapters. Meanwhile, Violence Jack, currently Godzilla-sized arrives. This leads Susano-OH to absorb power from the city and grow to similar size and between the two of them their battle sinks the town.

The only other survivors are Tatsuma, Mondo, Ryoko, Kouichi, Sakura and Odin. In fact it’s questionable if the other people in the city were real and not just creations of Susano. Kouichi and Odin don their wrestling armour and duel, a mirror of the still ensuing fight between Jack and Susano. Whereas Kouichi breaks Odin’s neck, Jack drives out the supernatual forces from Susano, returning him to the mortal form of Susa Shingo.

We then get some happy endings as Susa is reunited with his sister and Kouichi with his father, who turns out to be a man swathed in bandages we’ve seen periodically through the chapter. That’s a little confusing, as there’s another man swathed in bandages in Susano’s gang of henchmen. Oddly his dad doesn’t really look like he did in Iron Muscle or indeed when we see him dying at Odin’s hands earlier in the arc. Instead he’s seemingly aged into looking more like a Kenzo Kabuto type dad. Though as his dad was a cyborg in Iron Muscle that might explain the difference.

At this point, it’s now really difficult to marry that first Violence Jack arc with what we have now. He’s gone from the tall, silent, mysterious berserk killer of that first arc, to this chatty, supernatural force that can split into three, imbue people with his power, grow to the size of buildings, raise the dead and basically do whatever the plot requires (except save people before they are tortured). Later arcs, as we shall see, tone it back down again, and you sometimes wonder why Jack in those arcs can’t just pull out the crazy stuff he does here. The Slave Farm arc in particular springs to mind as being a really big disconnect between Jack’s portrayals.

The fun is in the audacity of Nagai’s plots and ideas, and in the “star system” he’s using to recycle concepts. I don’t think Susano-OH had been finished at this point, it had gotten cancelled/gone on hiatus, and it’s possible this was intended to wrap it up in lieu of an actual ending. Susano-OH would eventually return following the popularity of the novelisations by Go Nagai’s brother Yasutaka Nagai, and get that insane apocalyptic ending that feels like Violence Jack by H.R. Giger.

The gratuitous violence and torture feels a little toned down here. People impaled on spiked helmets, faces being pulled off and a human dartboard are about the extent of it. The one sex scene here is drawn like they are participating in some kind of magical ceremony, really amping up the metaphor as I mentioned in earlier posts. It works really well, and this is certainly the best Weekly Manga Goraku arc so far in terms of art, with nice composition, panel layouts and cartoon reactions.

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Violence Jack – Death Police

Hello. Did you miss me?

Despite their apparent deaths years back, Mondo and Tatsuma from Gakuen Taikutsu Otoko are back as the lead characters again.

Also showing up – that blonde haired girl from Harenchi Gakuen. The girl who isn’t secretly a ninja. You know, the one who is the template for characters like Gamia Q from Mazinger amongst many, many other Nagai heroines with the same haircut. For the life of me I can’t find any reference to her in English so I’m stumped on her name. More on Harenchi Gakuen later when we get to the arc that deals with the main characters from that strip.

And apparently there’s some Mao Dante stuff in here too, though I’ll be damned if I can find it!

Once again, as seems to be the way with Mondo & Tatsuma, this story takes all sorts of twists and turns, and could do with translating. Particularly as this is the first arc where the lady Violence Jack plays a significant part in the action. So take all this with a pinch of salt.

Mondo & Tatsuma find themselves once more caught between various factions. This time it’s a corrupt police force who are in league with a biker gang and the armies of the Slum King. They are arrested and taken to where the police enjoy torturing folks. Here they meet a dude with a scar on his face, who may be the chief in Mao Dante at a stretch, but I’m not sure. Oh and the girl from Harenchi Gakuen, who the scar faced guy is interrogating. The guys beat up their captors, steal the weapons and free the girl, with the pair taking their time to dress up as cops on the way.

Elsewhere we see Lady Violence Jack swing into town and get into a brawl at the local saloon. And the aforementioned biker gang is engaging the army of the Slum King. The gang are led by this big dude.

Learning that he’s now fighting on two fronts – Slum King on one side, Lady Violence Jack, Mondo & Tatsuma on the other, he returns to town and faces off with the femme-Jack. His gang persue her, only to run into Violence Jack himself!

In the meantime though, our heroes have got caught again, and so are tied up naked and whipped. Bondage is still equal opportunity in Go Nagai’s world! Eventually the Slum King’s army attacks the town and Mondo & Tatsuma convince the corrupt cops to let them out so they can help fight the army.

In the middle of the war, Jack and the biker gang leader face off in a fight that takes on a mystical element the pair becoming giants that fill the sky in a cosmic battle. All very Jim Starlin.

Needless to say, I have no idea what’s going on here. Then a berserk Jack attacks Mondo once again, this time just knocking him out.

This may be the first of the seinen era arcs that feels like the 70s material. This is mainly down to the shock material being kept to a minimum. It’s closer to the late 70s material though, while there’s some fantastic cosmic scenes like the one above, it doesn’t approach the pure cartooning energy of prime Nagai. In terms of understanding the overall series, this is one that could really use translating over the two gorey arcs we’ve had scanlated and the more recent strips.

NEXT! Iron Muscle! And the end of that Susano-OH storyline from the Dragon Fort chapter!

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Violence Jack – Hell City Kanto

Well this has been sitting on my PC for ages, so I suppose I ought to post it.

This was adapted into the Evil Town OAV, which makes sense as it’s a fairly stand alone arc, I think it only ties into one later arc (Beast King) and that’s only by sharing some characters. Luckily this arc has been scanlated so I can properly tell what’s going on, though ironically this is probably one where it’s least needed.

The character this arc shares with Beast King is Aira Mu, who is the first imported character for this arc. She is from God Mazinger, Go Nagai’s Mazinger flavoured take on Daimajin. The TV version can be considered a failure, getting cancelled before it completed it’s tale. There is however the manga version which is complete, as well as novelisations. Considering what a massive snooze its theme is, the failure of the anime comes as no surprise.

Aila here resembles her manga incarnation, a traditional Nagai heroine rather than the Satoshi Hirayama designed red-headed appearance she had in the anime.

The second imported character is Ricki, the former female pro-wrestler and sidekick/protector of Jiro Shutendo in Shuten-Doji (1976-78). She features in the sections before it goes completely insane with time-slips, spaceships and cyborgs.

Here she is in Violence Jack in one of the rare panels where she isn’t topless pickaxing.

And here she is in Shuten-Doji:

Continue reading

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Violence Jack – Dragon Fort

Quick reminder that I’m reading Violence Jack without the benefit of actually being able to read Japanese! So take everything I say with a pinch of salt. After all, back in 1990, during the burgeoning of the grey import console scene in the UK, my friends and I played a Game Boy Lupin III game thinking it was the third in the series of Lupin games…

So in 1983, Violence Jack returned this time in the pages of Weekly Manga Goraku. Now with an audience of adult males rather than teenagers, we start to get the Violence Jack that people might have in mind when the name is mentioned.

Well kind of.

While the violence and sexual content is amped up, the metaphysical, mystical elements are too. And the usage of other Nagai characters and concepts runs riot. As I’ve stated before, that’s something that gets overlooked in the reputation the title has earnt from the OAVs alone.

This particular chapter brings in elements of his Susano OH series. We’ll see them more explicitly used in the fifth arc of the revival – “Hyper Grapple“. There seems to be very little information on Susano OH’s actual storyline in English. The best I can tell is that it starts as a story about super-powered school hoodlums, before turning into another variation on Devilman, complete with a blonde sexually ambiguous friend/enemy. Though there’s also a great deal of Mao Dante in there too.

Then it turns into something so mind bogglingly strange it strained my brain trying to take it all in. Imagine if HP Lovecraft was a big Saint Seiya fan and took over the Conan franchise after Robert E Howard killed himself. It’s something a bit like that, but with a spaceship. And it totally needs translating as its apocalypse outdoes Devilman’s and Jack’s in terms of sheer strangeness. Like if HR Giger had been the art director on Hell Comes To Frog Town.

Back to the sexual content.

In many ways, the 70s incarnation of Violence Jack wasn’t all that far removed the Shameless School and the like in terms of its sexual content. It felt like an extension of the horny teenagers and corporal punishment obsessed teachers in the way the would-be assailants seemed more interested in stripping people and tying them up rather than actual intercourse.

So Dragon Fort makes up for it with a sex scene straight out the gate (after a quick recap of the whole Earthquake thing. Compare that to the lengthy disaster recaps that would be used to open arcs in the 70s). There’s nothing overly offensive yet.

Storywise, not much makes sense to me here, and the story seems to cheat with an “it was all a dream” ending. It excuses the eviscerating of two characters by the Slum King by making it some kind of psychic episode involving Jack and a girl he rescues who has some connection to Susano-OH, and leaves the pair perfectly OK despite one having had all their extremities sliced off and the other having had their intestines fall out.

Artwise, it’s very clear that it’s more of a Go Nagai AND Dynamic Productions work than ever before, as the eponymous fort is drawn with a detail that makes it look like it comes from a different world to the characters.

Oh and let’s not forget that Terrence Stamp shows up.

This General Zod looking chap will appear again later, despite getting his head torn off by a psychic whirlwind in this story.

And, finally, it is definitely worth noting that the following occurs:

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Violence Jack – Dragon Wind

A short one this time as frankly, outside of fighting there isn’t a whole lot going on here.

Remember how Mondo and Tatsuma got gruesomely killed in the last arc? Well we open with them alive and well and wandering through the wilderness once more, as they glimpse a great dragon cleave through the land.

Way, way back, early on we had Violence Jack superimposed with a lion over him, well this dragon is actually the Slum King’s cavalry that is charging across Japan murdering and a pillaging as they go. We see a unit of them terrorise a village, before Jack appears and starts laying waste to them (of course not before the villains have beheaded a few innocent civilians themselves!). Seeing this the leader of the charge decides to break out the heavy weapons and they managed to slow Jack down with a barrage of missile fire before fleeing.

The injured Jack is rescued by Jun Hono, who luckily now has a sidecar attached to her motorcycle that will accomodate a 10 foot tall killing machine!

However they are followed and Jun ends up gunned down, which leads to another strange sequence similiar to the one that Mondo and Tatsuma went through, however here it appears the same powers that were used to make those hoodlums relive the Earthquake, heal Jun and she’s reborn in a peaceful park surrounded by a sheer cliff face.

Having managed to really get on Jack’s bad side, Jack proceeds to kill the remaining members of the cavalry charge. When the full force of the cavalry attacks hits Jack, the art shifts to show a giant Jack fighting a giant dragon. This shift in visuals is something that happens again and again when the series restarts in the 80s, eventually becoming a plot point one of the arcs. But more on that in later posts!

This is an odd ending to the 70s run, especially after an arc that feels more like a finality. It’s more upbeat that Golden City, in that Jun gets to live in some kind of paradise (heaven?) after her death as opposed to the ignoble ends Mondo and Tatsuma met. At the same time there’s still lot of dangling threads.

NEXT: Violence Jack returns in the 1980s. Guest starring Terrence Stamp!

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