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Location: Anaheim, California, United States

Regular contributor ("Carson City Limits" and other content) for Random Lengths (circulation 56,000) in San Pedro, CA, 2001-present. Manga reviewer: LA Alternative (circulation 150,000), 2005-2006. Some manga reviews also ran in NY Press around this time. Entertainment reporting: Music Connection (circulation 75,000), 1983-1906. Travel writing: Oakland Tribune (1998) and Life After 50 (2006). Other bylines: Goldmine, Star Hits, Los Angeles Reader, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, Blade, BAM, Daily Breeze, LA Weekly. Specializations include community news reporting, writing reviews (book, theater, concert, film, music), copywriting, resumes, editing, travel writing, publicity, screenwriting, lecturing, and content development. Education: B. A. Theater Arts, UCLA. Post-grad work, Education, Chapman University.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2006 Manga Review: Cult Artist Kazuo Koike

NOTE: This is an edited and revised version of a review that originally appeared in LA Alternative in late 2006.

MANGA by Lyn Jensen

Cult Figure's Torturous Path

Kazuo Koike stands virtually alone among writers in the world of international comics and manga. At a recent [2006] personal appearance in San Diego, grown men swooned over him like groupies over a rock star. (Yes, really—when a panel he appeared at was opened to questions, one guy was typical when he came to the mike and said, “No questions, I just want to tell you I think you’re wonderful.”)

He’s an international cult figure in the world of comics and manga primarily because he wrote Lone Wolf and Cub, which became The Road to Perdition with Prohibition-era gangsters replacing Japanese samurai. He also wrote Lady Snowblood, which by a less direct route became the two-part movie Kill Bill.

In America, comic-strip cartoonists often do their entire strip (often with assistants, of course) but comic books require a script and artwork. This also holds true in Japan. No other manga writer, however, has achieved the cult status of Koike.

Dark Horse has published Path of the Assassin, written by Koike and drawn by Goseki Kojima, the same team that produced Lone Wolf and Cub. The first volume, sub-titled Serving in the Dark, was released in June [2006]. Vol. 2, sub-titled Sand and Flower, is due later [in 2006].

Assassin covers essentially the same history as James Clavell’s classic novel Shogun, but focuses on the lifelong friendship between the shogun Ieyasu and Hattori Hanzo, the legendary ninja who served him. Even those familiar with Japanese history, however, are likely to find this manga rough going.

Koike has said, “If you have a strong character, the storyline will develop naturally on its own …Take two characters that are polar opposites … The struggle between these two characters develops the story.”

In Path, however, the lead characters develop little save their martial-arts skills and their medieval attitudes towards women. One young man gains a wife when he rapes a captive, while the other suffers a sad fate—his bride isn’t a virgin. Such was probably true in medieval Japan, but we aren’t in medieval Japan, folks.

Historical authenticity may explain such artistic weakness, but that doesn’t explain Crying Freeman; another Koike manga, this one with artist Ryochi Ikegami, which Dark Horse is also bringing to America.

In this contemporary gangster manga, the characters appear as merely props in an ultra-violent, sexually explicit video game, without the game. There’s no plot point that can’t be altered by a turn of the page--it makes no difference whether the page features a ghastly corpse falling from a closet is or a woman being raped. It’s all just so much sensationalism that moves from hack work to unintentional humor to worse, piling on the crude racism and sexism and shock non-value as it goes.

Some international cult figures should never break out of cult status, and these manga aptly demonstrate why. Obviously both Path and Freeman are rated 18-up, but they’re not directed at an adult mentality.

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