Lyn Jensen's Blog: Manga, Music, and Politics

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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.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Vintage Manga Review: Golgo 13

This review is revised and updated from my original one, published April 14-20, 2006, in the LA Alternative.

by Lyn Jensen

Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright, and Saddam Hussein have cameos in "The Gun at Am Sharia," a 1997 installment of Tako Saito's Golgo 13, the longest-running adult Japanese comic in history.  The story comes so close to American propaganda surrounding our Iraq and Afghan wars, it's eerie.  Between 2006-2008, VIZ published thirteen volumes of this manga that started running in Japan in 1968, and there remain dozens of volumes that, as of this writing, remain unavailable in English translation.

As an example of seinen or genkiga (manga for men), Golgo 13 has been compared to Ian Flemings' James Bond series.  "Golgo 13" is the code name of the world's most-feared secret agent, a killing machine and lady-killer. VIZ published the series with an age rating of 18-up. It's full of graphic violence and sex, but it's also cerebral, mature. 

Each VIZ volume included two stories, a major episode and a secondary one, and they often appeared to be ripped from international news headlines.  Saito's plots are constructed around such topical subjects as Mexican drug-running, the Chinese protests in Tienanmen Square, South African race issues, and a war over oil. 

Saito started drawing comics in 1960, making him one of the oldest and most influential of contemporary manga artists.  He has expanded Golgo 13 into a media franchise, and American companies have from time to time made available the anime, live-action films and video games.  Anime versions include The Professional: Golgo 13 and Golgo 13: Queen Bee. The first live-action film Golgo 13 (1973) starred Ken Takakura, familiar to Americans from his work in the film Letters from Iwo Jima. The second, Kowloon Assignment (1977) starred Sonny Chia, who later appeared in Kill Bill. 

Golgo 13 also has the distinction of probably being the first Japanese manga published in the USA.  In 1987 a four-volume set of selected stories in English translation was marketed by Leeds, Saito's own company.  Those copies are now sought-after collectors' items, and that's likely to be the fate of the VIZ volumes as well.  The remainder of the Golgo 13 manga is waiting for an English-language publisher with the right marketing plan.  It needn't be a comics/manga company.  This is the type of comic Hugh Hefner or Larry Flynt may want to take a chance on.