Kitty Hawker

By Takao Saito. Released in Japan by LEED Publishing, serialized via Shogakukan in the magazine Big Comic Special. Released in the United States by LEED Publishing on the JManga website.

(Note: Despite saying Vol. 1 on the JManga site, I believe the series is complete in one volume.)

The main player involved so far in JManga’s site has been Futabasha, but there are several other companies who also have made previously unseen content available. LEED Publishing was created by Takao Saito in the early 1970s to market his manga empire, which was already monumentally successful due to his action thriller Golgo 13. I’m not certain how many of his titles are done by Saito himself and how many are his huge team of artists – he’s sort of the Jim Davis of Japan, if Garfield was a stone-faced assassin, of course. (Yes, I’ve read that fanfic.)

This particular title, Kitty Hawker, dates from the mid-1990s. It ran sporadically from 1995-1998 in the magazine Big Comic Special, and is the story of Oki, a Japanese hotshot pilot who gets stranded in the United States after he accidentally breaks an incredibly expensive flight simulator due to his hotshot antics. Forced to take on jobs so he can pay off his debt and return home to his wife and child, he signs on with a tiny airport in Texas, and takes on dangerous political jobs that no sane pilot would ever take on. All the while, of course, while enduring the casual racism and looks of hatred from his immediate superiors (though he does also gain some friends as well).

Oki looks a lot like Golgo 13 (not a huge surprise – Saito’s heroes tend to have similar features), but certainly doesn’t act like him, and it took me a while to get used to him actually talking and having conversations, not to mention showing emotion. Oki is likeable enough to be a hero, but lacks Golgo 13’s super-perfection – Oki’s cockiness and tendency to mouth off to people get him in trouble quite a bit. As for the other characters, everyone in the manga is painted with rather broad strokes – there’s enough depth to keep you reading, but this is in no way a manga that lives and dies by its characters.

What it is is another action thriller, with added political content. Oki gets a job that needs to be done hush-hush, has massive political implications, and will require superhuman flying skills. And he manages to pull it off, usually with the help of his copilot and mechanic Bud. Again, we get stock characters from Action Thriller 101 here: the sexy and mysterious government agent, the nervous CIA guy who hinders more than he helps, and of course the sexy Latin American native who has an affair with the aforementioned Bud. (Oki is married, and though occasionally remarking on the attractiveness of his clients, does not stray.)

So, what you see is what you get here: a political thriller with lots of wordy dialogue followed by lots of awesome scenes of planes doing difficult to impossible stuff, all to save the world. By the end of this volume, Oki has come to terms with his exile, and tells his wife that he’ll be staying a little longer. Kitty Hawker may appeal to those who like old Westerns – it has much the same feel. Very little pretension or attempts to be anything more than a good yarn.

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