Captain Ken, Vols. 1-2

By Osamu Tezuka. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Digital Manga Publishing.

Say what you will about Osamu Tezuka, he certainly knows how to write for his specified audience. This doesn’t dumb anything down, but it is absolutely 100% for boys around 7-12 years old, and almost every single page is filled with chases, fights, gun battles, etc. The conceit here is that this is a Western on the planet Mars, and indeed if you changes the Martians into Native Americans, little about this book would have to change. There’s a plucky young hero, a hotheaded teenager (usually the same person, but Tezuka generally liked his heroes to be very shiny, so the anger gets offloaded onto Mamoru here), a cute young thing with a mysterious past (well, in this case, that’s not quite true, but I don’t want to spoil). It’s classic boys’ adventure.


Tezuka was churning out manga at an incredible pace at this period in his life, and there are times when it shows. I’ve seen Tezuka manga where you can tell he has no idea where things are going from chapter to chapter, or even page to page, but this was the first one where I wondered if he drew one panel at a time and then figured out what would happen next based on that. Sometimes this works to the series’ advantage, though. Apparently Tezuka’s plan had been for Ken and Kenn to be the same person (a la Princess Knight, a series he would revisit two years after this one), but so many people immediately wrote in guessing it that he called that off, and instead made it a competition to see what the real connection between Ken and Kenn was. This works well with the narrative, which starts with it being ‘obvious’ that Kenn is finding excuses to go be Ken, but as the excuses become more outlandish and impossible, we become suspicious along with Mamoru.

Those who enjoy Tezuka’s ‘star system’ of recurring characters will be pleased to see that Mamoru is basically Rock, his young hothead from several other titles. He’s fairly straightforward here, not much like the young man we’ll see in titles such as Alabaster later on. Lamp is also there as a villainous gunslinger. Lamp is actually one of the more interesting characters, not being motivated by greed or power as the other villains are, but simply out of a need to be the best at what he does. Sadly, Captain Ken bests him immediately, and later on it’s shown that he’s actually the worst at the style of fighting he specializes in! Poor Lamp, still no respect.

These two volumes are a lot of fun, and really don’t let a reader catch their breath at all. The message of ‘fighting each other is bad’ is a bit heavy handed at times, but that’s not untypical of Tezuka. There’s also quite a bit of Japanese nationalism tucked in here, which is also not untypical of Tezuka. Still, for the most part this tale of Cowboys ‘n Aliens is on the mark, though those who know Tezuka’s tendencies won’t be too surprised at how it ends. Those who only read his titles for older readers might want to give this one a shot.

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