JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency, Vol. 3

By Hirohiko Araki. Released in Japan as “Jojo no Kimyou na Bouken” by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz Media.

In modern days, it has become a somewhat amusing joke to say that “no one dies in (insert Jump title here)”, be it Bleach, One Piece (until recently), or other such series. There are lots of apparent deaths, but it is a very popular cliche to have the supposedly dead person reappear to much rejoicing, and Jump in particular loves to do it. That said, this is a good 25 years earlier, and so JoJo’s is not afraid to brutally murder major cast members in order to advance the plot and provide much character development and tears of rage from our titular hero. Indeed, the villains are so arrogant that being killed by one of them personally is deemed to be a blessing given to a worthy opponent – attention has been paid.

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Last arc it was Speedwagon who survived, with Jonathan being killed off right at the very end. Joseph is a different, less tragic sort of hero, and so it falls to Caesar to be the one who loses his life so that the others may pursue their goal of defeating the evil whositses – honestly, a lot of the plot details of JoJo still tend to whiz by me as people scream battle poses at each other. Not that this is a bad thing – that is why we read this series, as Araki is very good at keeping a reader’s interest with reaction shots and amazed exclamations. Take, for example, the return of Stroheim, who has returned as something of a cyborg, and manages for a while to go toe to toe with Kars (named after the band, or the Gary Numan song? Or both). This despite the fact that the entire “he’s a Nazi, but I don’t hate him as a person” plotline is deeply uncomfortable, and I won’t cry when we leave World War II behind.

As for Joseph himself, he is, as ever, more of a trickster than his grandfather was, which allows him more success in battle against enemies who are prone to being faked out. Of course, this comes with cocksure arrogance and sometimes a petulant anger as well. He’s at his best here dealing with Suzie Q, who he flirts with for about two pages before she’s possessed by another one of the bad guys. This is why seeing him and Lisa Lisa devastated at the climax of this volume is so heartbreaking. We don’t like seeing Joseph like this. I have no doubt that he will get an epic revenge in the fourth and final volume of this arc, but will he be able to bounce back and show us some cocksurity? Who knows.

By now anyone reading this series knows what they’re getting into. I wish there was less “Nazis may be evil but they sure are cool” here, to be frank, but other than that this is wall to wall excellent shonen at 100% volume.

What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good-For-Nothing Artist and Her Pussy

By Rokudenashiko. Released in Japan by Kinyobi, Inc., partially serialized in the magazine Shuukan Kinyobi. Released in North America by Koyama Press.

Like many people, I first heard about Rokudenashiko via news reports retweeted and reblogged around the internet. In fact, it may have been watching The Daily Show, which covered her arrest (she makes reference to it here). But when I saw that she had a panel at TCAF and was promoting a manga discussing what happened, I decided to seek it out. and I’m delighted that I did, as this manga is fascinating, managing to make the reader angry and outraged at her mistreatment while at the same time laughing hysterically. It actually comes in two parts. The first, written for the weekly magazine, is a light-hearted (but the events are serious) look at her arrest and imprisonment for distributing 3D copies of her vagina via crowdsourcing. The second half retells some of the same events, but as part of her life story, and it’s more serious and personal.

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The amazing double-standards of Japanese culture, which has no issues with the word ‘chinko’ (which means dick), but can’t abide the word ‘manko’ (which means pussy) is on display throughout, from the initial sneering and TV-cop stereotype of her arrest to the hilarious points where the officers try to take her statement and she humiliates them by insisting on saying ‘manko’ as many times as possible. We get a lovely tour of Japanese women’s prison, which is as unpleasant as you’d imagine, and she has a variety of cellmates, ranging from the normal to the intensely strange. Interspersed through the manga are various textual articles discussing the nature of obscenity, Japanese law (yes, it really is far more like Phoenix Wright than you’d expect), and the campaign on the outside to petition for her freedom (which we barely see as we’re following her POV).

As I said earlier, the second part of the manga is a short biography of her life, and how she ended up becoming an artist who used her ‘manko’ as an inspiration for various art projects and showcases. The most amusing part for me was that her initial reasoning was seeing that you can have “vaginal surgery” and thinking “whoah, cool!”. She was later told by her editors to change it and make her more ashamed of her body in order to sell to readers better. I am reminded of many other editorially demanding manga series. That said, we also see that using ‘manko’ in her art also led to her divorce, to her friends abandoning her, and to suicidal thoughts. None of that was in the more commercial first part of the book, but it adds a sense of depth and realism that touches the heart.

So rest assured, this is a highly entertaining and moving memoir. But it’s also a wonderful look at the standards that go into defining what is obscene, and the struggles that an artist has to go through in order to be able to express themselves properly. The behavior of the police and courts in this book is jaw-dropping, and if nothing else, I’m hoping that more awareness of the these issues might lead to international pressure for change. In the meantime, the story of Rokudenashiko and her artistic triumphs and struggles is a must-read for anyone who loves freedom of expression.

The Birth of Kitaro

By Shigeru Mizuki. Released in Japan as “Gegege no Kitaro” by (among others) Kodansha, serialized in various magazines. Released in North America by Drawn & Quarterly.

There was already a sampler of Kitaro a few years back, also by Drawn & Quarterly, but this new collection appears to be the equivalent of a multi-volume best-of, apparently signed off on by Mizuki himself, who gave the editor a test to see if he could choose the stories that Mizuki himself would have chosen (he got all but one). And so we see some earlier Kitaro manga from the late 60s, including a lengthy chapter from the magazine Garo that shows off how Kitaro came to be, and helps you understand that the otherwise generic zombie on the cover really is one of the main characters. It’s a grim little tale, more serious than the rest of the stories in this volume, possibly as it lacks the series’ main drawing point.

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See, Kitaro is a nice kid, mostly (his ethics can be rather questionable from a human perspective), but he is essentially Mickey Mouse. He’s the title character and appears in every story, but what the readers really want is someone a bit more fallible and funny. And you can’t get much funnier or more fallible than Nezumi Otoko, which translates to Rat Man. He is the Donald Duck of this series, only Donald was never quite so evil. Nezumi Otoko will do absolutely anything for money, including tricking old rich men out of their life savings, luring respectable young manga editors to their yokai-influenced deaths, and take advantage of the dead – multiple times. Even when he’s not being an ass, he’s usually a coward, always the first to run away. This, of course, makes him a marvelous character, the best reason to read this series. He’s beloved in Japan (for a certain definition of beloved), and was used as narrator for Mizuki’s Showa history.

The other big reason to read the series is the yokai, who veer from the silly to the terrifying, but they’re all dangerous. Neko Musume shows up here, and those who recall her cute moe appearance in some of the more recent Kitaro animes will be startled by this bowl-cut girl who tries to literally eat Nezumi Otoko when she first sees him (to be fair, he deserved it – he always does). The Gyuki and Hideri Gami are more typical straight-up monsters, in the former case even managing to possess Kitaro, who gets to enjoy a rare turn attacking people. Kuckily, Kitaro is made of stern stuff, able to survive even being dropped in a volcano. Also luckily, this is very much not a serialized story. Tales need to end in a certain number of pages, so the yokai rarely get to do much before Kitaro has won and they’re off on their next adventure. (The anime was airing as these manga chapters were running, and you can see references to the insanely catchy theme song in these final ‘the adventure continues’ panels.)

Even if you aren’t a fan of manga history or yokai stories, this is still a must purchase. It’s also fairly child-friendly, despite a few scares. I am eagerly awaiting more.