Cutie Honey: The Classic Collection

By Go Nagai. Released in Japan by Akita Shoten, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Champion. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Zack Davisson.

This one-volume omnibus of the original Cutie Honey came out here in North America after the sequel volume, Cutie Honey a Go Go!, and unlike the other recent classic property where the sequel came first (Harlock), I think it’s for the best. A Go Go had most of what made the original so attractive, but packaged it in a modern way, complete with Natsuko as an adult police officer. Here we get unfiltered Nagai, and… it can be a lot to take. The constant nudity, the lesbian tease used solely for male titillation, the cartoon violence and horror, the fourth wall breaking. This is almost a college course in what classic manga of the 70s was like, and reminds me why it didn’t get brought over for so long. Still, at its heart this is worth reading, if only to see why Cutie Honey also ended up inspiring female readers. Honey fights evil and wins WITHOUT the help of a guy. In fact, the guys are useless.

The premise, in case anyone was unaware: a scientists builds an android named Honey, who doesn’t even know she’s an android at first, and stashes her at a girl’s private school, where she befriends the young, cheerful, and prone to getting captured Natsuko. But the evil organization Panther Claw want the secrets that Honey has within her body… and kill her father to get at them. Together with a reporter who happened to be interviewing her father when Panther Claw attacked, his family, and Natsuko, Honey fights back against the all-female villain team of Panther Claw. Heads will roll. Indeed, they frequently do. Is there anything that can stop this senseless battle? Possibly one of the villains being attracted to Honey, but alas, the series is cancelled before that goes anywhere.

Yeah, that’s right, this is done in one because it got dropped pretty fast (though it wasn’t axed as fast as Cutie Honey a Go Go0. Honestly, in many ways it’s for the better. Cutie Honey is a Warner Brothers Cartoon in most ways. The characters are two-dimensional and stereotypical, the humor is broad and sometimes verges on gross, it can be fairly sexist despite its empowering premise, and it’s super violent, with most of the cast ending up dead. That said, the sheer verve and imagination of Go Nagai kept me turning pages, and I was never bored. The wisecracks may be vaudeville-style, but they’re frequently hilarious anyway. And the fights are really nice to see, with Honey pretty much going all out on her own – the reporter is far more useless here than he is in A Go Go – and showing off her assets. So to speak.

By the end of the book you can see that Nagai has sort of ground to a halt – the series should have ended after the school is destroyed and Natsuko dies, but the manga was tying in to the anime that was running at the same time, and so it staggers on a bit, complete with annoying cameos from one of Nagai’s other gag manga. It ends like a 5-car pile up, with a naked Honey singing her anime theme song while blushing and asking readers not to look. But they do. While certainly a product of its time, I can appreciate the zest that Cutie Honey brought to shonen manga, as well as a lighter side to Go Nagai’s works.

Cutie Honey a Go Go!

By Shimpei Itoh, Go Nagai and Hideaki Anno. Released in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten, serialized in the magazine Tokusatsu A. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Zack Davisson, Adrienne Beck and Wesley Bridges.

Another day, another reimagining of a classic property that I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would. Indeed, I enjoyed it a lot more than the Japanese audience apparently did, as not only was this cancelled after ten chapters, but the second volume was never published until this omnibus edition. The afterword is filled with the author’s apologies, but I’m not sure they’re merited, because I thought this was a pretty terrific adaptation. The cynic in me wonders if the series didn’t take off because it’s not filled with high school girls – Natsuko, aka the reason everyone should read this, is an adult police detective in this version, and I can’t help but think that this was Cutie Honey’s StrikerS. But I’m not going to complain too much, as what we do have is silly, over the top fun with lots of fighting, a lot of over the top bloodshed, and some yuri subtext. Everything you’d want from Cutie Honey, in other words.

As noted, Natsuko is a police detective with a penchant for being “a cop on the edge” – she exists in a constant haze of cigarettes and violence, beating the crap out of anyone who pisses her off, which is everyone. She’s having a particular bad day due to Panther Claw, an evil organization which has started destroying the city and its inhabitants due to the city not answering its demands – which no one actually seemed to receive. Fortunately, there is one woman here to save the day and defeat the bad guys (OK, bad girls – Panther Claw is an all-female monster team). Honey Kisaragi is an android built by her “father”, Dr. Kisaragi. She’s a combination of sentai warrior, magical girl and cute young airhead. Unfortunately, her father doesn’t last long in this series, and it’s noted that Panther Claw keeps coming after her. There’s only one thing left to do – go undercover at a Catholic Girls’ school.

If this sounds a bit ridiculous, it’s because it is -despite all the bloodshed, the ‘a Go Go” version of Cutie Honey is very much in the lighthearted vein. It was produced in tandem with the anime “Re: Cutie Honey”, which explains why Anno is listed as one of the creators. Natsuko’s angry reactions have those classic “all teeth” faces you see in a lot of Rumiko Takahashi works. That may be why the manga didn’t do as well – the ending, where the author was clearly told “you’re cancelled, wrap it up”, is noticeably darker than the rest of the series, with people getting their heads cut off and put on display or simply sliced completely in half. The main cast survives to fight another day, though, and readers might want to look towards the anime for a less ambiguous ending. There are other things going on here (a “reporter” who’s meant to be charming and irritating but is mostly the latter), but honestly the best reason to read this is Natsuko vs. everything around her.