Title: Prince Shotoku (聖徳太子)
Serialized in: Shonen Sunday from November 1st, 1977 to March 21st, 1978
Script: Kai Takizawa
Gekiga: Fukushima Masami
Genre: Super Gekiga
Prince Shotoku is a prominent religious figure in Japanese history. He is celebrated for bringing Buddhism to the country and sending the first envoys to China.
What it’s about:
Lightning tears the sky asunder. The earth quakes, the seas boil—Prince Shotoku has returned from beyond the grave to extract his terrible vengeance upon the Soga clan for betraying his lineage. His callous self-resurrection breaks the laws of Hell, prompting Enma, the judge, jury, and executioner of the Buddhist underworld, to send his best shock troops to apprehend the renegade prince. Shotoku is dragged to Hell and finds its supposed ruler squeezed into submission between the meaty thighs of the muse Benzaiten, while a legion of restless undead plot a revolution. With the threat of nuclear war looming, will Shotoku side with the historic Buddha Shaka and his United Red Army, or with the piss-drinking Enma and his Machiavellian power fantasies?
The skeletonized United Red Army, presumably modeled after the domestic terrorist group of the same name, display the writing duo's panache for reckless black humor.
Why it’s awesome:
How Eisner-nominated Urasawa Naoki handles a cliffhanger:
Close ups! Big noses! Dangle that carrot in front of us for another 100 issues!
How Fukushima handles a cliffhanger:
Dino-rockets from Hell are racing through the universe to eat your face! Carnage guaranteed!
It’s criminal that such purposefully plodding pacing has become the standard for serials, while electrifying artists such as Fukushima have fallen by the wayside. His break-neck style bucks the system, cramming so much into each chapter that you’d forget you were reading a serialization if not for the lavish title pages breaking up the action. His trademark use of jarring two-page spreads would never fly with the current conservative administration. Which is a shame, because they form the nitro that propels his stories to increasingly outrageous heights. Half the fun is seeing how Fukushima will top himself, and he never fails to deliver.
Don’t write off the gushing intestines and hardcore perversion as mere shock value. Takezawa’s scripts are a lesson in intelligent excess. The concept that Japan’s benign father of Buddhism would return as a vengeful God is entirely acceptable given his tragic history. His family was assassinated for political gain, he himself was denied the exonerated funeral standard for royalty, and to top it all off, his image (a fabrication drawn 100 years after his death, no less.) was disgracefully placed upon the ten-thousand yen note, the ultimate embodiment of the earthly desires his beloved Buddhism seeks to liberate us from.
Yeah, I think a little vigilante ultra-violence is in order.
Even the most extreme gags have religious precedence. The demonic hosts of Fukushima’s Hell are taken directly from the ancient lore of the Kojiki, the Shinto Bible/Monster Manual. For example, the Shikome (seen above) were sent by the goddess Izanami to drive her husband Izanagi from the underworld. And what better way to send a man packing than saggy breasts and vagina scorpions? It’s like learning about world mythology though an X-rated Ray Harryhausen movie.
Why it won’t come out in English:
First there’s the question of taste. Shotoku and Enma engaging in a literal cock fight where they ejaculate buckets of ropey snakes at each other. The aforementioned Dino-Rockets (Genbu, if you want to get technical,) are equipped with a posterior hatch to shit on people from orbit. Misogynist undertones bulge from the page like Shotoku’s ever present erection.
More damning is the fact that the series was never completed. Fukushima went into hiding mid-serialization, and following his insane sense of artistic stoicism, burned the originals. These scans are yellowed because they came directly from 30 year old weeklies. Unfortunately for the rest of us, no publisher in their right mind would go through the effort to digitally re-master a derelict such as this.
Even accepting Prince Shotoku as collateral damage, I doubt we’ll ever see a major release of his completed masterpieces, Saint Muscle or Nyohanboh. Fukushima’s works pose as a threat to the status quo. His red-hot pages illuminate readers with the intensity of a super nova, revealing everything else being fed to them as mere shadows on the wall. To walk with Fukushima is to relinquish your life as manga fan, but it is the way towards enlightenment.