Monday, October 18, 2010

Scummy Manga Reviews #4: Geki Man

Title: Gekiman (激マン) Lit: Hardcore-Man
Serialized in: Shukan Manga Goraku, 2010-present
Art and story by: Nagai Go and Dynamic Pro
Genre: Respect knuckles essay manga

What it's about:

1972 saw Japan riveted to the television in fear and revulsion. The United Red Army marched into homes with a marathon broadcast of the Asama-Sanso Incident, followed by the Lod Airport massacre in Tal Aviv. Yokoi Shoichi, a WWII holdout, returned home alive “with much embarrassment” after slinking in the jungles of Guam for nearly 20 years. And America had re-launched its mass bombings of Vietnam. If your job is to create dynamic, provocative imagery, how do you compete with the classic, chilling photograph of children running mortified from the acrid smoke of napalm death?

If you were Nagai Go, you’d start with something like this:

Gekiman is the autobiographical account of a young Nagai Go struggling to break out of his typecasting as the go-to guy for gag manga by breaking into the sophisticated world of story manga. Once establishing himself with bawdy comedies like Harenchi Gakuen (Shameless School) and Abashiri Ikka (The Abashiri Family), he experimented with a pair of dark adult narrative works, Oni and Mao Dante (Demon Lord Dante). Their critical successes propelled him to make the jump to primetime with his anti-social masterpiece that stained the verdant field of boy’s comics crimson with the blood of childhood innocence lost—Devilman.

Why it’s awesome:

These days there’s no shortage of guys making bank from the crude sketches you’d find in the notebooks of a junior high metalhead. Consciously or not, all of them are biting off a bit established by Nagai Go, the OG of hustling rudely drawn gore and tits for scratch. But he didn’t get rich overnight. He paid his dues as assistant to Ishinomori Shotaro, where he sacrificed sleep and shaved years off his life to produce prototype gag comics that would lead to his first serialized gig with Kodansha.

The man clawed his way up, and now that he’s at the top, he’s stretching his hand back down to help others make the climb.

The credits on the cover would lead you to believe that manga is one-man show, but in reality a successful author is more factory foreman than artist, juggling a team of talent to take care of everything from inking to backgrounds to character designs and even story development! Nagai Go has always been up front with crediting his team, Dynamic Pro, and with Gekiman he throws back the curtain to reveal each member, their artistic contribution to the big picture, and how hopelessly screwed he would be without all of them storming ahead at full steam every single day.

Nagai Go does more than just tip his hand. He lays his cards onto the table and goes all in. Names are dropped and shout outs leap from the page. No human work is created in a vacuum, and anyone who implies otherwise is a fraud and a thief. You get the feeling that he's trying to set the record straight. My best ideas actually belong to everyone else.

Bird-woman and woman-bird are two very different things.

One issue is dedicated to Tsuji Masaki, scriptwriter for the Devilman anime and all-around mystery buff, and how he fed Go the design for the iconic harpy-demon Silene. Incidentally, Nagai Go was grateful for having another pair of breasts to draw, and his editor was grateful for another outlet to crank up the nudity in the manga to differentiate it from the family-friendly anime.

There’s more to Gekiman than anecdotes from behind the drawing board at Kodansha. It represents manga’s oldest bad boy falling into step with the subliminal wave sweeping the industry at large.

Nagai Go’s development as an author mirrors the evolution of the medium. Cheap gag comics got the ball rolling and paved the way for character-driven story manga, which widened the playing field, allowing experience-centric essay manga to drive in a wedge and stake their claim. Though not in a position to usurp the throne, essay manga have been gradually picking up steam by combining the timing of gag manga and the narrative techniques of story manga. Oishinbo, My Darling is a Foreigner, and A Drifting Life are all excellent examples of the variety within the genre. With Gekiman, Nagai Go admits that the greatest story he has left to tell is the facts surrounding his fiction.

Why it won’t come out in America:

I’m sure many readers of the blog are familiar with the Devilman anime, but let’s see a show of hands from those of you that have read the actual manga. And I don’t mean the nostril-augmented monstrosity, Shin-Devilman, released by Danzig and Verotix. Scanlations don’t count either. That leaves either you who sluthed out the bilingual edition (Japan only, naturally), or those that hunkered down with the original moon language. In either case, it means you were forced to jump through flaming hoops for the privilege to read a cornerstone of the medium that should be readily available!

It’s almost as if there’s a conspiracy keeping Nagai Go's works quarantined to Japan.

Bone-crunching fight scenes, snot-nosed adolescents piloting giant robots, smutty hijinks rendered innocent by their sincerity—Japan’s greatest cultural products, both domestic and international, were first manufactured by Nagai Go and Dynamic Pro, but the profits for exports went straight to his predecessors. It’s a damn shame that the West has systematically been denied the chance to know the genesis behind its favorite “original” stories.

Three things Nagai Go hates: Hippies, drawing clothes on women, and people that borrow his car without filling the gas tank.

I wonder if Iwaashi Hitoshi would blush if you pointed out Parasyte is Devilman with tree hugging instead of nuclear war. Or if Miura Kentaro would openly admit that, yes, Guts and Griffith are essentially Akira and Ryo. I’m sure Anno Hideaki would break into a cold sweat if you showed him a side-by-side comparison of The End of Evangelion and Devilman's devise final scenes.

There’s a tacit understanding that no idea is truly original, and that it doesn’t matter where you got something, but where you take it. Still, credit earned is credit due. The class of authors inspired by Devilman will be remembered for their contributions to the next generation of manga-ka, while the man who laid the foundation they built their carnival tents on will be disregarded as embarrassingly old hat within a generation. And saddest of all, the West never had a chance to pick him up before unceremoniously dropping him with the recognition he deserved.


  1. Nice article.
    It really is a shame Devilman is not available translated and complete here in the west. It is also true Nagai should get more recognition for the foundation he built for others to leave their own marks in. I just hope to see Devilman in anime form again. Maybe then there will be a surge of people that go back to the original work and Nagai gets the proper recognition here in the west that he deserves.

  2. I have to say nice article on Nagai Go. Did you know he created a puppet show called X Bomber? It was put into english in the UK called Starfleet. I think the Devilman anime slithered into the US through CPM or Manga Entertainment. Nagai's work has alot of variety and you can pick whatever genre you want from it. It's really a shame that none of his works could come here. At least some Kazuo Umezu works and Hideshi Hino's works are published in english.

  3. What I don't understand is why Go Nagai himself hasn't tried releasing his manga in the US more recently. Hasn't Dynamic Pro released a bunch of his stuff in Italy and France directly? Now that Every Random Thing Tezuka Ever Crapped Out is getting licensed in the US, there should be room for some Go Nagai love.

  4. This book sounds hella rad. It is puzzling how one of the most awesome manga authors ever is absent from US bookshelves.

    If you haven't done so you oughta track down the original Mazinger GN/one-shot that was published by First Comics back in the 80's.

  5. A lot of people want to see more of Go Nagi's work now than ever.

    The cover looked familiar then I was remembered this place.

  6. Groove A: I think it would take a sexy publishing house like Vertical to provide the spit shine his stuff needs to generate interest.

    Anonymous: Everything I found on it suggests that those UK marionette shows were the inspiration for Kamen Rider and other Tokusatsu. Thanks for blowing my mind!

    Emilio: Goes to prove that Europe is more hip to manga that normal people would read. France has knocked America down a few pegs on the otaku scale.

    Root: Woah, I can't believe he specifically wrote it for Western audiences! Now I gotta see it.

  7. Wow, I totally took it for granted that at least Devilman, Mazinger Z, etc were available translated. Its completely ridiculous that the originals haven't been translated! Not even Dororon Enma-kun!!!

  8. Great post! I remember reading the original Devilman manga in 2003 when I was living in Kyoto--- for some reason used copies of the tankobans were scattered around the Stanford Center (weird, right?)....

    I actually am partial to VIOLENCE JACK myself :) Did you guys know that Go Nagai was actually one of the first ever published mangaka in English. His "Oni" and a feature gallery of his work was published in this issue of EPIC ILLUSTRATED in the early 80s"

    Epic Illustrated #18 (June 1983):
    "Article: The Art Of Go Nagai" - Jo Duffy
    "Oni" - Go Nagai

  9. A couple of things...

    - Anno actually openly admitted that Evangelion as a whole is a tribute to Devilman in an interview he had with Go Nagai. It's published in the artbook "Devilman Tabulae Anatomicae". I think it is this meeting that led Anno to direct the live-action version of Cutie Honey.

    - France has been mentioned in the comments as a country where Nagai's works are readily available. Sadly, that's not the case either, although his UFO Robo Grendizer, known there as "Goldorak", litterally paved the way for the Japanese animation craze of the 80s. Nagai's works suffer from the same curse in France. A very basic edition of Devilman (no color pages, no added material from the 1987 edition, images switched to left-to-right reading order) was published in the late 90s, as well as Gosaku Ota's version of Grendizer and the never-completed Getter Robot Go by Ishikawa. But after that, the well definitely dried. The most recent attempt was in 2008, when French-translated copies of Devilman (a better edition), Dynamic Heroes and Mazinger Angels were printed as exclusives to be released at a Comic/Anime Convention ("Japan Expo") near Paris, where Nagai was a guest of honor, but the damn books were blocked at the frontier and never showed up! In France like everywhere else, we have a whole generation of manga readers who don't have a clue what they owe to Go Nagai. A ton of Tezuka books are released. Ishinomori is starting to get a bit better known. And a few other classics like Golgo 13 or Ashita no Joe are finally getting some exposure. But there's still a gaping hole in the French's manga culture, and that's Nagai's output.

    Now Italy is another thing entirely. *They* have a ton of translations of Nagai stuff.

  10. JayWicky-Thanks for all the info!

    Anno and the Gainax guys have always been pretty upfront about their fanboy inspirations. My issue is that people don't realize what these titles are riffing off of, which removes a level of depth and distorts the originality and importance of a work.

    Despite these gaps you describe, I think France's manga catalog is far more robust than America's! The classic authors you mentioned are all but unknown, with the obvious exception of Tezuka because the publisher Vertical has gone to great lengths to present his dated works in a very classy context.

  11. As soon as I saw the first few Nagai illustrations in the article I was struck by how much the visual imagery reminded me of Mirua's work.

    Just goes to reaffirm that no great artist is an island, and everyone has a few giant shoulders under their feet if you care enough to look for them.