Thursday, October 10, 2013

B5 For Life: Part 1-Comic Fighter

B5 is the standard paper size for manga anthologies printed on pulp pages as thick as a phone book. But not all commercial magazines were as successful as Shonen Jump. Many fell by the wayside, their artists and authors buried by the continental drift of pop culture. Until now...
Title: Comic Fighter (コミックファイター)
Print run: August 1987-February 1988 (6 issues)
Publisher: Asahi Sonorama
Price: 380 yen
Genre: Hobbies and sports for real men
Catchphrase: "The manga that builds muscle!"

All manga anthologies are trying to sell something, be it plastic models, character goods, or tankobon graphic novels. But Comic Fighter offers something that money can’t buy--a lifestyle. Published at the tail end of the 80’s wrestling boom, it rallies a team of the hottest stars from its day to rouse the reader to action, giving them the information they need to get off the couch and hit the martial arts gym or Airsoft field. Are you ready to rumble?

Shooting Tiger sounds the gong with a 50 page biography of Sayama Satoru, better known as his legendary ringside persona, Tiger Mask. It follows Satoru's career, beginning with his brutal initiation to the New Japan Pro-Wrestling promotion as a 170-pound 5'7" weakling--500 Hindu squats! Hold a tip-toe bridge pose for 3 minutes! Submission holds until you pass out!--and concludes with his premature retirement from the  Universal Wrestling Federation in 1985 in protest against staged matches. Sayama left the limelight to fight by his own rules.
Sayama strove to tear away wrestling's scripted facade and legitimize the production as a true sport by emphasizing technique over theatrics. In a time where moves were stolen, not taught, joint locks and submission holds were an arcane art passed down as a matter of course in the ring through trial-and-error. Intuit how to break a hold and it's yours to use--otherwise, get used to tapping out!

This new fighting style, Shooto, would combine elements from each of Sayama's teachers. Strikes from Antonio Inoki's karate-centric Strong Style, classic catch wrestling mat work from father of the German suplex Karl Gotch, and the rawness of kickboxing legend Fujiwara Toshio. If this sounds like the precursor to today's mixed martial arts, that's because it sort of was.

The UWF was formed in 1984 by students of Karl Gotch, including Sayama, with a focus on free-form shoot wrestling. Nearly a decade before UFC fighters were delivering groin strikes, headbutts, and hair-pulls, Sayama and his boys took UWF principles to the next level in no-holds-barred matches at the Tiger Gym. This gave mixed martial arts a foothold in Japan, and when Sayama left the organization, it inspired his stable mates to form their own gyms. Former kickboxer Caesar Takeshi--who is also featured in Comic Fighter--was the most successful, and his shoot boxing federation is still recognized internationally to this day.

Kick Angel Rumi (蹴撃エンジェルRUMI) also involves real-world wrestlers but throws reality out of the ring. The titular Kazama Rumi wanted to be a kickboxer but settled for Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling, the only game in town for females in the mid-80's. Her good looks and healthy proportions made her the perfect face, only to turn heel and form the nefarious Black Joker team in the early 90's.

Half a decade was more than enough time for her career as an idol to run its course. She was the subject of gravure photos, talk shows, and turntables with her single, Big City Shooting Star (都市の流星), printed on a swag heart-shaped record with lyrics by none other than AKB48 puppet master Akimoto Yasushi. Whenever an opponent called Rumi out for spending more time in the studio than in the gym, she'd shoot back with her catchphrase "Wadda'ya want, it's my JOB!"

Apparently part of the job was also appearing in a trashy manga with cat fights, gratuitous shower scenes, and six-armed Chinese martial arts monsters. Kick Angel Rumi is easily the best looking slab in the rag if you dig gals with big hair on sports bikes popping wheelies amidst a storm of structural damage.

Author Chikaishi Masashi (近石雅史) had an unremarkable career apart from writing a dumpster load of hentai manga featuring every fetish sanitary enough to sell at the supermarket, with cliche titles such as Virgin Defamation, Cousin Rape, and Together With Mommy. Like Chikaishi, Rumi would later transition to a career in jukujyo MILF porn. While the penetration in her films may be simulated, the grappling is full-contact with plenty of exciting choke holds. It's only a matter of time before we see Sayama--or one of his cubs--down on the mat in a brawl between tiger and cougar.
The other interesting titles in the magazine are rounded out by a pair of shameless firearm and smut peddlers. As the title implies, Airsoft for Beginners (サバイバルゲーム入門編) is an innocuous introduction to Airsoft, which is basically war gaming with replica guns that shoot plastic pellets. We learn the rules of engagement through the eyes of the protagonist's little sister who decides to follow her big brother and his otaku friends deep into the mountains to play commando. Although this is the perfect setup for a comfort women situation, the story instead focuses on how gosh-darn cute our heroine is as she slides down hills, switches to her sidearm, and captures the flag at the end of the day--no, the mangaka would have plenty of chances to get his kink on later.

Author Tomimoto Tatsuya (富本たつや) is infamous for his work on the world's first hentai anime, Cream Lemon. He handled all steps of production, from script and storyboard to character design and key frame animation, on the story arcs Ami and Escalation, as well as the standalone episode Black Cat Mansion. His NSFW homepage is defunct but the message board is active--apparently our man still hosts a booth at Comiket.

The last story, The Three Air-muskateers (見参!銃士隊) by Kimura Hidefumi (きむらひでふみ), revolves around a trio of elite war gamers with their skills up for sale to the highest bidder--or cutest face. Our protagonist and her all-girls club have their gear swiped after losing a crooked bet, and now the air-muskateers are her only hope to reclaim the rifles, along with her pride, in a winner-take-all grudge match.

The three amigos trounce the cheats against incredible odds as the page margins provide Airsoft do's and don'ts for would-be weekend guerrillas--don't point the gun at people off the field! Do raise your white hanky when hit! Don't shoot animals!

In typical sports club fashion, the female lead ends up becoming the manager for the air-muskateers and their crappy shop. Can this plucky newcomer save them from bankruptcy? Despite the cliche plot and fetishistic level of detail lavished on the replica plastic guns, the title is far bolder than its modern counterparts, Stella Women's Academy and Upotte!!, for existing at a time before militarism and right wing ideology became an otaku fashion accessory.

To be fair, the focus is on the lifestyle, not any sort of belief system. It bills itself as the "manga that builds muscles," and not without warrant. Whereas most pulps come with a sealed insert of a pin-up model, Comic Fighter packs a sealed insert of a workout guide to help carve that beach body you’ve always wanted. The booklet prescribes a regiment of push-ups, sit-ups, and squats during your on days--apparently this was before burpees were discovered--and marathoning Jackie Chan and Schwarzenegger movies on recovery days.

Despite appearances Comic Fighter doesn’' glorify violence. Their interview with Tsuge Hisayoshi (柘植久慶), green beret turned genre fiction author, skirts his experience fighting as a mercenary alongside ex-Nazis during the Congo Crisis to focus on the thrill of traveling the world and the importance of his martial arts training that led to him being scouted as an instructor by Uncle Sam. This is a kid's magazine, after all.

And perhaps that's where it went wrong.  The generous use of furigana places it in the same age bracket as Shonen Jump, but the hard-boiled gekiga art and machismo is more geared towards the Big Comic Spirits crowd. Kids would rather read about the high-flying adventures of Tiger Mask and not the man beneath the cowl, much less his martial arts philosophy. And what elementary student can afford Airsoft gear with their allowance?

Perhaps if it had debuted as a motivational Seinen magazine for aimless youth caught in entrance exam limbo, Comic Fighter could have been a real contender. Instead, it hit the mat like a chump after a mere six volumes. Look on the bright side: If a racy wrestling manga like Wanna be the Strongest in the World can get an anime adaptation, then so can Kick Angel Rumi. Consider that prime time TV's current favorite mistress Danmitsu has convinced the country that older, full figured women can be sexy--do I smell a Kazama Rumi comeback?

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