Sunday, December 22, 2013

Scummy Manga Reviews #10: Homo Homo Seven

Homo Homo Seven by Minamoto Taro Cover
Title: Homo Homo Seven (ホモホモセブン)
Serialized in: Weekly Shonen Magazine, Volume 30  1970-Volume 13 1971
Art and Story by: Minamoto Taro (みなもと太郎)
Genre: Hetauma gekiga gag
Seven, we've got
a real mess on our hands.
Leave it to me, Chief. 
Homo Homo Seven is on the case!
What It’s About:
In a political environment where feminism threatens the God-given privileges of every being with a Y chromosome, the all-male Homo Homo Bloc unites to sabotage the emasculating machinations of the all-female Les Les Bloc. Except the rag-tag spy ring is horribly outgunned, outclassed and outsassed by the deadlier sex. Their only hope--and only agent, for that matter--is Homo Homo Seven and his lady killing charms. There’s no whip crack too severe, no boot heel too pointed, no dame too unmountable. Our hero always comes out on top, even if it means playing the bottom.

Why It’s Awesome:
Heta uma gag manga Homo Homo Seven
Minamoto Taro invented hetauma. You know, the so-bad-its-good style where everything looks like scribbles on a cocktail napkin? Of course there’s been lousy artists since man first committed pencil to paper. But Taro was the first to make bad drawings part of the joke. His characters oscillate between hardboiled gekiga crosshatching and superdeformed chickenscratch depending on the punchline, relying on the juxtaposition of techniques as a visual pratfall. Subsequent generations of surreal gag writers including Hanakuma Yusaku (Tokyo Zombie), Yoshida Sensha (Utsurun Desu) and  Koizumi Tomohiro (Life is Dead) owe Minamoto a beer for legitimizing grade school doodles as a means of expression.

It helped that Minamoto could actually draw. Born in 1947, the Kyoto native was a member of Sakuga Group(作画グループ), one of Japan’s first dojinshi circles. Formed in 1962, the collective kept their circulation in-house and rarely published anything commercial, save for a few breakouts such as Locke the Superman author Hijiri Yuki. Sakuga Group caught the overflow of Minamoto’s creative output while he was writing for commercial magazines. His big break came in September 1967 when Cheers to Big Brother(兄貴かんぱい) ran in Ribbon, a publication aimed at girls young enough to still believe that maho shojo were real.

Minamoto’s bizarre sense of humor bled into his work. Although Homo Homo Seven was serialized the kid-friendly Weekly Shonen Magazine alongside manga Gods such as Ishinomori Shotaro, Tezuka Osamu and Mizuki Shigeru, it flew over the heads of his audience to be caught by bemused editors.

Discounting the sight gags, a majority of the humor and plot setups come from sendups to spy pulps and classic cinema. Homo Homo Seven steals a camel from Ueno Zoo and flies to the Middle East to secure an oil supply route in a parody of Lawrence of Arabia. Another chapter set on the island of Lesbos--Les Les Bloc HQ, of course--has sword-and-sandal action that culminates in a chariot race straight out of Ben-Hur. And don’t forget the tragic cabaret girls dripping with French Noir cliches or the female yakuza bosses fresh off the set of a Pinky Violence double feature.

Homo Homo Seven was a manga for adults that ended up in a publication for children. Minamoto originally submitted it to Big Comic whose top titles at the time included Golgo 13, Ode to Kirihito, and Umezu’s sci-fi epic Iara. There it languished as an emergency alternate for a year before being rescued by an editor for another Sogakukan serial, Weekly Shonen Magazine. The film and pop culture references were one thing--the lampoon of women’s lib further skewed it towards an older demographic.
The feminist movement gained traction worldwide during the 60’s and even made inroads amongst the patriarchy of Japan. Tanaka Mitsu fired the first shot for equality in 1970 with her manifesto Liberation From the Toilet(便所からの解放). It argues that men oppress women by holding them to conflicting standards--that of the the tender caregiver (mother) and sexual outlet (toilet). Tanaka reasoned that these labels were arbitrary constructs and women must cast them off in their pursuit of happiness. The call for both domestic and sexual liberation would become core tenements of Japanese feminism, with Tanaka's shocking rhetoric setting the tone for a generation.

Coinciding with publication of Liberation From the Toilet, Tanaka formed the Fighting Women's Group (ぐるーぷ闘うおんな) and hit housewives close to him with protests in the ritzy Ginza shopping district. Right around this time pharmacist Enoki Misako was also grooming her own coalition to petition the legalization of the birth control pill. Her Chupiren--also known as the Pink Panthers---borrowed a page from the Zenkyoto anti-Vietnam War student activists by painting construction helmets pink and launching publicity stunts such as confronting unfaithful husbands at work. The mass media became the biggest promoter of the radical feminist sponsored circus, earning the movement coverage, but no respect.
Homo Homo Seven by Minamoto Taro

Any pot shots Minamoto took at women's lib were likely more topical than political. Tanaka and Enoki didn’t start sending shockwaves through the media until 1972, two years after Minamoto submitted his first draft of the story to Big Comics. In truth, the main thrust of Homo Homo Seven is the spy stories. They say write what you know, and espionage runs in Minamoto's blood.

His grandfather served under Baron Akashi Motojiro, a Japanese Secret Intelligence Services agent who established espionage networks all over Europe in preparation for the Russo-Japanese War. Keeping in line with the Japonism zeitgeist,  Akashi had an artistic streak that helped him form an alliance with British spy Sidney Reilly. In 1904 the Scotland Yard operative swiped Russian harbor defense plans, allowing the Japanese Navy to launch a surprise night strike on Port Arthur that kicked off the war and set the precedent for the attack on Pearl Harbor nearly 40 years later.

This sort of subterfuge elevated the secret agent man to the stuff of legend. Ian Fleming admits that Reilly was a model for Bond, James Bond. 007 was, in turn, fodder for Homo Homo Seven. Makes you want to break out the old decoder ring so you can see if the author slipped hidden messages into the pages.

If anyone's fruity enough to attempt espionage through manga, it would be Minamoto. He's a member of Soka Gakkai International, a lucrative offshoot of Nichiren Buddhism and the closest thing to a true cult the Japanese authorities will allow following the 1995 Aum Shinrikyo nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway. SGI commands 12 million members worldwide, controls the New Komeito political party, and teaches that chanting the Lotus Sutra every morning is a cosmic cure for cancer. Members are obviously gullible, but Minamoto is downright delusional--in his fifties he started visiting Comiket believing that "otaku culture is the new international language." What a loon! Then again, the jokes in his Puella Magi Madoka Magica parody dojinshi Homu Homu Seven practically wrote themselves, so maybe he has a point.

Why It Won’t Come Out in English

What, aside from the obvious?

Back up for a second--Homo Homo Seven actually does contain a state secret. Having myself been raised in the country that birthed the KKK, NRA and FOX News, I understand that it may be hard to believe, but not everything has to be a political statement. Homo Homo Seven, in truth, doesn't have any grand scheme for homosexuals or women's lib aside from making them into convenient hooks to hang a joke. Most Japanese couldn't handle a political debate that's not multiple choice--which, incidentally, is why they will never produce a good zombie story even with all their hetauma scribes combined. Everyone's too busy worrying about how others judge them to dedicate time to publicly judge others. Any negative energy is soaked up by the anonymous Internet forum 2chan. And the outliers who do mobilize to drive out nuclear power from our daycares or Koreans from Shin-Okubo are shouted down on Twitter.

As Westerners, we can't have a good day unless someone ruins it by doing something patently offensive. Righteous anger directly stimulates our brain's pleasure center with the smug satisfaction of moral superiority that's as addictive, soothing and destructive as heroin cut with Benadryl--another American original. Homo Homo Seven would be a PR nightmare for publishers, but the title alone provides more of a jolt than your morning coffee. Enjoy it as a nice pick-me-up, but don’t expect it to send you on an equal rights crusade.

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