Japanese CounterCulture: Before Ringu and Ketaku there was Hell Boy and GeGeGe
I’m going to make this kind of short because the last time I did this I lost the data (yes word is a LOT better, more 1997 than 2003 but has major saving issues when it comes to a blog format and still don’t have the good stuff when it comes to templates) However, let’s get on with it.
Gekigia, had many facets to it. Being one half of the industry in the 1960’s and 70’s (the other was the Shojo style – more closely towards Tezuka’s work). There was fleshbomb that we covered earlier. There is Outsider, which we will cover later. However, there is the Trauma (or Traumatic style) that dealt with the horror Genre. The style was important – it brought the basis of later manga works such as Vampire Hunter D, Tokio, and most recently – Death Note. Before we get to into the influences, we must look at the influencers.
Manga Zombie’s Author wrote about Murotani Tsunzeo:
"I don't talk about this very often, but I actually died once...Astral projection, is it? Well, I was floating in space, and all behind me it was pitch dark. It was just like being in hell." (Interview in QJ magazine #14)
After his (temporary) death, Murotani Tsunezō went on to draw a series of hellish works based on his hands-on research, the two most outstanding being 'Hell Boy' (Jigoku Kun) and 'Doll Hell' (Ningyo Jigoku). The backgrounds in 'Hell Boy' are especially striking, and they could not get much blacker. They really do seem to bear witness to time spent in the underworld.
Apart from the fact that he'd died already, there were a couple of factors that spurred Murotani towards drawing horror manga - his experience of surrealist painting, his voracious reading of fifties sci-fi novels, and the imagery of fifties sci-fi movies all had an influence. A major shift in his work came in 1967 with the publication of SF 'Sci-fi Theater: Alternative Earth' (Gekijō Dai-ni no Chikyū) in the Mainichi Chūgakusei Shimbun, which catered to high school kids. This kicked off a series of works heavily indebted to fifties sci-fi; the most successful of them was 'Spaceman' (Supēsuman), which the Chūgakusei Shimbun ran over three years. The story - the interplanetary quest of a multiracial group of teen space crusaders - was a big success with its high school audience, thanks to its perfectly calculated mix of horror, sci-fi and eroticism. In fact, 'Spaceman' is a plausible forerunner to Galactic Railroad 999 (Ginga Tetsudō 999). The period of 'Spaceman' was a highly productive one for Murotani; he also put out the series 'Microman' (Mikuroman: no connection to the toy by the same name produced by Takara) and 'Time Patrol' (Taimu Patrōru) among others. All were published in the Mainichi Chūgakusei Shimbun, and all bore the same imprint of fifties science fiction.
The Science Fiction he mostly would have got some of his work, was movies like Forbidden Planet, books such as Starship Troopers (i.e. There was an anime about this and there is a CGI series about Starship Troopers that aired on a Syndication Block called BKN Bulldog TV) as well as A Canticle For Lebowitz. Forbidden Planet and an earlier thirties work lead into the creation of Star Trek… which lead into the creation of Star Ocean which both franchises have animated series.
Manga Zombie’s Author continues:
Murotani created his masterpiece in this harsh and pressurized environment. This was the Jigoku - 'Hell' - series.
Jigoku Kun (Hell Boy) forms the first half of the 'Hell' series. It was serialized in a magazine aimed at younger readers, so Muortani lay on the gore with a light touch. The hero's mission is grim: "The villain gets sent to hell every single time". Even so, 'Hell Boy' is a fun piece of work with a character all its own. The hero has a strong appeal, along with surreal characters like the Undead Dad (Mannnen Totsan), the bone marrow munching Dokurobotan, and a constantly varying cast of hellish ghouls. You get the feeling that Murotani himself had a lot of fun himself making this work, from a lot of different elements that appear: the elaborate page compositions, the ultra-realistic depictions of hell, the offbeat hero, the ultrasexy heroine, and the mixed cast of supporting characters, sometimes beautiful and sometimes cruel.
The highlight of the series is the third episode, 'Devil Fire' (Akumabi). Here, Murotani gives free rein to one aspect of Hell Boy's character: he is devilishly cool. The villain of the piece is a student who dabbles in arson in his free time. Hell Boy uses his magic powers to stick the criminal's arm onto his (the criminal's, that is) forehead. This episode also introduces the character Akutsu; he is quite the square, a good husband and father and the manager of a construction company. Yet at the same time, he is a fiend towards the evil (in this story he traps the student/arsonist/villain). In fact, 'Hell Boy' is an extremely righteous piece of work; you can feel Murotani's anger towards the villains, and his strong sense of justice - to the point where Murotani's own anger comes across as a magnetized enactment of divine wrath. In addition, this is one of the things I really like about 'Hell Boy'. At the same time, however much Murotani's vision was based on his near-death experience, there is not a hint of religious feeling or teaching in the series. 'Hell Boy' remains quite cool throughout.
The similarities between this and Death Note is almost uncanny. In a tiny aside – one thing that happened with Castlevaina – was that the majority of the CV community in Japan disliked the metriod like environment – which is strange because Ninty, Research and Development 1 made the Metroid franchise – and the concept of a two dimension free roaming world. Nevertheless, Metriod never became successful in Japan, which still baffles me to this day. (Hot Girl, Big Guns, Lost of Monsters – Big brain… ohhh I kind of see why but it still baffles me.) But this is not the main point – Castlevaina since the SOTN days has a artist named Ayumi Kojima (not related to Hideo) and she is one of the best video game artists in the modern era. She uses Baroque era art and combines it with the Bishojo style to create something unique in execution and style.
However, the Japanese has pooh – pooh it ever since she became the artist for the series. Seems they wanted more Huluwood style like in the Vampire Movies.
So, then came the next game in the franchise, Castlevaina Judgment. It is done by, the Death Note creator and main artist (I don’t have his name on the tips of my brain at this moment). The Japanese gaming metaculture (at least in 2chan) was happy with the artwork design. We in the US were very unsatisfied. So yes Virginia, different strokes for different folks.
Nevertheless, let us get back to Murotani:
The second half of the 'Hell' series was aimed at an older readership, and it shows. Murotani cranked up the horror level and gave stronger voice to his outrage in episodes like 'Doll Hell' (Ningyō Jigoku), 'Insect Hell' (Mushi Jigoku), 'Jirō the Ghost-Devil' (Kaiki Jirō) and 'Pavilion Hell' (Pabirion Jigoku).
'Doll Hell' is a revenge drama starring Misuzu Reika, a traditional doll-maker and atomic bomb survivor. Gifted with magic powers, she decides to take an appropriate form of revenge on the American pilots who dropped the bomb - by turning them into dolls. The pilots (one of them a woman) will remain alive, trapped inside the dolls' bodies. There is an underlying eroticism in the scenes where Reika works her magic, and in the appearance of the blond blue-eyed American character Jane, now transformed into a living doll.
In 'Pavilion Hell', a kid visiting the Osaka International Exposition of 1970 gets lost among the crowds, and somehow finds that he's wandered into hell. There are two kinds of demons, he finds - black demons and white demons - and the black ones are the masters, lording over and discriminating against the whites. Soon a war of liberation starts, with the young hero caught up in it. The plot is thickened with a trans-dimensional romance between him and a female knight of the liberation army. This aspect of 'Pavilion Hell' points forward to Takahashi Rumiko's Urusei Yatsura (Lamu, the Invader Girl).
This kind of socially aware horror manga wasn't particularly rare in this period, and it's hard to deny that Murotani was aiming for large sales when he drew the 'Hell' series. What really makes the 'Hell' series stand out from the rest is the way hell itself is depicted. Unlike other artists working on similar material, Murotani does not rely on local Japanese traditional art or folklore at all. If anything, his underworld and the demons that live there are drawn in a quasi-surrealist style. Here we see Murotani the modernist in action.
As a short note, we did not get to do such work with Horror and Sci-Fi until the late 1970’s with Heavy Metal magazine, which is a French magazine mostly translated to English – And until Day of the Dead horror did not become as mirror into the early forms of Generic Culture. Horror was to scare girls into men’s arms, which the next step is to get laid, after the movie ends. (This is true for many Americans in the 1970’s… its one of the reasons why people are very, very defensive about the movie industry and why they want dumber films – as a rule the dumber the film (i.e. many of the splatter films) the more babies will be born and there is your psychological connection to the movie theater folks.
However, it seems Murotani took a break:
In the mid seventies, Murotani dropped out of the youth-oriented shōnen magazine scene and shifted his focus back to educational manga. The pace of work required in the weeklies is absolutely crushing, and this was partly the reason for the move. But the major factor in the move was that he left Japan for a sabbatical year in Paris towards the end of the seventies.
This however does stop his plans for a complete hell boy:
Since his return from Paris to the present day, Murotani has continued to keep his focus on educational manga. Moreover, he had remained tremendously successful in this line of work.
However, he ran into serious trouble with his 'Mohammed and Islam' (Mahometto to Isuram-kyo), which was withdrawn among protests by Muslims offended at the portrayal of the Prophet in pictures. He also had a run-in with the French government over the inclusion of his anti-nuclear poster Moon Over Mururoa in an exhibition that coincided with a state visit by the President of France to Japan. The sponsors of the exhibition, a department store called Yokohama Sogō, pulled Murotani's work from the show; this time the furious protests came from the artist himself. In both cases, Murotani stuck to an uncompromising freedom-of-speech position, and he declared that he 'absolutely refused to recognize any taboos against freedom of expression'. He still had his old unyielding sense of anger and passion for justice. I think that is why he was able to stick to his guns in the face of considerable pressure.
He still has many ideas in his head, and plans further installments of 'Pavilion Hell' and other projects like 'Murotani's Grotesque Greek Mythology. He is also planning a complete, finalized version of 'Hell Boy' - in the unlikely event that the series could ever be wrestled to a halt'. In any case, Murotani Tsunezō is still an artist worth keeping an eye on.
We now move on to a more famous type of Gekgia, the one by the name of GeGeGe, but first some background:
GeGeGe no Kitarō) is a manga series created in 1959 by manga artist Shigeru Mizuki. It is best known for its popularization of the folklore creatures known as yōkai, a class of spirit-monster to which all of the main characters belong. It has been adapted for the screen several times, as anime, live-action, and video games.
However, this is not the whole story:
In 1960, Togetsu Shobō published Mizuki Shigeru's 'Kitarō, Demon of the Graveyard', from a story by Ito Masami. However, when Volume 3 came out, Mizuki fell out with the publishing house over money, and jumped ship to the publisher Sanyō-sha. He went on to bring out 'Night Tales of Kitarō' (Kitarō Yawai). Meanwhile back at Togetsu, Takeuchi took over the helm of 'Kitarō, Demon of the Graveyard'. The series was a smash hit as a kashihon, and ran to a grand total of nineteen volumes. Takeuchi took over at Volume 4, and cleared the decks with a general slaughter of Mizuki Shigeru's characters. Mizuki's signature character Nezumi Otoko (the Mouseman) met an abrupt end in the opening pages, killed by Kineko (Treecat Girl). Then Kitarō takes out Treecat Girl before squaring up to the she-demon Yasha. Kitarō's victory over her completes the clean sweep.
From Volume 5, Takeuchi populated the series with fresh characters like the ghost of Dracula and his assistant, Baneaze. Kitarō teams up with a mysterious Kumo-Otoko (spider-man) against them.
Until the first half of Volume 7, Takeuchi clearly struggled under the burden of drawing characters in Mizuki's style, and there is not much in the way of originality to be found in the ghostly goings-on up to this point. And there are lots of loose threads in the plot - Dracula and Baneaze, for example, suddenly drop out of the story for no good reason. Mizuki was a past master at western-style ghosts and black magic, and a very hard act to follow. I imagine that Takeuchi had great difficulty filling his shoes.
Takeuchi finally made the series his own by overhauling the basic graphic concept and moving it in the direction of a more traditional Japanese style. Creating afterworlds and ghosts based on indigenous myths really allowed him to show what he could do. 'Kitarō, Demon of the Graveyard' now became a true original, and truly Takeuchi on all fronts.
In the second half of Vol. 7, Hell Hag (accompanied by a demonic nine-tailed fox) hit the bright lights of Tokyo, searching for - and finding - yummy human flesh. They're also on the trail of Kitarō, who's just saved the beautiful and mysterious Kitsuko. All hell breaks loose in Vols 8 and 9. Tokyo becomes the scene of a savage, all-out supernatural war. The action takes place in two parts of Tokyo in particular - the Katsushika and Arakawa districts, lying in the north and northeast of the metropolis. Both places are distinctly untrendy. They're gritty working-class islands of old-school spit-and-sawdust Tokyo - what the locals call the shitamachi (literally 'downtown').
These were the years around the time of the Tokyo Olympics, when the city was transformed from a collection of long-lived and intimate neighborhoods into a sprawling megalopolis. And was at this particular point of change that Takeuchi's very own special scum imagination seized the poorer parts of town and morphed them into a pandemonium steeped in local lore and superstition. I get the feeling that the shitamachi of this dark fantasy is the same place as his childhood home.
This spit and sawdust Tokyo is shown wonderfully in the Video Game Yakuza, the third season of Digimon (Called the Tamers) and other manga such as Gantz and many of the futuristic based anime – Akira, BubbleGum Crisis (both the original and 2040) and Ghost In the Shell. Of course – there is Blade Runner. Yes. That.
In the final volume of the series, Kitarō comes up against the Indian ghost Neshababa, who's trying to infect the world with an ebola-type flesh-eating virus. Her victims turn into zombies, stalking around for human meat. There's one particularly shocking scene where the zombies indulge in a feeding frenzy at a graveyard - but it's drawn with a weirdly comic touch. Maybe Takeuchi was trying to fob off his own conscience. On the other hand, maybe not.
In the final scenes of the series, Kitarō triumphs over all his enemies and ends up in the hospital. Here's there for a very special operation - to get the spirit of his grandfather, a wandering legged eyeball called Medama Oyaji - inserted into his empty eye socket. So he ends up normal. It sucks beyond all belief. Here was a character you believed up till now could fly, and he ends up...normal. Uugh. Anyway. Pressed on by the force of Japanese folk tradition and the violence of his own imagination, Takeuchi Kanko took Mizuki Sigeru's masterpiece and perfected a 'Kitarō world' that only he could have possibly created.
Otaku give Takeuchi's Kitarō a hard time: the graphics are crudely done compared to Mizuki's. The storyline has Crab-nebular sized holes in it. The characters suck. It's too depressing. Too gory. And cetera. Takeuchi - weep, reader - gets zero to minus respect. All well and good. And yet...what is it about Takeuchi's art? There's something primeval at work. If you look closely, you'll start to get the uncanny sense of being pulled back in time, back beyond the birth of gekiga and manga - even back beyond the dawn of the wandering kami shibai and before, to the freak shows, peep shows and clockwork dolls of pre-war Japan, and the roving street artists who pimped them around the streets. More than a feeling of terror, you get a sense of raging disgust from his pages. Mizuki Shigeru's Kitarō had a modern, pop-art sensibility. Takeuchi's version by comparison was grungy, vile, and disgusting. Give me Takeuchi any day.
As for the franchise – the TV series started near the end of the manga’s run. The first series had 65 episodes, as a whole the franchise nears the 250+ range. The new series takes more of a darker route and is the first time the manga from Mizuki and Takeuchi are animated. The series it is set to end in 2009 March. In addition, the franchise has many games to its name the last so far being a PS2 game.
The manga itself belongs to apart of Gekgia called kashihon. A cheap but underrated at times manga is usually sent back to the stores after being read.
As for Takeuchi, he lived a long and productive life. He died in 1994. He was the understudy of our next topic…and he is connected to Muhammad Ali… how? Find out…
Until Next Time: