Say It With Manga, So Bad It’s Good Edition
In my mind, a truly bad comic is boring, middle-of-the-road, and completely unremarkable in every way. It’s the series that gives me no reason whatsoever to read it. But in terms of what most people would consider “bad,” a series that is so full of crazy ideas (possibly in poor taste) that a normal reader would turn away in disgust, I’m all over that. They tend to be very entertaining for at least for a volume or two. There’s a special kind of “bad” series in manga that I haven’t had the pleasure of running across anywhere else yet, and I want to talk about that this week. It’s important to remember that all of these series are very serious, and none of the stories are meant to be at all comedic.
Unfortunately, the US comic market doesn’t support translations of material like this anymore, so all of these are technically out of print. But I’ve seen volumes of almost all of them languishing on the shelves of comic stores within the past year, and none of them are valuable in online marketplaces because nobody wants them. Actually, all but Offered are available new at at least two online retailers I checked. They are easy to get ahold of.
Lives – Masayuki Taguchi (2 volumes, only 1 in English)
By the artist of the Battle Royale manga, Lives starts off with a pop concert featuring three girls of highly unlikely proportions wearing almost no clothes (emphasis: this is about as exaggerated as you can get on both those counts). Within one page, the concert is wiped out by a freak meteor shower, and everyone is killed messily. Inexplicably, one of the girls who was blown apart survives without injury, and wakes up in a wasteland where she and her manager are the only survivors. While the girl and her manager are trying to get their bearings, the manager turns into a crocodile beastman and begins hunting the girl. Suddenly, what appears to be Devilman pops out and kills the crocodile man, saving the girl. This is… maybe 30 or so pages of story. Then the narrative abruptly cuts off before explaining anything, and we are treated to a completely different story about unrelated high school boys who die in a meteor shower and wake up in a jungle after being killed. Repetition of the themes here are the only things that link the stories, of which there are three total in the volume. Only the second story is told in its entirety, and it doesn’t explain anything. People who appear to be blown apart by meteors are being transported elsewhere… but only a few of them. Everyone in this world has the power to change into an animal hybrid. Some are apex predators, some are prey. There are big fish with the faces of salarymen that beg to be put out of their misery. One man turns into a sort of T-Rex, still wearing clothes, but with the skin of the man’s face stretched across its predator mouth. Part of it is a survival-of-the-fittest story in this new environment, with lots of hand wringing and hoping for the best for humanity from the few that don’t lose their minds as beastmen. Our only lead as to what’s going on is a naked angel that appears at the end of the volume that suggests the saner inhabitants ought to “follow their instincts.” Of the three I’m featuring this week, this is the weakest, as its nonsense isn’t cohesive. But it’s still a volume full of crazy ideas, and worth a look if you’re into that sort of thing. Masayuki Taguchi’s art is perfectly suited to this story, as the man can draw some grotesque beastmen. His art is very polished and detailed, if somewhat off-putting due to his proportions, during the less fantastic parts of the story. He’s also quite good at drawing messy violence, which complements this story well. This was published by Tokyopop in English, and Lives volume 1 was one of the last things they released before shutting their doors. Perhaps it’s for the best that the second volume never came out. It likely wouldn’t have adequately explained anything, and I enjoy speculating over whether it could have been even more crazy.
Offered – Story by Kazuo Koike, Art by Ryoichi Ikegami (2 volumes)
For a while in the 90s, Kazuo Koike was popular among typical US comic readers for his series Lone Wolf and Cub. There were two or three more of his stories in English, and I assumed they were all violent noir fare, and Lone Wolf and Cub was a historical epic. Then I started reading them. Lone Wolf and Cub is definitely his most normal, but even that has some absolutely insane moments among the stories, things that make you wonder who could possibly write them. I’ve read several of Koike’s series, and they are all varying degrees of the most batshit crazy thing I’ve ever read. Offered is Koike’s pure crazy distilled down to two volumes. It starts with the main character competing in an international college track event in Brazil. He breaks the world record, and is promptly kidnapped and dragged deep into the rainforest. Then the main character is drugged and has sex with a crazy woman for 130 pages. Not pornography sex, where that’s the point of what they’re doing. There’s lots of sex and nudity here, but it’s somehow the most functional and least sexy sexualized content I’ve ever seen. In this scene, they are simply copulating while the woman, whose name is Paella Hitler, explains to the main character that she is the daughter of Adolf Hitler, and he is the son of Gilgamesh. Turns out the sperm of Gilgamesh was frozen in some sort of gelatin-horn in Antarctica for 4,000 years and recently discovered and used as donor sperm for a select group of women. Being the son of Gilgamesh is why the main character is the world’s new track star, and Paella explains that the reason behind the kidnapping was so she could have a baby that was a cross between Hitler and Gilgamesh. Eventually, everyone puts their clothes back on, and the main character is released back into society, where he realizes that everyone is under heavy hypnosis by the agents of Paella Hitler. The only way to ward this hypnosis off is to keep a jar with a mummified specimen of a 4,000-year-old race with him at all times. It is not a small jar. Nobody comments on this. Later, various characters go hunting for ancient diamonds, someone else offers to have the main character’s baby, and a nudist colony is founded on the beaches of Massachusetts. And that’s the first volume. The second volume picks up with the nudist colony being disbanded when they realize they’ve organized it next to some sort of nest of black widow spiders. Volume two also contains Gilgamesh very much alive, displaced eyeballs, dirty sword fights, and aliens. What makes all this craziness even better is the very polished and realistic art style of Ryoichi Ikegami. When the characters are talking about all this stuff, they look like real people, and they do it with a straight face.
Apocalypse Zero – Takayuki Yamaguchi (11 volumes, 6 in English)
This one… it’s sort of like an Ultraman series. The main character, Kakugo, turns into a suited superhero that saves good school kids from monsters in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The monsters are sent by his brother, who went through the same training he did to wear the Zero armor, except the training twisted his brother so that he inexplicably turned into a woman in the present and started sending monsters out to kill people. These monsters are things like an obese woman in a skimpy leather costume who threatens to rape all her victims before she kills them, then vomits dessicated still-living corpses that beg to be killed. One of them is an old man who fires bullets from his penis, and has metal plates mounted to his scrotum that turn into tentacles that are shiny enough to blind the Kakugo in a fight. These monsters suffer messy deaths, such as having their brains kicked out the back of their head, or having their bodies split open and having the corpses of all their victims pour out. Most of the monsters are overtly sexual and highly exaggerated, but again, no sex is happening. Kakugo’s Zero armor training in his youth involved getting large metal balls fired into his body, then absorbing them and making them a part of his bloodstream, so that he is technically invulnerable. This involves excruciating pain. But the pain from that process is nothing compared to wearing his Zero armor, which is forged from the souls of thousands of dying POWs. Wearing the armor, Kakugo is forced to feel the pain of the deaths of every soul constantly. Amidst all this, the highly sexualized monsters and the super-manly main character that battles them, Apocalypse Zero is somehow still about what all shounen manga is about. Kakugo is in high school, and he fights the crazy monsters to make the world his classmates live in a better place. That the ultra-violence and incredibly disgusting sexualized monsters are never commented on in the series, just common horrors, is the best part. Yamaguchi is also very good at drawing monsters, violence, and bodies straining in the throes of manly agony. I find the first volume of this series to be one of the most over-the-top shounen manga I’ve ever read, and that’s a genre the specializes in topping itself as a rule. I’m still shocked by the first 30 pages of the first volume, and I’ve owned it for about six years. My roommate and I pass volumes of this series back and forth to each other in disbelief to this day. This is another series that’s incomplete in English, but the six volumes are worth having for the spectacle of it, if that’s your thing.