April 09, 2008
by: Serdar Yegulalp
Tsutomu Takahashi's original manga, only published in a badly-mangled form in English, deserves a complete and uncut look.
An Introduction to “What You’re Missing”
Anime and manga are like icebergs; there’s so much below the waterline we never get to see from where we sit. For every one thing that gets translated into English and released domestically, there are five more that don’t—and that’s not just because those five others are “too Japanese”. Sometimes they never come to the attention of an eager licensor, and end up unheralded and untranslated. Sometimes they do get a translation, but slip out of print due to inept distribution or unreceptive audiences. And sometimes they just end up in limbo, unlicensed—and unlicensable—no thanks to litigation over who actually owns the finished product, or in what form. We’re missing out.
Well, I say it’s time we stopped missing out. Each month (sometimes more often, depending on what’s at hand), What You’re Missing will cover a different property, anime or manga, which for whatever reason hasn’t yet reached an English-speaking audience in a legit edition but deserves your attention. Said titles usually fit into one of the above three categories—previously licensed but out of print; unlicensed; unlicensable—but for all I know, some of these titles may already have been picked up and are being negotiated for as we speak.
But why wait for them to turn up on their own? It’s my hope that by talking about them, I’ll be able to bring a previously undiscovered or not widely known title to light, and maybe spur its adaptation for an English-speaking market if it hasn’t already been snapped up. There are so many genuinely good and undiscovered (or at least under-promoted) releases out there, it’s about time I quite lamenting that fact and did what I could to give them the exposure they deserve. Read, and learn.
What It’s About:
Detectives are by nature an unsentimental, flinty lot, but Tokyo metropolitan police detective Kyôya acts like he’s angling for a Nobel Prize in Hard-Boiled. In the first pages of Jiraishin, he’s on a rooftop with a woman threatening to fling herself off, and his idea of talking her down is to tell her “You know, starving yourself is a far better way for a person to commit suicide.” Years later, this woman—Azusa Shono—gets close to a gangster boss at Kyôya’s behest, then murders him and turns herself in. She’s desperate to get a reaction out of Kyôya, but he’s schooled himself out of having sympathy, and—spitefully true to his word, perhaps—starves herself to death in prison.
That makes her brother Hisashi hopping mad, and he goes to the gangsters themselves and offers to kill Kyôya for them if they supply him with a gun and startup funds. Hisashi walks out of the yakuza office leaving three gangsters dead on the floor and enough money to settle his family’s debts…only to discover his estranged father’s already profited handsomely from Azusa’s death. With nothing more to lose, he kidnaps Kyôya’s partner’s wife and makes his last stand on a windswept beach—but Hisashi hasn’t banked on Kyôya being even more cavalier with his own life. Even after being stabbed with a piece of driftwood and having his own gun stolen and aimed at him, Kyôya’s only response is to reach out, seize the gun barrel and jam it against his own forehead. Set and match.
And that’s just the first story in Tsutomu Takahashi’s long-running series (nineteen volumes or so) that plays like a manga homage to Michael Mann’s original Miami Vice. Blood, grit, and sin spatter so thickly that it’s a miracle you don’t get your fingers dirty when you turn the pages. In each story Kyôya meets head-on with a situation that demands his particular blend of stoicism and fearlessness: he’s not just any old bad-ass, but the right kind of bad-ass for this job. Somewhere inside, he cares, but he’s also smart enough not to let his enemies stab him in that particular soft spot.
His exploits cover a great deal of different kinds of ground. At one point Kyôya discovers a corrupt police officer exploiting a woman who lost her mind after losing her daughter and suffering ungodly abuses at the hands of her husband, but it’s only after all the right people have tried to kill each other does he realize it’s finally prudent to pull the trigger. When a jogger is stabbed to death in a park, Kyôya rejects the prevailing theory that he was murdered by a couple of migrant workers—there’s something much uglier at work than a simple mugging, and he finds it in the mind of an artist who’s been using the couple as his models. (There’s the hint that he only recognizes such a thing because he has a bit of it within himself as well: fight monsters for long enough and you run the risk of becoming one, natch.)
(C) Tsutomu Takahashi
A showdown on a desolate beach climaxes the first story in Jiraishin.
Takahashi isn’t yet a household name among manga readers, but he deserves to be. His most famous works in English-speaking territories are probably Alive and Sky High. Alive dealt with a condemned prisoner given a chance to be spared from execution if he becomes an experimental guinea pig—a premise from which the author spun out one truly unexpected twist after another. Sky High gave us a supernatural story, where the dead can choose one of three fates, each with their own complications and possibilities. Both had the distinction of being adapted into a good-to-excellent live-action movies courtesy of Versus wunderkind Ryuhei Kitamura (and are both available domestically on DVD courtesy of Tokyo Shock / Media Blasters).
Aside from his bruising storytelling, Takahashi’s other major asset is his art style. Jiraishin was his first series and so doesn’t show off his sweeping, powerful look at its best, but here and there—especially in his full-page and two-page spreads—you can see the early hints of what his look would later mature into. The first reprint volume of Jiraishin (ISBN 4-06-360212-5) contains a “Lost File” episode that appears to date back from before the start of the series proper, and it shows off correspondingly rougher designs—although Takahashi’s flair for violent, blood-soaked theatrics (like a whole office full of people massacred with a shotgun) was apparently there right from the beginning.
English-speaking audiences did indeed get a taste of Jiraishin once upon a time, but in such a wretched way that they might as well not have gotten it at all. Mixx Entertainment put out three volumes of the series under the transliterated name Ice Blade back in 1998. They picked stories haphazardly—the first story in Volume 1 is the third one in the Japanese edition—reprinted them in left-to-right format, censored them intermittently (although some of the censorship appears to have been restored in the reprints), and used some of the ugliest text lettering ever seen by human eyes. Takahashi’s work is a tough, sad piece of manga noir, and it deserves at least a provisional re-release in its original unmolested state.
Who Should License It And Why: Assuming the original Mixx licenses can be superseded, this sounds like a candidate for Del Rey, who have tackled similarly dark material (The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls, Kurogane). Their fan-friendly translation and presentation would also be exactly what something like this deserves after it was cut so completely to shreds.