Featured Columns

February 27, 2012

Bento Bako Weekly: Jormungand 8, 20th Century Boys 19

Title: Jormungand
Author: Keitaro Takahashi
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signature)
Volume: Volume 8 (of 11), $12.99
Vintage: 2010 by Shogakukan, January 2012 by Viz Media
Genre: Action, adventure

[Previous Jormungand reviews.]

Kasper and his crew are taking a well deserved lunch break after a tense round of negotiations. Chiquita brings up the issue on everyone’s minds, regarding a mystery firm that has been interfering with their shipping company, HCLI. Kasper has a good idea of who is behind it, and he wastes no time retaliating. Koko is to join this operation, so her crew arrives in Japan to go over the plans. Before he gets down to business, though, Kasper takes Jonah to check on the three children that were rescued and then relocated to Japan by Kasper. Satisfied that they’re living a decent and happy life, Jonah decides that maybe Kasper isn’t completely untrustworthy after all. It’s back to business when they return, and Kasper has a proposition for Tojo. Kasper believes the group meddling in his affairs is the Japan Ministry of Defense’s Special Research, or SR, unit, lead by Colonel Yosuke Hinoki. Tojo used to be a member of SR under Hinoki, so Kasper has come to see if Tojo can get him confirmation on Hinoki’s involvement. While Kasper flies off to look into SR’s base of operations in Jakarta, Tojo makes an important phone call to the Colonel. He gets the answer he’s looking for, but not without accidentally revealing information to Hinoki. The plan must move forward, so Koko asks Tojo to give the crew a run down of SR and Colonel Hinoki. It’s a rather wordy crash course on the history of SR, from its start as a government run branch put in place by America, to a self-sufficient unit funded by arms sales. Their focus is in Southeast Asia, which is where Kasper is now trying to gain a foothold for HCLI, which is what has led to the current tensions between them. Tojo then details Hinoki’s impressive background, focusing on the immense effort he puts forward to keep SR a silent running organization. Hinoki soon learns of Kasper’s assault on his men and unleashes the dogs of war, and his soldiers are all too ready to fight against HCLI. Hinoki calls Koko and requests a meeting to discuss dividing Southeast Asia. At the same time, Hinoki sends one of his top agents, Kurosaka, to meet with Kasper, but her assassination attempt is easily thwarted by Chiquita. Kasper and his men are pinned down in their hotel by SR troops, and Kasper is thrilled to take them on, resulting in a blood bath as they escape. Meanwhile, Jonah is sent in to scope out the meeting place, but it becomes immediately clear that a trap has been laid. Tojo runs out to rescue Jonah, while Koko and the others start their escape. A high speed shootout ensues in an underwater tunnel, but the SR troops are in for a big surprise on the other side. Tojo is too, when he finally manages to contact Hinoki and finds out the real reason behind this battle. A stop over in the Bahamas provides us with a flash back to Tojo’s past, when he decided to quit SR, followed by a final meeting with Hinoki back in the present. In the end, after all the bloodshed, Hinoki finds what he’s looking for, and Kasper and Koko get their weapon’s route. Dr. Miami and Karen make a quick appearance in the last few pages of the volume, as Koko launches off HCLI’s 126th rocket and puts another satellite into orbit.

I don’t get to read much Jormungand, which is fine. It’s entertaining enough, but lacks the depth and energy of other similar titles. I’d rather read Black Lagoon, for example. But the series does have its merits, it entertains, and it’s fun; just don’t go looking for much more. The best part about this series is the camaraderie between the characters. Their friendship, trust, loyalty, and in Koko and Kasper’s case, their family bonds. Quite frankly, it’s amazing how someone as outrageous as Koko can inspire loyalty from her mishmash of bodyguards. There’s just something about her. The way she can smile and goof around like a child right after a bloody mission is pretty astonishing, but the way in which she slakes off so much violence instantly relaxes her crew, so none of them get bogged down with thoughts of death and destruction. She is not one to leave a man behind, and she’ll protect her men (and woman) as much as they protect her. Not that they really need it. The efficiency with which they take out SR without a single casualty is astounding, and shows off their near super human skills. The same goes for her brother Kasper and his crew. Where do you dig up such a fearless woman like Chiquita who can rush a group of men armed with assault rifles with her combat knife? Wearing a grin on her face the entire time, I might add. The siblings have built incredible personal armies, and inspire them to viciously devour anyone who stands in their way. This particular volume focuses mostly on Tojo and his personal story, though Jonah gets his fair share of face time as well. So does Chiquita, but she’s usually just spraying blood around. Things are fairly evenly divided between Koko and Kasper, so we’re given a good look at how they work together as a team, even though they’re mostly in different places during the story. I have to say, it’s a really bad idea to mess with the Hekmatyar family, because they will fuck you up without a second thought. And then they’ll go launch a rocket into space and forget all about you. They’re brutally efficient, and yet still likable for who they are. Most of them have a personal code of honor, like Tojo, which is both respected and used by Koko and Kasper; and I should add that they’re pretty up front about using such traits. Koko and Kasper don’t hide their intentions from Tojo, and Jonah, of all people, confidently states that though Kasper is kind of an ass, he’s not a liar. As for the art, well, it’s unique. To be honest, I find the way Takahashi draws eyes and mouths to be a little creepy. The eyes make everyone look crazy, though to be fair, they kind of are crazy. There’s nothing wrong with the art; it’s fairly fluid and clean, though I wish there was more detail.

Title: 20th Century Boys
Author: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signature)
Volume: Volume 19 (of 22), $12.99
Vintage: 2005 by Shogakukan in Japan, February 2012 by Viz Media (in the book there’s a typo that says its first printing was in Feb. 2011, but it came out the week of Feb. 14, 2012)
Genre: Science fiction, drama

[Volume 18 review.]

There be spoilers ahead! Ye have been warned. Spoilers include: the identity of the mystery wanderer with the guitar (if you haven’t already figured it out), and the truth behind Friend’s death and resurrection. End spoiler warning. Stop reading now to avoid them.

Manjome dropped a bomb shell at the end of the previous volume, and he quickly explains to Kanna and Otcho what has got his panties twisted – the man currently calling himself Friend is not the original, and certainly is not Friend risen from the dead. Whoever is underneath the mask, however, still intends to follow through with Fukube’s plans to destroy humanity. Manjome doesn’t have the slightest idea who this man is, but realizes the danger, and flatly asks Kanna to end everything by killing Friend. His requests leaves them stunned, and Urasawa immediately takes us across Japan where Chono and the wanderer are still making their way toward Tokyo. Chono tries to prod the man for clues about his identity, including flat out asking him if he’s Kenji. The man, who has so far acted as if he doesn’t remember who he is, tells a story from his childhood about fishing with his father, and then declares that he’s on his way to Tokyo to catch the biggest fish of all. In Tokyo, Maruo and Namio pay a visit to Kamisama, who has been watching over Kyoko and her musician friend. Kamisama, though he ha stopped dreaming of the future long ago, feels that the end is nearing as things unravel for the Friend organization. Suddenly, he’s drawn to the bowling Kyoko, who has been casually bowling strikes off to the side, and he is wracked with a foreboding premonition. In the border town of Tohoku, Chono and Kenji are stopped by a massive fortress and a very strict checkpoint. No one gets through without a permit, and anyone caught with a forged permit is immediately shot dead. They meet a man known as Ichi the Spade, who runs a sort of underground smuggling operation to get people across the border. More than being a good Samaritan, he’s hungry for money, and he’ll use people’s misfortune to get it. Ichi takes Chono and Kenji to see the man who made the only fake permit that ever allowed anyone through the checkpoint – a manga artist named Ujiki Tsuneo (long time series readers might remember him as part of the manga duo who lived next door to Kanna). While Kenji tries to convince Ujiki to make him a permit, Ichi offers to hide Chono from the army. Ichi, however, always looking to make more money, turns Chono in for the bounty on his head. Miraculously, Kenji makes it through the checkpoint unscathed, but to everyone’s surprise, comes right back. Ichi tries to buy the permit from him, but Kenji stares him down until Ichi reveals the reason he turned Chono in – his sister is gravely ill, and the only help for her is on the other side of the border. Struck by Ichi’s plight, and angered at how the border soldiers kill anyone who tries to break free of their harsh lives in Tohoku, Kenji orders Ujiki to make a permit for every single person in the town. As the people swarm the gate, the soldiers become nervous, but their actions attract some attention at a higher level. As Kenji enters the fortress to rescue Chono, Ichi gathers the townspeople for an assault to reclaim their town. High up in the fortress, Kenji comes face to face with the nameless Killer (although…I think he’s one of the guy’s from Friend’s circle before the Expo, though I can’t remember his name, or if he even had one), a man who claims to be the ultimate evil, searching for a defender of justice to fight against. The man tells his story, revealing his presence early on in Kenji’s life, when they first met and he latched onto the idea of Kenji as his own personal hero to wage war with. He also reveals his role in Kiriko’s life (Kenji’s sister and Kanna’s mother), which includes the startling revelation of how she was manipulated into becoming a pawn for Friend. Finally, he reveals his role in Bloody New Year’s Eve, taking credit for building the robot that caused so much destruction, and distributing the virus that killed so many. Kenji casually tears down the man’s great achievements, noting that he didn’t really do anything at all, because all the real work was done by others. As Ichi, Chono, and the others hurry to Kenji’s side, they run in just as Kenji reveals himself by name. At last we are filled in on Kenji’s life between Bloody New Year’s Eve and now, the reasons he ran away and was gone for so long, and the reason why he has finally returned. The Defender of Justice is back.

As if we didn’t already know, because really, who else could it be (and also Viz spoiled it in the liner notes of one of the earlier volumes), our mystery wanderer is in fact Kenji. For the last coupe of volumes various characters have been speculating that he’s alive, and Chono has had his suspicions since they met, while the mystery man continually dodged any personal questions. But now Kenji himself has finally announced his true identity, as well as explained why he’s been missing for 15+ years. He’s been running away. That’s…not really the image a reader would want to have of Kenji, let’s be honest. Through the eyes of…well, every single character that wasn’t a member of the Friends, we’ve been told about what a hero Kenji was, and how he sacrificed himself on Bloody New Year’s Eve. Everyone thought he died fighting the Friend, and as readers we’ve been led to believe that throughout the series. Up until a few volumes ago when strange things started happening, like an old song of Kenji’s that appeared to have new lyrics playing on the radio, and a frazzled and world weary man wandering around Japan on a motorcycle with nothing but a guitar. Though honestly, since that’s been kind of obvious for a while now, the real twist in this volume is that there appears to be two men who have been masquerading as the Friend. One is now dead, beyond a doubt, but another still lives and plans on carrying out their plans to the end. It’s been thrown about quite a bit in the series, whether Friend is really a miracle worker, or just a fraud performing cheap tricks. Recent volumes have been setting up for this revelation, by taking us through moments of Friend’s life and showing us the literal ropes behind the scenes. His presence and his powerful charisma allows him to manipulate the people into believing that his magic is real. Much like a magician can suspend reality for his audience. Much like Hitler brought droves of people to his side using his incredible charismatic ability and grand theatrics. His biggest trick, of course, was taking a bullet for the Pope, dying from the wound, and then coming back to life. And now we finally learn that it really was just a trick. Fukube is really dead, and now someone else wears the mask and rules the world. Who that person is remains a mystery, though probably not for long, as Kanna has resolved to do as Manjome has asked. I don’t think she’s ever killed anyone herself, but I get the feeling Otcho will be going with her, and, of course, Kenji is headed towards the same end. It will be really interesting to see them come together to finally put an end to Friend’s sick game.


Review copies provided by Viz Media.



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