Kajiwara Ikki Part 1

From Kajiwara Ikki Part 1: The Dangerous Charm of a Dark World

Let's get straight into Kajiwara Ikki's Lunatic Period (late seventies). This started when he shifted his focus to seinen-shi magazines aimed at young male readers. From this platform, he launched a series of ultra-violent karate-themed gekiga, including 'Karate: Hell Version' (Karate Jigoku-hen), 'New Karate: Hell Version' (Shin Karate Jigoku-hen) and 'Human Lethal Weapon' (Ningen Kyōki). These works didn't enjoy a warm reception by any means from the average gekiga fans of the time. Comments ranged from "He just recycles the same characters and plots over and over." to "It's too sadistic, and there's too much porn content."

Granted, these gekiga never achieved the immense popularity of his earlier works written for more juvenile readers, like 'Star of the Giants' (Kyōjin no Hoshi) and 'Tomorrow's Joe' (Ashita no Joe). And I have to admit that the storylines are basically all reheated. But, when you really think about it, this later body of work has a special significance precisely because it never sold well. Here, Kajiwara was truly able to express aspects of himself that he'd never done before.

Zansatsusha0001(Technical details: 'Karate: Hell Version' and 'New Karate: Hell Version' were both illustrated by Nakajō Ken and printed in Shūkan Sankei. 'Human Lethal Weapon' was illustrated by Nakano Yosio and published by Nihon Bungeisha in Manga Goraku). 'Star of the Giants' was illustrated by Kawasaki Noboru and published by Kodansha in Shonen Magazine, as was 'Tomorrow's Joe', illustrated by Chiba Tetsuya. Kajiwara wrote this story under the pseudonym Takamori Asao.)

Kajiwara's karate gekiga all share three plot elements in common. Firstly, the heroes are all realistic blends of human strengths and weaknesses, both physical and psychological. (For example, Kiba Naoto in 'Bodyguard KIba' and 'Karate: Hell Version', Mikage Yosito in 'Human Lethal Weapon' and Mumon Onichiyo in 'Slasher Killer' (Zansatsusha). Secondly and by contrast, the heroines are completely different, perfect and indeed semi-divine in character. (Hinohara Nami in 'Karate: Hell Version', Asahina Kaoruko in 'Human Lethal Weapon' and Rosaria Ogin in 'Slasher Killer'. And thirdly, you get male father/teacher figures with overwhelming mental and physical strength - God figures, in other words. These include Daitō Tetsugen in 'Bodyguard Kiba' and 'Karate: Hell Version'; and Ōmoto Retsuzan in ''Human Lethal Weapon'. Both of these characters are based on Ōyama Masutastu. Also, the character Miyamoto Musashi in 'Slasher Killer' is a figure along these lines. ('Slasher Killer' was illustrated by Kojima Gōseki and published in Manga Goraku.)

So, Kajiwara was working through a set of similar themes in all of these works, and it seems pretty clear that he was searching for answers to some problems that had gripped his psyche and simply couldn't be avoided. Personally, I think he was grappling with the commercialization of the manga form, and trying to break out of the narrow confines that commercialization imposed on him.

Human-Leathal-weapn002In plot terms, the problem is posed as the hero trying to recover his family, which has been lost. The plot functions as a kind of Christian redemption drama, with the hero as Prodigal Son seeking reconciliation with his father (read God). But there's also a more esoteric and unorthodox angle to the proceedings, because the heroines are Mother Goddess or Madonna figures, and the hero seeks union and redemption through a Return of the Goddess...So the hero keeps resisting , even while he's being beaten on his knees as he kneels before the harsh Father figure. And he rises from his knees yet again to violate the Goddess figure, no matter how many times she has forgiven him. The hero's a living contradiction, oscillating between extremes. Why? Because he's human. Through these works, Kajihara drew a complete portrait of the human condition - including himself as a human being, oscillating between himself as Kajiwara Ikki and his alter ego Takamori Asao.

Here, I'm not interested in Kajiwara the sex-and-violence artist. I want to look beyond the gore and other fluids that splatter his pages, and search for Kajiwara Ikki the human being hiding behind all this. And I want to search for the message hidden in his work.

'Human Lethal Weapon': Child Gods on the loose...

Kajihara himself referred to 'Human Lethal Weapon' as a "half-autobiography, and in a sense the hero - Mikage Yosito - is indeed Kajihara's alter ego. It's not a very flattering portrait - the hero is a monster of blind ambition and self-centered egotism.

'Human Lethal Weapon' is a very long piece of work, spanning twenty-three volumes in all. The series was originally published by Nihon Bungeisha in the magazine Manga Goraku. It's a transitional work, spanning the closing phase of Kajihara's scandal-ridden Lunatic Period and the dawn of his personal Age of Enlightenment. The story kicks off with the (autobiographical) 'Kodansha Employee Violence Incident'. [In the Incident, Kajihara approached a sub-editor employed by Kodansha, the publishing giant. The Violence part consisted of Kajihara beating the unfortunate to a pulp. This was in 1983. Kajihara was 46 at the time. You might suspect a mid-life crisis, but Kajihara had been a violent right-wing thug forever.]

Human-Leathal-weapn004The publisher's blurb for 'Human Lethal Weapon' makes for heady reading: Mikage Yoshito is a graduate of the (ultra-preppy) Peers' School. In the course of his rise to power in the shadowy world of the underground, he meets Ōmoto Retsuzan - a figure said to be based on Ōyama Masutastu. To turn himself into a human lethal weapon, Mikage Yoshito joins Ōmoto's mafia group, the Kūshin Kai (literally, the Society of the Heart Made Empty). At the same time, he meets the man who will become his lifelong rival - Kikyō Jūhachirō. On his boss's instructions, Mikage travels down to Kyushu to expand the gang's turf. The target is the local don Kyokushō-Ken(Fist of Rising Sun. The bullet is Mikage. In Kyushu, Mikage encounters the beauteous Asahina Kaoruko, a blind woman who is also his rival Kyokushō-Ken's martial arts Master. He also discovers that she has a previous connection with his lifelong enemy Kikyō Jūhachirō. By cowardly means, Mikage takes Jūhachirō out of the picture. Then he kidnaps Asahina Kaoruko with intent to rape her. There follows a wild chase through the mountains, with Mikage fleeing Kyokushō-Ken's mob - each and every one of them panting for revenge. Thankfully, his boss Ōmoto Retsuzan shows up just in time and saves his skin. But Ōmoto is far from pleased with Mikage's performance in Kyushu, and offers him a pair of concrete shoes if things don't rapidly improve. Stunned by his boss's elemental talent for violence - and feeling like a squandered pawn in a bigger game - Mikage turns to his erstwhile kidnap victim, Kaoruko. After living with her for a while, he even fathers her child. To escape both Kaoruko and the child, he flees to the gang's New York Chapter. What awaits him New York? A mind-blowing all-out war of karate champs versus a savage Mafia-backed wrestling team!" Phew! And that just takes us to Volume 3 -

But, mercifully, the main building blocks of the saga are now in place, and so are the main characters. The unholy trinity of Father (gang boss Ōmoto), Holy Mother (blind martial arts master Kaoruko) and Son (Mikage) will occupy center stage throughout. The themes are straight Lunatic Period Kajiwara - Underground Mafia Wrestling Fight Club / Sex Secrets of the Hollywood Superstars / Death Match with the Uncrowned King of Wrestling / Karate Saves the Revolution in Country X / Anti-war Folk Singer's CIA Assassination Conspiracy...very 70s B-movie. In every case, Mikage gets into lethal danger, but Ōmoto charges in to save the day. Every time, the ungrateful Mikage attacks his savior - and gets himself into even bigger danger as a result.

Human-Leathal-weapn005The series was drawn by Nakano Yoshio in a relatively simple and straightforward style, especially compared to another Kajiwara collaborator, Nakajō Ken. In fact, there's no comparison between them. In Nakano's hands, the main characters all become stereotyped in appearance. Still, this means that the readers of 'Human Lethal Weapon' remember the work mainly for Kajiwara's contribution - as a story, not as visual imagery. Another benefit (?) of Kajiwara's simpler style is that the sex scenes look softer.

As the story progresses, Ōmoto becomes more and more godlike, while Mikage shrinks in stature to a Son Gokū (from Dragon Ball)figure 'playing on the palm of the Buddha's hand', as the saying goes (i.e., running around ignorant of his karma). It's very much a story of Mikage running away from what must seem like never-ending forgiveness and redemption - but this was very much the real-life Kajihara, too, during his Lunatic Period. And being Kajihara, things were bound to escalate, both on and off the page. Worse, being Kajihara Ikki and Takamori Asao simultaneously was like kissing the razor's edge. It was bound to lead to trouble. And it did.

[Kajihara went ballistic in 1983. His trial for the Kodansha Employee Violence Incident dug up a lot of nasty stuff about his past - kidnapping, attempted rape and extortion were all on the list. He was now an open target, and the media had a field day. He was even implicated in the untimely deaths of two manga artists working on projects he had supervised. (Their names were Sonoda Mitsuyoshi and Ono Shinji.) Suddenly, Kajiwara became a pariah. His magazines series were cut. His books stopped being printed and his reputation slumped.]

Still, 'Human Lethal Weapon' resumed publication after the media circus died down. But it was a changed work by a changed, more humane Kajiwara. The final episodes look forward to his later Age of Enlightenment. The saga ends with Mikage careening a car into the ocean - in a bid to save his own child's life.

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