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Zeni Geba, Part 1, by George Akiyama, Grade: A
Of all of the manga artists to come out during the late 60's and early 70's, George Akiyama is one of the most controversial. Even taking into account the cutting edge manga appearing in Garo and COM at the time, George pushed the envelope with social commentary and the occasional depictions of cannibalism. Ashura, which ran in Shonen Magajin in 1970, was partly banned in sections of Japan as a result. A number of his stories were published by Shonen Sunday, Shonen Jump and Shonen Champion. His current title is Haguregumo, a much more mainstream comedy that started in 1973 in Big Comic Original, and has been collected into at least 100 volumes.
Zeni Geba originally ran from 1970 to '71, in Weekly Shonen Sunday, for 5 volumes. It is a fairly violent series, given that it's target audience was young boys. It was turned into a live action TV series in 2009. The artwork is fairly crude, and kind of looks like a cross between early Tezuka and Ishinomori. The story revolves around Futaro Gamagori, a deformed kid born into an unlucky, poor family. His mother was ill, but the doctor refused to treat her if they couldn't pay him. So, Futaro spots an unattended purse one day and steals some money from it. His older brother sees him doing this and tries to get the boy to return the cash, but they fight and Futaro accidentally kills his brother. He buries the body in a field, then goes home to find the doctor. But, while he was gone, his mother died. Futaro is bullied by relatives that resent having to take him in as an orphan, and by local kids at the school. Over time, he discovers the power money has on people, and this starts giving him an edge. At one point, when he's running across a street, he's hit by a car carrying a powerful businessman. He's brought into the car, and soon finds himself the guy's assistant in the company. He kills the company president and takes over the business. His nickname comes from "zeni", meaning "money", and "gaba", which comes from "die Gewalt", the German word for "power".
(A scene from the first part of the story.)
He gets married and has a child, but his wife hates him and they fight a lot. He tries drowning the baby at least once, but it isn't until he attempts to kiss his wife one evening, some time later, that she stabs him with a knife. He survives the attack, but apparently does spend time in jail. There are similar incidents in the company, such as when he throws money out the window and watches as his managers crawl around in the dirt to pick up all the bills.
(Futaro meets his first employer.)
This volume collects the first half of the series, with the second half being in the next one. The volume ends with Futaro apparently finding love in the form of a high school girl that likes him for himself. Unfortunately, she decides to lie down on the ground to give herself to him, if he pays her for it. In a rage, Futaro kills her.
(Getting stabbed by his wife.)
(A writer finds himself looking at more money than he'd ever dreamed of, money which Futaro himself had scrimped together as a child.)
Comments: Futaro is not a likeable character, but he was created by a society that rejected him based on his appearance and lack of money. So, in a way, he's like a pit bull that turns on his owner after being beaten one too many times. In any case, my reason for reading this book was to learn more about George Akiyama, for his role in manga history. And this is a pretty good introduction to his early stuff. It's not recommended to anyone that is easily offended, but is worth reading if you haven't seen anything from him before.