Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Review: Kurayami Godan

Hiro Terada (1931-1992) was one more of the artists that lived at Tokiwa Manor and worked as Tezuka's assistant during the magical period between 1953 and 1954. In the interview on Comi Press with Fujio A. Fujiko, Terada was described as being very strict regarding how he thought children's manga should go, disliking violence in the stories. He was also nicknamed "Terada-bank", for his willingness to loan money to the other artists unable to pay their rent at the end of each month.

(Sportsman Kintaro. Link to amazon for review purposes only.)

He had a particular, simplistic style that featured thin lines and big eyes. Rather than being known for his elaborate drawings, Terada focused more on the story and pacing. His manga aren't as eye catching as that of Fujio A or Hideko Mizuno, but that wasn't what he was going for. Terada has 14 titles listed to his name in the Japanese wiki page, including "Sportsman Kintaro" (1959-1963), the baseball story "Sebangou 0" ("Number 0", 1960-1961), and "Wanpaku Kisha" ("Naughty Reporter").

Kurayami Godan, vol. 1, by Hiro Terada, Grade: B
Kurami is a fourth degree judo black belt. He starts out the story as one of Kumade's three henchmen. Where Kumade, a 5th degree black belt, is a big, square-jawed hustler, Kurami is a smaller, better-looking gentleman. Kumade takes his crew to various dojos to challenge their top students to one-point (ippon) matches, loser has to pay the winner a stiff fee. Kurami manages to defeat the various defenders single-handedly. When Kurami returns to his own dojo, he's greeted by Oni-hime (Demon Princess) and her grandfather Gofune (owner of the dojo). Gofune is getting up in years, and had helped raise Kurami after the boy's own parents died. Not only does Gofune see the boy as a member of the family, but he wants Kurami to make 5th degree black, marry Oni-hime and take over the dojo. A few weeks later, at a major tournament, Kurami easily sweeps the field and makes 5th rank.

Suddenly, Kumade is feeling threatened. Kurami has the same status, and Kumade is looking at losing his shot at taking over the dojo he's been training at for so long. He sets up an ultimatum, where the winner of the next top tournament will win control of Gofune's dojo. Gofune agrees, and Kurami starts training harder, not realizing that Kumade has ordered the other two henchmen to tagteam him, alternating turns at keeping Kurami busy practicing 16 hours a day. After 1 week, Kurami has been run ragged and is ordered by Gofune to take a rest day. This is what Kumade has been waiting for. On false pretenses, Kurami is lured out into the mountains, where Kumade and the other two give him a choice - take a suitcase of money and skip town until after the tournament, or face being beaten to a pulp. Kurami slips off the mountain and crashes into the river below. Thinking that the boy's been killed, Kumade mails a letter to Gofune written in Kurami's hand, claiming that the boy couldn't take the pressure anymore and ran away. Kumade returns to Tokyo, Kurami fails to reappear, and Gofune curses the boy for betraying everything he's done for him. Oni-hime doesn't know what to think, but is suspicious at the way Kumade is suddenly spending more time in the dojo.

(Joining a dojo after recovering from the river, with Matsuge watching on.)

Meanwhile, the boy has been fished out of the river by an unemployed former judo student and his daughter, Matsuge. They nurse him back to health, but there are two problems - Kurami has lost his memory, and he's now blind. When asked for his name, the boy just repeats "Kurayami Godan" (Darkness, 5th degree). Time passes, the big tournament comes and goes and Kumade is now the new lead student of Gofune's studio, and he's filling the dojo up with new students to force the old ones out. Oni-hime is upset with the changes, but Gofune doesn't care anymore. "Kurayami" quickly recovers from the injuries to his head, arm and leg, but that's about it. He does drift back into judo out of instinct, visiting the closest dojos and easily defeating everyone else without being able to see them, but he dislikes imposing on Matsuge and her father for taking care of him, and he runs off to start a new career as a blind masseuse. Unfortunately for him, a similar group of delinquent judo masters come to terrorize his current dojo, and they want revenge later on after they're humiliated. The delinquents call Kurayami out on a fake request to provide massage services and attack the boy in a park. Kurayami defeats 3 of the 4, but the leader grabs an empty sake bottle and uses it as a weapon.

(Sportsman Kintaro. Link to amazon for review purposes only.)

At the last minute, the leader is hit in the back with a rock and Kurayami throws him to the ground. The question is, where did the rock come from? The answer, a master judo student called Black Beard had come to Tokyo some weeks before and had seen Kurami, on Kumade's orders, defeating various dojos for money, and decided to teach the boy his own style of combat-level judo. Black Beard had lived at Gofune's dojo up until Kurami had made 5th degree black and he'd then left to go back to Hokkaido, which is when Kumade had made his move. Black Beard came back to Tokyo, discovered that Kurami was missing, saw "Kurami's" letter, and set out to find the boy. To Black Beard, the person in the letter didn't match up with the one he'd trained on the mats. In fact, Black Beard had located Kurayami a day earlier, but the boy didn't remember him and blew him off. When Black Beard rescues Kurayami from the remaining delinquent, the boy decides that he wants to learn more about his life prior to falling into the river.

End of book 1. Resolved in book 2.

As mentioned, Terada has a simplistic style. There are no elaborate backgrounds, no detailed close-ups of people reacting in shock. No dynamic, movement-filled panels showing the various throws. Instead, "Kurayami Godan" is a story-driven manga where things continue to take turns for the worse. Obviously, there is a resolution to all the various plot lines at the end, but how things will wrap up is not clear in the last chapter of book one. This is not one of the greatest manga in the world, but it is a good read, and a decent introduction to judo for anyone interested.

Summary: A promising up-and-coming young 4th degree black belt looks poised to take over the dojo and marry the master's granddaughter. After being betrayed by his friend, Kumade, the boy is fished out of a river, blind and with no memories. Starting over under the name Kurayami Godan, the boy makes new friends, new enemies and a new career as a masseuse, while never really being able to escape the pull of the judo dojo. Recommended if you're a student of manga history.

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