Friday, January 22, 2010

Manga Review: Golgo 13, #1

All right, I admit upfront that no manga fan worth their salt has never heard of Golgo 13. So why bother reviewing it here? ...

I give up. Anyway, while I did read the few translated English volumes in the U.S., I had two reasons for buying Golgo 13 now. First, I wanted to get the original story to see how the series started (which wasn't one of the chapters made available in the States). Second, I'm expanding my "ancient history studies" beyond just the Tokiwa-sou artists to include those that debuted at the same time. Not that I wanted their debut stories, just that I'm looking at the old-school guys - Shigeru Mizuki, Monkey Punch, Mitseru Yokoyama and so on. And I was able to get a used copy for 100 yen. Yes, I have lofty standards.

According to the wiki entry, Takao (1936-) first hit the shelves in 1955 with Baron Air. But, while the English listing only names 5 of his titles, the Japanese wiki lists 26. He's been around, and he's been busy. When he was in school in Osaka, he excelled at drawing and fighting. Would have been interesting to see what would have happened if he'd followed his plans to become a pro boxer.

Golgo 13, vol. 1, by Takao Saito, Grade B+
Saito's a fighter. You can see this through his choice of topics, anti-heroes, and expressions. His combat scenes are dynamic, clearly blocked out, and filled with changing camera angles. Way better than watching the Bourne movies. The lines are crisp, the panels almost excessively detailed, and the settings are varied and exotic. If you can't afford to fly to Egypt, buy one of Saito's manga and you can easily imagine what it's like. While his characters don't change that much facially from panel to panel, Saito's never been able to draw westerners' noses in profile properly.

(Golgo 13, the early days, and the "wall of text".)

He only has two real flaws. First, his hyper-realistic style often results in static-looking facial expressions when a character is just standing around. Second, he loves the "wall of text". When his characters talk, they talk a lot. There may be 5 or 6 pages with no dialog at all, and then suddenly it's like all the bottled up words pour into 10 solid panels non-stop. Plus, he tends to use a lot of Japanese military terms, which I'm not familiar with, making following the story that much harder. Fortunately, there are enough battle scenes to keep things interesting.


Stories run for 8 to 10 chapters and are self-contained. Golgo 13 is a man's man. As a professional killer, taking on any hit for the right price and only after being told why the client wants the target erased, Golgo 13 has certain rules that must be followed. He never meets with a client more than once, no backstabbing, and no spreading his name around. He doesn't always have sex before or after a job, but it is common enough to be a feature of the manga. And he doesn't hesitate if an attacker is female. Actually, in the first book, one of the women he's supposed to work with to do the job is ordered by the client to kill Golgo 13 after he's done in order to keep some secrets safe. She just gets added to the body count. This is not James Bond that we're dealing with here.

The series has been running almost non-stop for 42 years. There are over 145 volumes for this title. One reason why Golgo 13 remains popular is due to its cutting edge use of current events. Within a few weeks of some world event taking place, Saito starts up a new adventure where Golgo 13 is a key reason for why things in the real world turned out the way they did. Such as Golgo 13's being hired to shoot a stack of 200 ballots in Florida so that Gore would lose the election against Bush. Not sure if it's a good thing that certain Japanese men get their news from this particular manga, but it's probably better than nothing.


This particular edition came out in 2002, runs 316 pages, and contains: "Big Safe Operation", "The Roar of Delos", "The Rose and the Cruel Perversion" and "The Fading Coat of Arms". All of the stories stand up well artistically - Golgo 13's design hasn't changed much over time. In the first story, British intelligence commissions Golgo 13 to eliminate a former Nazi who is sitting on a stockpile of counterfeit Pounds, which are expected to flood the market soon. His job is to whack the target and then blow up the safe. This is the story where MI6 tries to cross Golgo 13 to keep the secret about the money from getting out. For Roar of Delos, the French Government wants to stop the agency that keeps on creating pretenders to a specific family via plastic surgery. A rich father wants Golgo 13 to rescue his daughter from a Don Juan that turns out to be a woman running a black market porno ring that kills off its victims afterwards, in "The Rose". And in the final story, an aging CIA agent and a former KGB spymaster now running a prison camp in Communist Hungary are involved in a spy swap to take place at what's nicknamed "the bloody bridge". The prison warden hires Golgo 13 supposedly to eliminate some nosy subordinates, but really it's part of a plan to turn the spy swap into the opening stages of WW III, with Golgo 13 becoming the fall guy.

Not all of the twists and turns work, and the technology is unavoidably dated (Golgo 13 falls prey to an infrared camera system, apparently not being familiar with the concept). And, if you look at the action sequences in this entry and find them not to your liking, then this title is not for you. Personally, I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to.


Summary: The "Perfect Machine of Snipe" puts holes in both the "good" and "bad" guys. Regardless of the storyline or the odds, you know who's going to be bringing a nuclear warhead to a knife fight. Recommended.

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