Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Manga review: Wild 7

I was going to write a silly piece on how I finally got around to reading "Wild 7", but after trying to learn more about Mikiya Mochizuki on the net, I decided to take this approach instead. Almost all mention of Mikiya in English regards people's impression of the 2007 reprint of "Wild 7" and how that and the anime remind them of Speed Racer. There's a short write-up of the "Wild 7" anime on wikipedia, but little of any use on the manga and nothing on Mikiya himself. There's not much more in Japanese, either, except for one fan site, The fan site seems fairly comprehensive, and the Profile section has a couple of photos of Mikiya over the years.

The following information was translated from the Japanese fan site profile: "Mikiya Mochizuki was born in Yokohama. After working as Yoshida Tatsuo's assistant, he debuted in the 1960 Shonen Club special issue with "Tokudane wo Oe" (Chase after Tokudane, or Chase after the Scoop). In 1964, "Secret Detective JA" was serialized in Shonen King. After becoming a big hit, he created many other boy's manga. In 1968, under the pen name "Mike Hustler", he wrote "Kurui Inu" (Mad Dog) for young adults. He then wrote the "Saizensen" (Leading Edge) titles for military history, gaining him more attention. In 1969, "Wild 7" began its 10 year serialization. With extra printings, it has sold over 8 million copies. A big soccer fan, he coached players for the Mummies team (THE Miira), which is made up of many famous TV personalities, and has helped spread the popularity of soccer."

Note that Tatsuo Yoshida founded Tatsunoko Productions with his two brothers, and they produced Speed Racer and Gatchaman. This may help explain the constant comparisons between Wild 7 and Maha Go Go Go.

Amazon has a brief "author description from the publisher", which adds that Wild 7 went on for forty-eight 200-page volumes, and gives Mikiya credit for "Knights of Kennedy". Wild 7 spawned an animated series, and a live action drama TV series. Otherwise, that's about it.

Wild 7, vol. 1, by Mikiya Mochizuki, Grade: A
Make no mistake, Wild 7 is NOT Speed Racer. It's more like the Dirty Dozen meets old-school Lupin III. Remember that scene in Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof where the car tire goes over the girl's face in the car? Mikiya has almost the exact same shot almost 30 years earlier, but with a bike tire going over a yakuza's face. People die left and right in a variety of creative ways, and when someone gets hit in the face, they're spitting out teeth afterward.

(The "over the shoulder" look that may be most reminiscent of Speed Racer.)

There is a good reason why reviewers keep making comparisons with Speed Racer, though. It's not because of the chase scenes, since it's too easy to say that a speeding car and a speeding motorcycle will have the same motion sequences. No, it's the character poses. Mikiya and Yoshida make use of the dynamic feet pointed forward and the shoulders and head twisted backwards pose when the lead character wants to look cool. That is, Mikiya uses the techniques that he learned when working for the guy who went on to produce the Speed Racer anime. So, yeah, there's going to be overlap. But, that's as far as it goes, and Mikiya takes as much from Mad magazine as he does from anyone else - there's a very strong "Spy vs Spy" vibe here.

("No, I mean eliminate." Our first introduction to Hiba, and the Wild 7.)

Wild 7 isn't perfect. The lead character especially, Hiba, undergoes massive changes in his appearance from one page to another. It's almost as if the artist and assistants took drawings made 10 years apart and then mix-and-matched them as they went along. That, and some of the "hi-tech" machines look very dated now, as if they came from 1940's Superman cartoons. But, the backgrounds can be very detailed, and the fight and chase scenes are fluid and convincing. When someone gets punched, it looks painful. The characters themselves are all unique and easy to tell apart. Even though there are 10 main characters (The Wild 7, their boss, and the two girls working at the Von coffee shop), there's no problem in keeping track of them. That goes so far as to include their bikes, which are each tricked out to have its own function within a fight, from rocket launchers, portable jump ramps, and even a hovercraft feature. The "heroes" also have limited utility belts and a fairly large number of gun clips (although again, it's not infinite).

(Hail, hail, the gang's all here. The rest of the 7 arrive to save Hiba from the fortress.)

The story: Tokyo, late 60's, early 70's. Criminals have learned how to make the law work in their favor, and a large number of killers are getting out of prison after only a couple of hours because of high-priced lawyers on staff. One Tokyo detective, Masaru Kusanami, can't take it any more and he sets out to create an elite team of 7 motorcycle cops made up of ruthless criminals that show extreme survival and bike skills. Called the Wild 7, these "cops" are a secret force that have police ranks up above superintendent. Any other cop that encounters a Wild 7 hates and/or fears them, but they're powerless to stop them from "bending the laws" way past the breaking point. Anyway,

The first story starts out with the crew chasing down a foreign team of bank robbers who are safe due to diplomatic immunity, and fight it out on the freeways in order to return 45 of the 50 stolen gold bars (minus "operating costs"). This is followed by a flashback showing how Kusanami created the team, which then leads to the next target - professional killer Master Case. AKA: MC Pro, head of MC Productions, an entertainment company that fronts a yakuza branch. Kusanami tasks Hiba with taking out MC via the "coconuts game". In this game, Hiba needs to get MC to play hot potato with him with an anti-personnel bomb that resembles a coconut. Here, we get to see how cruel Kusanami is to his underlings; the bomb has a timer and will go off either on impact, or 1 minute after the game starts. Hiba stands as much of a chance of getting killed as MC does. So, it's Hiba's job to infiltrate MC's hotel suite, get past the bodyguards and challenge MC.

(They fire a rocket into Hiba's room, and initially it seems like a regular dud. Note the cement pouring into the room to "seal" the fate of Hiba and a random yakuza lackey.)

In order to show how good Hiba is, we get another flashback. Hiba started out at a high-security juvie prison, and was the only one to ever escape. 4 times. Seems he kept coming back afterward just to have the challenge of getting back out again. Hiba's very self-centered, only protecting himself, but he does have a slight softspot for people worse off than him. Kusanami set a series of tests for Hiba that consisted of using boobytrapped motorcycles to escape armed pursuers and avoid rocket-propelled grenades, and Hiba passed. Problem is, Hiba decides that the current job is a little too stringent and he disarms the coconut after MC pledges to turn himself back into the police. MC's lawyer intercepts MC on the way to prison and convinces the killer to retreat to their fortress-like headquarters. This results in the police trying to break into the building and getting repelled in Don Martin-like fashion. Hiba violates orders again by sneaking into the fortress and taking out MC before learning that the real leader and sinister villain wanting to take over Japan is the lawyer.

Kusanami initially sends the rest of the Wild 7 out to break into the building, then orders them to break up a violent university student protest that was really a diversion set up by MC Pro's lawyer to draw the police from the fortress. There's lots of killers masquerading as students and Kusanami wants them eliminated while also punishing Hiba for his disobedience. The one Wild 7 that refuses to abandon Hiba is the big hippy Hebopi. We get the next flashback, showing that Hebopi had been the boss of a bike gang that had crashed a U.S. air force site and torched several jets before the MPs could react. Of the gang, only Hebopi survived, only to be manacled to a water tower. The big guy dislodged one leg of the tower, bringing it down on the MP guarding him. That's when Kusanami and Hiba arrived in disguise to offer him a position on the team. After another series of death threatening tests, Hibopi became the second member to join, and he'd developed a strong bond with Hiba.

In the end, the rest of the Wild Seven rally behind Hibopi and they bomb the hell out of the fortress, knowing that Hiba could take care of himself inside. Final body count at the end of book one - The enemy: 7 dead, 35-some casualties and lots of arrests that stuck permanently this time. The Wild 7: not a scratch.

As I mentioned above, Wild 7 combines the Dirty Dozen concept of bad guys as heroes, with old-school Lupin III gimmicks. One of my favorite scenes is when Hiba is hauled in front of MC at gun point. MC doesn't understand why Hiba is so happy, since the underling is the one holding the gun and Hiba's got his hands up in the air. Turns out that the underling's gun has no bullets, and Hiba used a coat hanger to prop his jacket arms up while holding his own gun next to his chest under his jacket. MC ends up as one of the 7 bodies at the end of the book.

Most reviewers comment on the dated artwork and stories. And yes, most manga that came out 40 years ago won't stand up to the stuff on the market now. Doesn't matter. Wild 7 is lots of fun. If you like the Dirty Harry movies, you'll love Wild 7. Highly recommended.

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