Thursday, February 4, 2010

Manga review: Tetsujin 28-go, vol. 1

Mitsuteru Yokoyama (1934-2004) is certainly one of the more prolific late-1950's manga artists. While in school, according to the official website, he created several amateur strips. It wasn't until 1955 that he saw print professionally with his debut work, "Oto nashi no Ken" ("The Soundless Sword"), released as a rental book. "Shirayuri Koushinkyoku" (White Lily March) started serialization in Shojo magazine, also in 1955. And "Tetsujin 28-go" (Iron Man #28) began running in Shonen in 1956. Right after graduating from school, he started working for Sumitomo Mitsui Bank, but quit after 5 months to concentrate on drawing. He founded Hikari Productions in 1964, and followed this with the titles "Sally the Witch", "Babel II" and "Giant Robo".

(The author)

The Japanese wiki lists a good forty titles, ranging from SF, giant robots, ninja and historicals, to magical girls and bios on famous people. According to the English wiki, he suffered a heart attack in 1997 but recovered after surgery. Then, in 2004, a fire ravaged his home and he received severe burns over his body. He died in the hospital later that day.

In 2009, a life-sized statue of Tetsujin 28-go was completed in the city of Kobe, which was both his home town, and the epicenter of the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995. Local residents erected the statue as a symbol of the town's recovery.

(Boy detective Shoutaro, and #28.)

Tetsujin 28-go, by Mitsuteru Yokoyama, Grade B-
The manga differs significantly from the description given in the English wiki entry. The story starts out on a small island in the Pacific during WW II. The Americans have caught wind of a secret research project taking place in an underground lab, and they pound the island during an air raid. Previously, at another lab, scientists had been working to make a series of giant combat robots. The first 27 suffer a weakness where the head can be destroyed by small arms fire. #28 features a redesign to fix this problem, but it blew up when the lead researcher, Dr. Shikishima, forced too much current into it while trying to make it come alive. Instead, the research turned to making miniature remote-controlled bullet-like robots. Shikishima left one bullet robot and his diary in the attic of his house before moving to the current remote island location to resume his work for the Japanese army. When the air raid takes place, presumably everyone on the island is killed.

(From left: #27, #28 and Shoutaro.)

Fast forward 10 years after the war has ended. Boy detective Shoutaro Kaneda is over at the house of Tetsuo Shikishima, Dr. Shikishima's son, when the three Murasame gang brothers (Ryuu, Kenji and Tatsu) break in to rob the safe. The brothers are interrupted by a stranger who is controlling a giant robot - #26. In the fighting Tatsu, is killed, and all of the others escape before the police arrive. From this point on, the TV stations report a series of break-ins at electronics labs around the city, by various numbered robots. Tetsuo surprises Shoutaro with a small bullet robot, saying that he'd found it in the attic the day before along with his dead father's diary. Shoutaro pieces the story together and when the stranger attacks him with several giant robots, he defeats them by aiming for their heads with the bullet robot Tetsuo gave him. Unfortunately, #28 follows up the attack and Shoutaro runs away. Just before #28 can step on him, Ryuu and Kenji show up with a signal jammer and kidnap the boy in the hopes of getting him to help them stop the stranger.

(An early tangle with #27, featuring the 2 remaining Murasame Brothers and Shoutaro.)

The police arrive again and the Murasame brothers escape again. Shoutaro and the police chief decide to visit the old lab location, followed by Ryuu and Kenji, and a new stranger in a fedora. Here, a new gang is introduced - the European-based PX Gang - who also want #28 for themselves. Things get a little mixed up as everyone goes into the old lab and locate the masked stranger controlling the robot army. Turns out that the masked guy had renumbered #27 as #28, and was still in the process of reprogramming the real #28. The PX Gang leader activates #28 before it is fully debugged and it goes on a rampage, thinking that the war isn't over yet. #27 is destroyed and everyone scatters, only to regroup with new alliances. The masked stranger teams up with PX, the Murasame brothers run away again, and the stranger in the fedora turns out to be Dr. Shikishima. PX is routed, and #28 is temporarily deactivated and transported to police HQ.

(#28 breaks free and runs amok. Featuring the masked stranger (in the hood) and the PX Gang leader (in the mask).)

The scientist explains that in the air raid, he was the only survivor. He made his way to nearby Kim Novack Island, where he was nursed to health by the natives, and lived there for 9 years. After moving to India, he read in the papers about the robot attacks and returned to Japan thinking that there had to be at least one other survivor. Shikishima, Shoutaro and the chief go to the police lab, where the PX gang is waiting disguised in lab coats. They grab Shikishima's controller and escape with #28 firmly under their control. By the end of page 320, the PX Gang and the masked stranger are still trying to get #28 out of Japan, and Shoutaro is still hot on their heels.

(Dr. Shikishima recovering in the hospital surrounded by his wife and son, Tetsuo. Shoutaro and the police chief make their appearance.)


(Manga by Yoshiharu Tsuge, around 1956, for comparison.)

I'm working from a 2005 reprint which collected the chapters from 1956 and 57. The artwork is incredibly crude, and very reminiscent of Yoshiharu Tsuge's first few stories from a couple of years earlier. Mitsuteru supposedly had attracted Tezuka's attention by now, and there's some overlaps in gimmicks, such as villains running around wearing pillowcase hoods, and everyone happily shooting guns all over the place. The backgrounds are simple, if they exist at all, and boy detective Shoutaro constantly demonstrates all of the technical, deductive and martial arts skills of a trained Navy SEAL. Proportions of the character from panel to panel; at one point, #27 is shown next to a street light and they're about the same height. In the next panel, #27 is 10 feet taller than the pole.

(Typical scene with Shoutaro, the chief and the two Murasame brothers held prisoner by PX.)

At a minimum, 10 police or civilians die per battle at the hands of PX or #28. This is not the type of kid's comic parents wanted to see printed in the U.S. at that time. But, a few points stand out. The Murasame brothers are gentlemen, even though they are hardened robbers. Unlike the PX Europeans, they won't shoot someone in the back. And #28 is neither good or evil; it just behaves as a tool for whoever possesses the control box. This is one of the few titles where even after 320 pages, the title character is still absent from most scenes, and there's no explanation for how #28 got from the island lab to the main island of Japan. Anyway, as may be obvious by now, the manga doesn't match up with the wiki description. I'm seriously thinking of getting volume 2 just to find out if we ever learn who Shoutaro's parents are/were (he seems to be an orphan living in his own house alone).

Summary: A super weapon lost during WW II resurfaces in modern-day Japan in the hands of a criminal using it to equip a secret underground lab. Various other groups try to get hold of #28, and it looks like the masked stranger and the European PX gang are in the lead of the race. Recommended mainly if you like the remakes and want to see how the original started out.


Robotkat said...

Thank you for putting this up - I've been looking for information and pictures of the original manga for ages! I've noticed too that Wikipedia is devoid of verified information.

Where did you get your copy, Yahoo Japan or Amazon Japan, or somewhere else? The Murasame Brothers are my favorite characters in the series (and Id like to compare the universes of the animated versions and the manga).

TSOTE said...

Glad you like the manga.

I live in Tokyo, so it's easy to find these books. Also,I work in Akihabara, 4 blocks from the Mandarake used manga store. You can order books from outside of Japan via the Mandarake website.