Monday, January 31, 2011

Take the B Studio Complete, review

I've liked Akihiro Itou for a long time. But there's so little information on him. Even the Japanese wiki is nothing more than a list of some of his works, and the English wiki is nothing more than a translation of the Japanese page. Unfortunately, apparently some time between March and May, he fell ill, and both "Wilderness" and "Geobreeders" stopped running. There's no indication that he's ready to go back to a regular schedule anytime soon. I checked monthly Sunday GX, and "Wilderness" isn't in the latest issue.

Anyway. Back when I first started getting interested in anime, after seeing Akira in 1990, I came across a collector that was selling some back issues of Lemon People magazine. I had no idea what it was at the time, so I bought the remaining 3 issues he had left. That's when I first encountered BREN303. The magazines included one "road trip" story of a woman hitchhiking across New Mexico and Arizona, and the first and last of the three "Trouble is My Business" chapters. What set BREN303 apart from the rest of the "adult comics" artists in the magazine, was that he had actual storylines in with all of the nude scenes, he could actually draw, and he was already demonstrating the ability to do high-tension gun battles and chase sequences. The character designs were fairly crude compared to his later works, but they still showed serious talent. The problem was that I'd never been able to find the issue with the missing middle chapter.

Eventually, Akihiro Itou hit the shelves with Geobreeders, and I knew it was the same person, but there was never anything in the magazines linking the two names together. He's been kind of hit-or-miss. Blue Gale is an ignorable attempt at a giant robot story, and Lawman never got past the first volume. But I love the story and artwork in Belle Starr, which was based on an actual outlaw. I really wish it'd be commercially translated for the U.S. market. Of course there's Geobreeders which has been translated a little bit. And then there's Wilderness which I consider woefully under-appreciated by Japanese fans as well as American ones. Everyone seems to like Black Lagoon better, even though Rei Hiroe was just following in Akihiro's footsteps.

Anyway(x2). YK Comics decided to release "Take the B Studio Complete" in Dec., 2010 (571 yen). This is a partial collection of Akihiro's earlier works, collecting some of his BREN303 titles which have been out of print since the 1990's. Including "Trouble is My Business". So now I can finally find out why Lydia was face-to-muzzle with the RAW. None of the stories are all that earth-shattering. But if you like Black Lagoon and Geobreeders, it's worth getting Take the B Studio Complete to see how Itou first started out.

Take the B Studio Complete, by Akihiro Itou - Grade : A-

Stories in this collection include:

(The Insect; AKA: R.A.W.)

Trouble is My Business. 81 pages. Lydia Owens is a female sergeant with the LAPD. During a botched jewelry heist, she's shot by both the ring leader and the fellow officer trying to protect her. After a month in the hospital, she's checking out. A friend and fellow cop is visiting her, trying to talk her out of leaving the force. There's a call about another jewelry heist and the friend leaves, only to be taken hostage by a group of felons that have taken over the hospital. The bad guys are there to spring their leader, who had also been recuperating at the same hospital before being transferred to prison. The police send in R.A.W. - Riot and Attacked Warm (a mechanized anti-gang robot also called "the insect"). R.A.W. goes after the villains, but a bug in the software puts it into riot mode - anyone left standing with a weapon will be killed. Lydia tries to get out of the hospital, but finds herself trapped between the criminals and the insect. She rescues her friend, but the ring leader shoots the hostage in the back anyway. In trying to get help for her friend, Lydia races to an exit, only to be pinned in the hallway when R.A.W. takes over the building's security system and brings the gates down. She succeeds in using a downed SWAT officer's armored gear to destroy R.A.W., but the baddies planted explosives throughout the hospital, and the timer picks this moment to detonate them. Lydia slips into the riot armor and survives the collapse. Later, she visits her friend, who is now the one in a cast in the bed, and her friend also considers leaving the force.

The last page says "Based on the novel 1985, 10 あおりんご『空白の構図』より" (possibly this is "Vacuum Composition", by Aoringo, Oct., 1985). Aoringo would be a pen name, but there's no hits coming up for this title or author on the net.

Once Upon a Time in the West - 銃弾の日 (Bullet Day). 40 pages. First, we get an "Overture", where a young girl, Sarita, talks about being taught how to use a gun by her father's killer, Johnny Ringo. Several years later, in 1875 in Colorado, she's working as a bounty hunter chasing after the Outlaw Carol. She teams up with another woman to take down the sheriff that's actually been using Carol's name to commit a series of stage coach robberies. Sex is involved. The girls win. Later, they take the money the sheriff had amassed and introduce themselves - Sarita Cisneros and Candy Carol. After a bit of hostile arguing, Sarita decides to go after Jesse James first, then capture Carol afterwards.

Once Upon a Time in the West - The Desert Look. 11 pages. A man rides into town and sees three thugs trying to abduct a blonde woman by force. He rescues her and teaches her how to use a gun. Later, the thugs jump them and kill the guy. With his dying breath, he gives her his pistol and she gets her revenge. In 1883 in New Mexico, a Pinkerton agent is escorting the same woman out to the remnants of an old house. In front of the house is a grave marker with the words "Sarita Cisneros, 1859-1881, May she rest in pieces". The woman asks the agent if he's seen the newspaper, and he says "no". She throws the paper on the ground, and he reads an obituary reporting that Johnny Ringo was found dead with a rifle and two Colt revolvers. Missing was his girlfriend. The agent suddenly notices that the handcuffed woman has a pistol and he yells "Carol" as she shoots him. The story ends with the narrator saying that Johnny Ringo was killed by Wyatt Erp.

The Dancing Bear. 30 pages. This is a weaker, rambling story set in what appears to be a medieval fantasy world. A female knight rescues a girl from her captors and takes the girl home. At the wood cabin, the older sister talks to the heroine, saying that their father had been killed in the wars, and the villain is a magic-using queen that's trying to take over the land. The heroine identifies herself as "Dancing Bear". For some reason, the younger sister escapes the house during the night and tells the queen where Dancing Bear is. A magic user is sent out to attack DB with an enchanted set of armor, and during the fight DB's blade goes sailing through the air and hits a secret panel where a sword is hidden. The enchanter is killed and DB goes out to fight the queen and her army. When the soldiers are slain, the younger sister attacks DB with a dagger, but the queen throws a sword out, hitting the girl in the back and killing her. The queen wants the war to continue, and rushes DB to fight one-on-one as knights, but DB pulls out a crossbow and shoots her in the throat and chest. DB says "Knights? That kind of talk belongs in the past", and she leaves. The sword hidden in the house goes unused, and the older daughter is not seen again.

The High Window. 18 pages. A sexdroid starts questioning its purpose on the planet, and asks to have a window installed in the room so it can at least look outside. One day, as a customer enters the room, the droid runs out, and finds itself trapped on the roof of a skyscraper, surrounded by dirty metal and glass. Security arrives and shoots it. One of the maintenance people says that the droid had developed a bug, and the company's owner dismisses the thought. Another droid is placed in the room, and life goes on.

Night Search. 14 pages. This is an oddball compared to the other stories. First, it's in English, with Japanese subtext. Second, it reads from left to right and page 1 starts at the back of the book, with the numbering going from R1 to R14. A veteran cop is seeing a shrink following the death of his wife/partner. The two of them had been chasing after a killer, and ended up standing on opposites sides of him. The cop's bullet shattered on hitting the killer, and a part of it continued on, hitting and killing the partner/wife, and their unborn child. A year later, following the psyche session, the guy goes outside where a young woman tells him that she's his new partner. They argue, with the new partner convincing him to follow her down into the subway. She's on one side of the platform, he's on the other. As a train comes in on the tracks, someone descends the stairs on the woman's side of the platform. The cop yells out "I don't even know your name", and the woman replies with "I like names that start with "B"". He says "Betsy?", and she responds with "thanks, Dad!" The guy on the stairs is the killer who'd escaped before, and the cop opens fire on him, killing him. When the train has passed, the woman has vanished. A few days later, the cop tells his story to the shrink, gets himself cleaned up, and visits the grave of his wife, and daughter -now named Betsy.

Summary: Akihiro Itou has come a long way from his Lemon People days, and the difference in art quality is pretty obvious. But if you like action-driven manga, Take the B Studio Complete is highly recommended.

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