Thursday, October 20, 2011

Review: Future-Retro Hero Story, vol. 1

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

My first encounter with Future-Retro Hero Story was a "pick-your-own-adventure" drama CD I'd found cheap in the used bin at the Shibuya Mandarake shop in the early 90's. It was the kind of thing where there'd be a story, and at every decision point you'd have to choose either action A (by going to one track) or B (going to a different one). Because I'd listen to it on a CD I'd burned along with 3 or 4 other music CDs, while driving, I didn't really have the option of following the story in sequence (since the track numbers didn't match up anymore). So, all I had to work with was a jumbled up set of conflicting elements taken one after the other. I was listening to it specifically for the Japanese practice, so it didn't matter what the action was. All I knew was that the series was a slapstick made up with silly characters in space.

(Emperor Brass)

So, when I found the manga in Book Off, I figured this would be as good a time as any to go back to the original. The artist, Takehiko Itoh may be best known for his other series, Outlaw Star. He also developed the original story for the NG Knight Lamune & 40 TV anime series. And he's got additional credits as set designer, character designer and mechanical designer on such anime as Gunbuster, Patlabor, Assemble Insert, KO Beast, The Vision of Escaflowne and even Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's. According to the wiki entry, Itoh started out as a manga editor and began drawing his own works out of boredom. In 2002, he accepted a job at Marvel Comics, although I'm having trouble finding anything he'd done under his own name for them.

Future-Retro Hero Story, vol. 1, by Takehiko Itoh, Grade: B+
(Comp Comics, 1988-9.)
The story starts out with Roger Adorean Griffith, AKA: Captain Roger Fortune, a space hero, being attacked by some baddies led by chief space Emperor Burasu (Brass?, Bras?). Burasu uses magic to cast Fortune out of the galaxy. The scene switches to Fortune's grandson, Juuji Godou, a high school transfer student on earth, a pervert a little too prone to flipping up girls' skirts. Juuji arrives at the principle's office to announce his presence and to state that he'd gotten a letter that had dropped out of the sky warning him to be at an open field near the school at 9 AM. The appointed time comes around and a magic symbol covers the field. The other half of the spell is drawn on the panties of Sakumi Shihara, and when she steps into the field the ground opens up, dropping her and Juuji into a launchpad underneath.

(Roger Fortune prior to being expelled from the galaxy. The expository text over the backgrounds is nearly impossible to read. Not a good color choice.)

Burasu arrives in his galactic cruiser to continue the battle with his enemy's grandson, and things get out of hand from here. Juuji is helped/hindered by an airhead principle, an overheated teacher named Lee Honron, and Sakumi - a cute classmate who spends half her time praying to god for either a good boyfriend or to punish Juuji. He gets a message begging for help from Princess Stella Maynard. She's pretty, so obviously Honron and Juuji vow to save her. Unfortunately for everyone, Burasu and his minions, plus the princess, are all robots created by Roger Fortune as a prank to pull on his grandson. Roger is now a brain in a jar, and he escapes Juuji's wrath at the last second. End of story one.

(Grandpa Roger now.)

In the second story, Honron wants both his revenge and the space ship. He enlists the entire school to help him fight against Juuji. The hero, meanwhile, has both noticed the threat, and has been scouted by the PE teacher to be in the sports club and has to undergo severe physical training. The students, meanwhile, are upset that Juuji won't let them fly on the ship. When D-Day arrives, the school's clubs take turns attacking Juuji, from the survival team to the kendo club. Juuji survives them all and uses a codeword to call the ship out. The ship, meanwhile, announces both that the boy has leveled up but not so much to be a match for "Azel", and that until he is serious about fighting the ship isn't going to be able to fly around at all. Suddenly, a strangely-clad woman shows up and repels the boy's spell gun blast (because his magic is banned during this era) and announces herself as Azel.

(Sakumi Shihara)

In the last story, Azel states that she's been studying magic herself, for most of her 15 years. She'd seen the Altamira Cave drawings, which predict the coming of an evil red-headed boy in a spaceship, and she's here now to protect the Earth from the foul Juuji. He's also the one that Nostradamus predicted would cause the end of the world (on hearing this, the rest of the students run and hide from him behind the rubble). Honron continues his attempts to take the ship, but even the ship manages to thwart him. Azel seems to have an endless supply of magic power and is able to summon non-stop lightning, but she does have a weak point. Back when she was still training, her magician father told her that magic users hate machines, and he reinforced this point by dangling her over mainframe computers and stuffing her into a washing machine.

Therefore, when the battle moves into central Nakano, she's at a disadvantage because there's few places on which to stand. Azel manages to take out Juuji, but makes the mistake of calling Shihira "flatchested". Shihara is a master at track and field sports, and is a mean pro-wrestler. She drops Azel with two out of two "dragon suplex" throws. Finally, Roger gets Azel's staff and uses his own magic skills to blow Azel into the air and on top of a discount electronics shop. Her powers go out of control and the building collapses. Juuji rescues her at the last moment and she's forced to concede that maybe he's not evil after all. But, the boy pushes his luck too far in trying to get a confession from her while they're both still on top of the mountain of electronics. Azel's power is released in one big explosion, putting just about everyone in the hospital.

(Honron doesn't like Juuji's excuse note.)

The art in Retro-Future Hero is very cartoony, and shows influences from Ghost Sweeper Mikami, Appleseed, Doctor Slump and Capricorn. When there are backgrounds (other than just speed lines), they're fairly simplistic but still recognizable as buildings and such. The real appeal of this book is in the dialog, since there's a lot of jokes, banter, innuendo and blustering. Examples are when Roger's ship is referred to as a mayonnaise squeeze bottle, and that the basement of the school has Cray computers lined up against the wall. It is easy to say that just about everything about this manga is derivative, but it's derivative in a good way.

(Mayonnaise squeeze bottle take-off!)

Summary: Roger Fortune is expelled from the galaxy by his arch-enemy and lands on Earth. As a joke, he pretends that the planet is being invaded and tricks his grandson into thinking he's a hero. Silly stuff. Recommended.

(Dragon Suplex #2.)

One note: I think that it's impossible to be a manga fan and not be forced into learning at least a little about Japanese pro-wrestling. While I've always considered the over the top throw, land on the back of your neck kind of pile-drivers to be manufactured by manga artists as a way to amuse children, it turns out that they're probably all real throws. Check out the video for the Dragon Suplex to see what I mean.


Bunny said...

Remember to read the rest of Future-Retro Hero. It goes faster and sillier than pretty much anything else.

You should move back to Tokyo, the author lives in Egota somewhere.

TSOTE said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I'll pick up more of the volumes when my backlog of manga reviews drops down a little bit more.