Friday, March 11, 2016

Akuma-Kun comments

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

Akuma-kun and the 1,000 Year Empire, by Shigeru Mizuki, Grade: A
Mizuki, who died last November, is a major figure in modern manga, and is best loved for his Gegege Kitaro series. However, he had a lot of trouble finding an audience in the first couple decades of his career following the end of WW II. Kitaro was extremely quirky, and immersed in the realms of monsters and demons, unlike the more popular fare which revolved around sports and school life. But, during the various attempts to publish Kitaro for the rental book market, it attracted the attentions of the top editor at Kodansha and one of the animators at Toei Studios. The two of them were determined to turn Kitaro into a TV anime series, and they approached the existing advertising sponsors, who all thought that it was too dark for children. Unwilling to give up, Toei and Kondansha suggested that Mizuki create a lighter, more kid-friendly monster-related title that could act as a "foot in the door" for them. Mizuki decided to resurrect "Akuma-kun," which had first run as a rental book from 1963-64. The Weekly Shonen Magajin version started in 1966, going until '67, and then aired as anime lagging the manga by a few weeks. The manga resurfaced again in 1970 in Weekly Shonen Jump in 1970. The Akuma-kun anime did its job, and the Gegege Kitaro anime began airing in January, 1968.

The 1,000 Year Empire was collected for the Chikuma Bunko (Chikuma Library Publishing, 1988) publication from the 1970 Shonen Jump printing. It's a compact 590-page paperback, making for a long, kind of cramped read. The artwork would have befitted from a multi-volume trade paperback release, but the price would have scared off sales. The characters are typical Mizuki, meaning they're good, but stylized. The background artwork is great in many places, and the story is unique. The Japanese is mostly easy to read, but there are occasional large walls of text that I kind of skipped because they were much harder to wade through.

(Mizuki Shigeru, from the inside cover flap.)

Although the book is really long, the story can be summarized relatively easily. One day, an office worker named Sato is summoned to see his boss. The company president wants Sato to go to his estate in Karuizawa to tutor his son. The boy is young, but smart for his age, and something of a handful. Sato accepts the job and drives to the estate to meet the older couple acting as caretakers. The husband leads this second tutor out to a kind of house-tree, where the boy insults Sato and tosses him out. Things go downhill for our erstwhile tutor. He learns that the first tutor has disappeared (turned into a large humanoid frog that now acts as Akuma-kun's main henchman), and that the boy may be dabbling in the dark arts. When Sato tries to follow the caretaker back into the woods that night, he gets lost, threatened by various disasters, and falls into a lizard nest in a cave used as the tomb for a lizard wizard. One of the lizards crawls into Sato's ear, and when he stumbles from the cave, he now looks like a balding old man with long, wispy hair and a huge hooked nose.

(From right: The caretaker's wife, Sato after turning into the lizard wizard, Ultimate Evil, Akuma-kun, Frog-man, Owl-woman, the caretaker, ghost.)

In fact, Akuma-kun has been investigating the Torah, and he's on the verge of cracking a cypher that has puzzled scholars for thousands of years. He plans on summoning the ultimate evil spirit and then begin reign of an empire that will last 1,000 years. To do this, he needs his father to keep sending him tutors that he can sacrifice to the demon world and turn them into his minions. The first was frog-man. He summons a witch's spirit and puts her in the body of an owl. They wait for Sato to fully convert to a humanoid spirit and join them, but he manages to get back to Tokyo, where he tracks down an Indian fakir, Flan Neel. Flan has been worried about rumors he's heard regarding Akuma-kun, and he agrees to help Sato. Sato is returned to normal (by eating a soul that Flan keeps as a pet, which kills the lizard that was trying to take over Sato's body), but the tutor is forced to put the old man mask back on to try to get into Akuma-kun's good graces.

(Summoning evil.)

Akuma-kun tries summoning the Ultimate Evil, but fails. This attracts both the attention of Satan (who lives in America as an oil baron) and Faust. Satan challenges Akuma-kun to a duel, is defeated and needs to sign over his wealth to the boy before running away. Faust, though, has been wandering the world for 400 years and he wants to finish his own attempts at the summoning. Sato returns to Karuizawa and joins with Akuma. The thing is, his only reason for being there is to read an ancient script on a rock, and as Sato-in-a-facemask, the tutor can't do it. Faust volunteers to help, and the summoning is successful this time, but Faust dies at the end of it. Unfortunately for the boy, the Ultimate Evil is kind of a cream puff, having lost his powers to a witch some years before. Additionally, Akuma-kun's father is tired of his son's constant demands for tutors who keep disappearing, and since the boy doesn't want to attend school, his father decides to sell Karuizawa to Satan for oil development. Satan seeks revenge, sending in bombers that destroy the boy's research lab. Akuma-kun, Owl-Woman, Frog-man, Ultimate Evil and Sato move into the boy's living rock house, where the caretaker couple, a local policeman, and a wraith have been trapped and wandering around for months looking for an exit. Everyone is reunited, and Akuma-kun attempts to regroup.

(Yes, now you have Ultimate Evil. What if he doesn't want to play with you?)

From here, things get a little drawn-out. Ultimate Evil summons an outside spirit to possess the Caretaker's Wife and turn her into Witch. UE and Witch run off to pull a con game on Akuma's father, the CEO of a Japanese oil conglomerate, succeeding in getting enough money to start up a company making and selling flying brooms at $1 million a pop. Meanwhile, Akuma decides to follow his father's advice to attend elementary school, but he runs afoul of an abusive teacher and tears the guy's ear off. The other teachers realize that the best way to get rid of this kid is to promote him to a junior high school. However, Akuma-kun takes the opportunity to enlist both the other children and the teachers into his army. Satan visits Akuma-kun's father, who asks him for help against UE. Satan tries to fight UE by summoning various demons, but they're all easily defeated. Akuma-kun learns that his father is in danger, and runs home in time to stop UE, but not before Satan escapes by jumping into a diamond. Satan additionally sends out an SOS to his friend, Sphinx, in Egypt. Sphinx gets up and enters the ocean to swim to Japan. Once in Tokyo, he lays waste to the city and the Prime Minister and the JSDF are helpless against him. Akuma-kun approaches the Prime Minister and offers to save the country, but only if the PM gives him Japan and lets him turn it into the 1,000 Year Empire. The PM agrees, and Akuma-kun gives the diamond to Sphinx, who takes Satan out to sea to join forces with the U.S, British and Soviet navies. The other countries are working together to stop Akuma-kun from using Ultimate Evil to create an empire of peace and put an end to armies and war. Akuma-kun has given flying brooms and magic nets to the school children, and they easily cause the American missiles to disappear from the skies. Just as it looks like Akuma-kun is going to win, Sato tricks the boy into going to a secluded part of the broom factory, and gives him the "Judas kiss". Soldiers hiding in the shadows shoot Akuma-kun before he can escape, killing him. In the end, Sato is upset that things ended this way, and Frog-man asks what it was the teacher thought was wrong with the idea of 1,000 years of no war. Then, the skies open up, and Akuma-kun is seen in The Other World, surrounded by Japan's 8 Wise Saints (who had earlier sealed off half of Akuma-kun's soul). The remaining half of Akuma-kun promises to come back with more followers and try again.

(Sphinx gets up and leaves Egypt to come save Satan in Japan.)

Summary: Akuma-kun and the 1,000 Year Empire is a long and rambling, free-form story typical of Mizuki that mixes history and various mythologies to create a character that is neither really evil nor particularly good. Akuma-kun is extremely intelligent, and is able to solve the mysteries of the Torah, but his goal of killing people to bring peace scares some of the adults. It could be argued that Akuma-kun's solution IS better than leaving humans in the chaotic muck they've made for themselves, but it's at the expense of those that pick the wrong side of the war. The artwork is the same as for Hakaba Kitaro, although the designs for Akuma-kun and Ultimate Evil are unique to this title. If you like early Garo-era Kitaro, you'll like Akuma-kun and the 1,000 Year Empire. Recommended.

No comments: