Kazuko Teradate – Netcomics – 2008 – 17 volumes
Netcomics announced that they would be taking Kazuko Teradate’s work off their site today, so I thought I would squeeze one more volume of Human Club in for the road. Human Club is… okay. A little inconsistent, but a reasonably entertaining BL-tinged mystery/horror series. I should have read it before today, because I’ve always wondered if it developed an ongoing plot before the end of the series. Interestingly, Kazuko Teradate went on to draw Harlequin manga.
Anyway. This volume has two stories in it. The first is a plot where Shinobu gets kidnapped by a mysterious man that holds him hostage in a mansion for a mysterious future purpose. The man doesn’t take advantage of Shinobu sexually, which is unlike previous stories in the series. Turns out that he wants Shinobu for some sort of Nazi rally. Not even Neo-Nazis. These men are the real deal. For some reason, they want a young Asian man to torture at their rally. It goes even stranger places after that.
The second story is more interesting, and is about a character who is something of a second coming of Ludwig II finding Shinobu and Ron in the woods after a snowstorm outside the Swiss border. Shinobu and Ron have been in a car accident, and Ron has lost his memory. Shinobu is devastated. While they are waiting for Ron’s memory to return, Shinobu has to endure the creepy Ludwig character, who eventually conflates Shinobu with his dead sister. The two briefly have sex.
Human Club is a weird, weird series. These stories don’t really develop Shinobu or Ron’s character at all, and are mostly about the bizarre situations the side characters are in. Except these situations are so far out of left field I’m not sure what to make of them. Why am I reading a story where Shinobu is, for whatever reason, entrapping a Nazi? Why is Shinobu and Ron’s rescuer a crazy man who thinks he’s Ludwig II? They’re not really romances (though again, there’s definitely BL themes to the story, even when there’s no romance or attraction), nor are they really horror (there’s a few moments of terror, but they pass, and they aren’t for real since you know Ron will save the day). They’re… atmospheric, I suppose, except I’ve never read any other story that goes to such lengths simply to set the mood.
I have a feeling most readers probably wouldn’t have a taste for it. But it is unusual, and Teradate has really nice art. Plus, it’s cheap. Again, I’m a little sad I couldn’t finish it up.
I was actually quite fond of reading a volume of this series on weekends for awhile, I can’t remember why I stopped. Again, this is one of those online-only series on Netcomics, and I decided to keep going when I noticed a sequel series had recently started. And again, the volumes are only a dollar apiece online. Not that I don’t already have piles of unread manga laying around here, but still, that’s really cheap.
I had forgotten how much I like this series. This volume takes place in Paris, and features Shinobu and Ron posing as husband and wife and socializing until they wind up in the clutches of their intended target. There’s some weird humor at the beginning of the volume, actually, when Shinobu really gets into playing the part of the wife and Ron gets increasingly angry while Shinobu acts like a diva in front of all the hotel staff. It’s pretty funny and kind of unexpected from a dark series like this.
The underworld and drugs aren’t really involved in this story, which is great, because I’ve still had enough of both from that long story arc that just ended a couple volumes ago. Opium plays a small part, and somehow (this is never explained) Shinobu is drugged/knocked out/hypnotized? when he accidentally winds up trapped by the man he was stalking. One thing about this volume and the last is that it seems to follow the pattern of Shinobu accidentally getting caught by his intended target, and again, I prefer the methods used in the early volumes where he slowly drives people insane. There was just something awesome about the big reveal at the end of those stories, showing the ultimate twisted demise of the featured side character.
I don’t know if I ever mention this, but the art is uncommonly good, too. Not only are the characters all extremely attractive and distinct from one another, but details like Shinobu still looking like himself even while dressed like a beautiful woman are appreciated, and the fashion sense is quite good, too. There’s also a lot more background detail than you would expect in a series like this.
The plot in this volume involved models, artists, and an elaborately-constructed house with computer-controlled rooms that slide around and hide themselves. Plus, a garden full of dead bodies. It’s hard to begrudge the story anything here, and it all plays out pretty elegantly. It’s solidly written and a decent read all around, though not quite as addictive as I wish it was. I’m not sure how else I would improve it, though.
Ah. This was a satisfying volume. To be honest, I read half of it two weeks ago and half of it this week. The first half of the book was the conclusion to the Hong Kong story. There are some plenty weird twists and whatnot in there. The family tree gets a little twisted as Shinobu’s lineage is explained. We also get to know what happened to him and his mother when they were both sold to the brothels in Kowloon City, something that’s been hinted at for several volumes now. The ending is suitably epic, with explosions and the deaths of many characters and whatnot. The elder Li brother also just… well, he crosses too many lines. The younger Li is a pretty likable guy, though, for being an underworld boss and all that.
The conclusion to Ron and Shinobu’s story is a little ridiculous. I liked it, though. It was shoujo manga ridiculous.
The second half is either starting a new storyline in Rome with the Sicilian mob or is a one-shot about Shinobu and the son of one of the families. It’s not like the earlier one-shot stories where Shinobu drives him crazy, but he lets himself get caught and seems to play into one plan and engineer another as a favor. It’s kind of cool, and I do like the elaborate webs the story seems to spin for the characters.
This series still isn’t the best in the world, but I can’t help but like Shinobu and Ron. What can I say. It also helps that it is dirt cheap and online, though like I said, the adaptation is way sloppier than it would be if it were in book form. Read it at Netcomics.com.
So I’m keeping up with my habit of reading one volume of this on the weekends. Blah blah blah, not in graphic novel format, read it on Netcomics.
One thing I’ve sort of failed to mention is the fact that this series seems to… er, lack polish as far as the adaptation/translation goes. There are errors on almost every page. It’s not hard to understand what’s going on, but it’s got the stiffest dialogue I’ve ever seen. I don’t mind so much since I’m only paying twenty-five cents per chapter, and I know these series get polished for the graphic novel version (Human Club isn’t going to be printed like that, but there were a few things that seemed way better between the two versions in Let Dai, for instance), but… you know. It’s something to keep in mind.
This is about what I expected from the plot, actually. I knew as soon as they mentioned Shinobu’s mother was someone’s mistress… I just knew where that was going, and it makes this whole thing that much more messed up.
Shinobu is somewhat back to himself this volume. He returns to his position as the head of the Shikata family, makes some decisions about where he wants his life to go, then promptly makes some threats to the police department that got him into this whole mess in the first place. It’s his use of force and good looks that initially drew me to the series. I’ve kind of missed them these past few volumes, but the current storyline is suitably epic, so I don’t mind watching it play out for a little while longer.
Shinobu has also resolved to find his mother, who is rumored to have mentally snapped in Kowloon Walled City and sent back to Japan. I think this story will go on for at least another couple volumes… I must say I’m not all that interested in Shinobu’s mother, though I am interested to see how this business between Shinobu and the Li group is settled.
So, as I mentioned, this series mostly takes place in Hong Kong (several stories take place in Japan and New York City, too, but more often than not, it’s Hong Kong). Hong Kong is actually kind of a unique setting. This series in particular takes place in Kowloon City, where the main character was born and raised. I assumed that Kowloon City was just a large city in Hong Kong, but when this volume went into detail, I decided to read more about it and came up with Kowloon Walled City. That’s the absolute coolest place to set anything, ever.
Anyway. I figured the story that’s been running for the past couple volumes would wrap up with Shinobu killing Li and everything would go back to normal. Killing Li is not in the cards, because apparently he is much more than a dirty old man. So much more, in fact, that the head of the Chinese Underground in New York City, the legitimate businessman Li, and Ron all put all their resources together to keep Shinobu and Li apart so that they don’t kill each other. They wind up together anyway.
I was afraid the story would loop back on itself. It very nearly did, but luckily there was a different path taken when one of the events repeated itself.
Shinobu’s background is explored a little bit, mostly about the mystery of how he and his mother found themselves in the Kowloon Walled City. The secret dies with the madam of the area, but apparently both Shinobu and his mother were abducted randomly from Japan. I… think I know where this is going, and I’ll be very happy if what I think is going to happen does.
There’s an awesome scene where Li throws an elaborate farewell party for Ji-Shou, Shinobu’s friend that died in an explosion a few volumes back. Ji-Shou was a famous actor, so the event is actually a public function at a theatre, and Ji-Shou’s replacement actor is meant to debut during the event. Instead of the intended actor, Shinobu takes the stage. Ji-Shou was apparently famous for doing traditional female roles (“onna-kata,” I guess?), so there’s a little scene where Shinobu dances around on stage dressed as a woman, basically astonishing everyone present. One of the things that I like most about the series is that Shinobu used his physical beauty on both men and women to get what he wants, which is usually something bad. That hasn’t been so much a factor in this long story, so I was happy to see this scene in here.
It’s not the best series in the world, but it’s so unlike anything else I read that I always feel like reading more to see where it goes. I am looking forward to the end of this story so we can get back to Shinobu getting the upper hand.
I’ve treated myself to a bit more of this series, which, once again, is an online-only release at Netcomics.com that you can read for $1 a volume (or $.25 per chapter, if you like).
Continuing with the plot from last volume, Shinobu is in New York with a case of amnesia after being given an experimental drug engineered for its addictive nature, I think it was a type of heroin. He’s being traded to an old foe from the earlier stories. The plot goes to great lengths to dance around who this mysterious engineer of Shinobu’s downfall is, but it can really only be one person. It’s no surprise, since Li is the only person who we saw Shinobu leave alive and with a fierce grudge.
Shinobu has one ally in this transaction, a girl who decides she’d like to keep the new Shinobu, who has the mentality of a 5-year-old boy. She’s the master apothecary that mixed the bad heroin, so she has no problems easing herself out of a few situations via drugs. There’s some epic chases around New York City that I enjoyed, and in addition to Li and Shinobu’s original capturers, Shinobu’s bodyguard Ron is also on his trail, as well as a possible unknown factor.
The chase goes all the way back to Hong Kong, and is no less epic for it. As much as I liked the depraved nature of the one-shot chapters dealing with Shinobu and a victim, it does not get any less depraved when the depravity is more drawn out and turned back on to Shinobu. Assault, drugs, car crashes, gunplay, explosions, missing persons, just about all the action basics are crammed into this volume. I like that a shoujo series like this can be so hardboiled, and again, it makes me think I ought to go back for Banana Fish.
The plot continues on into the next volume, but there’s not a terrible cliffhanger, and it seems like things are winding down/coming to a climax. I’m more curious to see where the next major story goes after this.
Ok! Here we go. From chapter 1, a plot emerges that carries through to the end of the volume and beyond. The plot wasn’t what I was expecting, only because I assumed the plot would involve Shinobu doing horrible things to people. But this series very much enjoys shocking the reader.
So while at the opium club, Shinobu basically gets raided and arrested. While arrested, he’s made to look like he’s attempted suicide, then an accident happens that basically means Shinobu Shikata is dead as far as Japan is concerned. He is actually being secretly flown to New York for reasons unknown. The who and why of the situation are still a mystery, but the part that made me a bit uncomfortable was that Shinobu was also being forced to take heroin so that he would turn into a junkie. Ron is wandering around trying to save Shinobu during all this, since the corruption happened in the police department and there was nothing that he could do initially to stop him from being kidnapped. Ron is a pretty awesome character, and we get everything from severed heads to Ron-on-girl action.
I also like that the previous two volumes of short stories seem to be tying themselves into this longer plot. Some older characters reappear, and I’m willing to bet even more will show up in time. It’s always nice to see patience rewarded.
There’s a pretty common shoujo plot device in play right now, which is not something I would expect from a shoujo series as depraved as this one (or at least I think it’s shoujo, like Banana Fish shoujo). I’m not too interested in what’s going to happen to Shinobu, because I’m pretty sure Ron will come through in the end. What I’m interested in is what Shinobu will do in retaliation for all this. I’m pretty sure it will give me nightmares, and that’s exactly what I want.
So there’s still no overarching plot as of volume 2, but I’m at least a little more convinced that one will be coming, because it seems like there may be at least a little method to Shinobu’s madness. Maybe.
Shinobu certainly is mad, if nothing else. The last story in the volume is another like the sweeping epic that was the first story in the first volume. Shinobu… befriends an old man in London and becomes his muse. The old man’s family comes to live with him in hopes he will give them his money when he dies. Shinobu makes them uncomfortable, and eventually Shinobu plays all sides of the field until the family is quite literally decimated in every possible way. Sex, drugs, attraction, lies, you name it, Shinobu uses it to destroy this family. I have a difficult time admitting I like this kind of story in the context of the series, because it’s morally rotten in several ways, but again… it’s like a train wreck. I just can’t look away. Sometimes that makes for a very compelling story.
Part of Shinobu’s strategy is that both men and women find him irresistibly attractive, but it seems like this hasn’t quite been used to its full potential yet. There are several people who have claimed to fall in love with Shinobu, but I don’t think I will really be taken in by his charms until he actually falls in love with someone himself.
Two of the other stories in this volume were about Shinobu’s bodyguard Ron. The two seem to have a pretty platonic professional relationship, but they also seem to have a pretty deep bond, too. Plus, Ron pretty much looks on while Shinobu does all his crazy stuff, which I find to be somewhat creepy.
That Shinobu is at his most threatening when stark naked and seems to get whatever he wants when he strips is also quite amusing.
Well, I’m up for another volume. I want to see where this is going. Plus, the volumes only cost a dollar on Netcomics, so the value is quite good too.
As promised, I broke down and started reading one of the web-only releases at Netcomics.com. Instead of doing the sensible thing and reading one of the many decent josei/romance titles they have available, I rode the Let Dai wave and chose the angsty shounen ai-ish crime drama.
At the first volume, it’s a little disorganized and a bit hard to follow through the first chapter or two. The first volume seems like a collection of one-shots starring a depraved main character who is kin to the insane lead in Osamu Tezuka’s MW. The first two chapters feature a father and daughter who become involved with the main character, whose name is Shinobu. Shinobu was apparently lovers with both the father and his second wife, possibly without either of them knowing. It is implied that he administered a heroin overdose that killed the second wife. Later, he engineers an opium hallucination that causes a… rather unpleasant scene between the father and daughter. Later, the father kills himself and the daughter is driven insane.
The stories are REALLY messed up in Human Club. I don’t mind this so much, actually, but I would rather there be a plot instead of a collection of stories. I assume a plot emerges eventually since the story is… 17 volumes long, so I’ll probably read at least one or two volumes to see how that goes.
I do like the art. I have no idea when the story was written, but it’s got really retro-looking art. My guess would be early 90s, since that seems to be when all the stories are taking place. I also like the setting, which is mostly China/Hong Kong, though one story does take place in New York City’s Chinatown. I haven’t actually read that many manga that take place in China. This is before Hong Kong reverted back to China, and the story seems to dwell heavily on what it means to live in Hong Kong, do business as a member of Hong Kong society (though Shinobu is Japanese?), and what the seedier side of Hong Kong is like, at least in the story.
I don’t like the lack of a solid plot, but I like the setting and art well enough to try another volume or so. Also, the depravity is such that I’ve got train wreck syndrome, where I know it’s really horrible but I can’t look away. Well, I’ll see where it goes.