Kazuo Koike / Ryoichi Ikegami – ComicsOne – 2001 – 9 volumes
I finished this up a couple days ago, and it’s funny that such an old, obscure, and terrible series is suddenly getting some coverage. Kate wrote it up over at the Manga Critic as a recent inductee in the Manga Hall of Shame. Yes, this really is that bad, but to be fair, it is far from the worst manga I’ve ever read. While its aims are reprehensible in some ways, it accomplishes what it sets out to do, and it isn’t boring. That’s really what drives a manga into no man’s land for me – if it has aspirations that it completely fails at, or it’s just so mediocre that it’s difficult to slog through. Or both. Wounded Man is delightful in its terrible raunchiness.
In some ways, I was disappointed. I was hoping that this would be far more insane than Offered, another Ichigami/Koike collaboration that was only two volumes to Wounded Man’s nine. Sadly, that is not the case, and I believe there will never be another story that is as insane as Offered, perfect just how it is at two volumes. Wounded Man comes close, though.
The story starts off with a look at the life of Yuko, the female main character. She’s an ace judo practitioner, a beautiful television news reporter, and a complete ice queen towards all the men that come onto her. The plot picks up when she’s assigned to a story in Brazil, covering a recent gold rush and finding a Japanese man said to be taking part in all the recent prospecting (?!). Once there, Yuko finds the man she is looking for, Rio Barakki, who promptly rapes her in an attempt to drive her out of Brazil. She is undeterred, and in a second attempt to contact Barakki, Yuko and her entire camera crew are kidnapped by shady miners who assault her. Barakki steps in and saves the day, and Yuko dismisses her camera crew and sets out on an annoying quest to follow Barakki everywhere and be as irritating as possible, simultaneously stimulating and denying him sexually, loving and hating him. Later, we find out that Barakki is up against an organization called “God’s Pornographic X-Rated Films”, or GPX. GPX is after Barakki after he declined an offer to be in one of their pornographic X-rated films opposite a famous tennis celebrity, even after GPX threw a football-shaped wad of money at him.
The thing about Kazuo Koike, the writer of this series… he has his good and bad days. In my mind, Wounded Man is pretty much a Koike writing style guide. Sure, Koike wrote Lone Wolf and Cub, but underneath all that respectability beats a heart full of true insanity, where an assassin baits his prey with his infant son, pulls off impossible missions, does all manner of manly things, and there’s not a woman in sight that doesn’t throw herself at him and/or is a potential rape victim. This is just how Koike writes. I’ve read enough of his stories to know that… his semi-fame from the late 90s-early 00s in the US was probably just a form of awe with his craziness and poor taste.
And what’s most amazing is that there is no irony or failure in his writing whatsoever. It really does set out to be a manly man fantasy trip in a world completely divorced from reality. As terrible and incoherent as Wounded Man is… it’s entertaining, because it takes everything very seriously and honestly doesn’t seem to be failing at anything it sets out to do, and is full of the most awful kind of macho topics that move from one to another with no connection whatsoever. The quick story shifts, the way that Yuko turns from strong female character into one of the most awful portrayals of a woman in any comic I’ve ever read, the nonsense about Barakki being chased by pornographers, the urine fetish… random things happen, like Barakki beating a ring of bad guys with a tree he uproots that also happens to have Yuko tied to it, or when he dives into a nest of piranhas and explains that he isn’t eaten because he swims really fast. It’s like Saint Seiya for men. Man salad, like I mentioned when I reviewed Lives a few days ago.
The volumes that ComicsOne published are omnibus-style volumes that are 400 pages long. In these 400 pages of volume one… an overarching plot has yet to emerge. We are introduced to GPX at the end of the volume, and we know that Barakki is “after them,” although exactly what this means or entails is anyone’s guess, as is the fact that a pornography organization apparently hired the shady miners to assault Yuko, a stranger, in order to torture Barakki. Actually, I’m not even sure that the miners are connected to GPX, but Barakki seems to think they are. Anything involving Yuko’s character is thrown out as soon as she’s raped. She becomes an annoying, contradictory, and constantly whining shadow to Barakki. I normally don’t pick up on misogyny, but this is about as blatant and offensive as it comes. And for most of the book, when they are not being tortured, Yuko and Barakki wander around naked and have sex A LOT.
It truly is awful stuff, but it’s also fascinating in its… drive. It honestly makes no attempt to connect unrelated events together, quickly moving from one scene to the next with little more than sex scenes. And what is there is just insane. An evil pornography organization? What were formidable self-defense moves in Japan are rendered useless in Brazil against surly miners? Yuko decides to go after Barakki undeterred after he rapes her, and then falls in love with him? The nudity for no reason? It does all this with a completely straight face and with what appears to be a great deal of intention.
I don’t even know. Less crazy than Offered, way more insane than all other non-Koike insane manga combined? Reading it is like watching a train wreck, unable to look away. I’m probably going to keep at it, because I want to see how much crazier and more offensive it gets from here. I mean, this is just the first volume, surely it must top itself several times over throughout the course of the series.