Eroicaverse 2: Sons of Eve
October 21, 2011
This is the first in a series of articles talking about From Eroica With Love and related series. For the index, go here.
Continuing my look at the work of Yasuko Aoike, specifically the numerous series she’s done related to From Eroica With Love, this series is actually what should be the first stop. Allman Stories is a precursor to this, but Sons of Eve is, for all intents and purposes, the beginning of Aoike’s modern body of work. In fact, aside from the recent 5-volume Yasuko Aoike Collection reprints, it seems like her work prior to Sons of Eve doesn’t exist, and is omitted from most bibliographies.
Sons of Eve ran from March 1976-August 1979 in Princess magazine. It ran concurrently with From Eroica With Love until approximately the “Dramatic Spring” storyline of that series, though Eroica was running in the quarterly Viva Princess until Sons of Eve finished. Sons of Eve came first, and was definitely an early precursor to Eroica. The zaniness in the first volume of Eroica is a toned-down version of Sons of Eve, complete with a cameo from the three main characters in the first chapter.
And when I say “toned down zaniness,” I mean… really, really toned down. As silly as that first volume of Eroica is, it’s nothing compared to the insanity in Sons of Eve.
Sons of Eve is a straight-up comedy, full of page after page of gags with little plot to hold things together. Aoike said during interviews at the time that she loved watching guys running around harassing each other, and Sons of Eve is seven volumes of exactly that, cracked out to the extreme. The three main characters are named Justin Ray (a singer), Heath Jason (a pianist), and Virgil Ward (a poet). I believe these three are of a different race, called “Vin Rose.” Within the first few pages, what appears to be some sort of UFO carries them off to the land of Vin Rose. In Vin Rose, time and culture run together, and the three main characters interact with the likes of Cleopatra, Jason (of the Argonauts), Moses, and others. Mostly these historical figures chase the characters around, especially Justin. At one point, Justin turns into a woman. At another, he’s tied up and whipped.
Women are equal opportunity harassers in Sons of Eve. There are several “groups” of women whose links I am unable to grasp. For instance, the Women of Mu includes Cleopatra and Helen of Troy, as you can see above. Other groups are the Women of Gomorrah, including Queen Elizabeth and Salome; Women of Eden, including Sappho and Joan of Arc; Women of Chicyuoukoku (I have no idea, this is an official romanization), including Mona Lisa, Annie, and Heidi; Women of Sadogaboshi (likewise) including Botticelli’s Venus; and Women of Heaven, including Lady Macbeth. There are also a lot of Japanese historical figures afoot, but I am less familiar with them, and thus I am not as puzzled by them as I am Lady Macbeth.
Here’s a scene where Noah shows up unannounced to part the sea.
In part two, there is a scene where the boys are being chased and harassed by Napoleon on horseback. On the next page, they’ve apparently wandered into a desolate area, away from Napoleon. Suddenly, Virgil is strangling a gigantic swan, and that swan turns into Nureyev. On the next page, all four are dancing ballet. Two pages later, they are being chased by Ace Frehley, who is breathing fire.
And Ace. Paul Stanley shows up in a later story.
Each of the six main story arcs of Sons of Eve starts with Heath, Justin, and Virgil in London. They quickly fall into Vin Rose somehow, and then they run around and dodge a thousand different bizarre characters.
Unfortunately, I don’t have much to offer you in the way of enlightening commentary. I will freely admit to having a tenuous to non-existent grasp of Japanese. However, I don’t think fluency would help me understand these stories any better. This series is literally seven volumes of nonsense gags, page after page of historical figures from all walks of life and time periods groping Justin. It’s not my flavor, it hasn’t aged particularly well, and I’m not a fan. I’ve put off writing this article for almost a year because I dreaded it so much. Having said that, it must have either historical significance or long-lasting popularity in Japan, because it has been in print continuously for 35 years. Maybe there’s something I don’t get.
As much as I hate it, I have to admit to admiring the absurdity of a lot of the visual gags. Aoike is pretty great at drawing funny stuff. Here’s Joan of Arc’s introduction, for instance:
It’s also the ultimate music cameo manga. I’m missing a bunch, I’m sure, but for good measure (and because I can’t talk about Aoike without mentioning him), here’s for-real Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.
See, there’s a difference. Now you won’t have to mistake the Earl for him anymore.
Also, the series opens with the William Blake painting Ancient of Days. I can’t fault her on her visual vernacular in this series, and I think a lot of the visual gags, art, and culture references are interesting ones, or at least outlandish enough to get credit from me. I just wish it made at least a little sense.
Eroica characters show up in side stories, which are much more coherent than the main parts. James (and the Earl, briefly) shows up in the side story called Prisoner 69. The three Sons of Eve are stuck in a snow-bound cabin with James, who forces them to make money through various means. Especially Heath, who gets bossed around the whole story. Or, at least, I think that’s what’s going on.
In another side story, called Good Company, the Major enlists Agent G on a mission to investigate Justin and Virgil, along with a rival band. G is assigned because he is the prettiest of the Major’s agents, and the Major makes him go undercover as a woman named Gigi in order to seduce Justin. This is the beginning of Agent G’s interest in cross-dressing (he appears in Sons of Eve before he shows up in From Eroica with Love). His role isn’t nearly as one-dimensional as it is in Eroica, and it’s a shame that some of the sensitivity here didn’t carry over to his Eroica appearances.
There is actually a sweet scene between Justin and G at the end of the chapter, plus several very funny ones between G and the Major as their respective missions are carried out.
Again, the Major doesn’t pull goofy faces often:
In case I haven’t stressed this enough, G is pretty in this chapter.
The Major periodically makes cameos elsewhere too, usually to angrily harass Aoike when she does self-insertion during the crazy scenes. The Major frequently fills this role in Aoike’s journal comics too, apparently the Major is a sort of manga conscience for her. Another short side story in Sons of Eve features all of Aoike’s manga characters convening in a restaurant to eat together.
It doesn’t really have anything to resolve, so the last chapter is more of the same gag-oriented humor. It almost ends on a very Newhart note, when the boys get back to London and realize a lot of the historical figures spill over into real life, and are just regular people with regular jobs in modern London. Then Aoike’s assistants show up, along with Aoike herself, and it turns out all the buildings in London are just a painted set, and Heath, Justin, and Virgil are just characters in a comic book. But it keeps going a bit after this, long enough for Virgil to slap Hitler around a little before it’s all over.
It’s Siegfried that gets the last word, though. He gets to be cool, and it’s a pretty decent romance scene for Heath.
Sons of Eve is popular enough to have been in print since its initial release. The first editions are a 7-volume standard tankouban release, and the most commonly available edition right now is the 3-volume bunkouban format. There are two other editions, a Princess Comics Excellent shinshouban-type release, and a “Complete” edition, both of which are two volumes. To my knowledge, the content is the same in all four editions.
And that’s about all I have to offer you on Sons of Eve. It’s more of an experience than a story, and I’m a little sorry I couldn’t offer more of an in-depth analysis. Of course, that’s not really in the spirit of the thing. But ending with John F. Kennedy certainly is.