Crying Freeman 1 (omnibus ed.)

September 22, 2011

Kazuo Koike / Ryoichi Ikegami – Dark Horse – 2006 – 5 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols 1-2

I think the record will show that I’m some sort of Kazuo Koike masochist. I’m pretty sure that anyone who is a fan of Kazuo Koike is some sort of masochist, but it’s also really easy to be… awed by him, and I can see the appeal. Some works are better than others, to be sure, and Lone Wolf and Cub is better than, say, Offered. Crying Freeman… is closer to the Lone Wolf and Cub end of the scale, but still too over-the-top for me to take really seriously.

The title sums up my favorite thing about this series. The assassin, Crying Freeman, will be shown committing some sort of flashy murder, blow up his gun or murder weapon afterwards, and he always flees from the scene with tears streaming down his face. There’s always a dramatic zoom-in on his face to emphasize the tragedy in these tears. Even when he’s wearing a silly mask to commit the crime. Within the first few pages, a woman named Emu witnesses one of his murders, and rather than killing her to eliminate witnesses, Freeman tells her his real name.

One thing leads to another, and Emu witnesses him commit another murder, this time a big yakuza boss who was under police protection. She accidentally lets it slip that she knows him, and she is relentlessly badgered by both the police and yakuza for his identity. Long story short, Emu and Freeman (aka Mr. Yoh) fall in love, wind up in a remote location together, and Mr. Yoh winds up telling his long, sad story to Emu.

Mr. Yoh was kidnapped and brainwashed into being a Chinese Mafia hitman while he was displaying his pottery in New York one day. Every time he commits a crime, his hypnosis kicks in and he is compelled to do what the Chinese Mafia tell him (the hypnosis is some true Fist of the North Star magic dealing with pressure points or something). While under hypnosis, he was also trained for two years in the art of being the perfect assassin, and the Chinese Mafia believe he is the second coming of their great dragon. Or something. The point being that all of this is against Mr. Yoh’s will, and he just wants to be a potter. Thus the tears every time he kills. Luckily, Emu sees the sensitivity of his soul, and is also a fine artist herself, so the two can be together.

If all this isn’t crazy-sounding enough for you, there are other Kazuo Koike touches to liven things up. Mr. Yoh also gets an enormous front-and-back full body dragon tattoo against his will. The tattoo artist was paid by a rival organization to kill him, but apparently there is so much inherent charisma in the Chinese Mafia’s dragon that Mr. Yoh won the artist over without saying a word to her, and she can’t bring herself to kill him. Later, she is shot for double-crossing the other organization, and while in her death throes, she gives Mr. Yoh a blowjob and finishes his tattoo.

I feel that the tears are a fine touch too, as is the murder where Freeman wears a weird mask to disguise his identity, then cries through the eyeholes. I also like the fact the weapons have to be blown up every time. There’s also the fact that his assassin training comes in the hands of an apparently 100+-year-old woman, and most of it is done in the nude. It wouldn’t be a Koike/Ichigami manga without an extended nude scene for no reason, and I look forward to many more after this.

I’m always at something of a loss to describe how outrageous these series are. This one isn’t nearly as crazy as other works by Koike, again, because this has a plot that I can follow and is a fairly normal story. In that, it’s worth reading if you’re into seinen or crime-oriented manga. At least, the first volume is, I can’t vouch for the rest.

I’m not sure where all this is going, and right now, Freeman is simply digging himself out of the hole he made when he left a yakuza alive as a witness to one of his crimes. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter, because the story is admirably coherent, and Freeman’s past as well as several assassinations have been told relatively smoothly so far. I’m told the plot quickly derails and gets a lot more crazy after this, and I’m looking forward to that, too.

Again, it’s worth picking up for anyone who’s a fan of seinen action or yakuza-oriented stories. It’s fairly good at what it does, actually. But crime stories aren’t my thing, and I do have volumes of Wounded Man that I haven’t read (to be fair, that series is terrible and almost not worth it). But eventually, I’ll get the itch, and these nice, fat Crying Freeman omnibuses will be waiting for me.