Bob's Comics Reviews June 2000 Arrows


Kenichi Sonoda: Gunsmith Cats
Or Gansumisu Kyattsu, in the original. The story-- surprise!-- features a couple of sexy yet tough chicks and a good deal of ultraviolence. Cool-headed Rally Vincent is a gunsmith and bounty hunter; her diminutive and excitable partner is Minnie-May Hopkins, an expert in bombs. Sonoda is a gun freak in a country where owning real guns is next to impossible; so he writes gun fantasies, with lovingly illustrated weaponry.

The comic is basically just high-octane fun, no truck held with that tedious "reality". There's not much to analyze, besides the different conventions of Japanese comics. In American comics, for instance, the heroine might go undercover as a call girl; but she surely wouldn't be seen happily bedding the clients. The manga way of drawing women is odd, too... where U.S. superheroines are all tight-packed curves, their Japanese counterparts are tall, rather cylindrical, and impossibly leggy.

When you first see manga, it takes some time to get over those saucer-sized eyes. Later, you start to notice nuances. E.g. the female villain in the first book, Bonnie, has relatively small eyes, which is a clue that she's evil. It also varies by author-- Shirow, for instance, gives Motoko slightly smaller eyes than Rally and Minnie have; and Nausicäa looks almost realistic in comparison.

I really picked up this book because it's set in Chicago. Sonoda picked the town because a) New York's been done, and b) we have that Al Capone thing going. Of course, it's no more authentic than some 1940s detective comic set in Shanghai. Sonoda obviously had some photos available, but he doesn't have a feel for the city. He shows the famous Chicago Theater, but in an impossible perspective with the John Hancock behind it. There's a picture of what is obviously the First Chicago Bank building and the Calder sculpture, but with its graceful 70-storey curve turned into a diagonal flare at the bottom of a straight-sided building. And there's a reference to "Dearborn Street... between Eighth and Tenth". Somebody should fax Sonoda a Tribune map: Dearborn Street doesn't even exist at Eighth, and there is no Tenth (it's called Taylor St. instead). Not that it's easy to write convincingly about a city you've visited never or only a few times...

(What is Chicago like? I sometimes call it the most American of cities, since L.A. and New York are both atypical in their own ways. It's certainly the least dysfunctional of the big three cities, surprisingly manageable, diverse, and pleasant. Big buildings. Nice lake. Too damn cold in the winter. Lousy but beloved baseball teams. Lots of cute Asian girls. Deep-dish pizza. Colorful politics. More theater than you'd ever guess.)

Osamu Tezuka: Black Jack
Tezuka is one of the most beloved and prolific artists in Japan, and best known in the U.S. for Astroboy (Tetsuwan-Atom, begun in 1951); starting with Black Jack (which dates to 1973) is probably like discussing Chuck Jones mainly in terms of Kotick the White Seal. Oh well.

Black Jack is a rogue surgeon... yes, you heard right... who seems to get all the oddest medical cases in Japan. It's kind of a mixture of EC horror comics with the Lone Ranger, as drawn by E.C. Segar and a medical illustrator. It's thoroughly bizarre, though undeniably readable.

It's interesting to see manga of an earlier archeological stratum. You get the cute faces and big eyes; but this is only one of the cartooning modes Tezuka uses, and not the main one. The nonce characters are mostly done as energetic, grotesque caricatures, often with un-mangalike big noses.

One story is so strange that I wonder if I'm missing some cultural referent that would explain it. There was a woman, a fellow intern, who fell in love with Black Jack, but developed ovarian cancer. Black Jack removed her uterus and ovaries, and this is said to "put an end to her womanhood"; the patient now lives as a man! Huh? The idea that a woman who receives a hysterectomy is no longer a woman is odd enough; but it's spectacularly wiggy to insist that she's now a man. Tezuka explains that she no longer has female hormones (not true, since the ovaries are merely the main source of these, though perhaps this wasn't realized back then). But what does he think happens to women at menopause? And where would she get the male hormones (not to mention some obvious bits of plumbing) needed to masculinize her? Is this some sort of mystico-cultural idealization of the female as (only) defined by the possibility of maternity?

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