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Go Nagai Go!!

26 Oct

Small Detour in the Country of the Bleeding Sun

by Christian Heymans

Translated by Annick Pellegrin

Edited by Simon Turner

Original publication: Heymans, Christian. “Go Nagai Go !! : Petit détour au pays du soleil sanglant.” La Crypte tonique jan-fév 2012: 10-11. Print.[1]

The 60s in Japan were marked by outstanding economic growth. The country that had been vanquished and wrecked, practically wiped out in 1945, was recovering, driven by the willpower of the Japanese people to rebuild. In 1968, Japan became the second world power; people started talking about the Japanese economic miracle, also known as the Izanagi boom.[2] The standard of living rose rapidly and the rural exodus turned the lives of Japanese people upside-down. Televisions appeared in homes and while Tokyo was preparing to host the Olympics in 1964, Osaka was preparing to host the 1970 World Exposition.

It was also a time of great demonstrations and protest movements. The post-war Dankai[3] generation opposed law enforcement agencies and the established power in an increasingly violent manner. Primary targets included the security treaty that linked Japan and the USA, the aggravation of the Vietnam War, with Japan serving as a rear operating base, and industrial pollution. In 1960, thousands of strikers and demonstrators wearing helmets to the colours of their respective factions and armed with long sticks invaded the streets and brought down KISHI Nobusuke’s ultra conservative government. In 1968, the student movement brought several universities to a halt and the feminists of the Chūpiren (the League for Freedom and Abortion) marched in the streets wearing pink helmets[4].

The economic development and the social and political upheavals profoundly changed the Japanese way of life and the manga industry had to adapt. The Dankai generation, the baby boomers, who constituted the main readership of the school-life themed manga in the post-war period, and who had now grown up, were receiving more pocket money or their first salaries. The moralistic stories and good-mannered heroes of their childhoods no longer suited the tastes of these teenagers and young adults. Manga publishers did not want to lose these readers whose expectations they still had to meet. Elements that were once considered taboo (sex, violence, scatology) were introduced one by one in humoristic manga as well as action and adventure stories in order to accommodate this masculine readership[5]. The one who paved the way for this evolution is the mangaka AKATSUKA Fujio. The “Gag Manga King”, influenced by US gagmen Charlie Chaplin, Bud Abbot and Lou Costello as well as Jerry Lewis, through works such as Osomatsu-kun [Unprepared Boy] or Tensai Bakabon [Genius Bakabon], created a new kind of wacky irreverent and satirical manga full of absurd gags and of rude, lying, cheating and greedy small characters. His manga were not particularly violent or obscene but clearly moved away from the naïve side of manga for post-war schoolkids.[6] Manga publishers therefore encouraged their authors to break taboos. Censorship was frowned upon, the memory of the very brutal Tokkō[7], the thought police of the militaristic and totalitarian period that hunted down “thought criminals”, was still on people’s minds and advertisers in manga magazines did not have so much weight as to be able to pressure publishers.

It was in this context that in 1968, the young NAGAI Gō, born NAGAI Kiyoshi, future creator of UFO Robot Grendizer and of the demonic Devilman, started the series Harenchi Gakuen. It was published in the first issue of the publisher Shueisha’s magazine Weekly Shōnen Jump, the magazine that would later publish the famous Dragon Ball and One Piece. In an interview published in Weekly Playboy, NAGAI Gō explained that the initial idea of his series was to cause mayhem in a school. At the time, the word “harenchi” [scandalous] often came up in advertisements for erotic movies and NAGAI thought it was funny to associate it with the word “gakuen”, which means “school”.

In Harenchi Gakuen, the “scandalous school” or “shameless school”, NAGAI Gō ridiculed school authority: the teachers were a bunch of degenerate perverts in outlandish outfits. One of the teachers, Hige Godzilla [Bearded Godzilla] was a caveman dressed in a tiger’s skin who spoke in a typically feminine manner[8]. Another teacher went around armed with a sabre, with an exposed backside, dressed in a small and very mobile loincloth that had trouble hiding his private parts. Class time was not dedicated to studying but rather to organising lecherous medical visits and gambling; teachers set traps for female students in order to undress them and the latter sought revenge by disseminating naughty pictures of the teaching staff.

The disappearance of the protagonists’ clothes was one of the recurring features of the manga and teachers and students, boys and girls, often found themselves naked or in their underwear. With his male students who spent all their time lifting girls’ skirts, NAGAI Gō marked the beginning of fetishism and ‘fan-service’ (adding naughty elements in order to please fans) in manga. The author was an avid reader of Playboy and also drew inspiration from the curves of the Venus de Milo in order to draw his naked or scantily clad female students but he nonetheless avoided sexually explicit situations. His manga was not exactly, according to him, erotic but it talked about the culture of shame in Japan, of the war of sexes and of people’s embarrassment to show themselves as they are.

The violent aspect of the series was not negligible either. Although it was toned down by the drawing style, it was rather primitive but perfectly well suited to the ramshackle ambiance of the manga and the extremely offbeat humour that prevented one from taking any situation seriously. The protagonists often found themselves confronted with angry demons, bloodthirsty samurai, or even a watered-down version of Dr Frankenstein’s creature. All it took was a trip to the beach to see the class being attacked by a submarine filled with people who called themselves ‘savages’ and who were prompt to undress and tie up the female protagonists. The captain of the submarine ended up beheaded, deprived of his tribal tattoo decorated head by the sabre of a female student who is a descendant of the famous ninja YAGYŪ Jūbei Mitsuyoshi[9]. Other scenes of struggles with the riot police, for their part, made direct reference to real life and echoed images of demonstrations that were broadcast by Japanese television channels for a long time.

NAGAI Gō’s series was a hit, male readers flocked, drawn by the as yet unseen multitude of scantily clad female students. Harenchi Gakuen appeared in the pages of Weekly Shōnen Jump for four years and thirteen volumes were released in bookstores. The series was adapted to the big screen, four movies were released between 1970 and 1971, as well as a television series. SHISHIDO Jō, the actor with artificially swollen cheeks from Branded to Kill by SUZUKI Seijun (1967) took the role of Macaroni, the cowboy, in the cinematic version! 1996 saw the creation of an Original Video Animation (straight-to-video animation) as well as a final movie that moved away from the spirit of the original series; and a few video game adaptations.

The publication of the series in the magazine did not go smoothly. Parent Teacher Associations were furious but the publisher and NAGAI Gō held on, supported by abundant readers’ mail. The author, never holding back from provocation, closed the first part of his manga with a bloody fight between students and parents who had come to a siege at the school, with the assistance of the army’s tanks! The scene closed with a general massacre while in the sky a sun dripping with blood was rising. Thankfully, this was not the manga’s characters’ last breath and they reappeared miraculously in the second part…

Harenchi Gakuen has left a lasting mark in the world of manga and anime and series such as Haisukūru! Kimengumi [High School! Kimengumi] and Urusei Yatsura [Lum] as well as Cromartie High School are somewhat akin to NAGAI Gō’s manga, even though none of them went as far in nihilism and bad taste![10]

 

Christian Heymans was born 1976 in Saint Quentin, France, to a Belgian father and an Italian mother, shortly before a move to Belgium where his father was to work as the buyer at the family-owned jam factory. From a young age, Heymans was fascinated with bande dessinée, animated feature films (of all origins) and Japanese anime series, notably some improbable comedies that he discovered on Italian screens during holidays at Lake Garda. He started writing in the first Belgian fanzines dedicated to Japanese anime and manga in 1995 and was involved in the setting up of anime screenings in their original format, with or without subtitles. In 2000, he graduated from ENSAV La Cambre (Brussels) where he had studied animation, and later worked as an animator in animated feature films, television series, advertising; and also as an illustrator amongst other things.

 

Sources

Bouissou, Jean-Marie. Manga : Histoire et Univers de la bande dessinée japonaise. Philippe Picquier, 2010. Print.

Groensteen, Thierry, and Jean-Paul Jennequin. L’Univers des mangas : une introduction à la bande dessinée japonaise. Casterman, 1991. Print.

Hopkins, David. “Manga in Japanese Libraries: A Historical Overview.” Graphic Novels and Comics in Libraries and Archives: Essays on Readers, Research, History and Cataloging, edited by Weiner, Robert G, Randall W. Scott, Amy K. Nyberg, William T. Fee, and Francisca Goldsmith. McFarland & Co, 2010, pp. 17-25. Internet resource.

Nagai, Gō. Harenchi Gakuen. Shueisha, 1968-1972. (6 or 13 vols). Print.

Schodt, Frederik L, and Osamu Tezuka. Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics. Kodansha International, 2001. Print.

Sévéon, Lucien. Le Cinéma enragé au Japon. Rouge Profond, 2010. Print.

Torgano, Alberto, Mauro Buti and Fabrizio Francato. “Gli anime erotici: le origini.” FA. Vol. 3: World of Hentai, Rock’n’Comics, 1995, pp. 12-13. Print.

[1] The original text has been very lightly revised for inaccuracies and spelling mistakes and a short bibliography was added. Japanese names reflect the traditional Japanese practice (family name first and given name next).

The title is a reference to the cry of the hero of UFO Robot Grendizer (a series created by none other than NAGAI Gō). After he has transformed into a robot, the character leaves his shuttle shouting “Grendizer, Go!”.

[2] Editor’s note: Izanagi is a Japanese Shintō god of creation who, according to Japanese mythology, created Japan alongside his sister, Izanami, by stirring the oceans with a spear from where the islands of Japan rose. The Japanese economic rise following World War II in the 60s has been likened to this rise from the depths, hence the name, ‘Izanagi Boom’.

[3] Editor’s note: Dankai literally translates as ‘massive group’ and refers to the Baby Boomers born after World War II during a rapid increase in the Japanese birth rate during that period.

[4] Editor’s note: The protests that led to the ultimate fall of KISHI Nobusuke’s government were spurred by fears from socialists and other groups that KISHI would formulate a fascist-like government as well as fears regarding a treaty that Japan was planning to sign with the US government to create a large number of US military bases in Japan.

[5] Editor’s note: The use of the word ‘masculine’ here refers to male readership of action and adventure manga. Manga publishing and dissemination is highly codified by gender and age in Japan with titles sorted according to whether the target audience is, first, male or female and then, secondly, by age. Organisation by publishers’/authors’ names often follows these categorisations. The target readership for manga that features motifs of action and adventure was overwhelmingly male as manga that contained these themes were, and continue to be, referred to as shōnen [boys’] manga.

[6] Some of his work was translated and published in French in the magazine Le cri qui tue at the end of the 70s.

[7] Editor’s note: The Tokkō, also known as the Shishō Keisatsu [Thought Police], was a civilian-led group that worked alongside the Military Police Corps and Special Police Corps established in 1911 in response to a perceived threat of ideological dissent within Japan. Their goal was to suppress ‘dangerous’ thought and arrest those thought to pose a threat to the state ranging from communists and socialists to religious groups, student activists, and liberal groups.

[8] Editor’s note: In Japanese it is possible to emphasise masculinity or femininity through the choice of gender-specific nouns of turns of phrases. For the example the gender neutral word for the pronoun ‘I’ in Japanese is ‘watashi’. However masculinity can be emphasised by using the term ‘ore’ and femininity by using the term ‘atashi’, both still meaning ‘I’. Similarly, sentences may end in Japanese with particular ‘sounds’ such as ‘wa’ and ‘no’, which are often used by speakers to indicate softness and femininity. In this case, the character Hige Godzilla makes use of Japanese words and sounds that are often reserved for use by women.

[9] Editor’s note: YAGYŪ is a famous Samurai who lived in 17th Century Japan, born in Nara, near Kyoto. He has since become the inspiration for various and differing media interpretations due to the lack of actual knowledge of his life.

[10] The author would like to add that Harenchi Gakuen has found its way to the Western world. The 6-volume version has been published in Italy since 2015 under the title La scuola senza pudore (Edizioni BD, 2015), and will be released for the first time in France in December 2016 under the title L’École impudique (Black box).

 

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