Saturday, 8 August 2009

Yoshihisa Tagami's Grey And Horobi.

Around 1989, I was introduced to the world of Japanese manga through Viz Comics. Manga had been around locally for years (particularly in the book sections of the no longer around Yaohan supermarket store) but available only in their original Japanese or translated version in Chinese imported from Hong Kong. Viz Comics, I think, was the first American company which translated selected manga in English from those days. Amongst the first manga of which I owned were Yoshihisa Tagami's Grey and Horobi, from 1989 to 1991. Other titles include the infamous Crying Freeman, as well as acclaimed anime director Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Back then, these comics were published and printed on an 80 pages format, usually with a cardboard like cover, and ran for about eight to ten issues per series. As of 2002, Viz has adapted the right to left reading sequence, just like the Japanese version and available only in trade paper back format (without the dust jackets) locally. They are now more easily accessible, off the shelves directly, thanks largely to Kinokuniya, unlike back then, whereby it would only be available via specialised, indie comic store like The Mind Shop, The Final Frontier and Subang's own DCM (where the owner had no qualms in procuring and selling me Milo Manara's works :)). I got Grey and Horobi through a comic shop set up in a living room of this uncle back in Penang's Island Glades. He was a mustachioed, stern looking uncle, who drove a beaten up Volvo. To enter his "shop", I had to negotiate my way through his fierce, perpetually barking hound as well. This uncle, by the way, sort of influenced me to collect those limited hardcovers, mostly by Graphitti Design. I remembered asking him if I could have a glance at The Dark Knight and The Killing Joke, of which he turned me down, in a manner which I perceived as "Idiota. No way I am gonna let a bespectacled, sweaty palmed school kid have a look at the (then) best Batman stories ever written in MINT condition."
Yoshihisa Tagami wrote and illustrated both titles. His illustration is minimalistic and different from standard, run of the mill manga. His characters are drawn with what I called "Pinocchio" nose, as well as skinny pants and boots. Grey was adapted into English by Gerard Jones and Horobi by Len Wein and Part Two by Matt Thorn. As I don't read Japanese, I am not sure about the translated works but nevertheless, I thought it was natural and smooth, including those "sound effects". Both stories somehow talk about fate and destiny, whether it could be changed if one was to be assertive and determined enough.
Grey is a post apocalyptic story which took place 500 years into the future, circa 26th Century. The world is but a barren wasteland whereas the oceans are heavily polluted. Grey is the protagonist of the entire series and we followed his journey as a "trooper" as he battled to survive each war theatres he was assigned to fight in. The background to the story is that the world is controlled by a supercomputer called "Big Mama" (original name "Toy"). As the story progressed, it is revealed that "Big Mama" has came to a conclusion that mankind ultimate goal is to be extinct. As such, the A.I. devised and set off a war which destroyed the entire world. Survivors were used as "maintenance crew" known as "citizens" at the "City", the mainframe of "Big Mama". "Big Mama" also created the numerically assigned "towns" to have more "citizens". But as the towns grew in numbers, "Big Mama" devised a new, twisted plan to manage these new populations. It introduced a class system whereby the populations are segregated into two classes, the non-combatant "people" and "troopers", who engage themselves in daily warfare in pre-designated battle theatres. The "troopers" fight to supposedly protect their own "town" against others as well as earn "credits" to live a comparatively better lives than "people", whom stays at slum like dwellings with little foods and gets abused daily. Each "town" is managed by "Little Mama", a terminal of "Big Mama". Not all "towns" weapons and equipments are equal. New "towns" usually get WW2 type battle tanks and guns, whereas, double or single digit ones are armed with sophisticated, mecha like armour suits as well as massive battle fortresses. Within the "troopers" hierarchy, there is another class system. With each credits collected and success in surviving each battle, an individual gets to be promoted to the next class (starting from Class F). The chances of surviving each class gets more remote as one progress. If a "trooper" survives Class A, then he or she would be eligible for "citizenship", and gets to stay in the "City", supposedly a paradise like place. Grey comes from "town 303" and is a punk like character, with last name "Death". Every character that comes into contact with him indeed ended up dead. A former "people", he opted to become a "trooper" with a personal reason after the death of his girlfriend, Lips during her first battle. Grey eventually learnt the truth behind it all and proceeded to engage "Big Mama" in the final showdown. With introduction by Harlan Ellison, the story somehow reminded me of his work, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream but less darker in tone.
In the 1990 to 1991 Horobi, there are three protagonists in the story, Shuichi Aiga, Zen Amako and Shoko Yobuno. All three are related to one another via the same mother but this is not revealed until part two. Their late mother was related the secret societies called Satori and Yamato, whose members were descendants from the "demons", human labelled as such in the ancient times due to their E.S.P. powers. Satori represented the males and Yamato, females. They fought each other in order to control or kill the next coming of a messiah who is supposedly the most powerful Esper of all, and in control of an ancient device called Sacred Animal Mirror i.e. Ragnarok, to save mankind from Horobi, the God of Destruction. It turns out Ragnarok choose Aiga as the messiah (known in the past as Idari) whereas Amako, due to his inferiority complex which attracted millions of malicious consciousness, is selected to be manifested as Horobi. The most interesting thing about this series is that it touches on subjects ranging from environmental demise, battle of the sexes, heroes worshipping to personal relationships and human behaviour at every opportune possible by its characters, which is quite engaging.

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