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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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for Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Raijin 7

If RAIJIN COMICS weren't already canceled, I think I might be breaking up with it right about now. I've read the first 25 issues of the title, which reprints a variety of Japanese comics and that old magic is missing. Oh, I'll still read the 21 issues sitting in my "to read" box and probably before the end of the summer. But I think my overall impression of them will be that RAIJIN could have been so much better.

Warning. There will be some spoilers ahead.

THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF JAPAN is my favorite strip, a political thriller by Hidaka Yoshiki (story) and Tsugihara Ryuji. Sakuragi Kenichiro is the first elected prime minister of his nation and he is an admirable hero on every level. The tension in the series has come from his political enemies trying to destroy him - they fail miserably - and China declaring war on just about everyone. Talk about a rough beginning. I still enjoy the strip, but I'm bothered by the "good fortune" that seems to follow Sakuragi no matter how serious the world situation gets. In the latest chapters that I've read, he's learned that the American forces left a nuclear bomb or two behind when they departed Japan...just the ticket to put some pressure on China. Sakuragi's bold decisions and noble character should win the day, not sheer dumb luck.

FIST OF THE BLUE SKY by Hara Tetsuo with story consulting by Buronson has a cool setting (Shanghai prior to World War II) and a decent gangsters/politics/soap opera story going for it. Its hero is nigh-invincible, though, and that limits the tension whenever he battles. I'm hoping the politics and soap opera become the driving force of the strip...because they can create situations which can't be solved by the hero sticking his finger in a enemy's forehead and making his skull explode.

SLAM DUNK by Inoue Takehiko is an entertaining strip about a not-really-bad boy striving to become a high school basketball star for the love of a girl. It took 25 issues to get to the start of his team's first game - an exhibition game at that - but it's been a fun ride all along.

Raijin 10

BOMBER GIRL by Niwano Makoto was salacious trash from start to finish. Its heroine was a big-breasted, brutal bounty hunter whose behavior was occasionally psychotic. She was dropped from RAIJIN because her further adventures were deemed too "mature" for younger readers. As opposed to just monumentally stupid.

I enjoy Hojo Tsukasa's CITY HUNTER despite my distaste for its hero's churlish libido. Saeba Ryo is a hit man for the people; he guards his clients from - and occasionally kills - less benevolent hit men than himself. When not harassing beautiful women, Saeba is a likeable character and - I hate to admit it - even his "romantic" moves can be amusing. Makimura Kaori, his current partner and the sister of his former (deceased) partner, is more likeable and even more interesting than Saeba. I'm hoping she gets a spotlight tale of her own before I run out of RAIJIN issues.

Itagaki Keisuke's BAKI THE GRAPPLER started out as a somewhat intriguing story of a young man determined to reign supreme in the world of underground karate. Unfortunately, it developed into an exercise in brutality and gore for the sake of brutality and gore. It's a chore to read it these days.

GUARDIAN ANGEL GETTEN by Sakurano Minene is a familiar series about a young man who lives with a pair of guardian angels. He's in love with the sweet one while the horny one has sexual designs on him. In addition, there's a young priest-in-training who covets the sweet angel. It's more farce than borderline pedophilia, and Sakurano does manage a fun story here and there, but it's been done before and better.

REVENGE OF MOUFLON, which no longer appears in RAIJIN, was a favorite series of mine. Ueno Jiro (story) and Ono Yoichiro (art) had one terrific story going. Its hero was a popular comedian who suddenly found himself as the pilot of a passenger jet whose pilots had been killed by terrorists. What kept REVENGE from being more than just a B-movie-style thriller was the secondary story of the heartless politicians trying to gain power by exploiting the fear of their countrymen. I can relate to that. I don't know if this strip continued past the episodes in RAIJIN COMICS, but, if it did, I hope those appear in this country soon.

Raijin 16

RAIJIN COMICS #8 had an absolutely terrific stand-alone story about a Japanese baseball player on tour in the United States just before World War II. AMERICAN DREAM by Nihashi Shingo (story) and Hojo Tsukasa (art) was a bittersweet and heartwarming exploration of friendship, honor, love and trust. If I owned a movie company, I'd buy the rights to this in a heartbeat and start looking for the actor the film would make a star of. Even if you have no interest in RAIJIN COMICS or manga, this is a story well worth seeking out. It's a keeper.

BOMBER GIRL was originally replaced by a series of mountain-climbing tales under the running title of THE CLIMBER'S SAGA. The very first story in this series, which ran in RAIJIN COMICS #5 was a terrific coming-of-age story. Since then, they have been about morose climbers determined to kill themselves, either as atonement for past failures or to achieve some ultimately meaningless goal. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, someone out there will e-mail me and say I just don't "get" mountain-climbing. I can live with that. I'm not sure I can stomach any more of these stories.

BOMBER GIRL's "permanent" replacement was Umekawa Kazumi's BOW WOW WATA, a series about a young man who learns he can communicate with animals. His father is a veterinarian and also, apparently, some sort of dog-God, so the youngster's new ability comes in handy for the family business. Pet people - and you know who you are - will get a kick out of this series. For the most part, I can take it or leave it. The art is sometimes interesting and there are the occasional interesting scenes, but the running bits and gags became tiresome within the first few chapters.

Raijin 19

The last new series added to RAIJIN in the issues I've read is KEIJI by the team of Ryu Keiichiro (story), Hara Tetsuo (art), and Aso Mio (scriptwriter). Keiji is "a different kind of samurai" in the late 16th century. He's a prankster who is often disrespectful of authority, but willing to lay down his life for friendship and honor and love and simply doing what's right. Some battle scenes go for the gore, but it's a well-written and well-drawn series that grew on me once I got over the loss of MOUFLON.

Besides the comics, RAIJIN COMICS #7-25 [Gutsoon; $4.95 each] feature informational pages and recaps of previous episodes. The production values aren't quite as good as those on SHONEN JUMP, its surviving and even thriving competitor, but I thought the magazine looked decent enough.

Now that I've looked over all these issues of RAIJIN COMICS, I'm thinking I would still be buying it if it hadn't been canceled. I'm still enjoying some of the features - CITY HUNTER, KEIJI, SLAM DUNK, and FIRST PRESIDENT OF JAPAN - and paying five bucks for just those strips would still be a bargain.

Canceled or not, I recommend that you seek out RAIJIN COMICS in the back-issue bins of your local comics shop or at the summer conventions. If you can get a deal on them, and have the patience it will take to amass a complete run, I think you'll enjoy much of the material contained therein.

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 07/12/2004 | 07/13/2004 | 07/14/2004 >>

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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