At Saito Pro, they draw 44 pages in six days flat.

Golgo 13 Vol. 10 (of 13): Wasteland

We’re the best socialist nation in the world. We’re somehow a socialist country that doesn’t think we’re socialists. Because we never acknowledged this, we never had to have a revolution.”

That's creator Takao Saito himself on the state of his nation, from this installment's big bonus feature: part one of a 2001 interview conducted by critic Kunio Suzuki, who starts things off by declaring "Golgo 13 was the textbook of my life." His enthusiasm actually gets kind of infectious; as with all of the recent, 'critical' supplements to this series, a number of interesting ideas and notions are raised without much space to really explore them in, but Suzuki's obvious interest in the work (and Saito's apparent comfort with his interrogator) results in a higher rate of neato tidbits than usual.

Saito makes reference to his early years in the gekiga rental book scene, declaring that the famed Nikkatsu Action films ripped off his style. He chats a bit about working on James Bond manga adaptions for Shogakukan, and how Golgo 13 was actually meant as a departure from that approach (as has been written before, G13 is essentially a translation of certain samurai ethos to a covert action setting). He insists that Duke Togo is "not a passionate man, but is trying very hard to be so." A biographical timeline is provided, revealing that Saito was a bully as a child, and shared studio space with Yoshihiro Tatsumi and other gekiga artists for a year in the late '50s, and that Golgo 13 has never skipped an issue of the Big Comic anthology since its 1968 debut. And yes, such prolificacy does involve cranking out an average of one 44-page G13 chapter per week, although I suspect there's quite a lot of hands at work.

It's a lot of information, most of it quickly stated and tossed aside as the next thing comes up. It'll really make you wish for an extra-long, career-spanning interview in the style of The Comics Journal, since Saito is an articulate, opinionated man, and thoughtful about his work. He's obviously seen a lot in his career. It'd take some Japanese-fluent Golgo 13 superfan with a solid grasp of manga history, and a willingness on Saito's part to actually do it, but he'd be a prime subject for such treatment.

One topic that is covered in some depth is politics. Suzuki is endlessly impressed with the sober attitude the comic adopts regarding touchy subjects, especially since the series rose out of the inflamed student protest Japan of the late '60s. Saito characterizes his true political message as one urging personal responsibility in regimented Japan; in this way, it's easy to see Duke Togo acting as a constant symbol for individual action, one that often prompts other individuals to act on their own in trumping moral authority. One could be tempted to brand Duke Togo himself an anarchist (specifically the ultimate in anarcho-individualism), but Saito's work strikes me as
disinterested in ascribing exact political philosophy to his creation; just as the continuity is kept light enough that nearly any Golgo 13 story could be your first, the metaphoric thrust of the character is broad and basic. The stories are individuals too.

(and oooh... maybe one of you crazy college kids might be up for putting together a paper on Osamu Dezaki's Golgo 13 theatrical anime acting as a covert liberal critique of its source material, amping up the self-obsession of the title character to monster levels of cruelty - I'll accept a special thanks credit and your unyielding devotion)

But something tells me editor Carl Horn may have been saving this volume's first story, Wasteland (Story #213, July 1984), especially for coupling with the Saito chat, as it's replete with themes of personal responsibility and individual workings in society. The plot concerns a spanking new nuclear power plant just about ready for opening in Port Hueneme, California. The President is going to be in nearby Los Angeles for the Olympic Games, and pressure is high to get the place up and running at a politically helpful rate. But poor Miguel, safety director for the place, has been clashing with his evil boss (pointy mustache = evil) about important issues! No matter - the joint fires up, and soon everybody gets to confront the threat of LA being rendered uninhabitable for 25 millennia. But as luck would have it, Duke is in town to murder the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Miguel heroically enlists him to avert a full-scale plant meltdown... by shooting it.

I sometimes joke about Golgo 13's sense of sophistication -- the series being all about a dude who assassinates people and has sex a lot and shoots nuclear reactions to death -- but I am serious when I say that sometimes there's some handsome visual metaphors and narrative flourishes at work. This particular story begins with the image of a pipe being bumped in the under-construction plant. It soon becomes evident that the pipe may muck up the entire operation of the plant - given that the whole story is about individuals screwing up sophisticated machines to awful effect, I think it's fair to view this image as symbolic of the story's ongoing theme, which completes itself upon another individual's decision to marshal forces and repair the ruined system.

There's a running joke about a plant official who keeps getting angry with people who don't understand how nuclear power works (on the whole, the story probably errs on the side of info overload - perhaps Saito and company felt a nuclear-adverse Japanese audience needed extra clarification on the ins and outs of such things?), but in the end he makes a big gesture of personal responsibility, arguing for the safety of nuclear power, while the story gently undercuts his impact through its own uncertainty about the will of people to stand up against deadly systems. Surely Duke appreciates action - his role in the story concludes with a gesture of such over-the-top, damned near transcendent manliness, you'll be willing to follow the icon wherever the fuck.

There's some technical things going on in this volume too. I noticed an odd reproduction problem with my copy, which made certain parts of the first story fade in line detail, with several small details being obliterated - maybe the source materials for the story weren't the best? Or was it an error on VIZ's part? It's also worth noting that the second story, Route 95 (Story #249, April 1987), dips into the Author's Selection edition of the gigantic Best 13 compilations of G13 stories, which likely shuts the door on that puppy making its way to the US in the near future.

That second feature's a shorter tale, only 40 pages long, and very heavy on atmosphere and silent assassin attitude, as Duke finds himself at the scene of a murder mystery out in Nevada, an arid environment that quickly becomes the stage for gunmen thinking about irrelevance. It's probably a bit closer to something like Hotel Harbour View than Golgo 13 usually gets, and it's maybe a little revealing that Saito values the piece as one of his personal favorites - he and his team don't have the lyrical ability of a Jiro Taniguchi, but their stony portrayal of men confronting greater men carries some inky pulp impact regardless. Maybe Saito prefers the nation's medicine go down as sweet as he can mix it.