Japan: Nation of Zesty Fever

*Genius Party Dept: Jog, when will you stop writing about Genius Party?! When it's out, folks. And now it's looking like the forthcoming Studio 4°C anime anthology film has gotten so big that it's being split into two films. More info at the link, including the great-looking soundtrack lineup. Vol. 1 opens on July 7 in Japan.

*And getting back to comics -

Golgo 13 Vol. 8 (of 13): Gravestone in Sicily

This isn’t out yet in comics stores, unless Diamond sent it to certain stories without putting it on its shipping list, but the chain bookstores have it.

As is usually the case with VIZ’s Golgo 13 books, the more interesting of the two included stories is not the one that provides the volume’s subtitle. Sure, Gravestone in Sicily (Story #139, November 1978) is a perfectly workable little Duke Togo caper, in which the super-assassin (in natty late ‘70s black suit/white tie attire) attempts to sneak onto an island that’s fallen totally under the control of a pair of American Mafia siblings, obtain a weapon in a place where literally every gun is accounted for, and evade an Italian lawman he’s apparently tangled with before. There’s plenty of high fashion (I guess the Wolverine hairdo was ‘in’ for Mafioso in ‘78), paranoia, and old country decadence (whippings - right in the parlor), complete with a wholly predictable yet largely satisfying finale among the graves. Typical workmanlike Golgo 13 stuff.

But then, there’s Telepath (Story #184, May 1982), which is one of those Duke Togo adventures. You know the type.

The saga begins with the greatest tragedy the world has ever known: Golgo 13 misses a shot. Two actually! It’s neither dream nor imaginary story, so there’s only one obvious conclusion to draw - Duke has been bedazzled in the head by a KGB psychic operative. Yes, beautiful young Anna is part of a secret Soviet program (which we naturally learn all about), an infernal experiment that’s already influenced the course of WWII, with the ultimate goal of transmitting documents across the land via mere thought, striking crippling fear into entire enemy installations without entering, and yes dear readers, conquering the mind of Ronald Reagan. Sadly, that little subplot is never brought up again after it’s mentioned, cruelly robbing us of a thrilling finale in which Duke rushes to save the Gipper from Communist telepathy. Maybe in a future story?

Actually, that’s not the only bit of story that’s merely suggested, rather than being acted upon. Telepath is possibly the most haphazardly constructed of any Golgo 13 story yet released in English, more a loosely-connected sequence of cool events and infodumps than a carefully constructed plot. Not that all of it doesn’t seem worth it as Duke pursues several means of defeating Psychic Communism, hooking himself up to a brain wave-reader and shocking an impressible technician (“What? You jumped from Delta to Beta wave activity in less than a second!”) or barging into the New York Yoga Association Center in hopes of paying his way to Samadhi in a single day. I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter sequence originated with some Saito Pro staffer reading a book on yoga and chattering to everyone at the office about how it all totally reminds him of Golgo 13 - the whole story has a sort of anything-goes vibe that probably allowed creator Takao Saito’s people to work off much accumulated research on dreaming and psy ops and such, without quite worrying if it all adds up in the end.

It’s not completely random, mind you. It’s really a cute gag about how the consummately awesome nature of Duke Togo has somehow allowed him to grasp a type of enlightenment. Same goes for his adversary, sauntering around in the USSR’s finest early ‘80s tracksuits and rejecting the temptations of the flesh (“Penis! Penis, penis!! Men make me want to vomit!!”). Needless to say, Golgo 13 becomes her ultimate dream man for the only kind of romantic activity she’s interested in - psychic murder sex. This also doesn't really amount to anything by story's end.

There’s also the alleged 'main' plot about a recalled KGB agent that Duke has to assassinate, but rarely have actual plot details been so obviously unimportant to Saito Pro - this one’s all about the title character reinforcing his own awesomeness, right up to an abrupt ending that demands from the reader a certain attention to detail for any of it to make sense, while leaving them scratching their head over how simple it all seemed.

Also on hand is a pair of short essays in the File 13 bonus section. One is an amusing if highly superficial account by Kentaro Takekuma (co-author of the great Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga) of a 1982 letters page skirmish between manga critic Tomoyoshi Go and various Golgo 13 readers over a critique titled Readers Are Stupid. The other is an even shorter, but oddly effective ramble by writer Masahiko Katsuya on Takao Saito’s use of Manchuria in Golgo 13, how the Japanese history surrounding the place carries much symbolic value, and how Golgo 13 symbolizes a pre-WWII attitude of Japanese culture. Oddly, both pieces refer to stories not presented in any Golgo 13 release in English - I don’t think we’ve ever actually seen Saito’s handling of Manchuria.

But isn't that how it usually is with that character for English audiences? Once we think we've got a handle on him, he slips away yet again.

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