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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Violence Jack: Harlem Bomber: Not the Best Start, But It'll Do

Out of Go Nagai's list of creations, Violence Jack is more than likely his most controversial one. Debuting back in 1973 in the pages of Weekly Shonen Magazine, the original manga jumped to Monthly Shonen Magazine and then Weekly Manga Goraku before finally ending in 1990. Violence Jack portrayed a post-apocalyptic world, possibly one of the very first in manga, and in Nagai's usual fashion he was unflinching in showing off the most primal things that can come about from a world like this. Things like grotesque violence, rape, and other taboo things of the time were shown commonly in the manga, but even with all of the controversy behind it Violence Jack ended up becoming Go Nagai's longest work ever, totaling 45 volumes across the three magazines it ran in. And, in fact, the manga kept on going after its end with multiple short stories about Jack being published in magazines like Bessatsu Young Jump and Weekly Comic Bunch, but these short stories are considered separate works and aren't counted towards the original manga's total volume count. Naturally, a work this popular and controversial resulted in an anime adaptation, but Violence Jack is an interesting beast in this sense. There are three OVAs made based on three different story arcs from the manga, but these OVAs are considered separate works and not related episodes. With that in mind, let's take a look at the first OVA, which is subtitled as Harlem Bomber.

In the near future the Earth is hit with a meteor storm of apocalyptic strength. The Kanto region of Japan is hit especially hard, resulting in earthquakes so strong & destructive that the moment was called the Kanto Hell Quake. In the remains of Kanto now exists a lawless world, with one man aiming to rule over it: The Slum King. But there is a legendary being in that same area: One with the muscles of a gorilla, the fangs of a wolf, and eyes that burn with primordial fire yet also shine with the light of intelligence. He is called Violence Jack and with his giant jackknife death and violence always follows in his wake. After his fight with Jack is interrupted by a tidal wave, the Slum King realizes how strong Jack is and orders that his men make it a focus to kill Jack so that no one can stand in the way of his rule. King's right-hand man, the Harlem Bomber, runs a place where young women are tortured and turned into sex-driven slaves who are then sold. When a truck carrying a new shipment of women crashes after running into a vision of Jack, two women, Mari & Yumi, escape. Mari is on a journey to find her lover Kenichi, who she has heard survived the apocalypse, but after getting re-captured by Rose, Bomber's slave warden, the two women will be drawn into a meeting with Kenichi as well as the eventual fight between Jack and Bomber.

The story has both its good points and its bad points, but the biggest problem is that this OVA is just a bit too short. At only 37 minutes, it's easily half the length of the other two OVAs, and because of this the OVA does suffer a bit in story. There is quite a bit that's going on, but the shorter length doesn't allow all of it to fully develop. Granted, though, the development that is needed isn't exactly the stuff that needs a lot of depth, so in that sense the OVA does develop enough, but you do get the feeling that if it was just another 10-15 minutes long it could have delivered a good bit more. Also, Jack himself is rarely seen in this OVA, but that's partially because Jack is treated more like a supernatural force and not exactly a human being. There is this sense of mystery behind Jack that would be lost if you saw him all the time. Instead, the focus is on Kenichi & Mari and after they meet up it's all about their attempt to escape the Harlem Bomber's tower. This does result in a couple of odd moments, though, like when Kenichi first notices Mari she is being raped by Rose; Kenichi's only logical solution is to crash the helicopter he's piloting into the room Mari & Rose are in. Amazingly enough, the helicopter doesn't explode from the crash or even seem to fall down to the ground. Do moments like this hurt the OVA overall? No, but it's still odd. Also, the ending is pretty weird, but considering that Go Nagai created this it's not surprising.

Naturally, with a title like Violence Jack you'd expect some good violence from Jack himself, but in this OVA the violence is actually done more by Bomber's grunts. This results in some scenes where innocent people are killed, including a scene where a boy who believes that Jack protects people is shot multiple times in the back. Right before dying, the boy calls Jack an angel of death and then delights in the fact that he can now be with his dead mother once again. But Jack does have his violent moments, though, which include cutting people's heads off, stabbing people with his giant jackknife, getting his fingers and then hand cut off, and even forcing a helicopter down to the ground during his fight with the Harlem Bomber. Make no mistake: Jack isn't exactly the savior that Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star is. True, Jack will not fight innocent people who have no real urges to kill him, but at the same time you don't want to be around Jack while he's fighting, since he has no qualms about using you for his own benefit. Also, this post-apocalyptic world is pretty different from the more well-known world of FotNS, mainly in what people actually do. The biggest difference is the use of the idea of sex, which you would never see in FotNS. In this OVA there is an actual sex scene going on at one point, female-on-female at that, though it never gets to the point where anything needs to be censored. If you want a full-on sex scene, look forward to next week, when I review the second OVA. Does the addition of sex and rape add anything to Violence Jack. Well, the idea of using it does show off a much darker world than that of FotNS, but at the same time it really isn't essential.

Harlem Bomber was directed by Osamu Kamijyo, with this being his sole directorial work (though he was animation director of titles like The Humanoid), and he does an good job. There are moments of limited animation shown here and there, but overall everything does look good enough for 1986, which is when this OVA came out. The script is handled by Noboru Aikawa, who definitely knows his crazy & violent stuff simply by being the man behind Angel Cop's story. This OVA marks Hiroshi Ogasawa's sole time doing music for anime, and I guess it shows. Quite honestly, there is only one real song in this OVA, with all of the other music being variations of this one theme. Luckily, it's a good theme so I can't complain outside of the lack of any other songs. An interesting thing about the Violence Jack OVAs is that Jack himself features a different voice in each one; in Harlem Bomber Jack is voiced by voice-acting legend Tessho Genda, and though Jack literally has only two lines in this OVA, Genda's voice does sound fitting for the character. But, of course, when you have the Japanese voice of God of War's Kratos, Umibouzu from City Hunter, & Takeda Shingen from Sengoku BASARA, it would only be fitting for the man to voice another large, tough character. Norio Wakamoto voices the Harlem Bomber, who is also only seen a few times in this OVA, but Wakamoto delivers a good job with what he has. The rest of the cast delivers well-enough, and I really can't say much about the English dub Manga gave the OVA back in the 90s since I haven't seen it. If I had to guess, though, the dub is probably filled with suggestive language that is both semi-fitting for the world the OVA takes place in as well as hilariously overdone, a staple of Manga's dubs from the 90s.

Like I just brought up, Manga Entertainment did license this series of OVAs and released them on VHS during the 90s. Manga's release is available dub-only and is notoriously censored, though, making it a version that isn't really worth checking out. Right Stuf did also give the OVAs a release on VHS in the late-90s, this time uncut and sub-only via their Critical Mass label, which is now the company's hentai label. Yes, Violence Jack was considered so violent and inappropriate for young audiences that it had to be released under an adult label, making it the sole non-hentai release from Critical Mass... Well, except for maybe the second OVA, but that's for next week's review. Manga's VHS tapes go for a variety of prices but are generally not too expensive while Right Stuf's VHS tapes are hard-to-find and generally go into the $50 range when you they do come up, which is a shame as it should be the better version simply due to its uncut form. There is an uncut DVD release floating around online, but it's a bootleg.

Violence Jack: Harlem Bomber isn't a bad start to the Violence Jack anime, but it does have it's problems, mostly stemming from it's shorter length. On it's own, though, it definitely is more head-scratching than anything, and hopefully the next two OVAs deliver a better experience, since both of them are about an hour long. If you're interested in post-apocalyptic fiction Fist of the North Star is easily the most-identifiable of these works, but Violence Jack is definitely a different beast than FotNS, and that alone makes it worth checking out.


  1. I actually like the design and animation of Jack in Harlem Bomber than the two follow-up episodes. He has a more bestial and savage look in the first one. Nice Review!
    Come check out my review of all three Violence Jack OVA’s.
    Violence Jack OVA Anime Collection Review