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Monday, February 27, 2012

Devil King: GOD!!

Online manga portal JManga is certainly an interesting company and site. The aim is to let fans of manga be able to read titles digitally in a legal fashion. Teaming with apparently 39 companies, JManga's line-up is filled with all sorts of titles, including some that were previously released by other companies but are now out-of-print, but the stuff that interests me the most from JManga are the titles that are making their English debut, as in they were never released officially in North America nor were they even scanlated (or, at least, they were barely scanlated). Stuff like Gokudo Meshi, where jail inmates share stories about the best food they've eaten in a competition to decide who gets the best dinner on New Year Eve, or Tsumanuda Fight Town, where a weak illustrator gets himself into the sanctioned fights that can occur anyone in the town he lives in, quickly get my interest, but the slightly annoying thing is that JManga can be a bit slow on getting new volumes of some titles (Gokudo Meshi was one of the site's debut titles and still hasn't seen Volume 2 released, for example). Luckily, there is a 4-volume manga available on JManga that is available in full: Takao Saito's Devil King, a 1964 (i.e. pre-Golgo 13) story about science, deception, and gullibility.

On a dark night, a giant figure escapes from a lab, runs through the woods, and falls onto a road, almost being hit by a couple of truckers. In front of the truckers, though, the giant's body starts bulging before simple disintegrating into the sky. The giant was Kimura, one of Dr. Kobayagawa's assistants, who allowed himself to be experimented on with Control-Go, a gas that allows a human's metabolism to continue rising at an amazing rate until he becomes a giant. Kobayagawa & his other assistant Kojo now need a new human test subject to use Control-Go on, and Kojo decides on Masao Fujimoto, a no-name nobody with nothing special about him outside of having great physical condition. Masao cautiously agrees to the test, since it will greatly help his little brother, Akio, get into a good college. Dr. Kobayagawa wishes for humanity to drop their civilization & science, which he feels is killing humanity, and wants them to start embracing nature again, and by turning Masao into a giant "god" the people can worship, his plan might come true... But Akio's existence, due to a botched murder attempt by Kojo, as well as Kobayagawa's twin brother Yotaro, who embraces science and technology, could potentially ruin everything.

Devil King is certainly an interesting little title in that Masao's transformation into a false "god" (i.e. he fakes being the God of Christianity) is done via science & technology, but the whole goal is the dump that which made him what he is. There is also a few subplots going on that all have the same basic idea: Using Masao for their own needs, usually control of the world through a force that others worship. For example, Kojo wants the formula for Control-Go so that he could use Masao to control people, but unknown to them a hired investigator finds out about what Masao really is and sells his information to a foreign group... Who then kill him after they get the information. Unfortunately, an amnesiac Akio and the trucker who found him (and ends up treating him like a brother) see the dead body and become wanted by the group. The nice thing about these subplots is that they all lead into each other, making the story larger and more complex than it originally seems to assume. Admittedly, not every subplot is needed but they do keep the story interesting to read.

The best parts of this manga, though, are easily the scenes when Masao is walking towards Tokyo, mass of followers behind him, performing "miracles", either through limited use of Control-Go or by artificial methods that Kobayagawa & Kojo planned out beforehand. Masao often screams out "GOD!!" before talking, and sometimes he just screams out "GOD!!" without saying anything else, and all the meanwhile Masao starts feeling that he is no longer the meek nobody he was originally and that he truly has become a god. More than 40 years after it's debut, Masao's actions and "GOD!!" scream, come off as a little bit cheesy, but it also just makes for an enjoyable read whenever this stuff happens.

The story itself goes by at a fairly brisk pace when it needs to, especially the last volume, where Masao says that humanity should destroy everything technological and embrace nature once again. His new found followers then promptly start destroying vehicles and attack others who go against them leading to all sorts of insanity that also starts up around the world. Finally, what would a manga about a giant be without a battle against another gigantic creation? Well, the climax of Devil King has Masao fighting against Plasma, a giant rocket-shaped robot created by Yotaro Kobayagawa, and though the fight itself is pretty short it is also fun to read in a similar way to how watching a kaiju movie is enjoyable. Supposedly, Saito was a big fan of stuff like King Kong and War of the Worlds, and Devil King definitely feels like those titles at times.

Takao Saito's artwork can be pretty distinguishable here, though admittedly no one looks exactly like Duke Togo, though Masao's altered face has a slight similarity to it. It definitely has that simpler style that was at its largest during the 60s, though Saito does show some really nice detail when the scene calls for it. Admittedly, though, Saito kind of went a little too simplistic when it came to the giant robot Plasma, as it really looks more like a giant syringe than any sort of real threat to Masao. The translation, done by the prolific William Flanagan, is just fine, though there is the occasional typo, and some of the translations leave the word bubble, probably due more to the fact that the translations are actually more like overlays than actual replacements of the original Japanese.

Devil King is a short & fun look at what Takao Saito was doing before he created his biggest work, though he seemed to finish Devil King after debuting Golgo (a random book in Volume 4 says "Golgo 13"). The idea behind it is cool, the execution is handled in an interesting way, and the way the subplots lead and mix into each one another works better than you would expect. I could easily see this manga be adapted into a live-action movie, kaiju style, as the pace of the manga is generally fast, and there are a few moments that could be removed with no real change to the story. It's stuff like Devil King that makes me really want to support JManga, and if they ever do actual books, maybe via print-on-demand, I certainly wouldn't mind having a physical copy of this manga. Now if only JManga can start getting some Masami Kurumada manga...

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