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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Para - The Parabiotic Guy: Man! He Feels Like a Woman

Sometimes you just learn new words from the strangest places.

Taken from (British definition to be exact)

Yep, never saw that word before I found out about this manga. Comics are educational, after all!

When it comes to seinen manga, Kodansha has the Young Magazine series. Most people know about the Weekly & Monthly productions, but in 1998 Kodansha debuted a third entry, Young Magazine Uppers. Debuting on April 1, 1998, the magazine ran semimonthly & lasted until October 19, 2004, but in that time it featured a few notable titles in its pages, like Garouden, Rose Hip Rose, Seizon ~LIFE~, Hagane, & Basilisk. What I'll be reviewing, however, is one of the manga that debuted alongside the magazine, and it's one that I'm sure almost no one has heard of; even searching in Japanese gives barely any results. Still, it's short, it's funny, & it's absolutely bonkers.

Kazumasa Kiuchi is a manga writer who works with artists to tell his stories, with his most iconic work being Emblem Take 2 alongside artist Jun Watanabe (who would go on to make cult boxing favorite RRR: Rock 'n' Roll Ricky). Emblem is the story of a pathetic yakuza who winds up going back in time to potentially fix all the wrong decisions he's made in life, but is too hopeless to actually change anything. Debuting in 1990, the manga would surprisingly run until 2004, lasting 62 volumes(!) as well as seeing both a live-action movie & a 2-episode OVA (which Justin Sevakis complimented in his Pile of Shame review in 2013). During this time, however, Kiuchi would team with Yutoku Inoue to create a new manga for the debuting Uppers magazine in 1998. Said manga would be Para - The Parabiotic Guy, a 3-volume series that takes the old body swap concept & uses it in a way that's silly, ridiculous, & even a good bit dirty, all while still having an amazing sense of decency to it.

Toshihito Hara is a 22 year old man who works as a carpenter, though he prefers to call himself a "Wandering Yakii" & dreams of becoming "big" one day. A visit by his girlfriend Shizuka at work winds up being interrupted by a bunch of yankiis, but Toshi scares them off with a chainsaw (which acted as his "knife" for a fight). While being held back by his boss, though, Toshi falls backwards & whacks his head on a rock; the doctor tells him he'll recover. That night he asks Shizuka to help him feel better him with a kiss, which winds up becoming full-on sex. After passing out post-climax, Toshi wakes up, but something's wrong... He's inside Shizuka's body! Returning to his body later that night by masturbating as Shizuka, he finds out that he can possess (or would it be parabiose?) people after climaxing, but with one big restriction: He can only possess women that are close by. Turns out this ability will come in handy for Toshihito, though, as he eventually winds up becoming a spy for the CIA (because that's what you do) & gets involved in a terrorist action that leads all the way up to the Araqi Army.

*Yes, the country is named Araq, likely after the Levant vodka... I never said that this was a thinking man's manga.*

Yes, that is the synopsis of an actual manga that actually exists in this actual world. Quite honestly, though, the best part of Para is that it knows how silly, absurd, & possibly even dumb it is, and because of that it goes full bore, though not the way you probably think. To be honest, the whole female possession (parabiosion?) aspect isn't overused or taken to directions that wouldn't seem out of place in a hentai. Instead, aside from the requisite one-page joke involving him possessing (parabiosing?) his mother after masturbating, plus three other quick moments used for story progression, Toshihito only takes over three people in any notable fashion (four if you include Shizuka, which acts as bookends), and each one is for the three main story arcs (which are neatly housed in each volume). First there's Sayaka, the leader of a group of bank robbers on the run who wind up holding a school hostage, specifically the class that Toshi's little sister Chika is in. In Volume 2 there's Raha Shabang, a young Araqi woman who helps terrorist group Black Jihad (of course) hold the American Embassy hostage. Toshi is brought in by CIA agents in Japan to find out the frequency for the bomb's remote control so that it can be stopped. Finally, in the last volume we have Major Samira of the Araqi Army, who Toshi takes over after making his way to Araq after Shizuka is kidnapped in front of him back in Japan; the only obstacle in his way is Lt. General Ibrahim.

Our hero, plus a selection of the women he winds up in, in order of when they happen.

While a raunchier manga would take the easy way out & focus on the lead character having all sorts of experiences in different female bodies, Para instead makes the situations Toshi finds himself in the focus. As Sayaka (#2 in the above image) he has to somehow find a way to peacefully end the hostage situation & makes sure no one dies, let alone keep his sister safe. As Raha ( #3) he has to not only find out the frequency but also convince the terrorists that he's actually Raha when he can't speak the same language as them (he doesn't automatically know Raha's language upon taking over). By the time he's Samira (#6), Toshi has learned how to access certain information that the original person knows, which helps him find out where Shizuka (#1) is being held after infiltrating the Araqi base. It's almost situation comedy, especially in the first two cases, due to Toshi constantly being on the verge of breaking the illusion, simply because he's always way too in over his (her?) head. Naturally, that results in these circumstances usually unraveling for the climax, & Toshi has to somehow survive more than anything. There's even a quick scene early in Volume 3 that shows Toshihito trying to be a normal spy, ala James Bond, only to utterly fail at it & nearly get himself killed, showing how pathetic he is as a traditional hero. Rather than be a lowest-common denominator product when it comes to the whole gender bending concept, Para aims to be smarter than that & have the concept be the catalyst for personality-based comedy with some action sprinkled in.

Also, as I mentioned early on, this manga shows a surprising amount of decency, considering that its lead character's special ability can only be executed via "pleasure". Sure, there are bare breasts to be seen, but even then it's only on rare occasion & only when it makes actual sense for them to be seen. Anything in the nether regions area is kept 99% unseen, with literally only two moments where a penis is blatant. Said moments showcase nothing more than a black blur that leaves everything to the imagination, however. In fact, even sex itself is barely shown in the manga, and it's really nothing graphic; I'm sure other seinen manga have gone much, much further. The only instances of this are the first time Toshihito activates his ability, the previously mentioned one-page joke when he takes over his mom while she's having sex with his father, and a three-page moment at the end where Toshihito's attempt to escape torture as Samira goes horribly wrong. Yeah, that can definitely be looked at as a potential rape scene, but it isn't played for laughs & is 100% Toshihito's own fault in this circumstance (dumbass thought acting like torture was a turn on would work...). It's the roughest moment in the manga, but at least it's short & ends before it goes too far. To the manga's credit, finally, Toshihito isn't exactly all too eager to be taking over women's bodies. Aside from Samira, who he uses to try to save Shizuka, he only uses his ability due to the circumstances not giving him any other choice, whether it's part of a CIA plan or him having no other option.

Yeah, that's Toshi (as Shizuka) delivering a Rider Kick to
two Araqi soldiers while hitting a lariat to a blatant
Saddam Hussein knock-off... This manga is dumb & it's awesome.

Still, I did also state that this wasn't a thinking man's manga, and one can easily look at this title & call it dumb. I won't deny it, and the page I show above is absolute proof of it, but that's part of the appeal, honestly. As much as I praise it for being more than a lowest-common denominator execution of an easily abusable concept, or how it holds itself to an actual standard of decency & doesn't go into near-hentai levels of sexuality, this is still the story of a young man who can enter the body of a nearby woman by climaxing, usually by pleasuring himself. When he realizes how his parabiotic ability works he's terrified by the thought of never being able to have sex or masturbate for personal reasons ever again. When the CIA bribes him to help with the bomb situation, their master plan is to sneak him near Raha by stuffing him into a food cart with a small TV that's playing a porno, giving him material to "get ready" with. When Shizuka is kidnapped by Araqi soldiers, Toshihito is literally put into a straight jacket & consoled by Christina "Chris" Lindbergh (#5), the CIA agent that brought him into this whole spy ordeal, yet he somehow manages to masturbate & take over her so that he can go to Araq; this also essentially drags Chris into the situation, as well. Hell, the manga even bothers to actually explain how Toshihito's parabiosis works, though the lack of a translation makes it too hard for me to fully understand how from a medical & scientific standpoint. There's no avoiding how dumb it can be, but the fact that Para embraces it is what makes everything work.

Granted, that still doesn't mean that the story can't have moments where it's not about being the other gender in wacky situations. In fact, in between all of the gender bending zaniness there is some actual character development & story progression going on. Entire chapters can focus on nothing but making the characters act naturally & advancing the personal story. In a total 26 chapters, only 14 of them actually involve Toshihito "parabiosing" someone for any real length of time (i.e. the main arcs); that's only about 57% of the entire manga. This isn't simply the tale of a yankii who winds up taking a wild & crazy ride with the CIA & various women for him to ruin lives with, but rather it's actually the story of a young man who dreams of doing more with his life than be a simple person, only to realize that said path can be filled with danger that is beyond his imagination; sometimes it's fine to live a simple life. Toshihito just happens to go through all of this in a way that only comedic action movie stars would do it, and even then he has a slightly different experience due to his ability. As the story goes on you see Toshihito actually grow as a man & when the ending comes it feels fulfilling, properly executed, and even avoids an ideal "good defeats evil" result. It's a bit of a wolf in ewe's clothing in a cool way, if you know what I mean.
Sorry, I couldn't help it.

While the lack of furigana makes it tough for me to actually read everything that's being said (because this is a manga for grown ups, right?), I was still able to understand enough to tell that Kazumasa Kiuchi is a good writer. His characters feel believable, the story actively avoids going for titillation & schlock, and the jokes that I could fully understand were funny. In fact, it even utilizes multiple languages excellently. Americans speak completely fluent English in the word bubbles, and Araqis speak their language with seemingly proper characters (I don't know if it's Arabic or Kurdish), with little Japanese appearing above for the original readers. Granted, the CIA agents do also know Japanese & the Araqis in Volume 3 seem to speak perfect Japanese as well (likely it's more for convenience than anything), but I do appreciate the effort shown, because it's something you don't see done in manga in general, let alone as well as it comes off here. It really makes me want to see the Emblem Take 2 OVA, if only to see if Kiuchi's writing translates well over there, too; none of his manga is translated. From what I can tell, the last title Kiuchi has worked on was 2006-2008's Chill, an 8-volume Young Magazine manga about an anti-terrorist group that protects Japan.

I also admire the dedication to having each chapter title feature the "para" prefix, and all of them are actual words (or at least actual phrases). Yes, I actually checked every chapter title & they all wound up being either in or the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary, and each word perfectly matched the subject of each chapter it was used for. Never heard of words like paramnesia, paralogism, paraclete, paradoxy, parataxis, or paraphilia before? Well now you have. It admittedly does come off a little gimmicky, the word "parapolitical" kind of stretches it, and the chapters do feature a Japanese translation of each word that would likely sound much more natural when translated back into English, but it's cool to see this manga stick to its guns & use something like anaphora for its chapter titles.

THAT'S a knife... Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Coming into Para, Yutoku Inoue was essentially a nobody, having only made two manga that lasted only two volumes each. Considering how unknown this manga is, nothing changed afterwards & Inoue has seemingly not done any manga since Para ended. That's sad if so, because Inoue's artwork is probably the best part of the manga. He has a real knack for giving everything a real sense of energy & variety to his drawings, especially with his characters. Not one character looks like a copy of a previous one, and they all have a nice array of facial reactions. In a really nice touch, the women that Toshihito take over essentially have two sets of faces: What they normally look like & a Toshi-affected look. For Sayaka, Raha, & Samira in particular, they originally had more serious or rough faces, complete with sharper eyes, but when Toshihito takes over each of them they're drawn with softer faces & looser, rounder eyes; it gives a great visual showcase of how opposite Toshihito is from them. Inoue's character designs also continue the sense of decency I mentioned when it comes to sexuality, because none of the women in this manga are drawn in an overtly sexual & fanservice-y fashion. Sure, none of the notable women are flat-chested by any means, but none of them have giant gazongas, either. I actually appreciate the sense of realism the designs feature when it comes to female dimensions, and it does make them look more appealing than what people would normally point at as the way anime & manga draw women (usually in a sarcastic fashion).

The greatest part of Inoue's artwork though, and this is what makes the manga so easy to understand from a basic standpoint, is simply in how expressive every panel is. Few panels don't feature some sort of background to it, making it easy to keep track where the story is & giving it a real sense of taking place somewhere. Also, Inoue does an amazing job at telling the story visually. I made my way through the manga properly (i.e. actually trying to "read" it) for this review, but I had previously enjoyed it a year ago going mostly off of nothing but the artwork, with only a little reading for clarification. Each panel tells the basic idea of what's going on very well, with the faces speaking visually almost as much as the actual text does. One could honestly look at Para from start to finish via only the panels and get a fair idea of what happened throughout it all. Being able to read the text adds a ton, no doubt, but it's great when a comic can do a lot simply through its visuals.

I'm not surprised that Para - The Parabiotic Guy is a complete unknown in the manga world. It came from an off-shoot manga magazine that only had a few truly notable titles, ran for only 1.5 years semimonthly (with a four month break during the middle), and while it was written by someone who had a long-running hit it was drawn by a downright nobody. It may be a Kodansha manga, but don't ever expect the likes of Kodansha USA or Vertical Comics ever picking this up; in fact, don't expect to see anyone speak of it ever again after this review. It's short, silly, & even kind of stupid at times, but I honestly wouldn't have it any other way. Para didn't need to be a long runner, but still has fun with its concept while also embracing the absurdity of itself. In between the gender bending hullabaloo, though, is a well written & (sometimes) even smart story about knowing what kind of life is best for you. Kazumasa Kiuchi & Yutoku Inoue simply decided to tell said story in a way that involves a hapless yankii masturbating to save those important to him by possessing (parabioh-screw-it) women to save the day.

*Yes, I did read that last sentence out loud to myself... To repeat one last time, this isn't a thinking man's manga.*


  1. Replies
    1. Sorry, I only share my thoughts here. You'll have to find those yourself. All I'll say is that it's not exactly hard to do so...