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Friday, December 25, 2015

Hareluya: *Cue One of the Hundreds of Versions of that Leonard Cohen Song*

"Well I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?"

Luckily, I'm not talking about music here, but Merry Christmas. Love & Peace to all, indeed.

In 1988, a young 22-year old named Haruto Umezawa got his start in the manga industry as an assistant to Tsukasa Hojo during the serialization of City Hunter; Umezawa actually worked alongside fellow assistant Takehiko Inoue during this time. While helping Hojo draw the stories of Ryo Saeba, he did some one-shot manga as well under the pen name Masato Umezawa, even winning the Hop☆Step Award for newcomers with his short Minakata Yuuden/Southern Travel Story (an award later won by the likes of Yasuhiro Kano, Masashi Kishimoto, & Eiichiro Oda). In 1990 he would make his serialized debut with Sakenomi☆Doji, but saw cancellation only 15 weeks later; the manga lasted two volumes.

His eventual success would see its first hints, though, in Weekly Shonen Jump's 1991 Summer Special, which featured a one-shot by Umezawa called Hareluya. The one-shot must have found an audience, because in mid-1992 Umezawa made his re-debut, under his real name, with a serialized version of Hareluya. For a fun fact, one of Umezawa's assistants during this series was a young Nobuhiro Watsuki, a future Hop☆Step Award winner. Unfortunately, though, this series would end after only 10 chapters, receiving a single volume. Still, the seeds had been sown with Hareluya, and less than 10 weeks later Umezawa debuted a retooled version of his canceled manga, Hareluya II BØY, first as a one-shot "Chapter 0" & then shortly after in serialized form. Actually, the manga's proper title is just BØY, with "Hareluya II" being a subtitle (though since it's used before the main title, it isn't technically a subtitle, right?). BØY would end up running in Jump until early 1999, lasting 33 volumes (Umezawa's longest work to date) & becoming one of the last vestiges of the magazine's "Golden Age" (alongside JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Hell Teacher Nube, & Rurouni Kenshin), which had ended in 1996 with the finale of Inoue's Slam Dunk. I have already reviewed BØY to an extent in the past, by way of the 1997 TV anime adaptation, so let's take a look at its immediate precursor. Was there real potential to it that Umezawa simply re-purposed for his reboot, or was it rightfully canceled rather quickly?

Harebare is God of the 20th Century, and with the new century (& millennium) coming in just a few years his reign is closing out. Unfortunately, Harebare worries for the future of humanity, because the one who will become God of the 21st Century is his son, Hareluya... An egotistical & debaucherous teen (at least, a teen in God years) who couldn't care less about humans or the world they live on. Hoping to teach his son humility so that he can be a proper God in the future, Harebare casts Hareluya down from Heaven, turning him into a human in the process. After being taken in by a nun named Sister Chris, given the name Hareluya Hibino, & enrolled at Chris' old school, Rakuen High, the literal Son of God must now (begrudgingly) adjust to a new, human life, even though his ego is still the size of his upcoming deific job.

Hareluya is a relatively simple series, with the overall structure being about Hareluya dealing with situations in his own, bullheaded fashion. Even though he's quickly stripped of his Godhood after crash landing on Earth (he loses them shortly after rescuing Chris from a bunch of thugs [after Chris had saved another woman from said thugs]), Hareluya can't quite accept (or simply remember) that he is only so powerful as a human, which results in him doing some pretty dumb things. For example, he comes across a person who's ready to commit suicide by jumping off of a building due to her bad luck with men. He assures her that she's lucky because she met him, but then accidentally scares her off the ledge, only barely saving her before nearly dying himself. Luckily, Umezawa doesn't rely on this bit of idiocy for Hareluya too much, so while he still remains egotistically self-assured throughout the story, he quickly realizes how powerless he is. The fact that Hareluya still remains steadfast when facing off against what he considers evil & is there for the friends that he does gain showcases some nice, subtle development on his end, though.

Subtlety, thy name is Kanzaki...

By the end of the story the Son of God changes from an uncaring deity into a semi-benevolent person, though the ego is never lessened & he does try to desperately find his peace sign-shaped halo, which he think will let him return to Heaven; let's call it a begrudging & self-denied change. Sadly, the short length of Hareluya is the biggest flaw, but luckily the focus is on growing the relationships between Hareluya & his friends. The only real antagonist is in the last three chapters, which deal with Kanzaki, a drug dealer who is the complete opposite of Hareluya, nihilistic & mad to our lead's benevolence & steadfastness. Hell (pun maybe intended?), Umezawa really pushes how polar opposite the two are, with Kanzaki coming to the final battle (at Sister Chris' church, no less) wearing a literal crown of thorns (said thorns are the drugs he sells), making him so drugged out that he feels no pain, & the backs of his hands are tattooed with the words "Hate" & "Destroy", contrasting with the "Love " & "Peace" that Hareluya's hands have on them when he's a deity. While Hareluya's development is more subtle, Umezawa obviously decided to be as blatant as possible with Kanzaki, though it does make him a very memorable character for such a short & forgotten manga.

As for the supporting cast, it's small but workable. Hareluya only initially agrees to stay with Sister Chris because he finds her cute (& "his type"), and though she sadly doesn't do much, aside from taking Hareluya's constant talk of how he's a God with nothing but smiles, overall she's never unlikable; Hareluya eventually falling in love with her is believable because she is caring to all. Masashi Himuro is a sort-of bad boy classmate of Hareluya's who at first easily get on each other's nerves but the two kind of maintain a stable friendship through mutual respect. Ryoko Morikawa is their classmate who is always willing to be there in support, but doesn't do much else other than be Himura's girlfriend after he finally reciprocates her feelings for him. Finally, there's Kiyoshiro Okamoto, another classmate who dreams of going to France to become an artist, so he works odd jobs to earn money for the trip. Even with the small number of chapters in this series Umezawa gives them all some pretty natural-sounding conversations, and it's easy to like seeing them all together.

It's easy to see how Tsukasa Hojo influenced Haruto Umezawa in terms of artwork, but overall Umezawa's artwork has a distinct look to it. It's very sleek & stylish, with plenty of spikey hair for the main characters, and Umezawa has a really nice sense of making his characters look good in terms of what they wear. I did say that, if his work had ever been released over here, I think Umezawa could have earned himself at least a notable cult fanbase over here, and a big reason is because of his art style. It's also a big reason why I feel that BØY, though technically a yankii/delinquent title in many ways, has a very different look than the more iconic genre visuals of the Crows X Worst franchise or Rokudenashi BLUES. He also has a good knack at making very comical designs, which lend themselves perfectly to the less serious moments, like whenever Hareluya is being petulantly silly. To be quite honest, I think Umezawa's art style was the perfect match for the decade he first hit it big. His character designs, fashion choices, & overall manga look just seems to be a perfect fit for the 90s, and I think it's kind of poetic that BØY ran throughout most of the 90s, and more so if you include the original Hareluya.

While Hareluya didn't make any sort of waves back in 1992, I would say that Umezawa was definitely on to something & there was plenty of potential to be mined out. To be fair, the story still manages to work out pretty well, even though it was obviously canceled very quickly, turning it into an enjoyable one volume read. The characters have a nice rapport with each other, Umezawa's visuals are sharp & fitting for the decade they were drawn in, and the concept is novel. It's easy to see why he simply retooled Hareluya into Hareluya II BØY, keeping a lot of the original manga intact. While semi-bad boy Masashi Himura was remade into the rocker Makoto Ichijou, he still has that respect/hate relationship with Hareluya; Hareluya even calls him a "Sullen Lecher" in both series. Meanwhile, Kiyoshiro is the same exact character as before, Ryoko is renamed Michiru Yamana & given more than being simply a girlfriend of Himura's, Harebare still invokes religion (though as a priest instead of God) & is secretly the strongest of anyone out there, & even Kanzaki is brought back as a drug-crazed rival for Hareluya at some points. The only major alterations are Sister Chris, who is revamped late in BØY as Haruka Yamanoue, the new nurse at the (same) high school (though still a potential love interest for Hareluya), & the complete removal of the whole "Son of God" concept, though Hareluya's ability to constantly get up & fight in the face of sheer destruction is an obvious call back to his Godly roots, not to mention his absolute ego. Even taken on its own, though, the original Hareluya is a novel little story that still manages to work in spite of its cancellation; not a must-read title by any means, but a fun manga to check out if you get the chance.

Not just that, but the original Hareluya was still adapted to anime, in a slight sense. For the BØY anime, the very first thing shown in the show is "Son of God" Hareluya falling through space to Earth. Also, the avant for the final episode showcases this same scene while also adding in Sister Chris' incident with the thugs as well as Hareluya's crash landing in front of her, before showcasing that the two got married & had a child, revealing that it was Harebare who was cast form Heaven! To be fair, though, the last episode's epilogue reveals that the finale is more or less one giant daydream Hareluya has while sleeping during class, so whether or not he truly is the human son of (a fallen) God in the anime is up to interpretation. I'd love to one day read the original one-shot as well, which was published in Haruto Umezawa's short story compilation volume Love & Peace, but who knows if I'll ever get the opportunity. As it is, interested parties can check out either Hareluya manga in English, as both have been fully fan-translated, and that's probably going to be the only way to do so, as I highly doubt Viz Media will ever release Umezawa's most iconic work, let alone the aborted series it spawned from.

I'd still love to see the Hareluya II BØY anime be given a (Japanese Region 2) DVD release one day, though.

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