In the first installment of what we hope will be a semi-regular affair, Sam and I sit down to discuss a pair of manga centered around corrupt governments. The first is the absurd quiz-show-governed society of National Quiz (Tabata Yoshiaki and Yugo Yuugi), under threat from a rebellion led by its most popular quiz-show host. The second is the facsimile of modern Japan, vis-a-vis Akumetsu (Sugimoto Reiichi and Katou Shinkichi), which is being threatened by the series’ titular masked terrorist.
Note: This segment is spoiler-heavy, so if you don’t want to be spoiled on the plots of two great manga, read them first!
Drew: Alright, let’s get this thing started. I just finished reading National Quiz. My initial thoughts were twofold. Firstly, it reminded me of 1984 throughout, only it was more ridiculous and stylized. Secondly, it ended satisfyingly, but would’ve been better without the last 2 pages.
Sam: I finished the manga a week ago and I loved it; loved the characters, loved the style, loved the build up. But, I am of a different opinion towards the ending; it would have been better without the last 10 pages and changing what the people were shouting.
Drew: I liked the large-scale ending, if only because it fit with what the series was trying to do on a macro level. They established very early on, by a combination of absurd extents the quiz went to and explicitly saying so in the dialogue between K-1 and the director that the National Quiz was all about the ultimate manifestation of greed and excess, giving random people whatever they wanted. That’s why, despite all the flaws, people were fairly unlikely to throw out that system. The ending being a downer in this case makes you think more about what you can do to counter similar cases of greed and excess in society. Although that does by default also make it more preachy.
Sam: Here’s the thing, and this is why, while I think the ending fits on a thematic level, I dislike it on a personal level; it didn’t feel like it was trying to say that you should counter greed and excess, it felt like it was trying to be edgy and say how all people are evil and want greed and excess. It felt like it was slightly pretentious. The other reason I disliked the ending is a testament to the quality of the manga; I loved the characters. They all felt real and I like how we had something like fifteen to twenty named regular characters that were all recognizable instantly by appearance and personality, and so I disliked seeing the characters that I liked lose on a personal level.
Drew: I was less in love with the characters in this series who weren’t K-1. While he was everything a crazy game show host/washed-up actor should be (flamboyant, crude, and loud), the rest of the cast seemed to be a lot more defined by their one particular trait. I do admit there was a moment when I felt it was getting 20th Century Boys with its characterization, when the bowl-haircut revolutionary met with the pro wrestler and they armed up for the revolution, that was to only time I got that vibe. That’s one thing that has me really conflicted. I wanted him to survive more so than I wanted the quiz to be overthrown – if he had been pro-quiz at the end, I would’ve ate it up. But in the end, the scene of him realizing he backed the losing side and just mind-blanking was powerful enough, even if that should have been the last we heard of him but wasn’t. I feel like it was a pretentious series by virtue of being dystopian sci-fi, but it posed interesting ideas and had a definite goal, which I respect.
K-1’s ability to fill a room is unparalleled
Sam: I think the characters had a bit more depth than one trait, but i agree whole-heartedly with your statement that K-1 is the best character in that series. I don’t know about the ending, I wanted to see him succeed and achieve victory, so when I saw him fail and lose, I disliked it on a personal level, but, once again, that’s a testament to the manga that i was so invested in K-1 that I physically felt strong emotions towards K-1 losing.
Drew: K-1 was sympathetic, and I kinda feel like that’s why they stuck those last 2 pages in there. It was a form of fanservice. Not a bad kind if only because who doesn’t want to see a character that fun rot away in an arctic wasteland. I guess how much you liked the ending comes down to how much you were rooting for the cast, since most of them were anti-quiz people. The eventual direction of the plot aside, the world system was really solid, and the excessive art meshed well with the surreal 19th-century-France extravagance the Japanese government exhibited. I thought it was a great read. Score-wise, I give it this:
Art Style – 5/5
Characterization – 2/5
Micropacing – 4/5
Macropacing – 3/5
Story – 4/5
Overall – 18 points, 8/10
Sam: The art was great. I especially loved the National Quiz sequences because you never knew what to expect; you might have the announcer hanging on to and flying with a golden dragon in a Chinese-based theater, or you might have a motorcycle gang ride through as the announcer rides with them. It’s crazy and always looks fantastic. I also love the character designs because, as I mentioned before, they are all very distinctive. With a story of this size and with this many characters, it would be very easy for it to get confusing, but I always knew who was who. For my score, I’d give it this:
Drew: Now, moving on to something a little more down to earth, let’s talk about Akumetsu, something I read a loooong time ago. Like National Quiz, it’s all about greed, but instead of crazy future Japan, it takes place during the administration of a guy whose hairstyle resembles a certain other prime minister, basically in modern day Japan. This series basically has two purposes: to shine some light on how corrupt the authors feel Japan is, and to watch all of those responsible for the corruption die extremely gory deaths. Both lectures and murders are provided by an pretty iconic character, masked terrorist Akumetsu. And it’s kind of hard not to sympathize with his actions, because darn, are those politicians ever corrupt.
Sam: I really liked the way it got its information across. Usually for a series that wants to have in depth talks about the way that things are corrupt or why the banking system is failing, it becomes boring and preachy rather quickly. However, Akumetsu skirted this by getting its information across in some cool ways (pre-recorded puppet shows, anyone?) and by never speaking down or directly at the viewer; he was always addressing someone and the speech was always directly related. That, and it was always spiced up with either some hardcore gore or some really wacky gag.
Drew: Yeah, and it’s really helped by the way the corrupt bankers/politicians etc. react. There was one scene where he’s showing the pre-recorded montage of banks being assholes to small businesses, and doing so in front of all the bank heads. The faces each one makes as they pray their bank isn’t on the tape and then realize that they are are absolutely priceless. Bonus points for the specific bystanders watching on tv realizing that they were the subjects of that montage.
That scene brings up another point of Akumetsu that stands out to me – the non-main characters, characters who either show up in the background or show up very briefly before getting suplexed off a building by Akumetsu, serve an important purpose in the show. Akumetsu’s goals are a bit more complicated than just catharsis; he’s going about his tasks in a very methodical way, not killing civilians, dying alongside each person he kills, and trying to encourage latent reformers to pick up the slack and push reforms through. It ends up being more of a thought experiment (ala Legend of the Galactic Heroes) as to whether or not such a dedicated terrorist could actually affect history. Its answer to the questions it raises aren’t particularly interesting, but the questions themselves sure are.
Sam: That is the one problem that I have with this series – after everything is finished, hundreds of politicians and bankers are dead, and the terrorist has threatened the Prime Minister multiple times to reform, everything goes back to normal? I would understand it if maybe they put in some small reforms but don’t really follow through, or if everything was running great for a year or two before the corruption seeped back in, but everything back to normal? For a series that was so daring and smart, its a pretty boring ending, almost to the point of being a huge plot hole.
Drew: I got the impression reforms were attempted for a little while, but power ended up corrupting the new legislature in the same way as the old. Not that I like the ending myself. I actually disliked it a lot because of how thoughtful parts of Akumetsu were about its practicality; it made you want to believe in and see the kind of system that would be the end result of all that effort.
Sam: Anyway, I really liked the style that this series had. In particular I liked the way that the deaths happened; they weren’t just being killed in their sleep, they were being put into a race against each other before the victim hanging onto the car as it careens of an unfinished highway. the creativity was just everywhere in this series, and I really liked that. I also loved the attitudes that the Shous had because they lightened up the moods and actually added a lot of suspense to the events. With a normal terrorist, it would be would be Waamuu Baamuu Sank You Maamuu, but with Shou, you never knew what to expect, up to the killings themselves. The clone backstory was also fantastic; it says something about a manga when the backstory of one of the characters could carry an entire series on its own.
Drew: For me, all of the above is true, but it isn’t just Shou who makes the series. It has some really great villains. Every guy who ends up as one of Shou’s targets is a cocky, self-assured ruiner of at least 10 lives, and doesn’t give a crap about the people he’s been fleecing. They even look as ugly as their insides must be. And yeah, roof suplexing is a pretty awesome sure-fire kill. Unless the vice-principal just bought a new Cresta, in which case it’s an awesome non-kill.
I guess I don’t need mention the roof suplex anymore
Sam: I would disagree with the great villains part, if only because they were all incredibly similar. Politician #1 killed had the same personality as Politician #37, except that they had different crimes. They were still good, though, in that you hated them almost immediately and wanted to see them suffer. The other characters were pretty okay; there were ALOT of characters who were only in a couple chapters and seemed to mean something, only to end up being pretty irrelevant, despite their coolness. The bloody nose detective springs to mind for this one. There are some stand outs, with Katsuragi being a great example, as his feeling of both rage and helplessness exuded from him and he was written great. The Prime Minister was slightly frustrating, as he had his life threatened, obstacles being systematically removed, and a time limit, and he STILL wouldn’t enact reforms, but that also might be a satire of the Japanese government, so I’ll let that slide. Speaking of satire, for a series that deals with greedy bankers and corrupt health care officials, what year did you think this came out? That’s right, 2002, finishing in 2006, 2 years before the financial meltdown and when it would become even more relevant than it was.
Drew: Sadly, corrupt politicians will always be one of the most timeless archetypes. I agree that this series would be cathartic for 99 percenters, if nothing else. Moving on to final scores:
Art Style- 5/5
Overall-21 points, 10/10
Drew: Well, that was a mouthful. Still, I really like the way this went; it’s always fun to just freestyle about manga. Expect to see columns like this again.