Welcome back to MangoBot, a biweekly column about Asian futurism by TokyoMango blogger Lisa Katayama. What if zombies took over Tokyo? How would a slow zombie fare in a cage fight against a martial arts expert? Has a zombie ever offered you a blowjob? These questions and more are answered in a funny, slightly X-rated Japanese comic book and movie called Tokyo Zombie. Created by Japanese cult manga master Yusaku Hanakuma, the tale gives us a glimpse into an unimaginably bizarre apocalypse. You'd think a series with such an off-the-wall plot would be cheesy or campy or both. But actually, Hanakuma is a skilled Gary Panter-meets-George Romero-meets-Ayn Rand social commentator who is about to bring a whole new genre of manga stateside. The English translation of the manga was published earlier this month, and the subtitled movie is slated for release in November. Here's a quick preview (and maybe some spoilers).
The two main characters are Mitsuo and Fujio, two ordinary blue collar workers who work at a fire extinguisher factory. They accidentally kill their boss, so they bury him at the foothills of Mt. Fuji. It's fertile ground for zombies to be born, and sure enough, that's exactly what happens. The two guys manage to escape the doomed city, and they end up living-one as a slave, one as a zombie-in a walled enclave where rich people pit poor people against zombies in spectacular cage fights.
Hanakuma is a quirky guy with unique artistic sense. He was drawn to illustrating at an early age, and worked at factories all day and wrote manga all night until he finally had enough cash to quit his day job. He drew Tokyo Zombie in heta-uma style, an aesthetic that commands high quality drawings that look deliberately bad. Another distinctive characteristic of his work: he uses the same characters over and over in his different works. In Tokyo Zombie, the bald guy and the guy with the afro star as two jiujitsu-loving blue collar friends. Baldie and Afro have made numerous appearances in Hanakuma's earlier works, too, but they take on different personas each time. Sometimes they're evil; at other times they're just ordinary businessmen. "It's similar to how Tezuka used archetypes in his different works," says Ryan Sands, who edited and translated Last Gasp's English version of Tokyo Zombie. Afro and Baldie have also appeared in ad campaigns, and on little wallets and other paraphernalia carrying the Hanakuma brand.
Most of the time, protagonists in zombie movies use hand-held weapons like guns and axes to slay our dead-but-alive enemies. Hanakuma-himself a serious practitioner of martial arts-eschews conventional arms for jiujitsu. He also uses the cage fight scenario to make social commentary about blue collar exploitation and the human inclination to prefer brainless entertainment over real skill. (Even though Fujio is the reigning champ at the cage fights, the crowds of rich people hate him because he almost always beats his zombie opponents with one swift move rather than putting on a show.) "It's very Roman Empire," Sands says. Tokyo Zombie was first serialized in a manga collection called Ax from 1998 to 1999; the movie-starring the super popular Tadanobu Asano-came out in 2005. The zombies in Tokyo Zombie are generic humanoids that walk really slow, eat brains, and make stupid noises that really aren't that scary until they bite you and you turn into a zombie too. But Tokyo Zombie is not just about stupid zombies; it's a metaphorical story about friendship, class warfare, and the appreciation of high art. And most importantly, as Sands points out: "This is one of the first zombie tales where the apocalypse begins with a female zombie biting a junior high gym teacher's dick off." Enough said. Tokyo Zombie (Amazon.com)