Grotesque Anatomy
Friday, July 09, 2004
  Marred Manga
Wonded Man 1 Wounded Man Volumes 1 & 2 - Wounded Man is a manga with a lot of potential, but that potential is marred by an ugly incident that occurs early in the first volume:  Reporter (or "pure-as-white reporter" as ComicsOne's summary puts it) Yuko Kusaka, who has traveled to Brazil in search of a big story, is raped by Keisuke Ibaraki.  Keisuke stops raping Yuko only when he discovers that she is (well, was) a virgin (a recurring element in manga illustrated by Ryoichi Ikegame; cf. Sanctuary and Offered).  Keisuke is surprised by this discovery because Yuko didn't strike him as the virginal type with her determined, driven attitude.  Nice.  So not only does Keisuke rape Yuko, but he then goes on to insult her with a variation of the "you were asking for it" line of thought.  ("If you had carried yourself demurely like a proper Japanese woman, I never would have raped you.")

Keisuke then attempts to apologize to Yuko, explaining that he only raped her so that she would go back to Japan and leave him alone.  You see, Yuko is in Brazil to investigate reports that Japanese expatriates are mining for gold.  And as it turns out, Keisuke is not only one of those gold diggers, he just so happens to be the most successful miner of them all--the rumored White-Haired Demon.  Keisuke is stockpiling as much gold as he can find so that he has enough money to take on his dreaded nemesis, the all-powerful pornography company, GPX.  (Incidentally, GPX stands for God's Pornographic X-rated Film.  Not the pornographic films God watches, but pornographic films so pornographic they may as well have been made by God.)  So why does Keisuke have such a hard-on for GPX?  Well, it seems that GPX attempted to recruit Keisuke to star in their films, but he refused because of his devotion to then true love Natsuko, who died while she and Keisuke were captives of GPX.  Now Keisuke has vowed to destroy GPX, but he needs lots of moolah to bring them down since they're so influential in the worlds of politics and business.  (Apparently porn really does make the world go round.)  And what does any of this have to do with Yuko?  Who knows.  The story never makes it clear.  Perhaps Keisuke feared that her investigation would draw attention to himself.  But if Keisuke is trying to avoid attention, then committing a violent crime seems incredibly stupid.  What if Yuko had reported the rape to the local authorities?  Then he'd be the subject of a police investigation in addition to Yuko's journalistic investigation.

Wounded Man 2It's too bad that the series is tainted by Keisuke's rape of Yuko, as it otherwise has a lot to recommend it.  There are many themes worth exploring in Wounded Man:  Can one sustain one's drive for revenge if one finds happiness later in life?  Can one be faithful to the memory of a departed lover when one finds new love?  Is it unfair to a new partner to remain too attached to an old love?  Do puritanical societal attitudes toward sex create a harmful black market for pornography?  Even without such meaty topics underlying the narrative, Wounded Man would still be a entertaining read because of its charismatic characters and the over-the-top scenarios they find themselves in.  The interplay between Keisuke and Yuko is fun, playful, and believable.  In fact, if we ignore the rape, Keisuke and Yuko actually have an enviable relationship.  But we can't forget the rape.  It looms over the entire book, since that's how Keisuke and Yuko met.  Every time you get caught up in the story, it's there nagging at the back of your mind:  Keisuke raped Yuko.  How can you give yourself over to the series after that?

Perhaps that's another theme the creators intended to deal with in the series:  To what extent does a horrible past event color everything after it?  However, the fact that Yuko's rape is quickly forgotten within the story argues against such a charitable interpretation.  True, at first Yuko tries to enact "revenge" on Keisuke by getting him aroused but denying him the opportunity to satisfy his urges, but that quickly ends after the two engage in an act of consensual love-making midway through the first volume.  After that, Yuko can't proclaim her devotion to Keisuke often enough, insisting that she would gladly die for him.  I certainly don't mean to suggest that life and happiness end after rape, but I simply can't wrap my mind around the notion of someone falling in love with her rapist.  It might have been interesting to show how Yuko carried on with her life after being raped, but having her fall so quickly and completely for her rapist trivializes the impact of the violence committed against her.  She treats her rape as some insignificant slight, something no more meaningful that Keisuke forgetting her birthday.

Even worse, the creators attempt to portray Keisuke as some noble soul who deserves Yuko's deep and utter adoration.  After all, wasn't Keisuke willing to die for True Love?  Perhaps, although it should be noted that this account comes from Keisuke himself, who doesn't exactly seem to be the most modest individual around.  Perhaps he's engaging in a little self-serving revisionist storytelling?  At any rate, even if Keisuke was once as high-minded as he says he was, his actions in the present call into question his current character.  This is a man who is willing to leave Yuko tied up to a tree to serve as bait for his enemies.  This is a man who tells Yuko to satisfy herself with a corpse's artificially-induced erection.  And, of course, this is a man who raped a woman in order to scare her off his trail.  Any man who could contemplate that as a proportionate course of action is permanent damaged goods in my book.

The disturbing thing is, as much as I actively dislike Keisuke, I still want to continue reading the rest of this series.  Not because I care about Keisuke and his self-indulgent quest, but because I've grown to care about Yuko (despite her abominable taste in men--"Smart Women, Foolish Choices" is an incredible understatement in her situation) and want to see what happens to her.  Perhaps this is the greatest trick writer Kazuo Koike (yes, that Kazuo Koike) pulls off:  He crafts both a character so engaging and a character so repulsive that readers stick around to see if the former will ever escape the latter.  With any luck, Keisuke will reach his demise and Yuko will be free of his loutish charms.

UPDATE, Sunday 7/11:  $#%@!  Talk about jinxing things...
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by John Jakala

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