The Manga Hall of Shame: Wounded Man

Nicholas Cage, I have a swell idea for your next project: option the rights to Wounded Man. This mid-eighties schlockfest is tailor made for you. It has a hero with extravagantly bad hair, bad guys so charismatic they beg for Christopher Walken or Sharon Stone to play them, and copious amounts of acrobatic sex and violence. And while it lacks the evil Nazis and mad scientists of Offered, another Kazuo Koike gem set in South America, Wounded Man does Offered one better: the series’ main villain is a pornographer. But not the sleazy, sad-sack type who might be the prime suspect on a Law & Order: SVU episode — no, the chief villain in Wounded Man runs a studio called God’s Pornographic X-Rated Films, a.k.a. GPX. She also wears a caftan and carries a parasol.

You know she’s evil.

Wounded Man begins in Brazil, where Yuko Kusaka, an ambitious young NHK reporter, is pursuing a story about a modern-day gold rush in the Amazon basin. Yuko is intent on finding “Rio Baraki,” a prospector who’s rumored to be Japanese. Baraki finds her first, however, savagely attacking her in a city park. “You’d better thank me because this could be much worse!” he tells Yuko. “Go back to Japan if you don’t want anymore trouble!” (He also talks to her at great length about the unsavory eating habits of Amazonian fish, dialogue that’s so unsafe for work I’ll do the honorable thing and not reprint it here.)

What Baraki doesn’t count on is that Yuko falls madly in love with him, following him deep into the jungle in spite of his dire warnings. She and her camera crew are ambushed by bandits, tied up, and sexually tortured; Baraki rescues them. She then jettisons her crew and tags along with Baraki. Once again, she’s ambushed, tied up, and sexually tortured; once again, Baraki rescues her. Baraki and Yuko then fight; they have sex; and Baraki tells Yuko his sad story, a story even more screwed up than all crazy, non-con antics that preceded it.

Baraki, it turns out, was once Keisuke Ibaraki, star quarterback at USC. After a big game, a group of thugs kidnapped him and his high school sweetheart, threatening them with death if Baraki refused to make an X-rated film with a famous female tennis player. Baraki turned GPX down; his heart belonged to Natsuko, and no amount of money would compromise his resolve. Not even the prospect of starvation undermined his commitment to Natsuko — naked and locked in a dungeon, the two survived by drinking each other’s urine before Natsuko finally died. Baraki lived, and has been plotting his revenge ever since he escaped GPX’s clutches.

I’m not making this up.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that a couple of porn-addled teenagers were responsible for the script, however; the whole story feels like something concocted by Dirk Diggler in one of his pitiful bids for movie-actor legitimacy. Though the ostensible genre is action/adventure, the story’s epic sex scenes take up more than half the first volume alone, with only the occasional fist-fight or manly swim through piranha-infested waters to relieve the tedium. The most reprehensible aspect of all the fornicating, however, is how little of it is genuinely consensual. Yuko is molested by Baraki, by random smugglers and poachers, even by members of her own television crew in a scene unpleasantly reminiscent of Deliverance, yet Koike and artist Ryochi Ikegami play these episodes for maximum titillation, trotting out one of the hoariest, most offensive cliches from the rape culture playbook: the victim who falls for her attacker because the sex is so amazing.

I wish I were making this up.

Koike and Ryoichi Ikegami find other ways to offend as well. The Brazilian characters are drawn as crude caricatures, with hulking physiques, gap-toothed smiles, and leering eyes; their primary role in the story is menacing Yuko. The few female characters are equally ridiculous, shunning clothing the way six-year-olds shun brussell sprouts; I’ve never seen so much laughably gratuitous nudity in a manga before. (The naked tennis player is kind of disconcerting, however, as she looks an awful lot like Martina Navatarola.)

The series’ greatest offense, however, is the way Yuko is portrayed. She may be a judo champ, capable of delivering a high-flying kick, and a rising star at the NHK, scoring high ratings with her investigative journalism, but her behavior is so petulant, so dumb, and so completely contradictory that Koike undermines her identity as a competent, strong woman. “That’s right, I hate you,” she tells Baraki during one of their numerous fights. “But at the same time, I love you so much! I’m so in love with you and I get so weak just being touched by you.” Her frequent hysterical outbursts would be comical if they didn’t serve to infantilize and diminish her, robbing her of any meaningful agency or identity outside of sex object.

Really, I wish I were making this up.

I’d be the first to admit that Wounded Man is luridly fascinating. It’s hard to imagine who thought any of it was a good idea, though it unfolds in such a fast, furious, and utterly unironic fashion that readers may be swept up in the story despite their better judgment. In short, Wounded Man is perfect fodder for a Nick Cage movie. Agents, are you listening?

WOUNDED MAN, VOLS. 1-9 • STORY BY KAZUO KOIKE, ART BY RYOICHI IKEGAMI • COMICSONE • RATING: MATURE (COPIOUS NUDITY AND VIOLENCE, VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN, STRONG LANGUAGE, INANE PLOT TWISTS)

38 thoughts on “The Manga Hall of Shame: Wounded Man”

  1. JRB says:

    “He also talks to her at great length about the unsavory eating habits of Amazonian fish, dialogue that’s so unsafe for work I’ll do the honorable thing and not reprint it here.”

    Let me guess: the candirú?

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Yes! I guess I missed that National Geographic special.

  2. Darlus Knights says:

    Gotcha, just best to avoid.
    No further comment on this one.

  3. BurningLizard says:

    Wow, this sounds like everything that I hate about bad manga. You sure this wasn’t actually a hentai series? Because it sounds like a hentai series. And not the kind that is enjoyable either.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Nope, Wounded Man isn’t hentai, just dumb.

  4. Logan says:

    With licensing gems like that it’s a wonder Comicsone didn’t last longer! I loved that you put in multiple pauses to mention how you weren’t making it up, because every time I got to one was right about when I was thinking, “You have got to be kidding me.”

    I guess this isn’t too surprising coming from the author of Lady Snowblood, but atleast that manga was fun in its totally ludicrous over-the-top glory. This just sounds offensive and downright stupid. I’m amazed it got a 9 volume run…

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      ComicsOne had a really interesting catalog: they licensed kid-friendly stuff like Kazan and Ginga Legend Weed, horror (Junji Ito’s Tomie), comedy (Crayon Shin-chan), biographies (Jesus among them), and manly-man manga. They also were one of the first American publishers to experiment with e-manga, offering series like Joan, Jesus, and Ginga Legend Weed in e-book format long before the idea had caught on with American readers. (Don’t ask me how to find those e-books, though; that seems like a Jason Thompson question!) The editorial and production standards didn’t always match the ambition of their licensing efforts, but they were a really interesting pioneer in the field.

      As for Wounded Man, it’s hard to express just how outrageously stupid it is. I love Lady Snowblood/i> and Lone Wolf and Cub, in spite of the copious amounts of sex and violence in both. But both those series are really entertaining; even at their most ridiculous moments, I can (almost) believe what I’m reading.

      1. JRB says:

        I think ComicsOne did all their e-books though Adobe Digital Editions, which never took off and is tremendously obscure nowadays (basically, it’s encrypted PDFs, where the eBook reader is a PDF reader with unencryption ability). Powells.com and ebookmall.com have at least some of them; searching on the author name seems to work best.

        1. JRB says:

          Incidentally, the Adobe Digital Editions reader is still available and free in Mac and PC versions, so you can still read ComicsOne’s e-books. Be warned that the compression of the pages makes the art look godawful, though (text is rendered separately and looks fine).

          1. Katherine Dacey says:

            Thanks for the tip, JRB — sounds like an option worth investigating!

  5. N says:

    Sigh… I’m not shocked. It bothers me how offensively bad some of the Koike/Ikegami books are, as it makes me want to tear up my copies of Lone Wolf and Cub and Mai the Phychic Girl and never look back.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      I suppose when you crank out as many books as Koike has, the pressure to top your last outing probably drives you to excess. Even so… sometimes it’s hard to believe that he’s also the author of Lone Wolf and Cub, isn’t it?

      1. N says:

        I think Kazuo Koike’s writing varies depending on what artist he’s working with. With his collaborations with Goseki Kojima, there is at least some attempt at making the story have a meaningful story, but with the Ryoichi Ikegami stuff…yeah. I actually see this as a talent on Koike’s part, but I have a strong suspicion that Ikegami could do some very affecting, non-pornographic stuff if given the material.

  6. LG says:

    There were way too many sentences I had to reread just to make sure I had understood them correctly. I got a little lost between the paragraph in which Yuko and Baraki first meet and the next paragraph, where Yuko is madly in love with him. My thought was, “Wait, he savagely attacks her…and then she’s in love with him? What?” And Baraki and Natsuko surviving by drinking each other’s urine…um, how romantic?

    Well, nice review, and I think I’ll steer clear of this one. Then again, I don’t think I would have ever touched it in the first place – the cover screams “This is something you will not like.”

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      There were way too many sentences I had to reread just to make sure I had understood them correctly. I got a little lost between the paragraph in which Yuko and Baraki first meet and the next paragraph, where Yuko is madly in love with him. My thought was, “Wait, he savagely attacks her…and then she’s in love with him? What?” And Baraki and Natsuko surviving by drinking each other’s urine…um, how romantic?

      That pretty much sums up the reading experience: I’d finish a couple of pages, something outrageous would happen, and I’d have to flip back to the beginning of the scene to make sure I hadn’t mis-remembered the first part. You can’t even imagine some of the stuff I didn’t put in my summary! There was a scene in which GPX minions presented Baraki with football-shaped wads of cash because… well, he’s a quarterback! (No, it doesn’t make much more sense in context, either.) As I said, the whole thing reads like something a couple of teenage boys concocted after reading through a big stack of Hustler and watching too many C-list action movies.

  7. Aaron says:

    It’s when stuff like this get’s liscnsed that blood proverbially shoots out of my eyes in rage and I scream as I am prone to do “they can liscinse this gabage but we still cant get Bitter Virgin liscensed WTH”

    Theire I’m better now but seriouslly why! just why!!

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Should I be afraid to Google Bitter Virgin? Will I be arrested for doing so?

      1. Aaron says:

        Not really it was a supriseinglly poginent story by Kei Kusunoki (who did Ogre Slayer) about a young girl named Aikawa Hinako who was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her step father and the boy wanna be playboy Suwa Daisuke who comes to love her.

        It’s a really touching and well done piece that deals with such touchy subjects as rape, abortion, teenage pregnecy, and first love. I was really suprised to find out it was orginally serialized in Young Gangan considering all the Gravure idols on the cover of the magazine.

        It’s a great sereis but it’s never been offically liscned here hence my rage at stuff like Wounded Man getting liscnced or the number of non con Yaoi titles that get relased (I also used to moan about how come we can get 12 volumes of effing Junjo Romantica: Pure Romance but this cant get a release!!) but this well done poginent series can’t find an english linscer what gives?

        Also here”s the ANN Encyclopedia summery of the sereis:

        Popular high school student Suwa Daisuke has no interest in dating newcomer Aikawa Hinako, a quiet loner. That’s because she recoiled from his flirtatious touch, and he took it as a personal affront. Daisuke informs one of his buddies that he wouldn’t date her, not knowing Hinako was listening. Daisuke’s attitude changes after he accidentally hears her confession in an abandoned church; she’s been sexually abused by her stepfather and has given up a child for adoption. His former annoyance turns to compassion and concern. Hinako is unaware that he knows her terrible secret. Believing him to have no romantic interest, she becomes more relaxed and comfortable in his company. Their relationship faces a lot of obstacles, including jealous classmates

  8. Angel says:

    Gosh, that sounds so bad. And yet it is like a disastrous train wreck. I just have to look up at least the first volume or two. I’ve liked other Kazuo Koike stuff, but still. You want to turn away, but can’t.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  9. Estara says:

    Though the ostensible genre is action/adventure, the story’s epic sex scenes take up more than half the first volume alone, with only the occasional fist-fight or manly swim through piranha-infested waters to relieve the tedium.

    I take it you never read Crying Freeman? *grins* Actually the female partner of the male protagonist – who also sleeps with all kinds of women who want to hurt him so they fall in love with him to be on his side – and who was brainwashed into becoming a killer – is an improvement on this description as she never loses her poise and manages to tame a homicidally-cursed katana without her husband.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      I did read Crying Freeman, but it’s been a long time; it was one of the very first manga I ever read, and I haven’t gone back and re-read it. If memory serves, the heroine was a virgin (at least when the weeping assassin meets her) — a motif that Freeman shares with Wounded Man and at least one or two other Koike series. Unpacking that hoary chestnut would have required another 1,500 words at least, so I left that issue untouched.

      1. Estara says:

        it was one of the very first manga I ever read

        Same here! This and Nausikaa of the Valley of the Wind were two of the first manga available to me here in Germany – in the English versions of course. Yes, the heroine was a virgin, she ought to have been killed by the assassin too, because she saw him killing one of his targets. So when he came by to do so she asked him to make love to her before he killed her – she had no family left and was okay with dying afterwards.

        I think Crying Freeman sounds a lot like a slightly “improved” version of Wounded Man.

  10. Jade Harris says:

    Kazuo Koike is a lot like Chris Clairemont: if they aren’t collaborating with strong dramatic artists, they’re able to walk all over the comic and the writing ends up taking itself way too seriously. In Lone Wolf and Cub and Lady Snowblood you can see how much another voice is influencing the dramatic fantasy world of the story. Here and in Crying Freeman Koike ends up creating a ridiculous psuedo-reality that gets bogged down in his own ego.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      I think that’s a great point, though I wonder if the historical setting helps mitigate some of the excess in Wounded Man and Offered. Now you’re making me wish I had the time to do a detailed comparison of Koike/Kojima with Koike/Ikegami — that sounds like a potentially awesome project!

      1. Jade Harris says:

        Right, the sepia-colored lens of history is definitely at work to some extent. On the other hand, a lot of those stories were able to investigate facets of humanity a little closer thanks to the historical vacuum. The strong female samurai is just a lot easier to justify than the strong female NHK reporter despite the fact that most samurai of that era would have been less martially capable than the reporter in Wounded Man. We just have a better idea of what we think a reporter is supposed to be.

        Huh, think of Wounded Man as a satire of Superman for a second. The Superman movies.

        In the end, despite the gaffs, mixed messages and some ideas he had a little backwards, I’m pretty sure Koike has always wanted to break stereotypes, promote strong women and confront patriarchal oppression. One can read his work as a failure to achieve any of those things, but I can usually see where he was attempting something relatively progressive that either was crossed by some common exploitation trope or some other indictment of man’s inhumanity to man. It’s just a little different from all the attempts I’ve seen to consciously depower women, but you could still indict Koike depending on where you draw the line.

        That comparison would be pretty rad. I dislike the art in Crying Freeman, but I think it works very well in Sanctuary. I don’t think Koike relied on Ikegami’s storytelling strengths as much as his attention to detail. Kojima’s art definitely told as much of the stories as Koike’s words though.

        1. Katherine Dacey says:

          That’s a good point; I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Koike felt he’d created a strong, smart “modern” woman in Yuko. At the same time, however, he and Ikegami are clearly intent on catering to their readership, and consistently undermine her competency by sexualizing her. the opening few pages provide an instructive example: we see Yuko wipe the floor with her male sparring partner in a judo class, but that’s followed by a completely gratuitous panel of her showering. Subsequent fight scenes exploit her judo skills primarily for their panty shot potential (we almost always see her from below); she even fights in her skivvies, the better to facilitate the undercarriage view!

          Yuko also feels like a step backwards, at least when contrasted with the central figure in Lady Snowblood — not because LSB escapes sexual exploitation, but because LSB is so much more canny about her own sexuality, using it to insinuate herself into her enemies’ inner circles. That’s a very particular kind of agency — not necessarily a laudable one, but agency nonetheless — that makes LSB seem like an adult, not a teenage girl who’s read too many Harlequin romances.

          1. Jade Harris says:

            Right, exactly. More than anything, I think Koike wanted to tap into the Zeitgeist of the 80s and media in general had taken a big step backwards then. Remember, it was practically getting to the point where you couldn’t open a loose cannon cop flick without a brutal scene of sexual violence. It was an era of boundary-pushing excess and Koike’s desire to tap into that would make strong female roles a very secondary priority.

            In contrast, LSB really tries to capture 70s era feminism: she’s a capable woman with precision control over her own sexuality, but more telling than that, she launches violent guerilla assaults on the sexual exploitation establishment and though she puts on an apathetic face, it’s a revenge story through and through. Even the insurance story boils down to someone swindling away people’s ownership of their own bodies and she crushes that system as mercilessly as she crushes the object of her revenge. The real drama comes from the dichotomy of LSB as both an incarnation of feminine revenge and a woman who is, herself, being exploited by others for their own ends.

            There’s just too much going on in LSB for me to think that Koike suddenly turned into a rampaging misogynist during the 80s. I think his mixed messages are more a product of the priorities of the readers, like you said, but also the era. Just think of how many steps our current comic culture has taken backward for every one forward from the 90s.

  11. nice&toasty says:

    Koike and Ikegami did this?

    *weeps*

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Well, even the best collaborative have an off day!

      In fairness to both, many of the same elements are present in their better works, but here those tendencies are so grotesquely exaggerated that they overwhelm the narrative. The story doesn’t hang together very well, reading more like a series of “No, wait, I can do better than that!” scenarios than a string of casually related events.

      1. nice&toasty says:

        Hmm, true that. I guess in that sense you could say it’s a good thing they got it out of their system all at once

  12. Heather says:

    Yep, it’s horrible…..so horrible, it can be entertaining 😛 I always put this in the exploitation category, like the Grindhouse or Machete movies. Just as most people don’t watch an entire porn, there are some good things, mainly just a few panels per book. I am glad this book did get released in America, so readers could really see the differences. It’s really too bad ComicsOne digital format was ahead of it’s time. They offered some unique titles.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      You’re so right! I couldn’t stop reading Wounded Man, even though I was mortified by how bad it was. Part of the appeal was morbid fascination: what on Earth would Koike and Ikegami do next?

      As for ComicsOne, I’m also sorry they got into the e-Book market so early. I’d love to be able to read Ginga Legend Weed, Jesus, and Kazan without having to pay insane amounts of money for used paper copies. (The last time a copy of Ginga was available on eBay, it sold for almost $50!) The translations and production values weren’t top notch, but their catalog was wonderfully eclectic.

    2. Jade Harris says:

      Yes, I like this comment. I’m the type of person who’d rather see ten books I hate for every one I really like than see that supposedly perfect product meant to please each and every person who might glance its way. Individuality is a human strength and trying to create something to please everyone subverts that, I think.

  13. Genuis8 says:

    I have read Wounded Man, and even if it has too many gratuitous sex and rape in the story, it was a fun read. If you want serious stuff, read Sanctuary by the same author.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Don’t get me wrong: Wounded Man is compelling, even if it is totally, utterly ludicrous. Frankly, I was as fascinated by own reaction to the material as I was by the story itself!

      And you’re right about Sanctuary: it’s a great read. (I was lucky enough to score the whole set on eBay for a song.) The artist is the same as Wounded Man, but the author is actually Sho Fumimura, not Kazuo Koike — though I’ll grant Fumimura’s style is very similar to Koike’s.

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