Jason Thompson's House of 1000 Manga Demon City Hunter
by Jason Thompson, Sep 2nd 2010
Episode XVII: Demon City Hunter
"Hmm…it could be a trap…"
"Even if it is, it's heretical black magic and we have to put a stop to it!"
"Even if I told you our grand objective, you fools wouldn't understand! If you really want to know, ask Satan when you get to Hell!"
Why is it that every manga with the word "Hunter" in its title is demented? Hunter x Hunter, Sorcerer Hunters, Monster Hunter…To Japanese audiences the English word "hunter" apparently means, not hours and hours waiting in the freezing cold in a duck blind, but intense fantasy action.
At least for Hideyuki Kikuchi. The creator of Vampire Hunter D, Demon City Hunter, Treasure Hunter (not the same as the obscure Hitoshi Tomizawa manga which I will probably write about later), and a thousand other light novels, Kikuchi writes over-the-top science fiction, fantasy and horror novels with the same speed that weekly mangaka draw their comics, cranking out a couple hundred pages a month, a half-dozen or so books a year. He became popular in the 1980s, and like the American horror writer Stephen King, his work has a certain feeling of that decade; a cocaine-flavored nuttiness, a word-salad willingness to show any kind of gore and mayhem imaginable. Kikuchi is clearly influenced by American horror and science fiction, particularly American movies with the emphasis on shocks and special effects. ("I have about 600 sci-fi and horror videos," he boasts in an interview in the back of the manga.) In fact, Kikuchi out-crazies King. King wrote a few "blockbuster movie" horror novels like It and the Dark Tower series, in which supernatural stuff happens from page 1 to the end, but he's also written a bunch of quiet non-supernatural horror and "serious" fiction. Kikuchi would never write a novel like Cujo, in which the big scary event is that a mother and child are trapped in their car by a rabid dog for a few days. If Kikuchi had written it, it would be a three-headed winged demon dog which gives birth to tiny eyeless cannibal dogs from thousands of eggs contained in its saliva. Also, the trunk of the car would contain the Ark of the Covenant.
Add this Kikuchi-ness to the inherent lunacy of shonen manga and you have Demon City Hunter, one of the most entertaining manga released (in part) by the now defunct ADV Manga. It's one of the many spinoffs of Demon City Shinjuku, Kikuchi's untranslated novel series which began in 1982. Demon City Shinjuku is best known in English for the 1988 anime, but the Demon City Hunter manga came first. In the near future, the Shinjuku District of Tokyo is struck by the "devilquake," which separates it from the rest of the city by a giant chasm. The quake cracks open a secret genetics lab in Ichigaya, releasing thousands of mutated life forms. As if that wasn't bad enough, it cracks open the very barriers of reality, admitting demons and spirits from other dimensions to terrorize humankind. Fast forward to the year "199X" (the same year in which Fist of the North Star is set, a year for some reason not as awesomely futuristic-sounding as it used to be). Shinjuku is now the most dangerous part of Tokyo, an urban wasteland grinning undead and tentacled monsters could be waiting around any corner! (The whole idea of a closed-off city where chaos reigns is probably inspired by John Carpenter's Escape from New York.) From within this spiritual dead zone, evil cults and demented madmen plot to take over Tokyo and destroy the world!
The only force which can stop Evil's twisted schemes is…wait for it…a Japanese schoolkid named Kyoya Izayoi. Kyoya looks like an ordinary '80s teenager with a bike, big hair and fingerless gloves, but actually he's a master of nenpo, an unbelievably powerful kendo-like swordfighting art. Here is the explanation of nenpo: "I've heard that through training, human thought can be transformed from mere physical energy into spiritual energy, making miracles possible." A powerful reiki/orgone/Buckminster Fuller-style psychic force, nenpo is the key to all of Kyoya's incredible abilities. In a harsh world inhabited mostly by seven-foot-tall guys with five-foot-wide shoulders and hair like Kuwabara from Yuyu Hakusho, Kyoya's nenpo allows him to not only survive, but to kick ass. In the first chapter, pissed-off gang members attack Kyoya with an Ultra Cobra Combat Helicopter and a laser cannon, but he cheerfully deflected the lasers and missiles and blows their weapons to pieces. He even does all this with a bokuto, a wooden sword – a magic sword, but still a wooden one. Wooden swords have their own culture in Japan, since the possession of real swords is restricted, but it's also a savvy character design move to make Kyoya fight with a weapon that readers might actually have played around with themselves. Violence is more believable when it involves everyday objects; any hero can defeat evil with a steel sword, a gun or a rocket launcher, but it takes a truly great hero to defeat evil with, say, a soccer ball or a three-ring notebook. When not fighting villains (or studying for his college entrance exams—he's gotta be a normal kid, after all!), Kyoya hangs out with his pure-hearted girlfriend Sayaka, the cutest girl among the humans who live in Demon City Shinjuku, a place where slime demons, arms dealers and panty thieves coexist just a few blocks away.
One day, a mysterious old man appears in Shinjuku, wandering around with a senile grin and performing random miracles, such as turning a city street into a giant ocean filled with giant prehistoric fish. Even by the standards of the Demon City, all hell breaks loose. Or possibly heaven; the authorities, convening a quick emergency meeting, decide that the old man may be none other than…GOD. The computer analyzes clues to the old man's identity and provides the cryptic answer, "He exists nowhere, yet exists everywhere." This paradox freaks out one of the government scientists, Dr. Kariga, who enters his "computer killer" trance, convulsing, sweating blood, and jabbing his hand into the screen, causing it to explode. "This is the 'meta logic' that even the United Nations' supercomputer Big Brain can't achieve!" the awed onlookers say.
The Special Ability Task Force, a subdivision of Japan's Defense Department, sends its most powerful agents to Shinjuku to bring back God. They are the Super Soldiers, seven guys with pressed shirts and powers so secret they can't reveal them to their own commanding officers because it would spoil the surprise it would endanger the Defense Department if they were revealed. But meanwhile, in an accursed skyscraper in the heart of Shinjuku, an equally powerful group of evildoers has assembled. They are the seven priests of the Dark Order, led by the Bishop, a sinister bald man in robes with miles of mustache who looks like Ming the Merciless from "Flash Gordon." They too are on a mission to capture God, to use him for their masterplan…TO DESTROY THE WORLD! In true battle manga style, the seven priests and seven soldiers rush into the city to fight one another, with Kyoya caught in the middle! Furthermore, the heroes and villains must fight only with their powers! "On the honor of the S.A.T.F., do not use guns, only fight with your special ability!"
The rest of the manga consists of square-shouldered guys (and a few sadly token, wimpy girls whose superpowers involve things like healing) beating each other up while monsters leap out of the darkness and buildings explode. In the hands of a lesser writer, this could quickly get boring, but one of the good points of Kikuchi is that the weirdness never stops even for a second. The characters never stop to take a break, talk about their backstories, or line up for a fighting tournament to make order out of the madness. "Foreshadowing", "buildup" and "establishing shots" are not in Kikuchi's vocabulary. All that we need to know (good guys, bad guys, God, check) is established in the first chapter, and after that, the manga just jumps from one ridiculous situation to another. In a typical scene, goody two-shoes Sayaka is attacked by a giant amoeba, then saved by a hulking KGB cyborg. The cyborg is about to capture her, but it is attacked by two members of the Dark Order, a vampire and a guy with bone-related powers. The bone guy rips his own rib out of his chest, causing a giant vise of ribs to spring out of the wall, capturing the cyborg. The vampire sucks the cyborg's blood and turns it into her cyborg vampire servant, which lies in wait for Kyoya. Later, one of the good guys attacks the vampire and the bone guy by summoning a rain of blood. Another villain fights by splitting his own body in half, causing tons of demons, or possibly animated droplets of blood, to pour out and attack people. And then there is Kyoya's ally, the mysterious, bishonen Dr. Mephisto, who runs a clinic in Demon City Shinjuku and, in one scene, beats up 25 yakuza loan sharks and then summons a giant robot garbage collector to gather their bodies for black market organ dealing.
In another scene, Kyoya is getting an exam in Mephisto's office (which looks just like a regular hospital, with a waiting room full of kids, despite the fact that the city is filled with monsters and giant punks with mohawks and machine guns) when suddenly, he is attacked by three "shadow beasts" summoned by a shadow summoner. Kyoya defeats the beasts and chases after the summoner, who catches a taxi to get away. Kyoya is almost able to catch up to the taxi on his bicycle, when the taxi driver reveals that he has land mines and missiles in his taxi (he's just trying to get his fare), and launches them at Kyoya. Using his bokuto, Kyoya deflects the missiles away from innocent bystanders and keeps pedaling. By coincidence, the deflected missiles fly into the Dark Order's secret headquarters which the Super Soldiers are assaulting, crashing through the window and hitting a two-headed dog with a giant leech-like tongue in his mouth, helping the Super Soldiers. But just a few pages later, they're back in trouble again: "Damn! That missile saved us from the two-headed dog, but now another one has shown up!"
Demon City Hunter is a totally dopey children's manga with ganky art where everyone looks and talks like a character from G.I. Joe, (with more violence and no parachutes) but it has a refreshing attitude of "anything is possible." The dimensional rift gives Kikuchi an excuse to introduce whatever element he wants, and the heroes and villains' powers are inventive. It's often a sign of creative bankruptcy to me when people write about superheroes whose powers involve intangible, invisible things, such as energy blasts. How many times can you draw fire blasts, cold blasts and electrical blasts and make them look interesting? When two heroes' energy blasts meet dead-on in a manga, there's only two outcomes: one of them is stronger than the other, or we get some complicated fake-science explanation of how one character's oxygen blast interacted with the other character's strontium blast, causing the electrons to polarize, etc. etc. <lying> Yes, that's right, mangaka -- some scientific trivia you got on Wikipedia in 5 minutes is all you need for an AWESOME fight scene. But in Kikuchi's world, everything is visceral, physical and alive (or undead). You can see it and feel it. sMost of the characters' powers involve transforming things, summoning things, mutating objects in bizarre ways, such as the villains who dare to go up against God and end up with a bunch of tentacles and feelers and snakes growing out of their bodies. It's probably a good idea that Kikuchi was just the writer, not the artist, because an artist might have second thoughts before filling the script with so many insane visuals. Shin-Ichi Hosoma's speedline-filled art style is even more stuck in its time than Kikuchi's story, but he deserves points for managing to make this story even vaguely comprehensible. ( The ADV Manga printing, however is extremely muddy and dark in places.) I can imagine Hosoma reading the script, rereading it, taking a deep, deep breath, drinking a few shots of whisky and phoning his assistants. Side note: the manga has a too-many-assistants look; notice how the "cute girl" characters have eyes that are three times the size of the other characters, as if they were drawn by a different person. The way Hosoma totally changed his art style for the 2002 sequel manga, Demon City Shinjuku, also suggests that either Hosoma changed a lot over 16 years, which is very possible, or that he adjusts his style to fit the prevailing trends.
Kikuchi has written other equally insane popcorn manga—the very similar Darkside Blues among others—but Demon City Hunter is one of his most enjoyable manga adaptations. The fact that it's obviously written for 12-year-olds makes it more enjoyable, at least to me, than something like Taimashin: The Red Spider Exorcist, which is just as nonsensical but has the veneer of being a 'serious' seinen horror manga with glossy art and bare breasts and dominatrixes. It's more honest when it's kids' stuff. Imagine that you want some cheesy manga junk food – say, macaroni and cheese – and you set the kettle on the stove. Imagine that the pot boils too hot and bubbles over, trembling and shaking, spilling pasta everywhere. Now imagine the pot boiling for 17 VOLUMES. Sadly, ADV Manga only published four volumes before imploding, but I would have gladly read all 3400 pages of this chaos. It's not exactly good, but I had a good time reading it.
Jason Thompson is the author of Manga: The Complete Guide and King of RPGs, as well as manga editor for Otaku USA magazine.
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