The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
What's It About?In an alternate version of our world, strange phonograph records fell from the sky in 1916, and a not-so-dead Rasputin took one to study while instructing the Tsar to hold onto the other two.
Now in the modern day, Russia has developed the power in those records to make Peacemakers, bracelets that can repel any weapon, biological or otherwise. Putinov, the President-for-Life of the Russian Federation, says that these bracelets will return the world to a state before the first man picked up a club.
But with other countries railing against Russia and the creation of Czernobogs, physically enhanced humans, is “peace” really what they're after? Golosseum is written and illustrated by Yasushi Baba. Kodansha released it in May, and it sells for $12.99.
Is It Worth Reading?Rebecca Silverman
If you need evidence that Golosseum was written in 2015, look no further than US President Billary Quintone. Other than that, this ultra-violent story of devices somewhat ironically called “peacemakers” is very clearly meant to poke fun at the political state of the modern world. It's not nearly subtle enough to be called “tongue in cheek,” but when you've got President-for-Life Putinov slicing the head off of a tiger with his hand in his office in Putinovgrad (formerly Moscow), it's pretty clear that subtlety is neither needed nor wanted.
As an action story, Golosseum's first volume is fairly successful. The peacemakers, which in an alternate version of 1916 fell from the sky over Russia in the shape of phonograph records that only played horrible noise, allow the wearer (they're bracelets currently) to defend against all weapons, whether biological, like germs or gasses, or physical, like bullets or blades. When worn on the opposite wrist, a group of peacemakers can even defend against a nuclear attack. The only things the bracelets aren't impervious to are punches and throws, so Putinov envisions (or at least sells himself as envisioning) the widespread use of peacemakers as a return to a time before humans discovered weapons. So armies will now have to punch each other out instead of using swords or guns to fight their battles.
Of course, if this was all that was going on, there wouldn't be much room for future volumes. Corruption runs rampant among the governments using the peacemakers, and that means super-buff flunkeys (or super-hot underdressed fourteen-year-old girls who look twenty) punching and chopping and kicking each other. If that kind of action is your thing, this is done well; the art makes it so that you can feel the weight of the impacts, and there's definitely some creative killing happening. If you're interested in this for the political theater, however, you may be disappointed – this is more moustache-twirling than anything, with people loudly proclaiming their allegiances and powers before we shift the scene to someone getting beat up again.
There are also some uncomfortable moments in here, such as the way the Russians consistently refer to the Japanese and Chinese as “monkeys,” and one scene of black men in Los Angeles beating up the police. Not that the reference to police violence isn't merited; the issue is more the language used as their dialogue, which comes across as uncomfortably gimmicky. This isn't a book for the politically correct or the overly sensitive, but if you're just in it for the over-the-top violence, Golosseum is happy to serve.
Golosseum is clearly for fans of martial arts movies, particularly those from several decades back, as evidenced by the “B-movie poster” design of the cover. However, it's unclear how much of it is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek because it's not the least bit funny and proves to be a rather dull affair showcasing boring characters engaged in hand-to-hand combat and wrestling moves between fairly graphic casual murder and semi-rampant racism. The manga's idea of a joke seems to be racist caricatures speaking in offensive accents being smashed to death by a Hulk Hogan parody—not to mention the frequent referral to Asian people as “monkeys” and “apes” by the Russian soldiers. Most of the time, though, this manga takes itself so, so seriously, peppering its nonsensical violence with thinly-veiled real-world analogues, such as Russian's President “Putinov” and America's President “Billary Quintone” being ruthless possessors of Peacemakers, those barely-unexplained devices that make a few select people virtually unstoppable.
However, it's the “White Witch,” Sasha Goundarenko, a Peacemaker wearer on the run from Russia, who seems to be the heart of the manga—and she's cold and emotionless as her finely-shaped body simply goes through the moves of slaughtering those who oppose her. Perhaps her stint as a maid in a café is supposed to be funny or her budding relationship with young Japanese woman Rumi is supposed to humanize her, but even “normal” girl Rumi is flat, professing she wants to be friends with Sasha because she's so beautiful. The maid angle mostly seems an excuse to get the well-endowed women into skimpy maid outfits—and learning that voluptuous Sasha is actually a fourteen-year-old doesn't help in swallowing the frequent objectification of her body.
The only thing to recommend this manga is Baba's art—though perhaps because of its realism, it helps make the manga even more unpleasant. The characters are more realistic than cartoonish, with real-world lookalikes recognizable at a glance. Baba also skillfully balances background detail with screentones and blood splatter as necessary to effectively convey action and mood.
Golosseum volume 1 almost seems like it's trying to be “in on the joke” of its own ridiculousness, but it simply doesn't leave much of its audience laughing. B-movie fans will get the most out of this piece, but even liking this type of story doesn't excuse the poor characterization and disturbing moments. Sometimes offensive, often tedious, and extremely absurd, Golosseum has limited appeal.
I tried to think of a book more tone deaf to the current socio-political climate than this release of Golosseum but I came up empty. I'm not sure what, if any, questions were raised before localizing this book in the West, but there weren't enough. This manga is a distillation of ignorance and stereotypes about populations that a mostly homogeneous nation like Japan might overlook, but I fail to see how anyone with a modicum of awareness about current events in United States could not see the many glaring problems throughout this volume.
Let me back up. I think I understand what Golosseum's localization was attempting to do. On paper it's a hyper-violent, over-the-top action manga with wrestling moves and parodies of current world figures. The sort of recipe that's supposed to get readers laughing at the sheer absurdity. “Oh my god, Putin's in here with 12-pack abs and slices the head off a tiger with his bare hands. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?” Readers could share images ripe for meme status on social media, drum up a crazy fervor, and you've got a word-of-mouth hit. Besides, stuff like Devilman made positive waves even despite all of its gruesome vagina monsters.
Here's what Golosseum can't pile drive its way out of. It's incredibly racist. Not micro-aggression racist, not metaphorically racist, just blatantly racist against Black people and Asian people, more specifically Han Chinese people. The story's first big bad guy is a Russian super soldier who makes his way through Japan with his murderous entourage and begins killing his Japanese opponents left and right, referring to them as monkeys. At first I naively thought this was a one-off insult, but the story makes it abundantly clear that this is a targeted racial insult as he continues to use it over and over. For a manga already so beset in shock value, it actually felt physically repulsing. Had this been a singular racist character, I still would have felt incredibly uncomfortable with the book but then the story switches locales for Los Angeles and I think I swore aloud.
In case you weren't aware yet, apparently in this alternate version of L.A., Black people in stereotypical street clothes are causing mass chaos by rioting and looting and killing the entirely White LAPD. The only guy who can stop them is super soldier Hulk Hogan, confessed real-life racist who lost his WWE contract after video surfaced of him spouting the N-word. Like, I don't even want to touch that. It's so, so incredibly tone deaf. I can, of course, already see the defense that I'm taking it too seriously, this is supposed to be over the top, etcetera. I don't really care. It's the same ignorance that got the Martian cockroach men design into publication in TerraFormars and I seriously do not have room on my bookshelf for stories that are interested in playing damaging racial stereotypes for laughs.
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