Jason Thompson's House of 1000 Manga - Bastard!!by Jason Thompson, Oct 7th 2010
WARNING: This edition of House of 1000 Manga contains a lot of very explicit language. Reader discretion is advised.
Episode XXII: Bastard!!
I'm going to need to swear for this one. Even the title is a swear word; it's not as bad as Fucker! (a rival manga in Shonen Sunday…not really) but enough of a swear that Viz canceled their short-lived plans for a Bastard!! promotional poster because they felt not enough bookstores would dare to put it up. Kazushi Hagiwara's Bastard!! is a manga which waves its dick in the face of everything: the manga establishment, the PTA, the fourth wall. And I don't mean figuratively: I mean it LITERALLY waves its dick at them.
No one, possibly not even Hagiwara himself, could have predicted what Bastard!! (full title Bastard: The Destructive God of Darkness) would become when it first appeared in 1987. A fantasy manga, in Shonen Jump magazine, Bastard!! was one of the many Western-influenced sword-and-sorcery manga to come out of the Japanese RPG boom of the 1980s. It is often said to be influenced by Dungeons & Dragons, and indeed, at times it seems less like a manga than a checklist of creatures from the Monster Manual: dragons, griffons, elementals, lizard men, minotaurs and something that looks very much like a Beholder. There are outright Nick Simmons-style traces from D&D books in some spots, including some of Jeff Easely's D&D dragons and Clyde Caldwell's vampire from the front cover of Ravenloft. However, in all the interviews I've read, Hagiwara has never once mentions D&D as an influence, saying instead that he was influenced primarily by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone's Fighting Fantasy gamebook series. In short, Bastard!! is very much "in the zone" of Western-influenced fantasy, but it's not really an homage to any one thing. Before Bastard!!, Hagiwara worked as an assistant to rom-com mangaka Izumi Matsumoto, and was best known for drawing attractive women, the kind that appear in Matsumoto's Kimagure Orange Road.
It starts out very similar to other manga from the period like Orfina and Madara: a good kingdom is attacked by an evil force, and the good guys must fight it. Castle Metallicana is besieged by the armies of the Four Divine Kings, who want to resurrect the evil god Anthrasax, a giant H.R. Giger-esque mass of tentacles, fangs and penises. Orcs, ogres, giants and other familiar fantasy expendables mass outside the castle walls, slavering to kill everybody. Within the castle, Yoko, a tomboyish young priestess who wears miniskirts while everyone else dresses Renaissance Faire, tries to keep hope alive while protecting her stepbrother Lucien, a loveably brainless boy-child whose only joys in life are to do laundry and snuggle in the arms of his big stepsister. Desperate to survive, the kingdom's defenders make a (metaphorical) deal with the devil and resurrect their own evil force, a savage ancient wizard named Dark Schneider.
The twist? Dark Schneider's life force is imprisoned within the body of Lucien, and can only be released by the kiss of a pure virgin! With the kiss of his stepsister, Lucien transforms into Dark Schneider, a tall, naked hunk with a bad temper and the hair of a "Skid Row" band member. Although he is incredibly buff, Dark Schneider's primary power is magic, and he can immolate, detonate and disintegrate his enemies using various spells named -- like everything in the manga -- after heavy metal bands. ("Venom", "Black Sabbath", "Helloween", "Judas Priest", etc.) Occasionally there are nonsense science-fiction explanations for his magic ("By using a magically inducted magnetic field, a sealed vacuum is created! Then, if you teleport matter into the space already occupied by other matter…without the delete and replace spell, of course…the overlapping atoms will collide, resulting in further neutron disintegration!"), but really he just has the power to blow everything to pieces. Then with a dispelling kiss from Yoko, Dark Schneider is sucked back into the body of Lucien, waiting to be called forth again when he's needed. It's like puberty: the same body contains both an infantile boy-child and a violent, sexy, aggressive man.
With Yoko's kisses keeping Dark Schneider's antisocial attitudes barely under control, the manga seems like the same formula as Inuyasha or Kamisama Hajimemashite, in which a tough evil dude is forced to obey a cute girl. You know the kind: he's rude and violent and gluttonous but deep down, he's a nice guy, and he learns the Power of Goodness™. Bastard!! takes this cliché and stretches it to the point of insanity. Rather than turn good to even the slightest degree, Dark Schneider is a deranged maniac for the entire manga, a living embodiment of the Id. While the plot sorta follows a shonen manga pattern of fight --> make friends with defeated opponent --> fight more people, the real thrill of the manga is not wondering who will win, it's watching Dark Schneider blow up new monsters and do outrageous, outrageous things. Dark Schneider doesn't operate on the same level of reality as the other characters; arrogant and preening, he refers to himself as "the main character" and (in the Viz edition) "your #1 manga hero." Other characters occasionally break the fourth wall, saying things like "Let's do the shonen manga thing and team up!", but Dark Schneider hardly ever takes the story seriously, unless he's feeling up the female characters. Dark Schneider is like the Bugs Bunny of shonen manga, an obnoxious jokester who busts into a clichéd fantasy world and deflates all the pompous jerks and destroys everything. Like any Toon, Dark Schneider is practically unkillable, and he regularly regenerates from getting dismembered, blasted to pieces and (in a later volume) even having his head smashed to atoms. Also like a Toon, Dark Schneider himself can be extremely annoying, and the humor is lowbrow. But not just dumb lowbrow. Dark Schnider's dialogue in Bastard!!, instead of just using the words "kisama" and "onore" like every other boring shonen manga, will enrich your vocabulary with a vast lexicon of dick-wagging boasts and insults:
QUOTES FROM DARK SCHNEIDER FOR YOUR TWITTER FEED OR GRADUATION SPEECH:
* "It's a law of the heavens-- only the gorgeous can be indestructible!"
* "I'm Mr. Handsome! Mr. Handsome is on a different plane of existence from mere mortals. Mr. Handsome follows no rules. That's why Mr. Handsome is never defeated!"
* "Keep your dick-stinkin' hands off my precious daughter!"
* "Now you really ticked me off! I'm gonna rip off your dick and feed it to Lars!"
* "If you lose, nothing else means jack shit! That's while I'll do whatever it takes to protect my pretty woman!"
* "You're late! You dipshit! Slowpoke! What the fuck were you doing all this time, you worthless piece of shit?! I don't need help from a shit stained ass-monkey! So back off! I'm so handsome I can't lose, you idiot!"
* "Your blabbering is annoying! Stuff about love or justice, what use are those when you're trying to kill each other, you moron! I'm gonna fuck you up right now!"
* 'This fuckwad is getting cocky just 'cause he's the world's biggest ball of shit! Get your ass ready for a new tearing, you self-basting ball of crap!"
* "That shit-face is my enemy! The enemy must die! I'll ram my dick into its brain and dig it around!"
Bastard!! is a manga of sheer nerd rage. It's a manga of pure acting out, pure adrenaline and testosterone. The Heavy Metal references (which Viz and Pioneer intermittently censored, turning Metallicana into "Meta-Rikana," Iron Maiden into "Aian Meide," etc.) just add to the feeling of headbanging abandon, the feeling of YEEEAAAAHHHH WHO CARES FUCK YOU ALL. And you can't have "FUCK YOU ALL" without gore and violence. Eyeballs are ripped out, heads are ripped off, people are stomped and eaten. The later volumes feature hundreds of pages of cities being destroyed, innocent bystanders mangled, and whole populations being sent to Hell. In the second half of Bastard!! the power level escalates and escalates, and soon Hagiwara moves away from the dungeons into another very Heavy Metal theme: Judeo-Christian Mythology. Around volume 13, just when our heroes think they've won, angels and devils appear, and the Earth becomes the setting for the final battle between the forces of Divine Good and Diabolic Evil. The pseudo-Christianity is accompanied by a lot of pseudo-scientific science fiction explanations ("By linking up with the demonic army of autonomous machines acting as the dark god's hands and feet, the combined destructive power is increased by a power of 4/3πr3 and is able to transform 65% of the planet into a field of death in merely 168 hours.") Of course, the "good" side is just as bad as the evil side, and as titanic angels and demons start to kill everybody on the planet, only Dark Schneider can fight the heavenly armies. In an untranslated scene which may have something to do with Viz deciding to stop publishing the manga after volume 19, Dark Schneider forces the Archangel Michael (who in this manga is female) to give him a blowjob. The sperm flies out of his penis in slow motion, taking the form of little miniature Dark Schneiders in the process.
Did I mention Bastard!! is maybe kinda sorta just a little sexist? But of course, there are many different kinds of sexism: the blatant Bakuman "men are better at stuff than women" sexism, the fundamentalist Dave Sim "women are a distraction from the holy purity of manliness" sexism, and the winking Judd Apatow "fellas, humor your ladies" sexism. Bastard!! is more like the Geto Boys/Mickey Avalon/Dirt Nasty "I'd like to fuck every woman on earth" sexism. In fact, that is an actual quote from Dark Schneider, who in the very first volume, crows "When I rule the world, every woman will be mine!" Huge-breasted women are everywhere in Bastard!!. Dark Schneider has a tendency to feel up any woman who crosses his path, typically sticking his hand under their shirts or tossing them on his lap for a grope while he's in the middle of an unrelated conversation. The only exception is his beloved Yoko, who he only mildly harasses, and who -- dominance games! -- is able to turn the mighty Dark Schneider from a lecherous wolf into a cringing puppy-dog by threatening to slap him in the face. It's no surprise that, before he drew Bastard!!, Hagiwara also worked as assistant to another mangaka -- the famous porn mangaka "Dirty" Matsumoto, no relation to Izumi. The one form of lust you could not accuse Hagiwara of is lolicon; his women have some serious meat on their bones. There's also a pseudo-Boy's Love subplot between Dark Schneider and his rival Kall-Su, a bishonen wizard, but since Dark Schneider doesn't even once grab Kall-Su's ass, I'd be lying to say that this makes up for the objectification of everything without a penis. Although Hagiwara never shies away from the beefcake either: Dark Schneider appears naked A LOT, his enormous schlong ("curving up to my belly button," to use Dark Schneider's own words) usually only partially concealed by a white censorship mark.
With all this ass-grabbing, head-assploding and blas(s)phemy, it's hard to believe that Bastard!! once ran in a magazine for 14-year-olds. In fact, even in Japan, people complained that such stuff was unsuitable for teenagers. In one early chapter, Dark Schneider is seduced by an evil sorceress, who rolls around with him naked in bed. Between chapters, a bra and panties mysteriously appears on the previously naked sorceress, as if Hagiwara's editor had forced him to put underwear on her in mid-scene but he never bothered to go back and change it in the earlier chapter. In another early scene, the evil Ninja Master Gara kidnaps Yoko and chains her in a pit to have her clothes eaten off by the dreaded Clothes-Eating Slime. In the next chapter, Hagiwara writes a little margin note: "This is Gara. The Gara that caused many angry phone calls due to the lewd things done here."
This is what makes Bastard!! fun: not just Dark Schneider's personality, Hagiwara's personality. This self-referential, snarky chat with the reader, this intentionally pushing the limits of censorship, made Hagiwara infamous, even as it necessarily turned Bastard!! from a mainstream series (running in Weekly Shonen Jump) to a cult series (running in the lower-selling Shonen Jump Quarterly Specials and Ultra Jump). Hagiwara loves to change art style from panel to panel, to scribble notes in the margins, and to make references to all kinds of obscure pop culture. (The high point of the latter may be the scene in volume 18 in which Satan does a song-and-dance number for Dark Schneider in the form of the Genie from Disney's Aladdin.) In the author's notes, Hagiwara draws himself like a haggard Muppet, perpetually burned-out, on the edge of a breakdown, spending time in his stinky studio with a bunch of stinky guys. When he does leave the studio, it's to spend time with other mangaka, like Kia Asamiya, Yasushi Nirasawa and Tony Takezaki, who he frequently name-drops. He gives off a sense of craziness, like he's so delirious from overwork that he could do anything, but he also feels a sense of responsibility to his audience: there's plenty of omake pages showing Hagiwara grovelling to the reader, saying things like "Forgive me! I'm sorry this volume was so late!"
From volume 8 onward, Bastard!! switched from Weekly Shonen Jump to a quarterly magazine, possibly so that Hagiwara could get away with more sex and violence, but also probably because the deadlines were easier. Hagiwara's D&D and Fighting Fantasy swipes in the first seven volumes were probably only part homage; they were probably also a way to just get the manga done on time. As a friend in college first pointed out to me, you can tell that Hagiwara barely meets his deadlines, because towards the end of the chapters the detail level drops and everything tends to devolve into two-page spreads of massive explosions of whiteness and sketchy closeups of Dark Schneider screaming. The problem became less severe when Bastard!! stopped being published weekly and went to an irregular schedule, but to this day, installments of Bastard!! are occasionally published in Ultra Jump magazine with some of the pages still in un-inked pencil. The most incredible example of a creative cop-out is volume 6, p.88-89, when Dark Schneider and friends are being menaced by a magical black hole. In the last two pages, instead of drawing anything, Hagiwara WRITES A DESCRIPTION OF WHAT IS HAPPENING, turning the manga into a radio-play (and including a "Please forgive me!" note in the margin). But when he actually does draw the manga, Hagiwara is a great artist, at least from volume 8 onward. (His writing isn't as good; his dialogue is often so cheesy it doesn't matter whether it's intentional, he repeats the same "Dark Schneider shows up at the last minute to save the day!" plot four or five times, and there's a major plot hole between volumes 18 and 19, when Hagiwara changed magazines to Ultra Jump and advanced the plot forward without explanation. To read the missing part, you'll have to buy Hagiwara's dojinshi Wonderful Megadeath, available at Comic Market in Japan. Good luck.)
Hagiwara is a perfectionist; this is his gift and his curse. He knows the art looks bad in the early volumes. His perfectionism comes through in Bastard!! Complete Edition, a kanzenban-like edition reprinting approximately one and a half volumes at a time of the original edition of Bastard!! in large format. In Bastard! Complete Edition volume 1 (which was used in the Viz edition), Hagiwara redrew huge swatches of artwork, adding better backgrounds, better screentone and even redrawing a few characters. In Complete Edition volume 2, Hagiwara went even farther, literally redrawing almost every character on every page, making it essentially into a new manga. If you like Bastard!!, you should read it. Unfortunately, you'll have to read it in Japanese; the Complete Edition volume 2 also has an extremely graphic sex scene which was censored out of the original Shonen Jump version (remember the bras and panties?), and Viz decided to publish the old version because the new artwork was too explicit. To me, this is one of the great tragedies of manga publishing. I can imagine Hagiwara sitting like a monk in his cell, working by candlelight, laboriously redrawing manga pages that he drew 15 years ago for a magazine aimed at tween boys, and turning them into lavishly drawn porn. Perhaps burned by low sales of Complete Edition, Hagiwara didn't redraw a single line in Complete Edition Volume 3, ending what could have been an unbelievable obsessive-compulsive quest to redraw the entire manga. Regardless, Hagiwara continues plugging away on new chapters of Bastard!!, a testament to the power of manga to contain exquisite artwork and absurd power fantasies. Plus I got to use the words "enormous schlong" and "sperm flies out of his penis in slow motion" in this review. I'd never get to say that about Yu-Gi-Oh!. Or would I?
Jason Thompson is the author of Manga: The Complete Guide and King of RPGs, as well as manga editor for Otaku USA magazine.
Banner designed by Lanny Liu.
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