Jason Thompson's House of 1000 Manga - Baron Gong Battleby Jason Thompson,
Episode XLVIII: Baron Gong Battle
"Can't you shut the fuck up? I'm trying to celebrate my victory and make love to a woman here!"
—Baron Gong Battle
Tokyopop is dead, and a lot more manga is going to get canceled. Everyone hates it when this happens, except possibly for the accountants at the American publishers, who are usually relieved to pull the plug on anything unprofitable. Since manga publishing contracts often require the American publisher to license three or four volumes worth of manga at a time, publishers can even get locked in to publishing low-selling titles for several volumes even after the sales figures for volume 1 come in; bad for publishers, great for fans. But cancellations hurt the most when the manga is obscure. I mean, even if Viz exploded tomorrow, Americans would still be able to get the latest Bleach at Kinokuniya (or, you know, somewhere), but where am I going to get to read the rest of Raika or Enmusu without going all the way to Tokyo and searching a dozen BookOffs? Why are there massive online fan bases for Arina Tanemura but not for Kazuo Umezu's Fourteen? I really want to read the endings of some weird, forgotten translated manga that no one even cares enough to write a Wikipedia entry about. It doesn't even have to be good.
Baron Gong Battle is one of many incredibly strange manga published by Media Blasters, a company that, from 2004 to 2009 while they were still publishing manga, seemed to have a taste for the horrific and grotesque. From Pilgrim Jäger to Apocalypse Zero, they published ultraviolent, crazy seinen manga, the kinds of things you'd expect to see published by a company whose DVD imprints include Shriek Show and Tokyo Shock. Ex-managing editor Frank Pannone described it as 'adult shonen manga,' and that's a pretty accurate description. Baron Gong Battle has the basic plot of a Shonen Jump manga, but the level of nudity, violence and gross-out is so high that it makes Shonen Jump look like the Disney Channel. A sense of demented irony runs through the whole thing, making you wonder, am I reading a shonen manga or a parody of a shonen manga? Or is it actually a parody of every American action movie ever made?
Let's start with the main character. Baron Gong (sadly, his last name is not 'battle') is an incredibly buff American guy about seven feet tall. He's in his early thirties, but his hair has so many spikes and polygonal shapes, it looks like it belongs on a much younger manga character. (ign.com described him as the love child of Yu-Gi-Oh! and Wolverine.) He has five symmetrical facial scars. He is a quick draw and a good shot with a gun, and his physical strength is insane. He runs a bar in Chicago named "Gorilla Kick," staffed by women in stripper outfits, and he proudly tells his clientele "My bar doesn't serve liquor to losers trying to get drunk. We serve liquor as a way to unwind and get ready for tomorrow!" Baron Gong is a badass with HEART.
But something goes wrong, and the next thing you know, he's running through the streets of Chicago like a maniac, shooting some bishonen guy with a sawed-off shotgun. Cindy, a police officer with enormous breasts like every female character in this story, manages to get a few shots into him. Gong crawls away into an alley, where he snatches some booze from a homeless man ("Gimme your booze! Selfish jerk!") and uses it to disinfect his gunshot wounds before he cauterizes them with a red-hot knife. Cindy follows the trail of blood and swiftly incapacitates Baron Gong with a kick to the stomach (oddly, considering that later in the manga he is able to survive having his arm ripped off and being hurled a hundred feet into a stone cliff). "I was gonna make…espresso…" he mumbles as he passes out.
Instead of taking Baron Gong to police HQ and arresting him, Cindy takes him home, bandages his wounds and handcuffs him to her bed. She takes a shower and changes into lingerie, planning to interrogate Gong…but then, shockingly, Baron Gong awakes! Cindy draws her gun on him, but Gong just rips off the handcuffs, goes to the kitchen and gets some food. "At least gimme something to eat. Thanks to your damned bullets, I lost a lot of blood. I need some fuel so I can keep kicking monster ass!" Then he tells her the awful truth. Baron Gong isn't a serial killer; the people he was shooting at aren't human. They are Neo Humes (neo humans), an evil race of monsters created by Nazi experiments which crossbred humans with an alien found in hibernation in the Egyptian desert. And if they aren't stopped, they will take over the world! For Baron Gong, it's personal, because the Neo Humes—in fact, the bishonen guy—killed his girlfriend Mary May in the most disgusting way possible.
Soon, the seemingly dead bishonen awakens in the morgue and transforms into his true, ghoulish Neo Hume form. It goes on a cackling, preening rampage through the city, demolishing a SWAT team, splattering heads open so that they look like scrambled eggs with a side of eyeballs, and vaporizing people with its plasmatic energy arm cannon, "Flash Judgment." Time for Baron Gong to come to the rescue! Changing clips with his teeth, he runs up and unloads a wagon train of ammo into the monster, but the fiend regenerates so fast that it's useless. Then the foul bishonen rips off Gong's arm. It looks like it's all over…until Gong cuts off the monster's arm in turn and grafts it onto his stump! Miraculously, the monster's arm fuses with Gong's body, and Gong blows the monster to pieces with its own arm cannon! Now Baron Gong has a superpowered arm blaster, just what he needs on his mission to kill all 58 Neo Humes which were created by Hitler's eugenicists in 1944!
Cindy, the cop, watches in awe as Gong rides his motorcycle off into the horizon in search of more fights. The plot is a monster-fighting story, with Gong being challenged by a bunch of different Neo Humes, each of them with grotesque looks, obnoxious laughs and strange powers (one uses poison gas, one can shapechange into any form, etc.). Since the Neo Humes regenerate from almost any wound except for Gong's arm cannon (which he can only fire once every couple of minutes), each battle contains tons and tons of gore as enemies are blasted to pieces, regenerate, and are blasted again. We soon discover that Gong is being observed from afar by the leaders of the Neo Humes, Mathilda, Adolf (not Adolf Hitler) and their commander Lemiel. It's a little tension-deflating knowing that the bad guys are watching Baron Gong all along and could kill him at any time (they think), but the sinister three want to study Baron Gong's arm implant in search of a solution to the greatest problem of the Neo Humes: they can't reproduce, because when they give birth, the mutant babies just melt into puddles of slime. The plot thickens as Gong travels to Africa, the location of his birth (there's actually a pretty cool story there), and then to Egypt where the final battle with the Neo Humes awaits!
If all this sounds hilariously over-the-top rather than just clichéd—even hilariously clichéd is fine—then this splatter/action manga is for you. Baron Gong Battle combines some of the clever fight sequences of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure (Gong is always using some devious tactic against his enemies), the tentacle-porn sliminess of Apocalypse Zero, and the gung-ho mood of a manga for elementary school students. It's just so damn spirited. All the villains can't stop talking about how wild and unpredictable the hero is (Bad Guy: "You weren't supposed to hit me! You were supposed to get as far away from me as possible while I'm recovering! That's common sense, isn't it?") A lot of the pleasure is in the manga is in Baron's incredibly foul-mouthed dialogue in the English rewrite; since the mood is so shonen, it's kind of like hearing Son Goku drop F-bombs. "Of course I know I can't kill you with my bare hands, you beastly bitch!" shouts Baron Gong. "I just can't stand an asshole like you any longer! I couldn't resist giving you a fist sandwich!" "Shut your pie hole, you murderous freak!" At one point, someone calls a Neo Hume a monster. Baron corrects them. It's not just a monster: "IT'S A FUCKING MONSTER!"
Masayuki Taguchi (Battle Royale, Lives) is clearly having fun drawing this orgy of boobs and violence. His art is polished; the men look like action figures, the women look like sex dolls, and he never misses an opportunity for gore. The backgrounds are detailed and everything looks generally snazzy. His style of character art is rather Western, with his superhero-esque square-jawed hero and his cheesecakey, busty, not-at-all-moe women. He also includes pretty good bonus material, particularly author notes about editorial feedback and his creative process. At one point he reveals that his original idea was to have Baron Gong be a Neo Hume who turned against his own kind, but his editors decided he'd be easier to empathize with if he was just a human with a few Neo Hume powers. (Sort of like how Naruto was originally supposed to be an actual fox spirit.) The best notes are in volume 4, where he does a series of realistic portraits of American movie stars. Sylvester Stallone ("'Rocky' always makes me cry…"). Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sean Connery ("When he was 007, he was a sexy guy, but I think he's a lot sexier now that he's older!"). Or best of all, Bruce Willis ("He's a super tough guy who makes me think of a rock hard penis.") THIS IS AN ACTUAL QUOTE.
And then at the end of the list the final movie star is…BARON GONG! ("I've given him all the balls and courage to be in the same league as all the Hollywood stars I've mentioned!") Baron Gong Battle really is intended as a homage to action movies. The action movies theme also explains why Baron Gong Battle takes place in America. Taguchi's depiction of women and minorities in America is about as tasteful as the rest of the manga, meaning not at all; the way all the black characters are sidekicks or pimps is very…well, the kindest thing I can say is that it's very early '80s. And although Baron Gong Battle doesn't wear its sexism as a badge of honor in the same way as an old Kazuo Koike manga, it's definitely a manga about badass macho dudes and ladies in underwear. Like Apocalypse Zero, there's a certain sense of revulsion at the thought of sticky, sweaty, slimy, soft human flesh. Two of the major boss enemies are BELLE and Bella, a pair of continually naked Neo Hume lesbian twins who kill people by making out; their panting lips and wet tongue form the "Ecstasy Sphere," a Sapphic Sphere of Annihilation which kills everything it touches.
If that image stays in your mind, Taguchi has succeeded. This is a manga of crazy scenes. How about the scene where Baron Gong drives a car into an elevator, rides it to the top floor of a building, drives off the roof and lands on another roof? How about the scene where Baron Gong accelerates his fist by blowing up a heap of gunpowder and lighting his fist on fire just as he punches someone? Or about the shocking moment when -- NO! I CAN'T REVEAL THE SPOILER! -- is sliced in two? And of course, being the ultimate American hero, Gong has a sensitive side too. Who could forget Gong's friendship with the teeny-weeny little girl with pigtails, who ends up hiring him and sharing his whiskey? Or maybe the long-awaited scene when all hope seems lost for Gong and his female sidekick. As their enemy prepares to deliver the killing below, Gong decides now is the time to take his relationship with his sidekick to the next level. "Let's get back to where we were," he tells her. "I haven't had the opportunity to experience your kiss. We did everything that had to be done. Let's fuck like rabbits."
All that buildup, and sadly, only six of nine volumes of Baron Gong Battle were ever translated. I've tried in vain to find the other volumes in Japanese, but to no avail. My Eisner write-in campaign to get it nominated for "Best U.S. Edition of International Material" also went nowhere. This is a trashy manga with few redeeming values, but it's fun, like the cheesy movies that inspired it. (I definitely liked it more than Taguchi's Lives, which is just as trashy and gory but has a more pretentiously moralistic plot.) Here's my plan: I'll roam the earth as long as it takes to track down the remaining volumes of Baron Gong Battle. Then I'll challenge them to combat using this copy of Baron Gong Battle volume 1 that I've grafted to the end of my left arm. I just pray I can take them down before the ink poisoning finishes me off.
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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