Title: Ryu, the Strongest Man on the Face of the Planet (地上最強の男竜)
Serialized in: Shonen Magazine 1977
Art and story by: Kaze Shinobi and Dynamic Pro
Genre: Super New Sense Manga
What it’s about:
Karate fighter Raion Ryu is so unflinchingly powerful that, during a sanctioned match, his strikes accidentally explode his opponent into piles of steaming meat. As punishment he dons a sutra-infused mask to suppress his horrific might and goes into hiding with his psychic sister, but the two are eventually hunted down by his ex-master and the fiancé of the man Ryu killed. While their modus operandi would appear to be revenge, they follow divine instructions from up above—Destroy Ryu before he can awaken as the Antichrist! God himself has put out a hit on our masked hero.
When his assassins fail, God revives his begotten son, the King of Kings, Jesus Christ, to take down Ryu once and for all. But Ryu is merely a good-natured man struggling with the absolute power that threatens to corrupt him. Wouldn’t antagonizing him run the risk of stirring the dark energy within? Is Christ really who he claims to be? And what do the unborn children of the universe have to say about this wantonly destructive clash?
Why it’s awesome:
Before you get the wrong idea that this is a high-handed parable between good and evil, note that Jesus uses his necromantic powers to enlist two of history’s greatest ass-kickers, Bruce Lee and Miyamoto Musashi, as his generals.
Kaze Shinobu’s crisp and clean artistry makes it easy to miss that, yes, what you are reading is indeed a parody. Or at least tongue-in-cheek. The 1970 Osaka World Fair brought with it a spiritual boom that opened people’s homes to the lure of occultism. Shirato Sampei's ninjas were replaced by psychic warriors and black magicians. Yokai took a back seat to ghosts and Biblical demons. Cloaked in the tropes established by this Cultural Revolution, Ryu is free to commit storytelling murder. Where do his sister’s prophetic powers come from? Why were Jesus’ body parts sealed away in Buddha statues? How does Ryu eat with his mask on? Readers accept these discrepancies as par for the course, while the mad author suspends disbelief until it’s blue in the face.
Nothing is explained. Ever. Ryu is the precursor to the irreverent action OVAs from the late 80’s that washed up on American shores in the mid-90’s. Ninja Scroll, Fist of the North Star, Wicked City —these names should send a tingle down the spine of anyone who discovered anime when it was still called “Japanimation.” High octane is the name of the game, and like Ryu, they don’t have time to waste expounding on how the cast came to obtain super-human abilities, opting to let the brilliantly bizarre fight scenes do all the talking.
The resulting tableau of fists, skulls, and sutras resonates deep within your reptilian brain. It harkens back to a time when anime and manga where bombastic events, where storytelling could be pushed to the side by evocative art and high concepts. Kaze Shinobu isn’t shy about stealing layouts and visual motifs wholesale from his chief inspiration, French comic artist and visual designer Philippe Druillet. When one artist copies another from the same sphere of influence, it’s considered derivative. When it brings together two estranged schools of art, it’s cause for celebration.
Why it won’t come out in English:
This western sensibility made Kaze Shinobu the perfect harbinger of manga in the Americas . After obtaining a foothold on foreign soil in the March 1980 issue of Heavy Metal magazine, his work seemed poised to spearhead the invasion. Alas, for whatever reason his time in the spotlight never came. (Perhaps a knowledgeable manga historian could clue me in.) In any case, he missed the boat. Fandom has since outgrown such egregious blood and brain smeared fare and returned to its pre-occultism roots: Ninjas and pirates. The parody, it would seem, has outlived its usefulness.
Still, there will always be an audience derisive enough to appreciate the title at face value. Kaze Shinobu may be a forgotten hallucination in his native land, but the cosmic gravity of his art only grows stronger as the years pass. The final image of Ryu splitting the earth in two with a Mach 90 megaton punch is too sensational to ignore. Ryu creates more questions than answers, each brutal blow sounding the same unspoken inquiry: "When will people be ready for me?"