How do you bring back a popular cop noir comic years after the original series ended?
If you’re Japanese, you usually do it as if not a day has passed. In the case of JIRAISHIN, you do it in a way that’s even darker and more intense than before in JIRAISHIN DIABLO.
I’m a big fan of the original JIRAISHIN manga series. The basic premise of the series was deceptively simple: a cop who hunts the worst, most dangerous criminals who might be even more dangerous and scary than they are. He doesn’t so much solve crimes as put down mad dogs, vaguely indulging a death wish and relishing the chance that they might kill him first in their final confrontation.
The Japanese really understand their popular franchises. They know never to kill off popular characters because they can always bring them back later after their original series end.
JIRAISHIN DIABLO began serialization in 2008, about nine years after JIRAISHIN ended with cop hero Kyouya Iida perched on the edge of an existential abyss with nowhere else to go. The world has changed, permeated with the internet, smartphones, blogs and social media, but some things have not only stayed the same but perhaps gotten worse: a village on an island off the Japanese peninsula, near the coast of South Korea had been completely wiped out by a mysterious strain of flu after being quarantined and ignored by the Japanese government. Only handful of people know the truth: the flu virus was a weaponised strain developed by a Japanese biochemical company and tested on the village. The company’s ties to the government has prompted the latter to cover up the incident and the public barely even knew the village even existed, on an island where Japanese citizens were rumoured to be abducted, either by North Korea or even worst people, possibly for illegal medical experiments.
And even then, things get crazy when four survivors on the island film a video and one of them gets it to the Japanese mainland to leak on the internet.
Kogure, a police detective, wants to find the truth about the village because his sister and her family lived there, especially when he calls in some favours in the intelligence services and discovers the four survivors include his cop brother-in-law and his niece. If they’re still alive, he wants to save them and bring them back to the mainland. Knowing he has to sidestep legal means, he decides he needs the help of someone willing to go into the darkness with him, a cop and investigator with a reputation for taking things right to the edge and beyond it:
There’s one big difference from the old series here: Iida is no longer a cop. He left the force when he contracted a rare eye disease that took away his sight and has been living in seclusion with Aya Koike, an information broker who previously appeared in the original series as a precocious and manipulative teenager who became embroiled in one of his murder cases.
Kogure is willing to go as far as donating one of his corneas to Iida to partially restore his sight. The race is on to uncover the truth, expose what’s really behind the death of the villagers before spies from the government decide to clean house and get rid of everyone involved. To make things worse, the fourth survivor, Park Tae-Hyun, a Korean mercenary has taken it upon himself to go on a rampage of murder against the corporation and the government spooks who hired him to oversee the village in its death throes. Now bodies start piling up and everyone is in danger.
And through it all, there is Iida. Cold, impassive, waiting, deadly, the last wild card, a Molotov cocktail to a powder keg that’s already been set alight.
And, as often occurred in the old series, the deadliest killer in the story feels a kinship with Iida: he and Park are both outsiders and killers who have seen horrors and the worst humanity can offer, who are more than willing to act with deadly force. Park is more just another mad dog. He has his own agenda in the private war he wages against the Japanese government and the corporation.
I was intrigued with Jiraishin and Kyouka Iida because of how the series twists the crime genre into something else altogether. The conservative appeal of Crime fiction is the fantasy of a cop or detective sorting through the chaos of the world into a structure that makes sense and restores order, the status quo. Iida doesn’t so much restore order to the status quo as prevent another flood of darkness from encroaching any further on a world already shrouded in darkness. There is nothing particularly reassuring in this series. His portrayal in Jiraishin Diablo is more abstract and interesting than ever, framed visually almost like a kind of mythical demon that’s feared and respected. His reputation has been built up so much that even two fully-armed government agents are terrified of him when he steps into the room. Their terror ends up fully justified. Before he receives his cornea transplant, he’s first seen sitting silently in a dark room with a drink, hunched over and waiting like an ogre in a cave. Even the surgeon who performs the illegal operation to partially restore his sight asks if it’s a good idea to unleash Iida on the world once more after years of him living in peace and blindness. And an Iida who’s no longer a cop, unrestrained by judicial procedure, is completely off the leash. When asked about his restored sight, he replies, “Perfect. All I see are idiots.”
Jiraishin Diablo is a miniseries, a single case for Kyouya Iida that takes place over three 200-page volumes so readers can experience one story escalating into bigger stakes and more intensity. The third volume was published in 2011 after its initial serialisation in the Seinen anthology Good! Afternoon ended.
Writer-artist Tsutomu Takahashi is fairly unique amongst Japanese comics creators in that his style is totally, unmistakably his. There’s no moe, big-eyed cutesiness and there’s almost relish in the way he uses negative space, shadows, greytones and negative space to create an atmosphere so dark and claustrophobic that it makes JIRAISHIN DIABLO feel more like Horror than Crime. You could argue that the series might in fact really be horror after all, the horror of human depravity and indifference. Where most crime comics in the US are about the fun of the genre conventions, Jiraishin and Jiraishin Diablo have pushed the envelope of how far to take extreme subject matters while also pushing the technical boundaries of comics. Takahashi has pulled off innovative storytelling stunts even back in the 1990s so stunning that they blew my mind, and that no one in the West has ever copied or adopted.
I sometimes wonder if there’s any point in writing about a comic series that’s almost certainly never going to be translated or published in English, that the majority of comics fans would never get to read. Is that like dangling a piece of salmon in front of a cat and never letting it eat it? Is it the delicious agony of knowing about something good you can never have? Or is it adding some new knowledge to the base of pop culture knowledge for everyone who cares about comics? I suppose people can go off in search of copyright-violating fan translations but even in this case, there are no more than the first few chapters available online – the series has never been completely translated even by fans. I bought the Japanese editions of the series because I couldn’t even find the Chinese editions and had to depend on Japanese friends to translate for me when they were in town. Where does this leave us? For me to say I highly recommend it, but there’s no way you can read it unless you decide to learn Japanese? What a strange position to end on.
Brooding darkly for comics at email@example.com
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