Another classic comes to the shores of Manga Island with Takao Saito’s ‘Golgo 13.” The title character is a stoic icon in the manga, anime and video game world and is known the world over. Saito’s sideburned assassin has been entertaining hardboiled manga fans since 1968 (the manga is over 138 volumes) with his unflinching style and flair for taking on missions that seem impossible.
Duke Togo, known as the professional alias, Golgo 13 (most likely named for Golgotha “The Skull,” the hill on which Jesus was crucified), is the kind of guy that fans of James Bond love and most women love to hate. While not as suave and wisecracking as Bond, he does operate on many of the same principles. He is all about getting the job done no matter what and if there is an available lady, bed her if you can. A product of the same era as early Bond tales, Duke Togo’s lack of emotional connection and slightly misogynistic nature are ingrained into the character. As a reader, you always know what you are going to get with a “Golgo 13” story, while surprises and plot twists abound, the character of Golgo 13 is always firmly intact, not willing to be dragged into the new age of sensitive guys and political correctness. He is the penultimate playboy tough guy, who also happens to be versed in many languages, several forms of martial arts and has a 99.999999% accuracy with a sniper rifle.
I first encountered Golgo 13 through the first “Golgo 13” game on the 8 bit Nintendo Entertainment System. It definitely set the tone in my mind for what the character was all about, and was quite risqué for the system. A brutal game for its time (full of sniping head shots and plenty of mowing enemies down with gunfire), it also had the first implied sex scene I’d seen in a game, and certainly the first on the NES. Each level interstitial usually revolved around meeting a girl in a hotel room, followed by an external shot of the hotel room, showing the couple’s silhouette moving downwards, the lights go out and Golgo’s health refilling. I’m guessing the folks at Rockstar games may have played a few levels of Golgo 13 in the years before they created “Grand Theft Auto.” As a junior high-schooler, I couldn’t believe how cool Duke Togo could be. A few years later, I read the now long out of print “Golgo 13” comics that were adapted here in the states by Lead Publishing (I really wish I would have bought those!) and I became a fan of the movie, which introduced me to how adult anime could be. Over the years, “Golgo 13” has been adapted for US audiences several times with various releases of the “Golgo 13” movie (dubbed by the now defunct Streamline Pictures and most recently released in subtitled form) on DVD by Urban Vision, the OVA (Original Video Animation) Queen Bee, 2 NES games (Top Secret Episode and Mafat Conspiracy [an excellent old school game!]), a live action version starring Sonny Chiba, and several comic publishers, including an out of print version by Viz that came before this release. This latest adaptation is based on a 13 issue “best of” collection released previously in Japan. With 138 volumes to pull from, Viz was smart in licensing this collection (Takao Saito had a hand in putting it together) to test the waters for the series.
The first volume in this latest series is set in 1997 during the Clinton administration and deals with a super cannon being built in Iraq (loosely based on historical fact) that can shell the East Coast in such a way that the US would be unable to shoot the shell out of the sky. The US government is shaken to its core as the threat from Iraq takes an unpleasant term. Hiring Golgo 13 the only alternative to an all out attack on Iraqi soil, something the administration wants to avoid at all cost. In addition to the existing political intrigue, the story also involves lost engineering secrets, vengeful promises, murder this story was a timely and controversial pick on Viz’s part indeed. It’s interesting to see Takao Saito’s take on the politics of the time, with a story of arms buildup in Iraq, especially considering the buildup to the Iraq war and our present situation in that area. One intriguing aspect to “Golgo 13” is the fact that Duke Togo’s presence as a Japanese (or at least part Japanese) person places Japan in these political circles by proxy. Wherever he goes (even in disguise) Duke Togo brings Japan into international intrigue, the way Bond represents England, and Jack Ryan brings the US into the fray (in Golgo 13’s own anti-hero way, of course).
The second story in volume 1 is interesting in that it doesn’t deal directly with Golgo 13 at all. Instead, it tells the story of a detective who once encountered the assassin before. The detective instead, uses the reputation of Golgo 13 to attain his goals and set in motion a plan to strike fear into a mob boss who hit was responsible for a hit and run accident that almost killed the detective’s fiancé. While there is a vague hint of Golgo 13 being involved it is and odd choice for the first volume, but it hits home his widespread reputation of being a cold blooded killer.
Takao Saito’s art style has remained a constant of the past 37+ years, even though he employs a large number of assistants (he has his own Saito Productions company, where he acts as a sort of director). “Golgo 13” is an interesting mix of hard edge “classic” manga style; it also has a touch of caricature at times. Famous faces are recognizable but somewhat malleable in Saito’s style. Although it is more sketchy and fluid than many newer manga artists, it is original and instantly recognizable. Golgo 13’s travels take him all over the world, which provides Saito a chance to draw many different cultures and ethnicities. He never shies away from this, even though he sometimes goes for a stereotypical look depending on the subject he is drawing. However, it is refreshing to see manga-ka’s take on the facial features of people from different countries and backgrounds, rather than the somewhat more generic manga look where everyone has a mostly Asian/ Caucasian look, differentiated only by their eyes or hairstyle. Saito is certainly old school, and doesn’t really show any interest in being PC, but his style has an interesting rough edge that many older manga fans might find nostalgic. With older books doing poorly in the market for the most part (Lupin and Cyborg 009, as well as others, were not a commercial success), it’s nice that Viz’s signature line is playing to adult manga readers. I am curious; however, to see titles that might appeal to the older female manga market as books like this one are very testosterone driven. In Golgo 13’s case thought, we wouldn’t want him any other way.
The final finishing touch to “Golgo 13” Volume 1 is a multi-page dossier of facts about Golgo 13, and his alter ego as Duke Togo. This supplemental material has a wealth of information on Golgo 13’s habits, the theories behind how he decided on his moniker, and even a blurb about how amazing his private parts are (this had me chuckling). This is a nice addition to an already great over all presentation.
“Golgo 13” is a great book for those who don’t mind manly-man James Bond style tales full of women for the taking, seemingly impossible missions, car chases, violence, and revenge a-plenty. On the surface, Golgo 13 may seem like a fairly 2-dimensional character, but I suppose that is part of the charm. Even with his lack of growth, the nature of Viz’s collection promises to keep things interesting, as the stories hop forward and backward in time, and the politics and issues of each time period are reflected in the mirror of Golgo 13’s hardboiled vengeance filled world. Hopefully this edition will generate more interest in these stories and in older manga in general. I know I will be visiting the older school area of Manga Island, thankful for the chance to revisit the manga of yesteryear.
Created by Takao Saito
Rating: Mature, for violence, sexuality, and language (shrink-wrapped)
Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop, PSY-COMM Volume 1 is out RIGHT NOW!!. He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.