In anticipation of a new chapter in a certain other Space Opera series coming out soon, there's been a sci-fi revival here on Manga Island, specifically old school sci-fi as seen in the anime and manga sensation "Crusher Joe." Recently I took a look at the now defunct Studio Ironcat release of the "Crusher Joe" manga collection. For sci-fi fans looking for a fun romp to gear up for outer space adventures, "Crusher Joe" might be just what you need.
"Crusher Joe" is the brainchild of "Dirty Pair" creator Takachiho Haruka. Set in the world of "Dirty Pair," in the 2160s era future, "Crusher Joe" follows the title character Joe and his team of troubleshooting mercenaries the Crushers. Crushers take on the toughest jobs in the galaxy often risking life and limb to save planets, escort risky cargo, and other special jobs, all for an extremely high fee. If you need the impossible done, odds are you can count on the Crushers.
I was first drawn to "Crusher Joe" through the anime OVA and Movie released by Animeigo. With character designs by the Yasuhiko Yoshikazu (famous for designing characters in "Gundam," "Yuusha Raideen," "Arion" and many others) "Crusher Joe" was one of those fun anime finds for me that I go back to from time to time and enjoy with each viewing. Although "Crusher Joe" is often short on character development, there is a lot of fun to be had in the adventures of Joe and the crew of his ship, the Minerva.
It actually took the breakthrough hit of the first "Star Wars" movie to lay the groundwork for "Crusher Joe" and the space opera genre in Japan. Prior to Star Wars, only a few manga artists were doing anything that could be called space opera. The legitimate sci-fi works were all hard sci-fi or straight sci-fi tales, making it hard for writers such as Takachiho to get their books into the mainstream. With the acceptance of the first "Star Wars" movie, Takachiho went back to his high school notebooks and penned the first "Crusher Joe" novel.
Once the first novel was completed, Takachiho was asked who he might want to illustrate his novels, and he chose Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, whom he had worked with before on "Raideen." Yoshikazu was already an accomplished animator, and after he worked on "Crusher Joe" he went on to do many other illustrations for high profile shows such as "Mobile Suit Gundam," "L-Giam" and a host of others. Definitely one of my favorite Japanese artists, Yasuhiko's works can be seen more recently in the Viz comics release of "Gundam: The Origin" and the Comicsone (now DRMaster) release of "Joan."
On a slightly disappointing note (for me anyway), the manga is done without Yasuhiko on board. The character designs are solid for the most part, Fujihiko Hosono's art is nice, but I would have liked to have seen the original teamup of art and story for the manga. I like the designs of the first story in the manga the best, as I think they capture the characters closest to their original designs. In the 2nd and 3rd stories, the Princess turned Crusher, Alfin undergoes a design change with shimmery hair and a much younger look than I am used to. Even though the "Crusher Joe" series is much more serious than the "Dirty Pair" series, Hosono often employs the standard comedic visual gas seen throughout manga. Deformed faces and broad comedic expressions are par for the course in the manga. I personally don't have a problem with this but some hard sci-fi fans might find this off-putting in the midst of the action.
The three stories in the Crusher Joe manga do seem to rely on a bit of prior knowledge of the characters, especially in the first story, where we are thrust into a situation with little explanation as to the world and technology of the Crusher universe. However, fans of the anime get a bit of a treat in the form of a flashback that explains why Joe's farther (one of the founding Crushers) decides he has had enough of the Crusher lifestyle. In this story, the Joe's crusher team must find a randomly warping ghost ship, in order to prove or disprove its existence to an insurance agency. Since it is seemingly impossible, Crushers are called in to do the task no one else can. Of course, things are not always what they seem with the information they are given from their client, and the appearance of space pirates that also want the ghost ship, only makes matters worse. Joe has to use his legendary cool headedness to cheat death and get his fee once again.
The second story in the manga is interesting in that it shares some of the elements of the Crusher Joe Movie. Even the name of one of the characters is similar to the movie version. I felt as if it was perhaps a prototype story for what the movie became. This second story also showcases a bit more of Joe's teammates. The obligatory young, smart-mouthed, Ricky, the stoic hulking cyborg Tallos, and the aforementioned ex-princess Alfin, along with the Minerva's robot pilot Dongo, are represented more in this and the third story, allowing the reader to see more of what they are all about.
There are some nice twists in the latter two stories as well, that add a bit of depth to the chaotic action that defines the typical Crusher Joe story. Considering the copyright on the manga is 1979, it's not a bad collection of stories. The tech represented in the book is well rendered and there are many pieces of genuinely cool ship and weapon design. Like the movie, the manga doesn't pull any punches with the blood and violence, although there is not much out and out gore to speak of. Considering the title doesn't carry a rating, I would give it a Teen+ rating based on the violence in the stories.
Over all, I think that Crusher Joe is a great way to get your pulp sci-fi fix, although I recommend that readers watch the DVDs before picking up the manga, if possible. For me it was nice to be back in the world of the Crushers, as they turn around seemingly impossible odds into a situation that spares their lives and earns them the insanely high fees the Crushers earn for their services. If you are a manga fan looking for action and adventure, or a comics fan who likes their sci-fi mixed with a bit of humor and larger than life teams of heroes, then I suggest you find a copy of the Crusher Joe graphic novel as soon as possible. Especially if you want to whet your appetite for the upcoming space opera released next week. Or, even better reminisce along with the Crusher Joe creators with the 1979 version that paved the way for the Crushers in the first place. Although there are newer, slicker sci-fi stories out there, the Crusher world is always a welcome addition.
Volume 1 (of 1) (collects single volume monthlies into one trade paperback)
Rating (T+) (my own rating applied based on themes and violence)
Links of interest:
The defunct Studio Ironcat catalog
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. 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.