I feel a pretty fortunate fellow to still have all my old issues of PULP sitting on the shelf back at home. To say that the monthly comics anthology-which was home to our very own head honcho, Patrick Macias, among others-was instrumental in the formative years of my writing career would be a severe understatement. Even overstating this fact would be an understatement. But beyond my own influences, PULP was just a hell of a read, and anyone here that used to pick it up can probably expound upon that in even greater detail.
One of the many titles that cut those pages to figurative ribbons was Toyokazu Matsunaga’s Bakune Young, a serial of which there is shockingly little information online. Even Ryuguden, a relatively more recent Matsunaga series, is afforded a sentence-long plot summary on Anime News Network. Bakune Young is not.
It’s not like it defies synopsis; it all starts out simply enough. Take a look at the way the first volume opens, for instance. The titular roughneck-big and ungainly with all the subtle looks of a handicapped linebacker-sits in a crowded pachinko parlor, singing along to his headphones in as obnoxious a way as possible. When some low-ranking yakuza with a pencil-thin ‘stache tells Shoichi Bakune to simmer down, he answers by smashing his face repeatedly into the glass of a pachinko machine with the type of amusement usually associated with a big jackpot payout.
From there, the horse is way out the gate, and Bakune’s seemingly unprovoked one-man war against the yakuza is already on fire in more ways than one. An explosion and a violent baseball bat head-bashing later and Bakune still isn’t hiding. Instead, he’s hijacking an anchor’s chair on the NHK Evening News and announcing his dirty deeds to any other yakuza that might be listening. Just like the back of the first graphic novel screams, “that’s just the first twenty pages!” His transgressions against the cutthroat types of Japan range from simple acts of brute force to kidnapping the most powerful yakuza in the nation and scribbling “The Don of Nippon” on his forehead with a Sharpie, and they rise to ghastly crescendos.
The entirety of the series’ contents-first emerging in 1995 and eventually spread across three graphic novels-proudly showcases generous levity on top of the piling body count amassed courtesy of Young’s many vulgar displays of power. It’s as action/comedy as you can get, and the only thing that might disguise this to some is the hyper-detailed art style that spares no one when depicting every incident of massive head trauma within.
I’ve read some reactions to Bakune Young over the years, and they’re usually either hot or cold. A typical lukewarm three-word response might simply be “art is bad,” but even on a subjective level that sounds pretty suspect. His concepts may be wild, but his pen is as controlled as can be. Even the rowdiest of imagery rarely seems as if it’s wriggling out of Matsunaga’s tight grip. Moreover, Bakune‘s pages are home to some of the most unique layouts and transitions around. A cacophony of cackling heads spiraling all over a two-page spread, kanji and katakana strewn about recklessly; it smells like brazen insanity but it’s just the type of calculated composition that makes each page a blast to turn.
Bakune Young represents, like many similarly frenetic titles, the type of energy that is unique to the comics medium. More so than anywhere else, everything imaginable can be pulled off on these pages. There aren’t any budgetary constraints keeping a cavalcade of whirling onomatopoeia from drilling through some smug actor’s skull, no limits to the amount of animation frames the studio can commit to a given sequence; it’s all there for the creator to play with and deliver directly to the audience. In a world like that, it’s more than worth it to take some time out of your day to unearth an errant classic like Bakune Young and pay its unrestricted madness a visit.
While it isn’t as easy to find in the wild anymore, used copies of each volume as well as some new ones can be found online pretty painlessly.
Images © 2000 Toyokazu Matsunaga / Shogakukan Inc.