JManga.com is a place where you can legally read digital manga online. The site has been controversial for its pricing model, DRM, and limited features. I don’t want to dredge up any of those conversations because they’re lame and whiny. Bottom line: JManga offers manga translated in English that’s unavailable anywhere else, so they’re more relevant to my interests than you probably are.
Takao Saito, one of the early pioneers of the gekiga manga movement and creator of the eponymous Golgo 13, has a bunch of stuff on JManga. I’d love to talk about it, especially considering how little English information is available on these titles. Sadly, JManga doesn’t help in that regard, as it omits basic information such as how many volumes a series actually is, and its year of publication.
Devil King is a 1964 manga originally published in Shonen Sunday. Saito had already been creating manga for nearly a decade by the time it came out, though it predates the creation of Golgo 13 by five years. Devil King stands out from Takao’s other JManga offerings in two notable ways: all four volumes of it are already available on JManga, and it’s a shonen manga. Saito is best known for his adult gekiga, so reading one of his boy’s comics, especially one so unique, was a fascinating new opportunity for me.
Devil King is about Dr. Kobayagawa, a Japanese scientist who’s disgusted by modern society’s disregard for pollution and the natural world. Kobayagawa has devised a strategy to reshape society so it’s more mindful and reverent: he begins experimenting on a scientific treatment that can make a man a hundred feet tall.
Akio is a young boy living with his brother Masao. His parents are dead, and his older brother runs the household, having dropped out of university to raise the money needed for Akio’s tuition. Masao fits the requirements necessary for Kobayagawa’s next experiment, so he is coerced into volunteering. The only loose end, Akio, is assaulted and left for dead.
It’s only after the experiment is a success that Kobayagawa’s entire plan is revealed: he intends to unleash Masao upon Japan, and after a series of elaborate hoaxes, trick society into fearing him as a living god. Once he commands society to live a more natural life, they will be forced to obey. Kobayagawa even gets Masao to willingly agree to the ruse.
What proceeds from here is what you might expect: more utter weirdness. Akio ends up alive and searching for his brother, though he suffers amnesia. Other parties privy to the secret of Kobayagawa’s machinations get involved in the conspiracy.
And I’m left wondering who the hell the target audience is for this story. I wasn’t expecting this comic to operate on such an adult level; even though Akio is intended to be the audience proxy, he is frequently absent, as political intrigue is the main thrust of Devil King. In a lot of ways it’s more sophisticated than many of Takao Saito’s other JManga titles. It’s less of an action series, lacks a clear protagonist, and doesn’t preach a particular message. It’s sort of like an intellectual disaster movie.
This manga is so strange I just had to write about it, but I’m not clear on whether or not it’s something I’d recommend to anyone who isn’t already a diehard Takao Saito enthusiast. There’s one thing I can assure you: it isn’t the sort of thing a print publisher would ever touch, nor would a manga scanlator, and for that reason I’m grateful to have experienced it.