I’ve been reading a lot of Go Nagai manga recently, and I’ve been watching the 2011 Ghastly Prince Enma Burning Up cartoon, which Nagai himself says is “most him” out of all his past television shows.
I’m a man in search of greater understanding. I call myself a fan of Go Nagai, the prolific Japanese cartoonist whose production house, Dynamic Pro, has been pushing the limits of children’s manga and anime since 1969. But how well do I understand the man’s work?
Go Nagai’s style is frenetic, even by modern standards. Raunchy and irreverent, it’s one in which pervy gags and acts of violence are mercilessly hurled in succession.
For years I appreciated Go Nagai most intensely for the anime versions of his super robot, or “mecha” titles. Stuff like Mazinger Z and Getter Robo was foundational to my appreciation of mecha, which as of late has become so burdened by the legacy of Evangelion and Gundam you might forget “fun” was ever the point.
After encountering Go Nagai’s horror manga, my focus began to shift. Demon Lord Dante was gripping on a level I had never experienced with a horror comic before. Reading Devilman was like getting punched the stomach, the impact was so great. At this time, I began looking past his anime adaptations, to try and understand the more visceral manga visions which birthed them. Even at its most robotic, Nagai’s work was frequently monstrous.
Most recently I’ve been growing curious about the area in which Go first established himself: his outrageously perverted comics. Titles like Harenchi Gakuen and Dororon Enma-kun, the latter of which was the basis of the cartoon I mentioned at the beginning of this post. What makes this work tick? Is there anything substantive that can be appreciated about it now? Will a greater understanding of it contribute to a greater understanding of his other work?
I used to think Go Nagai was awesome when he stopped trying to make funny boob jokes. I already disagree with that past assessment. It’s unfair to think Nagai has vastly different modes of storytelling. His most serious work often has its lighthearted moments, and similar sexual proclivities permeate just about everything he works on. So I don’t want to contribute to the illusion that there’s a “good” Go Nagai and a “bad” Go Nagai, or even an “action” Go Nagai and a “pervy” Go Nagai. His varied traits all bleed together and you end up with a hugely influential legacy, certain parts of which you’ll inevitably like more than others.
So join me this month, as I try to synthesize my evolving view of Go Nagai, all while watching rad cartoons and comics! You know you want to.