Friday, May 8, 2015

Merry Month of Manga Review: REVENGE OF MOUFLON

Raijin Comics was one of the many failed manga distributors of the 2000s manga boom, and they were only known for three things:

    1.  Their full-color editions of Fist of the North Star
    2.  Being the first publisher to put out Slam Dunk
    3.  For publishing weird old manga and manga that simply felt old, like today's selection.

REVENGE OF MOUFLON (Hofuku no Mouflon), written by Ueno Jiro & art by Ono Yochiro.  First published in 2002, and first published in North America in 2004.


Sano Yohei is a popular TV comedian who got into a bit of trouble when he punched a politician in public.  Right now, though, that scandal is the least of his problems.  His flight ends up being hijacked by terrorists who intend to crash the plane into the middle of Tokyo to create financial ruin and chaos.  After the terrorists flee, Sano is the only one who can fly the plane to safety, but only if the Diet and the US Air Force don't try to take the plane down first!


It's kind of sad to think that this manga was about the most current and topical thing that Raijin could lay claim to during their short run; most of their manga dated from the 80s and 90s.  It's certainly topical for its time, as it was all about politics and terrorism, but it's also kind of histrionic, melodramatic, and meant more to glorify the martial spirit of Glorious Nippon than tell a good story.

When I think back on this volume, there are a few things that stand out in my mind.  The first and most notable thing is that EVERYONE IS CONSTANTLY SCREAMING IN THIS BOOK!  Sano, the other passengers, the politicians, the military brass, just everyone is shouting in fear, anger, confusion, or shock.  All this shouting makes everything feel hysterical after a while, whether any given scene is meant to be or not.  The second is that the sheep metaphor is hammered in the reader so often and so thoroughly that it loses all meaning.  The title refers to the mouflon, a species of wild sheep that lives in the mountainous regions of central Asia.  More than once, Sano or one of the other supporting characters liken themselves and Japan as a whole to the mouflon, being proud and independent instead of placid and docile like domestic sheep.  It's a perfectly fine metaphor if not an entirely original idea.  It's just that after the third or fourth time that someone declared that they're not just some dumb sheep I wanted to scream.  It gets to the point where a flight attendant promises to name her unborn child with the characters for mouflon, that's how unsubtle that metaphor gets.

Finally, there's this manga's idea of what constitutes political commentary.  Like a lot of Japanese media, it shows that while Japanese people are perfectly aware of terrorism, especially in the years immediately following 9/11, but that they didn't quite grasp WHY terrorism happened.  It's very strange that for all the fuss they create, the terrorists never reveal why they take over the plane.  It's true - the plot hinges on a plan that is entirely based on the educated guesses of outsiders.  The terrorists take over the plane, only to leave without a single explanation to anyone on the plane or anyone outside of it.  The only thing we ever learn about them is that they can't be fundamentalists because they speak Japanese.  Those aren't my words - those come straight from the manga.  That's a rather naïve statement, as it presumably refers to Islamic fundamentalists, but they could just as easily be political or social fundamentalists, if not just random madmen.  Hell, they could even be ex-employees trying to bring down their former company with a massive scandal!  Why not?  It's just as plausible as "create worldwide financial panic."

The story also doesn't think much of either Japanese politicians or the US military, considering that it treats both parties like monsters that are determined to kill innocent people for the sake of maintaining the status quo.  A smarter manga might have used such a dilemma as a way to explore morality and whether sacrificing the plane for the sake of the greater good would be a necessary evil or not.  Instead, Jiro uses this as the starting point for a massive international conspiracy against the nation of Japan, and one that can only be defeated by the common people coming together to stand up to their oppressors.  This plot veers dangerously close to propaganda at points, riding high on the nationalistic sentiment and hot topics of 2002.  It's just that 13 years later, we can recognize those sentiments as hysterical and paranoid and they simply do not hold up.


Yochiro isn't a bad artist, but his style seems to be an odd match for such serious subject matter.  The characters look and act like over-the-top shonen characters, with huge gaping mouths, bugging eyes, and gritted teeth.  In fact, everything seems to be over-the-top here.  The panels feature lots of low dramatic and frequently Dutch angles, and speedlines are all over the place.  Sure, the action itself is well-drawn, and the backgrounds are nicely traced from real world reference, but it doesn't do anything to help ground all these overacting characters, and it all just adds to the hysterical tone of the story.


Revenge of Mouflon wants to be a daring political thriller, but it's too melodramatic and paranoid to resonate with foreign audiences, much less modern ones.  It feels less like an overlooked classic and more like an embarrassing artifact of its time.

This series was released by Raijin Comics.  This series is complete in Japan, with 7 volumes available.  2 volumes were published and both are currently out of print.

No comments:

Post a Comment