Okay, on to this week's installment of Overlooked Manga Festival!
"Shaenon," said my good friend Jason Thompson, "your description of From Eroica with Love sounds completely insane."
"Well, Jason," I replied, "that's because it is."
(By the way? That's a MAN, baby.)
Based on the manga I've discussed so far, and also my boobs, you may have deduced that I'm a fan of shojo (girls') manga. It's true; although I like all comics that don't suck, I have a soft spot for the chick stuff. (Also, most of my favorite boys' manga, like One Piece and Death Note, are already super popular and have no place in an Overlooked Manga Festival.) And you know what I like even better than shojo manga? OLD shojo manga. The older, the better. Basara, my first Overlooked Manga selection, hails from the 1990s, which makes it better than manga coming out now. Please Save My Earth, last week's choice, is from the 1980s, which makes it even better than Basara. Now we're getting to the real meat: shojo manga from the 1970s, the greatest era of manga.
The 1970s was a hugely important decade for shojo manga. Basically, a whole bunch of young women started drawing manga, took over the whole girls' wing of the industry, and revolutionized it, turning shojo manga into the most interesting and innovative area of Japanese comics. Also, they drew hot men making out. Tragically, very little shojo manga from this awesome, awesome period has been published in English. CMX, DC's manga line, has rendered upon the world a priceless service by publishing two great 1970s shojo manga: Swan and From Eroica with Love. I'm going to talk about Eroica this week, because it's the one that's batshit insane.
It all starts, as so many things do, with three plucky superpowered teens with unintentionally hilarious names:
Laugh all you want, but a lot of manga artists a) don't know what kinds of names non-Japanese people have, and b) don't care. Here in America, we have the grace to admit our ignorance and just name all our Japanese characters "Ken." But in Japan, cartoonists will make up any crazy gaijin-sounding shit they want. Even in Death Note, a mostly serious manga, the white characters all have made-up names like "Wedy." You know what's a better name than "Wedy"? LEOPARD SOLID.
A lesser cartoonist would probably stick with these clean-cut losers. But not Yasuko Aoike, who almost immediately realizes that she has a much better character in their first foe:
Earl Dorian Red Gloria, you say? But what brings you to this manga?
The Earl's turn-ons include globe-trotting, flying around in his personal blimp, moonlighting as the dashing art thief and international criminal "Eroica," and men almost as pretty as himself. His turn-offs include not being the main character, and bears. Obviously, he is a million times better than the nominal heroes of the story, and by halfway through Volume 1 the plucky teens have vanished, never to return. So long, plucky teens!
But wait! This leaves Eroica without either a good guy to battle or a love interest to seduce! Something must be done! Someone must fill the gap!
From the moment NATO officer Major "Iron" Klaus Eberbach appears, the manga hits its groove. The Major wants to stop the Earl, and the Earl wants to do unspeakable naughty things to the Major. And steal stuff. Once they meet, it's all international espionage and guy-on-guy flirtation, for volume after volume after volume (despite its extremely '70s origins, Eroica is still running sporadically in Japan TO THIS VERY DAY).
It's sort of a high-camp Golgo-13... but Golgo is another story and shall be told another time.
Besides the flamboyancy, art-thievery, and blimp ownership, there's one more extremely awesome thing about Eroica:
Yes, Eroica is modeled physically after Led Zeppelin lead Robert Plant. He also has henchmen who look like the other members of the band. Could that be any more wonderful? Could it be any more Seventies? I say nay!
In fact, I realized just now while writing this that the Earl must have "Red" in his name because it's the Japanese pronunciation of "Led." I cannot believe it took me like three years to figure that out. I am so sad.
To hide my shame, I'll distract you with Eroica dressed as a pirate:
Aoike's art is just so-so, at least by the extremely high standards of classic shojo manga. But it gets the job done. And this manga is all about the writing: the (improbable) plots, the (ridiculous) characters, the (completely absurd) intrigue. About the gay stuff, I'm pretty fascinated that, just a few years after the groundbreaking boy-love manga Heart of Thomas and Song of the Wind and Trees, the "pretty boys in love" premise was already common enough to get the tongue-in-cheek (but still sexy) camp treatment in a manga like this. Eroica never takes itself or its protagonists seriously, but that just makes them more lovable.
So that's From Eroica with Love. Super highly recommended. And FABULOUS.