‘Welcome to the New Arms Race!’
From here-on in an alternate ‘now’, world wars will be fought out in hand-to-hand contests between martial artists. Why? The invention of ‘Peacemakers’ have made all those who wear them immune to any kind of weapon attacks. In Russia, President Vladislav Putinov (all bare torso and rippling muscles) demonstrates his invulnerability to the Special Envoy from Japan and tells him, “A world where the strongest among us are those with superior bodies and the power to fight bare-handed.” Russia has developed ‘Czernobogs,’ “martial artists whose muscle mass and bone structure are doubled by special operations… to protect order in Russia and the world beyond.” At the same time we follow a young woman, Sasha Goundarenko, (the White Witch) as she travels to Hakodate to meet with a mysterious survivor of an earlier era in Russia’s troubled history: Rasputin. Sasha, another enhanced martial artist, who has the ability to ‘see’ the past, joins forces with Ryuzo, the great-great-grandson of Toshizou Hijikata and Rasputin to combat Putinov’s Czernobogs. And in the USA, President Billary Quintone has her own human weapon in Axe Bowgun (the US term is ‘Patriot) an Anti-Czernobog agent. Throw into this explosive mix the golden disc ‘The Sounds of Earth’ (sent into space on Voyagers 1 and 2 in 1977) but here, apparently mysteriously appearing in Tunguska in the early twentieth century.
“Can modern science even come up with this kind of thing?” silently wonders the bemused Japanese special envoy, speaking by and large for the goggle-eyed readership of Yasushi Baba’s 6-volume sci-fi/martial arts/political satire mash-up that is Golosseum. The political satire is drawn with big brush strokes and is far from subtle. Way far! In 2015 when this was first published in Japan, the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election was – of course – unknown and it’s interesting that Baba chose to plump for the Clinton/Quintone version. The mangaka has gone into great detail about his monstrous Czernobogs (and their opponents) and thus far the US version, Axe Bowgun seems to be a caricature of Hulk Hogan, while representing the Chinese, we have Li Yan-Long who resembles Bruce Lee quite a lot. There is a plot, laced with intriguing historical flashbacks but, at the end of the day, Golosseum is just an excuse for one massively grotesque smack-down after another, chapter after chapter. I’m no expert when it comes to WWE but I have a great fondness for old-school martial arts manga and anime (Kenichi: the Mightiest Disciple and Tenjo Tenge). This series is nothing like either of those titles as it’s mostly concerned with the political ‘satire’ which is a tad heavy-handed and maybe not as much fun as it could be. It’s difficult to get invested in the characters so far; Sasha is ‘interesting’ but as cold as her nickname suggests and the rather half-hearted attempt by the author to give her a sympathetic back story seems something of an afterthought. But it’s only the first volume so maybe the characterisation will improve. The art style is accomplished, unusual and highly detailed (all those abs and pecs…) but I (personally) don’t find it especially likable. It’s the first of Yasushi Baba’s manga to be published in the West and he seems to have made his name with long-running martial arts series, so certainly he knows how to depict a fight.
This series was originally published in a seinen magazine (no surprises there!) and the extras’ body count is eye-poppingly high (and yes, there’s some of that too). The female characters are portrayed as pneumatic martial artists and double up as cute part-time waitresses in a maid cafe, because, ya’ know, maids…
I haven’t seen the original Japanese release, but Kodansha have done a really neat job with the cover art which is wittily designed to look/read like a DVD/BD, with slogans on the front and the back credits telling us it’s in ‘Color/Black and White’ and the ‘Running Time is 194 pages’. The translation is by Kevin Gifford and reads smoothly – this one must have been quite a feat, given the technical info-dumps and Russian names. (Czernobog is the name of an ancient Slavic deity and means ‘black god’). There are two pages of helpful translator’s notes and a glossy colour title page inside this trade paperback-sized volume.
Golosseum makes its entrance in true WWE larger-than-life style. It’s violent. (Warning: don’t read if you’re fond of tigers.) Which element will win: the political satire, the historical mystery or the desire to just draw some really epic suplexes? (I know which one my money’s on…)
Read the first chapter for free here