Manga: Frankenstein vs. the Subterranean Monster

 

Frankenstein vs. the Subterranean Monster


Japanese Comic Title

フランケンシュタイン対地底怪獣
[Furankenshutain Tai Chitei Kaiju]

Authors:

Kaoru Mabuchi

Pencils:
Inks:
Colors:
Language:
Release:
Publisher
:
Pages:

Asakazu Arikawa
Asakazu Arikawa
-
Japanese
2017
Kodansha
32

Covers:

Asakazu Arikawa

Comic

Monsters

Frankenstein
Frankenstein
Baragon
Baragon



Review

By: Nicholas Driscoll

One of the more exciting aspects of the Godzilla All Movie DVD Collectors Box Sets is that not only do they include Godzilla manga reprinted and available for the first time in ages, but also manga adaptations of some of the other tokusatsu films which I thought I would never get my hands on! So far I have picked up manga/illustrated story reprints of such tokusatsu film notables as Mothra (1961), The Mysterians (1957), Space Amoeba (1970), The War of the Gargantuas (1966) and today’s manga topic of note, Asakazu Arikawa’s adaptation of Frankenstein vs. Baragon (1965). Frankenstein’s giant monster movie debut gets relatively little attention in the west despite its unique premise, so unsurprisingly any adaptations thereof have been even more forgotten—if they had ever been known in the first place. However, the story is worth looking at again in any form—and that goes double for the manga version, it’s quirks, it’s strengths and weaknesses.

Since the manga story takes a few minor detours from the movie, let’s just have a rundown of the major events depicted therein. The story of the manga version begins with a dramatic exchange taking place during World War II between the Nazis and the Japanese. Just as a mysterious black box is delivered to a Japanese submarine, the Axis allies are revealed by a flash bomb in the sky, and then attacked by fighter planes. As the Nazis sacrifice themselves in combat, the Japanese escape unharmed but befuddled—what could be so valuable that the Nazis would be willing to give their lives for the exchange? Inside the black box they discover the answer—the living heart of Frankenstein! (“Frankenstein” here is really Frankenstein’s monster.) The Japanese plot to create an army of immortals by mining the secrets of the heart via experimentation in Hiroshima, but their plans go up in nuclear smoke along with most of the rest of the city when the atomic bomb is dropped and the war ends soon after.

Manga: Frankenstein vs. the Subterranean Monster
Frankenstein loves electricity--and check out that bizarre enormous toe!

Jump forward a few years and American Dr. Bowen is taking care of an enormous monster man in Hiroshima. The giant monster, known simply as Frankenstein, is chained down but well fed at the Hiroshima Nuclear Hospital. Dr. Bowen and a nameless Japanese male assistant (Kawaji, presumably, though he goes unnamed in the manga) talk with the press, and then meet... another nameless Japanese guy who proposes to explain the origins of Frankenstein. This nameless individual proceeds to tell the story of how, fifteen years ago, he had received the heart of Frankenstein from the Germans, and brought it to a secret laboratory in Hiroshima. Dr. Bowen and his assistant are shocked. The press, meanwhile is gathered around Frankenstein, so we know something is going to go bad—and sure enough, a goon throws a glass bottle at Frankenstein’s head, and the monster goes ballistic and escapes. However, instead of breaking the chains, Frankie rips both his arms in half and apparently instantly regrows them! The monster then smashes up some local cars, seems to enjoy sapping some electricity from the high-tension wires, roars at a bunch of cops who were shooting him, and disappears.

Soon after that, Baragon emerges from a lake to smash, eat, and roast alive the local campers in their tents. The military, hearing witnesses describe the event, immediately assume the perpetrating monster is Frankenstein (I guess the survivors didn’t describe the monster very well?). Dr. Bowen’s puzzling insists that Frankenstein would never hurt a human (perhaps the Frankenstein monster has a very different modus operandi in this fictional universe), but the military won’t listen. However, before the military can track down and attack our misunderstood hero, Baragon bursts from the ground and snatches Bowen in his clutches. Apparently Frank was just hiding in the bushes nearby and listening because he leaps out at an opportune time and frees Bowen, has a real donnybrook with Baragon, eventually snapping the dinosaur kaiju’s neck. And at just that time an earthquake hits and Frankenstein and Baragon are buried in an avalanche. Dr. Bowen (who survived) proclaims that Frankenstein is immortal and will emerge again someday. The end.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference that is immediately apparent is that Kumi Mizuno’s character, Sueko, never appears—and Dr. Bowen has a huge white beard and crazy devil-horn shaped hair! Many other aspects of the story have been drastically shortened—when we first encounter Frankenstein, he is already fully grown (the manga strongly hints that this monster grew from the heart, not that it was eaten by a hungry orphan, for what it is worth). In this version, Kawaji never tries to kill Frankenstein, and Frankenstein saves Dr. Bowen from Baragon in lieu of Sueko. Most of these trimmings are due to the fact that the comic is only 32 pages long—you can’t include everything from the movie in so short an adaptation.

Still, thankfully, we get some crunchy monster action, including a more menacing Baragon than depicted in the movie and scenes of rampant human death and destruction, albeit not on a city-wide scale. The actual fight between Frankenstein and Baragon is spread over several pages, and is rendered using many large panels to emphasize the size of the beasts. This fight also revels in the physicality of the combatants; it definitely is no beam battle, as both Frank and Baragon bite each other. Baragon does use his flame breath on Frank, though, and Frank in turn pummels Barry (Frank and Barry? Frankenberry! So that’s where that cereal came from!) with punches to the gut, uppercuts and a swift whack from a tree trunk before feeding the dinosaur a boulder. When Frankenstein finally kills Baragon by literally wrapping his arms and legs around the dinosaur’s neck and squeezing until the bones break, in the very next panel the avalanche starts so that it looks like the sound of the breaking bone actually triggered the avalanche. I don’t think this was intentional, but I love the Pyrrhic victory sense going on with that interpretation.

Manga: Frankenstein vs. the Subterranean Monster
Frankenstein and Baragon really lay into each other!

The art was done by Asakazu Arikawa, who is not exactly famous today. After doing some searching, I found that he is perhaps most famous for not CREATING but for continuing a judo manga called Igaguri Kun. At any rate, as with many manga at the time, the influence from Osamu Tezuka and his imitators seems apparent, with the usual kind of round, simple, cartoony exaggerated style to the human characters.

In terms of how the monsters are depicted, Frankenstein’s design seems influenced by the Universal Monsters Frank, and as with Boris Karloff’s interpretation, Frank here sometimes has that same sort of determined grin. However, for some reason he seems to only have one toe! Baragon looks better to me, though not exactly suit accurate. I enjoy his hundreds of warts or dots that speckle his hide. Panel layouts are simple and straightforward, but not too crowded, with a tendency for large panels, making for a fast, exciting read.

The  Frankenstein vs. the Subterranean Monster manga was originally published in Bouken Ou (“Adventure King”) magazine, but unlike some of the other manga extras that came with the DVD box sets, this one does not have advertisements along the sides of each page—though a full color ad for Bouken Ou’s own Electric Coin Box is featured on the back cover. Again unlike some of the other reprints, this one actually has a fairly decent cover to protect the pages inside, and the cover is in color, which is a lot better than some of the other bare-bones prints! The trade off in this case is that the manga is much smaller than the approximately manga-magazine-size ones used for other movie mangas like Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.

For me, I thought this manga was deliciously fun to read—the language is not hard and it is easy to figure out what is going on, the art is cute and dynamic if somewhat forgettable, and everything is finely focused on action rather than grim considerations of politics and war—though this story could easily have veered much more serious and probably been the better for it. Fans of the movie will probably enjoy this manga as well. If you can pick up the manga relatively cheap, go for it—I think you will have a great time.