Title
 Kaiju Raban
Author(s)
 Shigeru Mizuki
Pencils: Shigeru Mizuki Inks: -
Language: Japanese Release: 2009
Publisher: Shogakukan Pages: 128
Colors: - Cover: Shigeru Mizuki
   
Monster Appearances: Aliens, SDF, & Misc Appearances:
Raban, Godzilla N/A
Comments
Nicholas Driscoll

Imagine, as a big comic book and Godzilla fan, if you were to find out today that, back in the 1950s, Jack Kirby (who had a hand in creating most of the early iconic Marvel characters, and whose art style changed superhero comic history) had made a Godzilla comic. Any Godzilla fan who cares a smidge about comics would be imploding with excitement about such a revelation. I preface this review of Kaiju Raban in this way because it’s difficult to really explain how awesome it is that Shigeru Mizuki actually created a Godzilla comic in that decade. Like Jack Kirby, Shigeru Mizuki was a huge innovator in the comic scene—only instead of superheroes in America, Mizuki contributed much to the horror and monster comic scene in Japan over the years (as well as comic book biographies, etc). Mizuki created the STILL crazily popular Gegege no Kitaro comic, which has been adapted into numerous cartoons and even several live-action films. Perhaps a better analog might be if Godzilla had appeared in a Tales from the Crypt story—though Mizuki’s works are perhaps not usually quite as gory as some of EC’s most explicit tales. The gist: Kaiju Raban is a crystallization of old school cool.

Let me just briefly go over the story for now. It’s difficult to discuss the story much without spoilers, though. Suffice it to say, for those who really want to track down this comic and read it themselves spoiler-free, the story involves some folks going on an expedition to bring back Godzilla’s blood in order to perform experiments upon said blood and find the secret to immortality. Said expedition goes horribly awry, and the result is a giant monster called Raban.

Want to know more? You’re not actually going to go to the trouble of importing the comic and learning enough Japanese to read it, yet you still want to know the story? Let me give you a somewhat longer synopsis, with LOTS OF SPOILERS in it:

The story centers around two student rivals—Ichirou Mizuki, a brilliant student from a very poor background, and Jirou Ikawa, a brilliant student from a rich family. Ichirou is the smarter of the two, and the more virtuous—Jirou essentially only cares about himself and his own glory. At any rate, events conspire to put Ichirou and Jirou together on an expedition to collect Godzilla’s blood—they go together with a collection of (hopefully more qualified!) individuals to New Guinea, to the foot of Porogon Mountain, where Godzilla is currently hanging out. (I found out later, after finishing the book, that Shigeru Mizuki had spent time during WWII in New Guinea, which most likely influenced this story.) Before taking off in a plane for the journey, Jirou’s younger sister Keiko gives Ichirou a good-luck charm for protection. (I think she wanted Jirou to have the thing, but Jirou is a total donkey-faced jerk and refuses it, berating his sister and calling her names.)

Anyway, personality issues aside, they zip off to New Guinea—and are promptly blasted out of the sky by Godzilla. The survivors regroup and make camp, but nearly all of them are killed off when Godzilla raids again—albeit one resourceful fellow manages to extract Godzilla’s blood with a harpoon-like bloodsucking device. Too bad he dies straight after. Ichirou and Jirou are the only survivors, but when the local nasty natives toss a poisoned spear through Ichirou’s leg, Jirou takes the opportunity to snatch the blood vial from his rival and leave him for dead in the jungle. Jirou thinks he is about to get off scot-free and be hailed as a hero for bringing the G-blood back, but then, when a rescue ship arrives, Ichirou appears too—and looks like a ghastly zombie due to the poisoned spear. As they leave in the ship together, Jirou is upset—he doesn’t want the world to know he is a totally evil creep. So Jirou tricks Ichirou into believing he has some miracle drug, and instead injects his rival with Godzilla’s blood—hoping it will kill Ichirou off, I guess. Instead, Ichirou turns into a big lizard, but, to Jirou’s delight, Ichirou is rather distraught at his reptilian body, and so attempts suicide by jumping into the ocean.

Jirou returns to Japan as a hero and is hailed near and far as an amazing guy, which he relishes. Too bad pretty soon Ichirou shows up again—this time as a gigantic monster. (Not that Jirou knows it’s Ichirou—yet.) The military tries its best to kill off Ichirou (who is dubbed Raban for some unspecified reason), and fails. But Raban-Ichirou really just wants to see his mother again, but when he pays her a visit, she is understandably horrified. So Raban-Ichirou drops by Jirou’s pad. Basically, Raban-Ichirou still has the good-luck charm given by Keiko, and he suspects maybe it has kept him alive all this time. So he returns it to Jirou and his family—which understandably freaks out the Ikawas, as well as raises some suspicions as to the origins of this giant monster...

Eventually Jirou realizes that Ichirou has become the giant monster Raban, and Jirou, again, is terrified that the world may become aware of who the real monster is. (That would be Jirou, if you hadn’t noticed yet.) So at the inevitable big government/military meeting to decide how to deal with Raban, Jirou offers to off the monster by building a giant “Iron Raban” and engaging the beast in mortal combat. (He convinces the prime minister by offering to do said deed with a tiny budget.) Meanwhile, whilst Jirou is plotting to murder Ichirou for the third time, Keiko and her dad interview Ichirou’s mom (who is now working for them as a maid) and discover that Ichirou is actually Jirou’s long lost older brother! (They were separated during the Tokyo air raids, and the Ikawas assumed Ichirou was dead—but he was adopted by a kindly woman instead.)

Jirou works hard to make his giant death machine, and on the 17th try his robot is finished. Right before going off to kill Ichirou, though, he is informed by his family that Ichirou is his older brother! As Jirou approaches Raban in the giant Iron Raban, Jirou is overcome with guilt, thinking back on all the horrible things he did to his brother. Jirou cannot bring himself to knowingly kill his own bro, and so he climbs out of the robot and tells Ichirou that they are actually brothers. Ichirou-Raban picks up Jirou (probably almost giving him a heart attack), and they go to the prime minister together. Jirou pleads with the prime minister to fund a project to find a cure for Ichirou, but the minister refuses—until the manga artist Shigeru Mizuki breaks into his own story and commands the prime minister to fork over the cash! On the last page, Jirou and company manage to extract the Godzilla blood and the poison from the spear from Ichirou’s body and he is made whole again. The end. (END SPOILERS)

So that’s the story—but how about the execution? For my money, it was great fun, albeit with some weaknesses. Mizuki has crafted an extended morality play of sorts here about the dangers of fame and fortune and the dehumanizing effects of pride, and much of the story might be said to be a bit ham-fisted in the way children’s fiction often is. Further, there are a number of times in the story where big plot points are kind of glossed over—such as when suddenly the scientists know Raban was created with Godzilla blood. The ending, too, is exceedingly abrupt. Nevertheless, Kaiju Raban is exciting and inventive, with a very humanized monster and a cast of memorable characters. Raban only goes on rampages out of despair and frustration—he doesn’t want to hurt people, but the military attacks on him drive him mad, and it’s fairly compelling to watch him struggle with his monstrous new life. There are some just incredibly fun supporting characters, too—like the leader of the expedition to New Guinea, who is just lovably odd, and the overly enthusiastic general with the huge black beard who is deemed “too old” to fight Raban. I also simply appreciate that Mizuki is playing with some deeper themes of morality and humanity, rather than just a straight monster smash story. Indeed, the references to WWII are still emotionally resonant.

For Godzilla fans, too, there is much of interest—even if Godzilla only shows up very briefly towards the beginning of the book, and only for three pages. (Godzilla is in this story even less than he was in the 2014 Godzilla movie!) Mizuki’s plot details of people fighting over Godzilla’s blood predate conflicts over G-cells in Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) by some 31 years, and he had a “mecha” version of his main monster long before Mechani-Kong, let alone Mechagodzilla. Kaiju Raban may have also influenced King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). There is a fantastic scene in which Raban is blasted by bombs and then emerges from a huge smoking crater which jumped out at me as being very similar visually to the scene where Godzilla emerges from the bomb-blasted hole in the very next Godzilla movie made after Kaiju Raban’s release (the manga was published in 1958). It’s at least possible that some Shigeru Mizuki fans were on the KKvG crew and wanted to include a visual reference to this story.

The version of Kaiju Raban that I had the pleasure of reading was released in 2009 in hardback with a beautiful (reversible!) cover and several pages in full color at the beginning of the book. The rest of the pages inside come in a variety of colors—they are printed in monochrome, but some pages are red, some green, some gray, etc. The art itself is classic Mizuki—not extremely detailed, and quite cartoony, but energetic and fun to look at. Some of the panel layouts, I felt, were pretty rudimentary or even sloppy, but I think my perception comes simply from the fact that comics have experimented with panel layouts and progressions a lot since 1958—Mizuki’s work laid the foundation for the sometimes more dynamic and exciting comics work to come later. Mizuki was one of the godfathers of comics in Japan, and his work is fascinating to read in that regard alone. One small complaint, though: While I really like the cover painting, Raban looks very different inside, and I don’t know who the dude is on the cover with the helmet and phone.

Kaiju Raban is a forgotten classic that deserves to be revisited by Godzilla fans worldwide. Mizuki has crafted a really energetic, sometimes eerie, emphatically human monster story within the genre confines of the 1950s Japanese manga, and I wish dearly more people could read this sucker in America. For now, at least you can get a taste of the story through my meager efforts here—but seriously, if you are a Godzilla fan and you love classic comics, do yourself a favor and find a copy of this unique footnote in G-history!