Manga: Yellow Man


Yellow Man

Japanese Comic Title

[Ie Roman]


Shigeru Sugiura


Shigeru Sugiura
Beam Comix


Shigeru Sugiura



By: Nicholas Driscoll

Some years ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Godzilla Manga Collection 1954-58, and one aspect of that review was simultaneously a highlight and a lowlight. That aspect was reading and reviewing the one original manga in the collection—Shigeru Sugiura’s “Big Rampage Godzilla,” or simply “Rampage Godzilla” (really either works—I just included “big” because the kanji for big is included in the title). I had wanted to bring more attention to this elusive manga for some time, as I thought it was a fascinating and obscure piece; fascinating and obscure trivia is something I thrive on. I loved the phantasmagorical monster designs, and I wanted to correct misconceptions about the story (as of this writing, the descriptions on popular Goji wikis for the manga and the original monsters therein are woefully inaccurate). But I hated reading the manga. Actually physically reading the tale was difficult because of how it was printed (using few kanji), and due to its unapologetic levels of absurdity, I found it difficult to connect with the story.

 For those reasons, even though I bought the sequel to “Big Rampage Godzilla” long ago, I dreaded actually reading and reviewing the manga itself—today’s subject, an odd little manga called “Yellow Man.” While I wanted to see the return of Osorosu and the rest, I shuddered at the concept of actually reading the story. If anything, it looked even more absurd than “Big Rampage Godzilla,” and I also thought I should by rights read the rest of the volume for my review as well—nearly three hundred pages of utterly wild nonsense manga.

In the end, I decided that at least for now, I would just read the single story “Yellow Man” itself and leave the other short stories be. Perhaps at a future time I can revisit the others in the volume (as many of them feature giant monsters in various forms), but I want to at least cover Sugiura’s second original Godzilla manga with a story rundown and my thoughts, just to get it out there before I croak. There just ain’t no promises for tomorrow, and so… here we go.

First, a few words about Shigeru Sugiura himself. The artist is highly regarded and was a very influential figure in the world of manga. Born in 1908 and passing away at 92 in 2000, he lived a long life, and was active even into his eighties, continuing to publish and creating new works long into his elderly years (similar to Daiji Kazumine actually). Sugiura worked with the creator of the immensely popular Sazae-san early in his career, and did a wide variety of manga—from adaptations like Godzilla and Journey to the West to his own creations such as Apple Jam-Kun and Adventure Ben-chan. He has been celebrated for his surrealistic vision, which, over time, shifted in focus to a more adult audience. He even made a big impact on Hayao Miyazaki, who directed a commercial with art influenced by Sugiura.

So even if his work may not be my cup of crazy, many in Japan do love the wild and strange vision of this singular creator. His works have been collected into a five-volume set for those especially curious to search them out.

So let me go over the story of this very unusual tale. Note that “Yellow Man” is in the running for weirdest Godzilla story ever published (including those in the Godzilla Comic collections and the Big Comic Special, all of which I have read), and thus it may be difficult to describe quite what is going on.

Our tale opens at Mt. Kurohime (the name of a real volcano in Japan, which can be translated as “black princess”). Inside a cave we see a bizarre bloblike creature with a wrinkly bulbous head, and it is thinking to itself, “Who is that in the back? As for me, that servant…”

We then cut to an image of Princess Kou, who may be a reference to a real-life princess from the 1800s. Here she appears like a giant deity sitting astride a sweating creature with a gaping mouth surrounded by clouds, and a hole has been torn up in the corner of the air. From the hole, an old woman wearing glasses is emerging and pointing to the creature and the princess, and she is saying something like, “After the spirit of the slug, old woman Potapota.”

Her son, Kimo, is meditating, and seems to be talking to himself about ninja arts. Then he realizes that something strange is about to happen in Tokyo. Note that it appears Kimo is a naked baby still inside his mother’s belly.

Anyway, Kimo says to himself that he is going to go check things out at Prof. Godou’s place. He begins to ask the princess about doing so, and she responds before he can finish—“I know, you are going to Godou’s laboratory.”

Next thing we know, Kimo is flying, wearing a cape, and we can see his penis. A couple tengus are flying with him. We then cut to Prof. Godou’s lab, wherein we see a bizarre creature talking on the phone. The creature has a massive round head with cracks all over it. The round-headed creature says, “Understood,” into the phone and dashes over to Prof. Godou, who appears to be a sinister-looking alien creature with a gasmask or something. The bulb-head says that someone looking to attack Tokyo is coming. Then a bell rings and two men come running in with their hands held up in a strange-looking gesture. One of them has a head that looks like a butt.

They claim that three ships have just been sunk by a giant monster. They have brought along a pilot who claims he saw the monster. Then the naked baby Kimo shows up and starts talking about Godzilla’s attack on Tokyo back in the day. Kimo says that a monster gang is coming to attack Tokyo. A group of reporters ask if Godzilla is among the said gang, but Kimo says that Godzilla was killed by Serizawa’s oxygen destroyer. (Curiously, Kimo makes no mention of Godzilla’s older brother showing up to get revenge in Sugiura’s follow-up story “Godzilla Big Rampage”—even though the monsters from that sequel appear in this story.)

Manga: Yellow Man
The one image of Godzilla that appears in "Yellow Man"

The monsters in the gang coming to attack include Anguirus (who is drawn much differently now—he has no spikes on his back), Gyottosu (a sort of ceratopsian monster with three nostrils), Sugon (a monster with a head like a three-eyed squid, and who apparently knows Shaolin kung fu, and now has a purse), and Zottosu (a peanut-shaped monster who is single now for some reason—I think this is just a riff on how monsters in tokusatsu media tend to have a type affixed to their name when they appear, and Sugiura just made Sugon the “single monster”). Gyottosu, Zottosu, and Sugon were in “Godzilla Big Rampage”, and a new monster is added to their number, Rampaging Kakubou (“nuke-boy”), a plankton monster embiggened by nuclear energy.

Someone suggests that Japan can just use the oxygen destroyer to stop them, but Kimo explains that Dr. Serizawa stopped production of the substance in order to prevent it being used in war (note that, in Sugiura’s manga, Serizawa never died).

Then we get a sequence wherein the aforementioned monsters begin attacking Tokyo, smashing buildings, destroying a Hikari-class Shinkansen, etc, while news broadcasters and others comment away on the destruction. Various shenanigans occur as citizens flee or complain about monster news or eat bbq or watch boxing. Kakubou punches a building to pieces, yelling “People of the city, stop getting all upset! That’s one of Sugiura’s favorite lines!”

Manga: Yellow Man
Kakubou destroys, plus Osorosu's entrance

My favorite of Sugiura’s original monsters then makes an appearance—Osorosu, the love elephant. Osorosu manifests a new power, exhaling radioactive gas from the four nostrils in his trunk. The radioactive gas mutates a bunch of citizens into grotesque freaks.

Manga: Yellow Man
The mutations caused by Osorosu's radioactive gas

Then some random people suggest calling in Clint Eastwood to take care of the monsters, and then some others suggest Giuliano Gemma, and we are treated to very realistic renderings of the actors.

We finally return to Kimo, who is now wondering what is behind the attack by the monsters. He says that last time Godzilla was awakened by a nuclear bomb before his rampage. Both Kimo and Prof. Godou think that this time someone called Yellow Man is controlling the creatures and inducing the mayhem. We get a flashback to a time when the FBI were pursuing Yellow Man through Ginza, and thus we get our first glimpse of the titular villain.

In the flashback, Yellow Man is riding some kind of bipedal creature with long ears, but he (Yellow Man) has no head, which the surrounding pedestrians comment upon. Yellow Man then gets off the creature he was riding on and says he does have a head, and he shows them a few iterations of his face. The first looks like a bulbous sea cucumber, the next like an abstract painting of a woman’s head, then the third is his “real” head—sort of a bullet-shaped noggin with a nose and sinister-looking eyes. He steals money and does rude things, and then gets into a gunfight with the FBI before escaping. There are more references to movies—this time Dirty Harry and actor Charles Bronson.

Back in the present, Kimo guesses that Yellow Man is after Prof. Godou’s time and dimension warping P Substance. Kimo suggests that the professor use his brain and research to fight against Yellow Man, and two aliens (one from the planet Epsilon, one from Tennou planet, neither mentioned until now) and a denizen of Mu who happen to be in the laboratory decide to help out.

Meanwhile, outside, the press is flying around Tokyo not far from Professor Godou’s laboratory and reporting on the goings on. Suddenly a woman’s head appears in the sky. Yellow Man makes his entrance riding upon (or perhaps inhabiting the clothing of) a flying half-naked torso of a woman with her breasts hanging out. He is babbling about using brain waves to elicit a final command on the monsters, and a one-eyed yokai (I guess) points out that something (the naked woman?) is of no relation to the manga.

This is the image on the cover of the book, by the way.

The monsters receive the command to attack, and seem excited about the prospect. Then suddenly a flying saucer with three heads appears nearby—one head looking like a robot’s, one with the appearance of a cubed brain with a big black eye, and one that is talking about how she is an android named Morea. She is drawn in a more western-style art. Below various denizens comment on the happenings.

A massive crowd of bystanders watches as the naked woman underneath Yellow Man disappears, and he plummets from the sky. They comment that he was so surprised by the appearance of the flying saucer (presumably) that he couldn’t maintain his magic. Yellow Man, meanwhile, babbles about curses or something. Yellow Man manages to conjure a sort of dinosaurian thing to ride on, and Kimo calls the aliens and the Mu dweller to attack the monster gang (which has arrived by now). The Epsilon alien punches out Kakubou, the Mu citizen busts Zottosu’s head, and the Tennou alien yanks off Anguirus’s shell as the monsters curse and yell.

Manga: Yellow Man
The Epsilon alien, the Tennou alien, and the denizen of Mu fight with the gang of kaiju--note the unusual take on Anguirus

A TV camera films the fight, and citizens buy crepes and ice cream. The monsters and aliens continue to fight.

Kimo uses ninpo powers to call forth someone called Ironman (not the Marvel superhero), a one-eyed, buck-toothed giant with spiked balls for hands, an apparently robotic body, and cubes for feet. The citizens below continue to comment, and one states that Sugiura seems to like Danshi (presumably Danshi Tatekawa, the rakugo artist).

Manga: Yellow Man
Super baby Kimo summons the supremely powerful Ironman

At any rate, whatever the reference might mean, Ironman is incredibly powerful, and punches Gyottosu into outer space, punches Kakubou so hard he flies into a caveman landscape wherein a UFO from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers appears, then kicks Osorosu with his right foot across an ocean. He boots Anguirus with his left foot into a wild west background (with Chuck Connors as Geronimo making an appearance), and wallops Sugon so hard that he enters into another dimension. Zottosu gets punched into Europe, and flies over a giant-headed Frankenstein’s monster. Zottosu soars overhead while music plays in the background, or the monster is singing… honestly, I don’t know.

Kimo dismisses Ironman and uses his ninja powers to… summon the famous pop duo Pink Lady so they can sing the song “Monster.” Apparently this was a mistake, though, and Yellow Man declares some kind of beauty competition (I guess?) and takes the opportunity to use his own magic powers to shoot vaguely feminine creatures out of a cannon ensconced in the floating ceratopsian dinosaur head upon which he is flying. Among the things that shoot out is a naked cyclopsian thing with huge breasts and no arms which basically propositions the naked baby Kimo, but our hero thankfully turns down the bizarre creature’s advances.

Kimo continues the fight by using “Miss Tokyo” power and summons a grotesque bulbous female slime monster, which repels the gaggle of bizarre female creatures that have so far shot out of the floating ceratopsian head. The female creatures retreat, the slime blob disappears, and then Yellow Man is assaulted by a ton of octopuses that pile all over him.

Princess Kou comes flying in on her slug (remember them from the beginning?) to take a look at what is happening, and the strange blob from the first page declares that he is an unknown and mysterious creature, and then wraps himself around Yellow Man for some reason, or perhaps for no reason at all.

After that, a rakugo narrator declares that the fight is over, and Yellow Man has lost. Yellow Man apologizes for all the problems he has caused and asks Prof. Godou to forgive him. Prof. Godou says that Yellow Man is a scientist too, and calls on him to study outer space. Then Yellow Man flies away on what appears to be a jet-charged roast chicken while declaring he is going to Planet X. Some kind of vaguely vegetable-headed creature riding a diatryma below says, “I have nothing to do with this story.”

Kimo is thanked for his help, and then the naked baby says something about how the monster gang was not stopped very quickly. We get a shot of the citizenry of Tokyo wandering around while a flying octopus ridden by a bucktoothed ninja flies above, and then a disembodied Japanese woman’s head declares the story is over, yo-yo.

My GOSH, that might have been the most difficult manga summary I have ever written. If you have made it this far, I think you can tell that “Yellow Man” is quite possibly the strangest Godzilla-related anything ever made. It’s unrelentingly bizarre, filled with gags, pop-culture references, and utter nonsense.

I don’t really know how to evaluate something like this, as it is so off the wall. I suppose in some ways it is not so far removed from select Godzilla manga from The Godzilla Comic and its kin, which often delve into parody. Shinpei Itoh’s “Tokyo Godzilla Group” had a somewhat similar absurdist vibe, with pop culture references and a flying steam iron, but it never quite approached the sheer brain-breaking insanity of Sugiura’s work here. Of course even the strangest Godzilla comics of the west, such as Godzilla in Hell, cannot hold a fourth-dimensional half-naked candle to “Yellow Man.” Perhaps only Godzilla is in Purgatory or “A Space Godzilla” comes anywhere close.

While individual Godzilla comics from other creators might feature really out-there concepts (such as a sperm-Godzilla, or the spirit of Godzilla taking over a baby and trying to murder its mother, or a barbarian warrior Godzilla from another dimension saving a tree spirit from evil men), none of them that I have read (so far at least) embrace the utter chaos and wild freeform nutzoid quality of Sugiura’s work here. It’s hard to even describe the plot—when I was trying to work through the above description, I really bogged down, my brain just refusing to keep typing, and I had to put aside this manuscript for a day.

What’s more, it’s not just the absurdity of the script, but the art and the panel layouts as well that make the work quite boggling. Sugiura indulges in a wide variety of art styles, from his standard old-school rounded caricatures, to realistic art, to American style, to a mix thereof, usually on the same page, sometimes in the same panel. It can be hard to follow what’s going on. He uses full-page panels and splash panels to strange effect sometimes. Since his story is not really dramatic, he marks certain events with huge panels not to emphasize size or epic qualities, but just apparently to fill in lots of random background detail and to underscore the non sequitur quality of his work.

“Yellow Man” was initially published in Shigeru Sugiura’s Interesting World in 1983,  and was only later republished in the volume I picked it: Yellow Man: Shigeru Sugiura’s Surrealistic and Wonderful Masterpieces. However, as I said, I just couldn’t bring myself to read the rest of the collection; it was exhausting just reading “Yellow Man.” Flipping through the other pages, though, we can see a recurrence of themes, such as the usage of giant monsters, aliens, samurai, references to Westerns, and a mix of art-styles and unending nonsense. He seems to like to incorporate imagery of butts into the designs of his characters, and I suspect that some of his creatures and people appear in multiple stories.

The nonsense is in large part the point or the pleasure of this book. But for me, I couldn’t really appreciate the nonsense much. I definitely enjoyed some of the gags, but I prefer at least a semblance of a story to go with the funny and the weird, and after a while, the absurdity plum tuckered me out, especially when filtered through the further lens of reading in a second language and trying to latch on to the cultural references.

As for the kaiju content, again, the book is notable for the inclusion of Godzilla and Anguirus—the former who only appears in flashback, and the latter who is drawn in a very strange, sketchy style. The theme of giant monsters getting manipulated by a commanding alien force is familiar in the world of Godzilla, but we never actually learn who Yellow Man is, and even the guess that he is after the P Element never comes to anything. He seems to be some kind of parody of the evil masterminds in tokusatsu and youth literature, and, like those evil masterminds sometimes can be, he is himself childish. However, since his goals are ill-defined, the story mostly functions on an absurdist humor level.

The most notable monster moments feature Osorosu with his (her?) radioactive gas mutating people, and the emergence of new monsters like Kakubou the plankton monster and the aliens from Epsilon and Tennou and the denizen of Mu (the latter seems to have nothing to do with the nation of Mu depicted in Atragon). Of course, all these monsters, as well as Ironman and the spaceships, are simply absurdist parodies, but I wager Ironman could probably defeat many of the kaiju canon in a one-on-one match.

I absolutely encourage die-hard fans to track down “Yellow Man” just to see how far afield the genre of kaiju storytelling can stretch. Sugiura is a well-known and influential creator, and there is value I think just in investigating his work to plumb those influences. Call me yellow if you must, but for me, I have had enough, and I am eager to get back to something a bit more conventional for a while.