Kazuo Koike: Master of Trash

Kazuo Koike, Mad Bull 34, Lone Wolf and Cub, Crying Freeman, Wounded Man, Laser Time

After consuming a certain amount of media and pop culture, you start craving more — something you haven’t seen before, something unlike everything else. You want to see something that makes you say, “Wow, I didn’t expect that!” with every turn of the page. There is one man, the creator some of the most ridiculous, bat-shit insane manga ever, who never ceases to blow my mind.  I am speaking of Kazuo Koike, the master of pulpy, trashy story telling.

Kazuo Koike is a manga author only; he doesn’t draw.  He was most active in the 70’s and 80’s, and you may be familiar with his most famous work, Lone Wolf and Cub.  This 28 volume epic stars a stone-faced samurai named Ogami Itto who takes his baby Daigoro with him throughout Japan on a trip for vengeance. Since it lasts so long, a great deal of varying stories are told, ranging from villages controlled by yakuza to father-son separation to avoiding death. But while this work is renowned and respected, don’t let its reputation fool you — it has no indication of what came next.

Kazuo Koike, Mad Bull 34, Lone Wolf and Cub, Crying Freeman, Wounded Man, Laser Time

This image will be explained in another two paragraphs.

Welcome to Mad Bull 34! It’s set in the totally real-world New York City’s 34th precinct, a town with prostitutes on every block and murderers in every ally (this is pre-Mayor Giuliani, after all).  Featuring what is possibly the worst American dub ever, Mad Bull is the glorious story of a New York that never was. A fight on the subway leads to the cops killing a gigantic black man by pushing his head into an oncoming train.  A Chinese assassination cult makes out with their leader before each mission. A killer cop looks like the Xenomorph wearing an Iron Man suit with a shoulder mounted laser cannon.

The star of Mad Bull 34 is John “Sleepy” Estes, the “Mad Bull.” A giant of a man, Johnny is made of pure muscle, an impeccable mustache, and the ability to dress as a very unconvincing nun.  When he isn’t dressing in drag for undercover operations, attaching grenades to his pubes (pictured above), or using his shotgun to remove criminals heads, you can usually find him sleeping with any number of hookers. Did I mention Mad Bull is a cop?  Does it even matter?  But don’t go thinking he’s a bad guy: Sleepy uses the money he takes from the hookers to fund an STD clinic for the hookers, though there’s like a 90% chance he gave them the STDs in the first place. What a saint.

Kazuo Koike, Mad Bull 34, Lone Wolf and Cub, Crying Freeman, Wounded Man, Laser Time

Complementary tattoos — always a fun motif.

If Mad Bull is Kazuo Koike’s look at something approaching a cop drama, Crying Freeman is his James Bond. Crying Freeman starts as the tale of Yo Hinomura, a reluctant killer, brainwashed by the 108 Dragons (think Suikoden) to be the perfect assassin.  The only signs of his free will are the manly tears that flow with everybody he kills. Then he says, “fuck it, I’m going to be the head of the organization that kidnapped and brainwashed me. After all, they have a dragon submarine!”

Along his journey, he fights the giant naked black lady Bugnug (they have sex), a naked female yakuza boss (they have sex), and a naked blond mercenary boss (Freeman is such a man that he refuses to get hard for her — what, you thought they were going to have sex?). How does Freeman fight?  Naked, with a knife between his toes. But if there’s one thing you should take away from Crying Freeman, it’s that the Yakuza control Canada (I refuse to give context for this).

Kazuo Koike, Mad Bull 34, Lone Wolf and Cub, Crying Freeman, Wounded Man, Laser Time

A shockingly calm Koike anime screenshot.

There is so much more Kazuo Koike ridiculousness. Wounded Man is the tale of a man whose life was ruined by X-rated films. Lady Snowblood is basically Kill Bill. Hanappe Bazooka stars a man with a penis for a finger. All of these works are glorious adventures filled with sex, violence, and sexy violence.  If you need a sense of morality while being entertained, don’t even bother.

But lest you think Kazuo Koike has nothing else to offer, know that he is also a great teacher.  He founded the Gekiga Sonjuku, a college course that trained some very well known mangaka. Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma ½, Inuyahsha, Urusai Yatsura), Tetsuo Hara (Fist of the North Star), and Tetsuya Saruwatari (Riki-oh, Tough) were all taught to make manga by Koike.

Kazuo Koike, Mad Bull 34, Lone Wolf and Cub, Crying Freeman, Wounded Man, Laser Time

The master.

Kazuo Koike creates massive amounts of pulpy, trashy stories, but he trained some of the most prominent creators of Japanese manga and anime. He looks like a peaceful grandpa, but there’s a madness behind those shaded eyes. You might be ashamed or disgusted with his work, but you will be entertained.

Article by contributor Joel Dreyer.

6 thoughts on “Kazuo Koike: Master of Trash

  1. That was a good little read, had totally forgotten about Crying Freeman, still remember sneaking my dads VHS copy to watch as wee kid.

  2. Great article! I loved Crying Freeman as a child – I was able to get it on VHS without a cover from a video rental store that was selling off excess tapes. I dreamed of getting one of those triad full body tattoos for years after.

  3. A nice highlight! It just goes to show that behind even the most batshit of anime and manga there is real artistry and giving back to the community happening as well. Note to self: create well-regarded seminal classic, then use newfound reputation to fly off the rails. Got it.

  4. Who said anime had to be made by people who didn’t care? Anyone who comes up with something out there cares.

  5. Lady snowblood is Kill Bill. What an insolent thing to say, you truly amaze me. It’s a well known fact that lady snowblood was Tarantino’s main inluence for KB.

    1. Please take into account the audience that is Laser Time and you understand why I worded it that way.

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