Vlad Love – 09 – Nuts and Bolts

Going into this episode cold, I spent half the time wondering what the heck was going on and why there was little to know animation, and the other half luxuriating in the atmosphere of its unrelentingly hard-boiled, war-torn art style. And I think, like most who watched this, the whole point was to not quite know what was going on, but to simply let it all wash over you.

I say this because a message at the very end explains what the heck was going on: this entire episode was an homage to the works of rarely-translated avant-garde cult cartoonist Tsuge Yoshiharu. From 1955 to 1987 he was active in the world of gekiga—the precursor to modern graphic novels about mature themes.

His most famous work is Screw Style, which on its face has a simple plot: a boy washes ashore with an artery in his arm severed by a jellyfish, and he wanders war-torn Japan searching for a doctor. The original story is based on a dream Tsuge had during a rooftop nap, which tracks: everything is surreal and dreamlike.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Oshii Mamoru was both inspired and influenced by Tsuge’s work. Oshii was 17 when Screw Story was first published in 1968, serving as an allegory for his disaffected postwar generation (Oshii was also born just six years after the atomic bombings).

In place of the WWII-era machines of war, there are B-2s in the sky and Type 16s on the ground, and later, a Nimitz-class in the sea. For the boy, Oshii inserts a topless Mitsugu, who is desperate not necessarily to save her life, but to save the precious blood which belongs to Mai from flowing out of her arm and going to waste.

The homage—and general strangeness—fits the style of Vlad Love like a glove. Indeed, for those who’d seen the gekiga style without knowing what it was, the series’ backgrounds have always been done in this style, albeit with lighter color palettes. As Oshii cycles through three other Tsuge stories, the rest of Vlad Love’s cast have cameos.

Mitsugu finally meets up with Mai at an inn, who serves her castor oil in water instead of sake (since Mitsugu is underage) and mentions a delinquent (Satoru) who comes by the inn every day to terrorize her.

Mitugu’s odyssey leads her to a gynecologist (Chihiro). It’s heavily implied they sleep together, and Chihiro repairs Mitsugu’s artery with a metal bolt and valve. Mitsugu and Mai sail off with the sun and wind at their backs.

As I said before, I wasn’t clear what was going on for most of this episode, but I still liked it. It’s not only evidence of Oshii’s love of Tsuge’s work, but also a sign of his complete and utter creative control, a rare thing indeed in any form of entertainment. Vlad Love itself would not exist if Oshii wasn’t Oshii, much like The Snyder Cut wouldn’t exist if Snyder wasn’t Snyder.

Speaking of which, The Snyder Cut is a far superior film to the grotesquely cynical vivisection that was the theatrical Whedon cut precisely because of the strength, clarity, and purity and commitment of the artist’s voice. His unmarred vision shines through in every frame, no matter how dark and muddy those frames get.

This singularly bizarre and beautiful episode of Vlad Love taught me about the existence of Tsuge Yoshiharu, Screw Style, and other gekiga works. And it did so while existing as a unique piece of art all its own, integrating its characters and themes with the decades-old classics to which it paid homage. But I’m glad Oshii saved the explanation for the end, so I wouldn’t be influenced by the episode’s context out of the gate.

Tsuge hasn’t published a comic in 33 years. Ours is a world in which all art is borrowed or embellished version of what came before—an ongoing conversation across time. It’s episodes like this that keep that conversation going, brining awareness to younger generations so that they can make their own contributions. No doubt the next episode of Vlad Love will move on to, as John Cleese said best, “something completely different.”

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Inuyashiki – 04

Inuyashiki’s fourth episode opens with a ruthless, towering yakuza boss ordering his men to dispose of the naked body of an overdosed woman on his bed, then making another yakuza perform oral sex on him as a form of submission. So…not a good guy.

Then things switch gears completely to the diminutive but lovely Fumino and her boyfriend Satoru, who love each other deeply and agree to get married and have kids. As nice as all that is, I immediately suspected this was either a flashback, and Fumino was that body, or she’s the yakuza boss’ next victim.

The latter turns out to be the case, as Fumino is suddenly abducted while walking home, and wakes up naked on the boss’ bed. He immediately gets on top of her, telling her he’ll “make her his”, but Fumino fights back, getting away and even managing to slash the brute’s wrist with his own katana. While his men tend to his wound she slips out.

She manages to get all the way back to Satoru’s worried-sick arms, but it’s not long before the boss, named Samejima, and his henchmen break into their apartment. Satoru begs for his and Fumino’s lives, promising to pay any price, no matter what it takes, but his pleas fall on deaf ears, and Samejima picks him up by the throat and starts to choke him out.

Enter the Hero, Ichirou, who no doubt heard what has been transpiring and will not have it. After sending the henchmen flying, he puts Samejima in a bear hug, but “shuts down” when a clip is emptied in his head. When he wakes up, it’s just him and a nearly-dead Satoru.

When his magic body won’t heal him, Ichirou uses CPR to revive him, and then uses Satoru’s phone to locate Samejima, who is enjoying a meeting with other yakuza bosses at a luxurious inn.

While his initial encounter with Samejima was not fruitful, Ichirou has clearly gotten the hang of flying and forcing his way through crowds. When Samejima takes him aside, Ichirou does what he should have done the first time: sock the guy in the face.

The other yakuza respond by emptying clip after clip into Ichirou with automatic weapons, but it only stuns him. He activates his flight mode, targets everyone in the inn, and takes out all of their eyes with a fusillade of particle beams.

It’s wholesale justice; Ichirou laying down the law, and before leaving, Ichirou makes sure he properly verbalizes what he’s done: deprived all of them of the means to walk, eat, see their children’s and grandchildren’s faces, touch them ever again…or even take their own lives.

Rather than execute them, he hopes they’ll live long lives, in such a state that he hopes they one day feel remorse for the horrible things they’ve done. I for one am not that optimistic, but at least they’ll won’t hurt anyone—including his family—ever again. The cycle of dead bodies on beds has been stopped; at least with this clan. Obviously, there are many others.

After contacting those watching her with Samejima’s phone, Ichirou locates Fumino, apparently heals her of the harm done by the drugs, and flies her back to her love, Satoru.

I’ll point out that Satoru is nothing special in the looks or money department—indeed, he’s very much a young Ichirou—but love, like that yakuza scum, is blind. Satoru and Fumino have good and gentle souls, and I was bowled over with relief and joy to see them reunite.

Ichirou slinks off into the night, claiming he’s “nobody special”, but in reality, he was this couple’s savior. It’s good to see him getting better at this hero thing, especially not getting overwhelmed by the sheer amount of evil in the world and the impossibility of stamping it all out. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do as much as you can, and he will.

And so, Inuyashiki continues its M.O. of putting its audience through hell before showing them a glimpse of heaven. Whether it was the intro of Ichirou as a feeble sadsack or the stunningly awful but thankfully temporary twist in Fumino’s fate, the show has no qualms about putting characters and viewers alike through the ringer, but rewards us for sticking around by delivering breathtakingly righteous justice to evildoers.

Only Shishigami Hiro has escaped retribution…so far. But the strongest yakuza boss in the world is a cakewalk compared to Hiro. If Ichirou can’t defeat him and he can’t defeat Ichirou, they’ll have to figure…something else out.