Today, we will momentarily leave the colorful world of moe and fan service to dive into the muddy depths of 70’s exploitation manga with a masterpiece of the genre :
Tenshi No Harawata by Takashi Ishii
This gekiga is better known in the west under the name Angel Guts. Well, we cannot really say that the manga is famous in the west but the japanese b-movies fans have certainly seen at least one of the movie in the Angel Guts series. A series considered classic when it comes to old and vile flicks from the land of the rising sun.
The Angel Guts franchise gather under its name movies completely independent from each other, shot by various directors. Their only common point being the underlying theme of rape, a true obsession to Takashi Ishii.
Angel Guts mangas and movies are clearly not recommended to a young audience, the sexual violence being depicted crudely and the story bearing little to no morality at all.
But if you are still curious, please continue the reading.
The name of Takashi Ishii may sound familiar. The man directed Gonin, an existentialist hard-boiled film starring Takeshi Kitano. In fact his first love was not manga but cinema. During the sixties he even worked as assistant-director at the Nikkatsu before health problems kept him away from movie sets.
That’s when he starts a mangaka carrer by default. From thestart, he dives into the newly created gekiga genre. He quickly becomes a figurehead of this new kind of manga, more violent and openly adult-oriented. He mostly writes short stories, published in specialized magazines (sometimes gekiga ones and sometimes erotic ones). The standard Takashi Ishii reader is a young male living in urban environment, the exact same profile as the audience of the Roman-Porno movies produced by Ishii’s previous employer, the Nikkatsu.
So it is no surprise to find the Nikkatsu behind the cinematographic adaptations of Ishii’s mangas.
In 1978, after three years spent at drawing sexual violence in short stories, Ishii starts his most ambitious and fully-developed work :
Tenshi No Harawata
He takes the risk to let his characters live through three thick volumes (more than a thousand pages in total). This way, he is finally able give to his highly depressing and murky universe more depth and realism.
Even with knowing the curriculum of its author (pinku eiga director but also behind the scenario of Evil Dead Trap, a classic gory splatter movie), I got snatched by the oppressive darkness of this graphic novel.
Between hard-boiled polar, punk nihilism and pure gratuitous exploitation, Angel Guts depicts the daily life of half-wit bored young adults in a gloomy, rainy, industrial Tokyo suburb.
With nothing to do except bike rides and group rapes, the characters are truly awful but the way their relationship evolve is impressively credible. As everything the main characters do will inevitably lead to a violent rupture point, there is a constant tension to the story. You cannot escape it. As soon as you start to read Angel Guts you turn progressively into a voyeur, waiting for the next explosion of violence.
Some people tried to give a social significance to the background chosen by Ishii. For my part, I would rather leave the supposed social message aside and simply explain this choice as a matter of aesthetics. Takashi Ishii seem to really enjoy drawing abandoned warehouses, rusty trains and sleazy brothels. A logical choice for a defeat-stinking tale, antipodes to the glossy image of ‘glamour pornography’.
I won’t do spoilers for the few of you who will try to get this manga (good luck!) but the story is not a simple excuse to show long and unbearable rape scenes (there are quite a few of them though) but relies mostly on traditional and universal themes : friendship, betrayal, vengeance, alienation…
Takashi Ishii really leveled the standards of erotic manga up with Tenshi No Harawata.
A must-read for whoever is interested by gekiga.