Go Nagai’s Black Lion
Among the many great works of Go Nagai that I came across this year, Black Lion, the unique case of a story combining Japanese history with science fiction, Greek mythology and ecchi, was by far the most interesting one.
My first contact with the title was with the 1992 OVA, licensed in the U.S.A. by ADV Films. With a combination of decent animation, character design and a seemingly neverending sequence of massacre, it grabs the viewer’s attention immediately. Like other Nagai titles of the time (1), the OVA covers only a small part of the original story and emphasizes two things; battles and gore. The ending is rather sudden and frustating since most questions about the story are never answered.
As one of Nagai’s first stories, the manga version of Black Lion tries to combine blood, comedy and ecchi with ninjas, time travel, masculine warriors, alien spaceships and cross-dimension journeys. If that doesn’t sound crazy enough for you, there is still Billy the Kid fighting the way of the samurai. Oddly, the result is very solid and not a single thing seems out of place. Shishimaru’s macho attitude suits him perfectly, Ginnai may be a stereotypical villain but he is good enough for his part and the plot, though relatively simple, is well organised and unfolds at exactly the right pace, with some excellent climaxes.
In terms of design there are not much to be written. It’s typical 1970s, Nagai artwork; cartoonish faces mixed with detailed monster forms and a wide range of inconsistency when it comes to background and anatomy. It’s a “love it or hate it” thing, though I think that overall Nagai did a good job here.
That sums up Black Lion. It is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you love old school manga and you are an open minded sci-fi reader, then it’s certainly worth giving it a go -for me, it is already one of my favorite works of all time.