Naoki Urasawa's Billy Bat
by McCamy Taylor
First, congratulations to Japanese manga writer/artist, Naoki
Urasawa who has five Eisner nominations this year, for his two series
20th Century Boys and Pluto . Both
are being released in
the U.S. by Viz Media. All 8 volumes of Pluto
now available in English. Here are my Aphelion reviews of the
two sci-fi graphic fiction titles: Pluto
20th Century Boys
Given Urasawa’s success in the U.S., I expect that his latest
project Billy Bat will be coming to America one
day so here is
a preview of the three plus volumes that have been released so far in
The premise of Billy Bat seems very simple at
setting is post WWII. An American born Japanese comic book writer,
Kevin Yamagata has created a hit for Marble Comics. He
illustrates the adventures of a private detective bat, Billy Bat who
solves crimes in a world populated by dogs. Things become complicated
when an American ex-serviceman accuses Yamagata of stealing
his idea from a Japanese comic.
Yamagata, who was in Japan immediately after the war serving as an
interpreter for the U.S. military, worries that he may have
accidentally copied from a comic book he saw during his tour of duty.
So, he returns to Japan. And that is where things go from complicated
to just plain weird.
He tracks down the mangaka who is working on the Japanese version of
Bat Boy. The Japanese comic strip artist is drawn with a
beret and glasses which make him look a hell of a
lot like Osamu Tezuka. This brings to mind another manga
about a winged creature who appears at different times in order to
alter the course of human history, Phoenix .
The Osamu Tezuka look alike is not offended that Yamagata accidentally
appropriated his work. On the contrary, he asks that the younger man
take over the series. The fate of the world depends upon it. For, the
story of Bat Boy or Billy Bat is the story of the modern world,
especially its disasters, told in advance. And in its various
incarnations---a figure drawn in the sand, a feudal Japanese scroll,
graffiti scrawled on a concrete block, a modern comic book---the Bat
plays an important role in shaping the course of human
history—which is why so many people are willing to
commit murder in order to get their hands on it.
So far, with only three volumes released, it has already been a long
strange journey, spanning two thousand years, with a cast of characters
that includes Jesus, Judas, Francisco Xavier (the Jesuit missionary to
the East), ninjas and Lee Harvey Oswald and topics as diverse
as the American Civil Rights Movement and feudal Japanese
Some random oriental bat facts: In China the words for
“bat” and “good fortune” are
the same, and bat symbols are often used on good luck charms or in
conjunction with longevity symbols. During WWII, the U.S.
military planned to strap tiny incendiary devices (bombs) on bats and
release them over Japan, where they would set thousands of fires inside
homes, factories and wherever else they chose to rest. (The idea was
scrapped in favor of the atomic bomb). And there was a Japanese manga
version of Batman drawn by Jiro Kuwata
If you like comics, alternative histories and ninjas, check it out
© 2010 McCamy Taylor
McCamy Taylor is the long-fiction editor of Aphelion.
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