One of the few skills I managed to pick up in college was a functional proficiency in Japanese. And while I’m not a fan of Japanese comics or cartoons, I do like to indulge in some of their bizarre adaptations of our media. In particular, the Japanese Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles manga of the early ’90s is some weird, weird s--t.
A couple years ago, a TMNT fan named Adam Winters shot me a .zip file filled with scans of the many Ninja Turtles comics that were published in Japan. I, in turn, translated them and turned my scripts over to the Optical Internet Translation Gang, who did all the image editing.
You can find an index of download links for all the translated TMNT manga over at TMNT Entity, on the off chance you may wish to follow along.
For starters, though, I want to take a look at the first chapter of Mutant Turtles Gaiden by Hiroshi Kanno.
The Ninja Turtles Drop In!!
Mutant Turtles Gaiden (“Gaiden” meaning “side story”) was actually a reboot of the TMNT storyline, loosely adapting episodes of the 1980s animated series while also incorporating new plots. This first issue is roughly an amalgamation of “Turtle Tracks” (April meeting the TMNT), “Enter the Shredder” (the origin of Bebop) and “Hot Rodding Teenagers from Dimension X” (the weather control device).
As our story begins, April O’Neil is attempting to get a story on the Foot Clan when she’s cornered by a gang of punks working for a nefarious overlord. She’s quickly rescued by none other than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles… all wearing speedos for some reason.
After the fight, everyone is sent home. April brings her report to Burne Thompson at Channel 6, who is so incredulous of her bullshit that he busts her down to weather girl. The Turtles return to the sewer to tell Master Splinter of their victory. Splinter, in turn, warns them to be wary of the Shredder, who attempted to kill him back when he was human. And lastly, Bebop reports his failure to the Shredder, who first unveils his “Weather Controller” machine, then gives Bebop a dose of mutagen.
I would like to say at this point how much I enjoy Kanno’s character redesigns. He’d fiddle with them over the course of the series (the Turtles quickly lose their speedos) and experiment with different effects (April spends one chapter constantly bombarded by “shoujo bubbles” wherever she goes), but for the most part they’re really expressive and capture the personalities of the characters quite well. I particularly like Shredder’s moving “jaw-guard” as a nice change of pace from his typical “face plate” (even if it makes him look like Brak).
But just as I begin to compliment the character redesigns, we’re introduced to Irma…
What. The. Hell.
In this version of the story, she’s a reporter like April instead of a secretary and they’re both out interviewing locals on the bizarre weather patterns that have been plaguing the city.
Then Bebop flashes them…
And takes April hostage.
Luckily, the Turtles happen to be flying by in their blimp, because all true ninja have dirigibles, and give chase. On that note, I’d like to say that as a “side story”, Mutant Turtles Gaiden tells an ongoing narrative, but elects to omit certain details here and there. In the case of this issue, Kanno doesn’t bother boring his readers with the origin of the Turtles or where the hell they got their blimp. They have a blimp. Just roll with it.
Bebop carries April down to the Shredder’s subterranean headquarters, where the Shredder is giving a status report to his shadowy benefactor (who happens to look like a brain in the stomach of a bald pro wrestler). Shredder delivers some gratuitous exposition about his plans to use the Weather Controller to take over the world (or descend it into Hell, emphasizing the “Hell” four or five times)… Then promptly tells Bebop to kill and/or rape April O’Neil.
Bebop chooses rape.
The Turtles show up, there’s a fight, Shredder retreats, Cowabungas all around, the base explodes, a daring blimp escape, blah blah blah. It’s all old hat.
While Kanno’s first TMNT story isn’t his best, he rapidly improves with each installment, both in terms of story, humor and art. In a lot of ways, Mutant Turtles Gaiden reminds me of Archie’s TMNT Adventures comic. Both were reimaginings of the 1980s cartoon, but with a harder edge in terms of action and subject matter.
Obviously, though, being a Japanese comic and all, Mutant Turtles Gaiden tends to sexualize things a lot more than TMNT Adventures ever did. Some of it is genuinely funny, such as Bebop “flashing” April and Irma, while I felt other moments were a little unnecessary (like Bebop’s attempted deflowering of April). Irma’s redesign is just bizarre and it only gets weirder by the fourth chapter when she strips down to her underwear and tries to gut Shredder with a magic sword.
Sadly, Mutant Turtles Gaiden only lasted a total of four chapters, published in a Super Nintendo magazine, of all places (Dengeki Super Famicom Special Edition). Of all the various Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles manga that Japan managed to shell out, it’s still far and away my favorite and is genuinely entertaining.
It’s just. You know. A little rape-y.
For more Japanese Ninja Turtle zaniness, check out The Confusing History of the Ninja Turtles in Japan.
Or move on to Part Two of the Mutant Turtles Gaiden.