Hiroshi Kanno’s Mutant Turtles Gaiden manga series comes to an abrupt and all too early conclusion with this fourth and final chapter. I suppose I’m not shocked to see it end so quickly; coming out in 1996, the same year TV Tokyo canned the Japanese dub of the Fred Wolf animated series, the TMNT had just about run their course in Japan. The novelty wore off, the fans were moving on to other media (Neon Genesis Evangelion took their timeslot, believe it or not) and the ride was just about over.
Being released following the failure of the Super Turtles anime OVAs and manga to reignite Japanese interest in the brand, Gaiden made a last grasp for the spotlight with a total franchise reboot. It couldn’t pull it off, however, and after only a three-issue run, the manga was removed from Dengeki Super Famicom Special Edition (a weird magazine for it to be published in in the first place).
Luckily, Dengeki decided to not only collect the three published chapters, but they commissioned one final Ninja Turtle adventure from Kanno and that’s what we’ll be looking at here.
And believe me, Kanno saved his best stuff for last. (As always, you can read along if you want with a directory of links to translations of the manga at TMNT Entity)
Abruptly, Splinter tells the Turtles that they have to go to Japan ASAP. Why? We’ll find out. But first… racism!
The Japan which the Turtles visit is a fusion of every Japanese stereotype known to man, from geisha to samurai to Coke bottle-bespectacled, bucktoothed businessmen with abacuses in their pockets. All the taxis are rickshaws and even the airport has a pagoda for an air traffic control tower. This is the Japan every American thinks exists. And much to the surprise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles… It’s true! All Japanese people really DO look the same!
Don’t yell at me, I’m just repeating what I’m reading!
This shit is AMAZING. A gut reaction might be to think Kanno is exercising in self-loathing, but the comic is actually a pretty damn good piece of satire regarding the American perception of Japan (and there are MANY jokes in this issue about our inability to distinguish one Asian from another). While utilizing a Japanese-excusive comic to wag fingers at ignorant Americans seems sort of fruitless, the whole thing reads more like an inside joke for Japanese Turtle fans. Bear in mind that the primary TMNT media source the Japanese received was the Fred Wolf animated series and that cartoon regularly brutalized and stereotyped Japanese culture, Japanese history and Japanese people.
Imagine being a Japanese kid watching TMNT every Saturday morning and seeing everything about your country routinely mangled. You’d probably end up thinking, “What the HELL, man!? Is that supposed to be US!?” This issue’s pretty much a commentary on how lazy the folks putting together the TMNT cartoon were; the extent of their research in Japanese culture and society beginning and ending at those WWII era Popeye cartoons they half-remember from their childhood. And Hell, who am I to point fingers? I can’t tell Asians apart, either. (Editor: That hurts, Mark.)
Anyway, after some more social commentary, the Turtles go to visit an expo displaying the Muramasa Blade, a mystical artifact of untold power which Splinter fears the Shredder intends to steal (and he does!). Incidentally, April and Irma are covering the expo for Channel 6 because, hey, we’ll be needing one of them for fanservice in a couple of pages.
By the numbers, Shredder shows up, seizes the Muramasa Blade and takes Irma hostage. The Muramasa Blade, as it happens, only awakens its true power every hundred years (and guess what year it is?) and Shredder plans on using the sword to possess April and force her to kill her dear Turtle friends.
As an aside, Kanno appears to have inexplicably redesigned Bebop for this issue. He now has a bald head and his skull and bone necklace has been replaced by, I dunno, Buddhist beads? Is that what those are?
I’m not good at distinguishing Asians OR accessories, apparently.
Anyway, Shredder hands the sword to Irma and it possesses her… by stripping her down to her underwear?
Don’t give me any of that ‘doujinshi’ shit. This was an officially licensed TMNT comic!
Shredder then orders April to destroy her friends with the sword! If you’re confused, that’s okay. You see, as it turns out, while Americans can’t tell Japanese people apart, Japanese people can’t tell Americans apart! Casual racism is totally relative. Irma, now possessed by a demonic spirit of unstoppable vengeance, takes offense at being mistaken for another woman and swears to use the Muramasa Blade’s power to kill the Shredder.
Irma comically chases Shredder off into the distance while the Turtles beat up Bebop and Rocksteady out of shear boredom (no, really). A gong sounds, the cast stares wistfully into the distance and Splinter informs them that Irma will not stop until the Shredder has been eliminated. True to the prophesy, the collection ends with Shredder swimming back to New York as Irma paddles after him with the sword.
Fanservice is for the honor of women everywhere, apparently.
I really do wish there were more of this thing. I do. I found Kanno’s sense of humor pretty clever and full of bizarre twists and unexpected commentary. He understood the satirical, self-parody nature of the Ninja Turtles cartoon (a quality the show squandered far too often) and really ran with the idea, utilizing clichés and then pointing and laughing at them just as quickly. While the Mutant Turtles Gaiden series was a reboot, he didn’t bore readers with details of the story they were already familiar with, but got the necessary elements out of the way so he could jump into the fun as quickly as possible.
I’m not a fan of manga, but I really had a good time translating this thing. For anybody who enjoyed Archie’s TMNT Adventures comic, I would recommend it to you. The tone balancing action and humor feels especially similar; it never gets too dark for the kids, but there’s still enough subdued violence and risqué gags to appeal to adult fans as well.
Some of it can get a little creepy, though. Irma is most assuredly NOT my personal fetish.