Raijin RIP

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Today I got a letter from Gutsoon! Entertainment, publisher of “Raijin Comics Monthly”. It said that the magazine and their graphic novel series were “going on hiatus”. Enclosed was a check reimbursing me for part of my subscription to “Raijin Comics.” Gutsoon! will continue to publish through June of 2004. “Raijin Comics Monthly” will end with issue #46. The future of the magazine, the publisher, and their stories remains unknown at this time.

I have been reading and loving Raijin Comics since its debut in December of 2002. It appealed to me because it was different from anything else I was reading or had read up to that point. I had read ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’, but that was highbrow graphic literature compared to the stories in “Raijin”. The cover has always promised, “Action-Brains-Brawn-Sex Appeal. Nothing more, nothing less.” And it’s always lived up to that claim. Raijin demonstrated the excitement and energy of manga in its intended format: a weekly (then monthly), magazine.

I have always loved the idea of the comics anthology; more than I’ve liked most actual comics anthologies. DC’s ‘Wasteland’ from the late 80s is a personal favorite. Art Speigelman’s ‘Blab’ was an eye-opening experience. I’m still disappointed that CrossGen’s ‘Forge’ and ‘Edge/Vector’ were cancelled. I still believe that a single publication that demonstrates the variety, the capacity, the breadth and depth of graphic storytelling is essential in attracting a mass audience to comics. If we, as readers, are to show people that comics can be as versatile, intelligent, and entertaining as other mediums, we need a series that can show it all both clearly and cheaply.

‘Raijin Comics’ could have been that series. Every month, its stories dealt with love, sex, loyalty, patriotism, violence, family, hope, and high school, with plenty of comedy, drama, and passion. It depicted action sequences from several perspectives at once, thus demonstrating how comics can deliver a stronger emotional impact than movies or TV. There is no equal in mass American entertainment when it comes to the content of the stories. Where else could you see a story like “First President of Japan”, a political “what if” tale written by a prestigious political theorist? Or “Revenge of the Mouflon”, (reviewed here last month)? A stand-up comic fighting terrorists on principle? You won’t see that on NBC.

Other stories weren’t as intellectual as “First President” and “Mouflon”. “Fist of the Blue Sky” and “Baki the Grappler” both centered on fighting. The fighters do things so unusual, so amazing, it will make you say “Holy Fuck!” Few comics can evoke such a gut reaction these days. “City Hunter”, though originally created in the 1980s, is still a stylish, fun action-comedy. I don’t think American culture would permit the creation of an action hero who’s as sex-crazed as he is deadly. The historical series “Keiji” is based on a real-life samurai notorious for his unconventional behavior and flamboyant style. Part of the fun of reading this series is seeing how he’ll embarrass his uncle, a leading politician. Part of it is seeing him fighting impossible odds against opponents who praise him before they die.

After appealing to the head and the gut, Raijin goes for your heart. “Guardian Angel Getten” is the story of a 14-year-old boy who becomes the “master” of an ancient spirit, Shao Lin. Shao takes the form of a young girl. Our hero falls in love with Shao, but is too shy and nervous to say so. Shao is also growing to love her master, but the feelings are new and confusing. Complicating matter are Shao’s rival, the Spirit of the Sun; a priest who also wants Shao; another boy who wants the Sun Spirit; a human girl who wants our hero; and a newly arrived third female spirit come to bring our hero “challenges and tribulations’.

This is the first romance I’ve ever seen where you need a flowchart to keep track of the relationships.

In spite of all this teenage lust, the love of our hero and Shao remains pure. Much humor occurs when the plans of the other characters to divide them backfire, ultimately bringing our leading couple closer together. It’s a very sweet, touching romantic comedy.

“Slam Dunk” follows the trials and tribulations of a teenage delinquent as he joins the high school basketball team to impress a girl. As the story develops, he finds he actually likes basketball. He could lead the team to victory if he could stop fighting with them for five minutes! Speaking as someone who finds real-life sports boring, (except for Steelers football), “Slam Dunk” is the most exciting presentation of basketball I’ve ever seen. I found myself laughing out loud when our red-headed hero scores a slam dunk against the team captain. Seeing this guy overcome the challenges he creates for himself is half the fun of reading this book. The other half is the dramatic basketball game that’s taken 7 months to play!

And for the sake of completeness, I mention “Bow Wow Wata”. A 12-year-old boy learns that his father, a veterinarian, is really an animal god. Both he and his father have the power to communicate with animals. The boy has a crush on a girl who leaves her dog, Wata, in his care. Wata doesn’t think the boy is good enough for his “mistress” and tells him so at every opportunity. So it’s Dr. Dolittle as a boy, crossed with a four-legged mother-in-law. It has its moments.

In addition to the stories, “Raijin Comics” includes short features about Japanese culture and manga. Sound effects are translated, visual symbols are explained, and the “close” relationship between manga artist and editor is explained. There have also been articles on manga fan culture and Japanese night life. Thanks to Raijin, I now know not to follow any strange girls to dingy nightclubs!

So why didn’t “Raijin Comics” sell? Poor advertising? Difficulties with the retailers? I rarely saw it at comic shops. It wasn’t sold at newsstands until two months ago. One comic shop did carry it regularly, but stopped carrying it after a few months. It now sells the old issues at a deep discount. Why didn’t “Raijin Comics” catch on, especially at a time when the popularity of manga is growing? Are Americans more receptive to manga graphic novels than magazines? If so, what does this say about the future of Viz comics’ “Shonen Jump”, and “Amerimanga” from Antarctic Press? Maybe the right-to-left format was too difficult for non-manga readers to understand. I can’t say. I’m biased. I liked the comics so much the idea of anyone not liking it is baffling.

There’s still time for you to read and enjoy “Raijin Comics”. You can order back issues and graphic novels from the website at www.raijincomics.com. Novels are also carried at most major book stores. For those of you who are currently reading them, here’s when the last books are being published:

“Revenge of the Mouflon” Vol. 2 – June 16
“Guardian Angel Getten” Vol. 3 – March 17
“Guardian Angel Getten” Vol. 4 – May 19
“Bow Wow Wata” Vol. 2 – May 19
“Slam Dunk” Vol. 5 – April 21
“City Hunter” Vol. 5 – April 21
“Fist of the Blue Sky” Vol. 4 – March 17
“Fist of the North Star: Master Edition” Vol. 8 – Out Now.

Also available are all four volumes of “First President of Japan”, and “Bomber Girl”, a single volume about a sexy bounty hunter in the future.

And once again, “Raijin Comics Monthly” #46 will be on sale June 9. Check them out while you can.

When I got the letter, I e-mailed an editor at Raijin about the publisher’s fate. He said, “This ain’t the end of the show”. He said some things were in motion, and hopefully he’ll have big news during the summer convention season. Most likely, Raijin will return as a graphic novel-only publisher, like Tokyopop; possibly with more stories aimed at younger readers. In any case, ‘Raijin Comics’ as we’ve known it is no more. The first comics magazine aimed at a mass adult audience is gone.

Here’s to another great idea lost on an unthinking public. See you later, thunder god.

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