I don’t follow politics, and I don’t know how to play mahjong, but I’m a huge fan of Legend of Koizumi, an unlicensed title about world political leaders playing mahjong.
Hideki Ohwada re-imagines our world leaders not as feeble old men, but as super-manly badasses who solve world conflicts over a mahjong table. George Bush Senior is no longer a skinny Texan throwing up into the Japanese Prime Minister’s lap, but a hulking muscular seven foot monstrosity of a man with the power to make his shirt explode off by force of will.
The story is told through the eyes of Taizo Sugimura, the youngest member of the House of Representatives ever elected. In Koizumi, the naive Sugimura is duped into teaching George W. Bush how to play mahjong. Bush insists on gambling on their second game, and Sugimura fails to notice W.’s mahjong calluses. Soon Sugimura finds himself stripped and ball-gagged and about to be used for Cheney’s target practice. It’s up to Prime Minister Koizumi to save Sugimura’s ass in a high stakes game of mahjong (gambling for F-14’s) – and that’s just chapter one.
A later chapter features Koizumi battling North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, who calmly orders an assassination during the match while munching on pig feet. Vladimir Putin is also a major character. In volume two, to be released in December, Koizumi faces off against the Pope, who cheats by using Catholic magic.
Every page of volume one of Ohwada’s masterwork explodes with manliness, building to a scene so huge a two-page splash could not contain the machismo – the climactic mahjong move of volume one is portrayed on an unprecedented four-page long splash panel.
As an American, I knew former Prime Minister Koizumi liked Elvis and reformed the Japanese postal system, but I wasn’t aware of his legendary haircut. Under Ohwada’s pen, Koizumi’s hair is more legendary than ever.
Ohwada is the author of several gag manga series in Japan. In his other series, he parodies volleyball manga (Beach de Q), soccer manga (Heaven Eleven), and baseball manga (Tanoshii Koshien). Unfortunately, none of Ohwada’s works have been imported to the U.S.. The closest thing you can find is an OVA series called Magical Witch Punie-chan released by Media Blasters in 2008. The OVA is based on Ohwada’s magical girl parody manga Great Magical Gap, and from what I’ve seen of the anime, it’s hilarious and worth watching. It’s easy to find Ohwada’s Gundam gag comic Mobile Suit Gundam-san in Japanese bookstores. I picked up a volume where Char “The Red Comet” Aznable is ironing his pants on the cover.
But is a joke that needs to be explained still funny? My Japanese reading skills are very limited, but fortunately for me all of the awesome mahjong finishing moves are spelled out in katakana. When Bush employs his Patriot Missile move I’m able to read it. Volume one is hilarious and entertaining even if you can’t read it, and even without knowledge of politics or mahjong.
I didn’t know who Sugimura was, but it was easy enough to find out on the internet. In real life, Sugimura was forced to issue a public apology after saying a few embarrassing things to the media shortly after his unlikely election. Unaware the salary and perks of being a Diet (Japanese Senate) member, Sugimura said excitedly, “The Diet Members can ride JR for free!” (Including the first class green cars on the shinkansen!) Even without knowing Sugimura’s story, he’s still a funny character in Koizumi, crying manly tears with each of his appearances. Truly, the book is a testament to Ohwada’s talents.
Supporting character Yukari Sato sounds like one of the more powerful women in Japanese politics, but apparently they call her Yukari-tan on 2 channel, and on the back cover of Koizumi, which is terribly demeaning. In Koizumi Yukari explains everything to the naïve Sugimura.
There’s something reassuring about Ohwada’s universe of manly leaders engaged in high stakes gambling. In real life Shinzo Abe’s resignation from politics is partially credited to severe diarrhea, but in Koizumi the diarrhea story is a front to cover up the real reason; he commits seppuku. Diarrhea sounds like a pathetic human weakness, something that would never weaken Ohwada’s super-human leaders.
We can only hope that a brilliant publisher grabs this title for the North American market. In the meantime, your best bet is to look for a copy at a Japanese bookstore. Keep in mind that manga is typically arranged by publisher. Because Koizumi runs in Kindai Mahjong Original magazine, you can usually find it shelved among other weird titles (like ramen and sushi manga) from smaller publishers. Look for KM on the spine.
I can’t put it better than Brad Rice of Japanator.com: “This is why I learned Japanese.”