Whut-up with this WOLF BOY?

posted in: 2 - Books and Manga | 4

I probably need a real Shirato Sanpei fan here.

These scans are from a 1967 manga I scored in a lot, one of which was described only as  “Wolf Boy.” I was hoping for some Wolf Boy Ken tie in, but no! Rather than a Jungle Book / Tarzan-like deal, I was pleasantly surprised by this Kamui-esque adventure of an orphan raised by wolves who then learns shadow skills.


Here’s the cover:

So what do I have here? Various Wikis and under-researched manga sites list a “Wolf Boy” series in Sanpei’s resume, but I’m stonewalled after that. I know how much some of you looove doing my research for me, so get to it!

WATARI press stills (Part 2)

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 1

Pre-pubescent axe-weilding hero Watari goes through standard shinobi like shit through a goose, but things get a lot dicier when he encounters a  bizarre rogues gallery of super-powered villains.

The uber-nemesis of the film is played by RYUTARO OTOMO, but Watari will have to wade through a legion of weirdos to get to him…
Lifted right off the manga pages, these goons are caked in make-up, primary-colored skin paint and off-the-wall costumes. They have powers to match, too. I won’t spoil anything for those of you yet to see WATARI, but one of these ninja is actually a robot!

The pervy toad boy and the thick kunoichi are my faves. Can’t find any info on who that is, but she’s got that joshi puroresu look…
Demon freaks and robo-ninja aside, there are even weirder bits in the film, like this trippy attack by animated butterflies.
This staged still got bit and re-bit for foreign posters, even for other films. Check out the Pakistani poster for Kadokawa’s LEGEND OF THE EIGHT SAMURAI below.

Further Reading:

I wrote a short plug for this film on the old Ninja80 blog (aka Not-So-Vintage Ninja)

Kung Fu Cinema wasn’t especially impressed with the martial arts of this film. And another review by Golden Pigsy.

There’s an all-too-small gallery of manga covers here.

And most importantly, BUY THE FILM at Kurotokagi! It’s worth it for the amazing theme song alone.

WATARI press stills (Part 1)

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 2

Scored some 4×6″ B&W press stills from Toei’s 1966 mess of a masterpiece Watari the Ninja Boy (Daininjutsu eiga Watari). Depending on one’s previous knowledge of the Shirato Sanpei manga and where you stand on magical superhero ninjutsu vs. grim and gritty shinobi espionage, Watari is either bullshit or batshit. Could be a little of both, but I personally find this movie enjoyable as hell.

I love Watari‘s live-action cartoon universe and the characters are as outre as the source manga’s. It’s a candy dish of color with some great sets and absolutely awesome costuming. It is too long, too involved, the motivations are murky, etc. and so forth, but I forgive that in appreciation of the fact that this is a kid’s movie with a huge body count.

This collection of press stills – some staged, some from the actual film – lack the movie’s lush color, but do yield details easy to miss otherwise.

In Sanpei's manga, everyone gets by with one eye. The movie is hyper-faithful to the hair styles of the book, even when characters are masked!
Staged still replicating an FX scene in the film. YOSHINOBU KANEKO as the hero uses disappearing magic to avoid a rather nasty screw-tipped rope dart (you can see detail in the still above this one).
Messing with your own relative scale is a common power in this universe. This baddie also attacks as a black cat, then a thousand black cats, then a gigantic black cat!
Japanese press departments specialized in these artworked scenes that never happened. A total bitch to pull off in the days before Photoshop, too - that's all Xacto knife and paintbrush work.
Watari's mentor, and hairstyle inspiration, is shinobi-cinema icon MAKI FUYKICHI.

Watari can be downright brutal in his dealings with evil ninja!

TOMORROW, more stills from this collection, mostly of the increasingly bizarre monster-ninja Watari faces during the film.

GARO exhibit in NYC!

posted in: 2 - Books and Manga | 0

The highly regarded alt-manga blog Same Hat! Same Hat! has some photos up of the amazing GARO exhibition at the Center for Book Arts in NYC.

I haven’t studied up much on GARO, but it seems to me (from a publisher’s perspective) that the presence of Shirato Sanpei’s “Kamui” was the financial tent pole that enabled all sorts of other experimental and daring work that was not necessarily sellable on its own. I’m planning on ordering one of the exhibition catalogs to learn more.

Previous VN posts on this period of manga brilliance here and here.

GARO covers by Shirato Sanpei

posted in: 2 - Books and Manga | 0


GARO was an eccentric, cutting edge alternative to traditional 60’s manga, and had an effect on a generation of readers akin to what Heavy Metal did for us in the U.S. in the 80’s.

It’s backbone was Shirato Sanpei’s re-imagined Kamui, and he did a run of rough, sketchy covers that are just astounding. Beauty and grotesqueness in equal measure.

Check out eBay-er Hinodeya for a bunch on sale pretty cheap!




FUJIMARU book-n-record (PART 2)

posted in: 4 - Collectibles | 0

The adventure continues…

Fujimaru had a rather large friend from above his whole life – a giant eagle. It was all part of a well-balanced mix of genuine historical weaponry and credible martial arts with superhero-like powers and outright magic. Blend it all with goofy animals for comic relief and a snappy theme song by a kids chorus, and that’s your formula for successful boy’s adventure anime in the 60’s.




OK, that animal on the far left, the one with the same haircut as my mailman... what exactly is that? Monkey? Wombat? Proto-Ewok?



Fujimaru's whirlwind could turn Japusai's fire right back on him in spectacular fashion! I love the character design of the old wizard...


These terriffic action poses are right out of the credit sequence to the TV anime. The show was adapted from a popular Sanpei manga, and animated by the now legendary Hayao Miyazaki.





Ninja Kaze no Fujimaru ran on Toei’s TV network from Jun. 7, 1964 – Aug. 29, 1965 – the same year as Johnny Quest here in the U.S. But while JQ was about the apex of boy’s adventure cartoons in the States, Fujimaru was just one in a long line of weapons-carrying, ninja-slaying, super-powered shinobi role models for Japanese kids.

We’ve got some imagery from the anime itself and the inspiring manga coming in the future.

FUJIMARU book-n-record (PART 1)

posted in: 4 - Collectibles | 0

Growing up in the pre-home video era often meant the only way to relive your favorite movie or TV property was the now extinct book-n-record. I positively wore out my GI Joe, Frankenstein and Planet of the Apes comic book / 45rpm sets as a wee lad.

The Japanese had it just as good – the formats being rather similar: 8-16 page booklets featured art inspired by anime, manga, live action genre films, etc. Short, simple adventures corresponded to narration and sound effects on a 45rpm flexi-disc, with a property’s signature theme song often on the b-side.

I find the real charm of these sets to be the original artwork, produced by the licensor, sometimes with great skill in replicating the look of a famous artist, but just as often displaying some totally off-model mutations.

This set, from 1964-5, is a rather faithful adaptation of Shirato Sanpei and Hayao Miyazaki‘s collaboration Ninja Kaze no Fujimaru (aka Samurai Kid).


'Fujimaru of the Wind' was a young ninja apprentice with a mastery of swirling wind storms. He was a chip off the old Sanpei block - hanging in the treetops in a tunic and shortpants, needing only his shortsword and a few shuriken, etc/ and so forth. He was a friend to animals, and sworn enemy of fire-breathing wizard Japusai.
LOVE these ninja heavies!!!


I dunno about the furry one-sy he wears, but how cool was the era when kids with swords were role models! This show was rather weapons-laden...
And he gets to KILL ninja! Sure, no gore, but c'mon - wack a guy in the head with a Wakizashi and what's the result?



How awesome is this nut-punch technique!
Fujimaru's mystical gimmick was the control of wind, and whipping up a tornado of leaves was a common escape. Ninja are either extremely susceptible to allergies, or terrified of yardwork...
Most of the sets I've seen adopt the common Japanese publishing practice of running several pages in 2-color process to save printing costs. Clever use of halftone angles and dot-pitch make subtle browns and beiges out of black and orange inks. OK, printing lesson over - quiz tomorrow.
Fujimaru's girly pal Midori gets caught up in the inevitable hunt for the hot-potato secret scroll, aided by a somewhat Deputy Dawg-esque cast of animal sidekicks.

More kid-vs-ninja mayhem coming in PART 2!

Airborne combat in LEGEND OF KAMUI

posted in: 2 - Books and Manga | 1

With the movie pending, I’m re-reading and re-loving Shirato Sanpei‘s second run of Kamui manga. The godfather of ninja comics debuted the character in 1964, then re-imagined the property as a more grown up and severe manga in the 80’s. Kamui Gaiden was a critical and financial hit, crossed-over into anime, and inspired the live action film coming this year. Eclipse Comics made history when they published a 37 issue run in the U.S. as The Legend of Kamui: A Genuine Ninja Story – the first such importation of a Japanese title to our shores.

Here are some terrific combat panels from that run. Sanpei really had a knack for movement, and loved these leaping and tumbling attacks. Despite the amount of dynamic action, you can still ‘read’ what is happening, clearly see the techniques at work and how the killing blows are delivered. Aspiring artists have plenty to learn here:











The grocery list of things I love about this series is long indeed. Kamui is the archetypal skilled loner on the run, trying to leave behind his warrior life but needing those resented skills to survive constant pursuit. It’s a great structure, and over it Sanpei laid some emotionally challenging stories. You could never get too attached to a character, never too comfortable with a setting.

I also love characters with limited arsenals used in increasingly innovative ways. Kamui’s signature short sword and reverse grip technique dispatched 90% of his enemies. A few kunai or shuriken here or there, sometimes a grapple line, were pretty much it.

Eclipse released 37 issues total, starting in 1987. It was late in the ninja craze here, and rarely did the signature black suit appear on covers, so the title may have failed to find the audience it deserved. These gems can be found cheap on eBay, even in complete runs.


The first translated story arc, an incredible parable of struggling fishermen and the inescapability of one’s destined trade, was later collected into two trade paperbacks by VIZ, with reduced art. I prefer the originals, which often had liner notes on the historical subject matter or the artist’s craft.

Visionary character design

posted in: 2 - Books and Manga | 5

Mining through various Japanese fan blogs brings about two things in me:

1.) I soooo wish I could read kanji…


2.) I find amazing scans of vintage manga covers, like the below!

I believe these are all by the godfather of ninja manga Shirato Sanpei. Absolutely awesome.





Check out the line-up of ninja thugs in back - I love that bent angled hood design.

Any Japanese readers wanting to send translations of these covers, especially if an artist is listed, we’ll reward you handsomely.