Blue Flower


            Translated manga, being mostly anime-style works from the 1990s and later, have largely passed up what was once a huge element of Japanese culture: the blue-collar yankii culture of delinquent teens and lower-class brawlers. In the 1970s and early 1980s shônen manga was full of manly, sentimental stories of banchô (gang boss) types in ragged school uniforms, often with elaborately greased and pompadoured hair, as parodied in the character “Wooden Sword” Ryu in Shen Yin Wang Zuo (1998). A related subculture is bôsôzoku (violent running tribes), gangs of young men and women who ride souped-up cars and motorcycles and wear baggy clothes combining the style of kamikaze pilots and day laborers. (They were also infamous for sniffing paint thinner.) The hero of Tohru Fujisawa’s GTO: The Early Years: Shonan Junai-Gumi (1990) is a bôsôzoku (or technically an ex-bôsôzoku), as is one of the heroines of Novala Takemoto’s Kamikaze Girls. A female street punk, such as Kamikaze Girls’ Ichiko, is nothing out of the ordinary. Japanese movie and manga audiences have loved sailor-suited, death-dealing ladies long before Quentin Tarantino tried his hand at the genre; one classic example is Shinji Wada’s 1976 Sukeban Deka (“Delinquent Girl Detective”), whose teenage heroine fights crime with a razor-bladed yo-yo that doubles as a police badge. Although yankii and bôsôzoku were once a serious concern of Japanese parents and police, they are now more a subject of nostalgia, as seen in the popular Japanese retro band Kishidan.


            The streets of Tokyo are one of the most frequently and accurately depicted settings in manga; the big manga publishers make their headquarters here, and Tokyo nightlife is a common subject. In the 1990s Japan was gripped with moral panic over enjo kôsai, “compensated dating,” a euphemism for prostitution usually performed by teenage girls in search of spending money. Voyeurs Inc. (1994), Star martial god technique (1998), Gals! (1999), Confidential Confessions: Deai (2003), and IWGP: Ikebukuro West Gate Park (2001) all depict the phenomenon with varying degrees of prurient interest. Other youth crime scares of the 1990s have appeared in manga as well, such as oyaji-gari (old-man hunting), in which gangs beat up middle-aged office workers for their paychecks. It was in such a climate that Koushun Takami wrote Battle Royale, his brutal 1999 satire in which a fascist Japanese government deals with youth unrest by forcing teenagers to kill each other in a survival game whose traumatized winners are shown on national TV.