Hey, it’s still Wednesday in my part of the world.
Ultimate Muscle, Vols 14 & 15, Yudetamago. Viz, 2006. Each $7.95, 232 pages.
…and then there’s the really weird contest manga, like Ultimate Muscle. Addicts of Death Note may recognise the title as another part of Viz’ Shonen Jump imprint. That was, frankly, all I knew of it until leafing through these two volumes in a used bookstore. What convinced me to buy them was a scene two-thirds into Volume 15, where, well, I’ll just show you the scene:
(Click to embiggen; apologies for my crappy scanning un-skills)
That’s Hollywood Bowl, toilet-themed superhuman, making his grand entrance on the (literal and figurative) throne. Ultimate Muscle protagonist Kid Muscle is in the bottom right corner, freaking out at the Bowl’s bling. The two proceed to have a very silly wrestling match, all part of the “Superhuman Olympics” which are evidently the plot engine for the series right now. These Olympics involve outlandish characters competing with one another to become the “superhuman champion of the world”, sometimes through wrestling matches, and sometimes through three-legged races or giant pachinko machines. These two volumes take us through several of these unlikely qualifying rounds.
Yudetamago is a joint pseudonym for writer Takashi Shimada and artist Yoshinori Nakai. Nakai’s art is nothing to write home about, but its light, cartoonish feel carries Shimada’s goofy scripts. Between them they simultaneously parody and indulge in the conventions of contest manga, such as over-the-top contests, unfair judges with a grudge against the hero, and so on. The result works perfectly well as light, semi-surreal action comedy, with an emphasis on the comedy.
And in grand comedic tradition, most of the laughs come at the expense of the nominal hero. Kid Muscle is the son of former superhuman champion King Muscle (who was himself the hero of a similar series by the same creators in the 80s). Not unusually for a comedic hero, Kid Muscle is sleazy, lazy, cowardly, clumsy and not too bright. On the other hand, he’s got a good heart (or so we’re told), so we’re inclined to root for him. More importantly, he takes a good pratfall.
Kid Muscle’s plain design also makes him an effective straight man against his bizarro competitors, many of whom are based on ideas submitted by readers. Kid Muscle is basically a buff guy in a luchador mask. But his opponents include Hollywood Bowl; Sly Scraper, who is half-man half-skyscraper; and Bobby Wasabi, whose special move is “Sensational Sushi Paper!” It’s the rogue’s gallery from Dick Tracy on LSD.
Ultimate Muscle is much like what you might expect if Garth Ennis wrote manga. Gruesome, bloody violence alternates with occasionally very funny toilet humour, characters who are walking punchlines, and comical nudity (we see Kid Muscle’s pixellated member several times), all of it wrapped up with a general disrespect for guys in silly costumes. If Hitman had been called Wrestler instead, we might have got something like Ultimate Muscle.
Although I doubt even Ennis could have come up with Hollywood Bowl.
Recommended? If you’re in the right sort of mood, it’s a fun diversion (albeit nothing spectacular). Well, it made me laugh, anyway.
IYL: Iron Wok Jan!, Hitman, wrestling
PC Alert: On the one hand: (1) All the superhumans are men, and women appear to be sex objects/love interests, at best; (2) there are several crude or tasteless gags; and (3) there are more than a few gratuitous panty and bent-over shots. On the other hand, (4) most of those shots are of Kid Muscle’s apparent main squeeze Roxanne, who is spunky, tough, independent and doesn’t swoon over “her man”. Above all, she’s drawn realistically. She’s not quite a Crumb girl (or a Little or Hernandez girl, either) but she’s definitely not anorexic. Also, (5) despite the setting of the superhuman olympics, international fans aren’t depicted as stereotypes. On the whole: PC approved.