Violence Jack – Iron Castle

And now, what may be my favourite arc of Violence Jack. There’s no doubt the original run is better, it came during Nagai’s peak years after all, but for sheer crazy remixing of another Go Nagai property, this cannot be beaten. Why?

It is the Mazinger Z chapter of Violence Jack.

Mazinger Z is Go Nagai’s seminal giant robot work from 1972 and revisited multiple times since them. We’ve already seen one sequel, Great Mazinger, and one alternate retelling, God Mazinger, referenced in Violence Jack. In turn, Yasuhiro Imagawa’s 2009 anime retelling of the series, Shin Mazinger Shougeki! Z Hen, would reference Violence Jack heavily, including this arc specifically.

This arc does not involve giant robots. Oh no. Instead it involves a blind black martial artist, Jim Mazinger, who uses the young Japanese boy Kouji Kabuto as his eyes. By having Kouji sit on his shoulders and pilot him like a robot.

Jim is obviously a mix of Jim Kelly and Mazinger, with a bit of Gorongo from Zuba and Barry Hercules from Starfleet/X-Bomber (maybe Jun Hono’s father too? I don’t think I’ve seen his character design though). While Nagai had used stereotypical “sambo” characters during the sixties in titles like Shameless School, he certainly didn’t persist with it as his career progressed. Which kind of makes the cultural ignorance defence harder to take when people use it to defend manga character designs that persisted with that stereotype into the 80s and 90s. If someone like Go Nagai, who frequently goes out of his way to shock and offend, could make an effort back in the early 70s, then nobody following him really has any excuse.

Jim makes an appearance in Imagawa’s Shin Mazinger as the body that Viscount Pygman uses through much of the series, before eventually shedding that body for something resembling his traditional form. That in turn has echoes of a scene later in this particular arc, albeit with a different Mazinger cast member. I also wonder if the spear and lion we see him with in the opening episode are a reference to Gorongo from Zuba. More on the insanity that is Zuba in a later Violence Jack arc.

We open the arc with Mondo and Ryoma encountering Jim and Kouji destroying some evil karate practitioners. Kouji explains their plight while we see Doctor Hell’s evil karate dojo. Eventually Hell sends Ashura and three burly karate types to attack Kouji and Jim’s dojo. I’m going to guess those three would be analogues for particular Machine Beasts (the enemy mecha in Mazinger), not sure which though.

They attack while Kouji is away from Jim, murdering their students and taking advantage of Jim’s blindness. They are about to win when Violence Jack makes his one appearance this arc (not clear if it’s a vision or something physical), giving Kouji the chance to leap onto Jim’s shoulders. And then remove some heads from other shoulders!

Meanwhile Ryoma and Mondo are spying on some Amazonian looking martial artists dueling in the river. Naked. These are Aphrodite and Diana, based on the female robots from Mazinger. Ryoma and Mondo get spotted and surrounded by the women.

Back at the dojo we get a lengthy training sequence where Jim is training kids in karate. Sayaka, Boss, Mucha & Nuke show up during this sequence.

While Jim and Kouji prepare, Hell makes preparations of his own. Ashura trains more evil martial artists, and Hell recruits a gang of gunmen and assorted other hoodlums under the command of Count Brocken. Yes, he is headless here too…

Things begin to escalate as Brocken’s men arrive at the Kabuto dojo, Ryoma and Mondo are caught peeping by Aphrodite and Diana and Hell has a visitor at his own dojo. Kouji’s presumed dead father, Kenzo Kabuto!

As Jim makes short work of Brocken’s men, while Kenzo challenges Hell to a fight, which Hell accepts. Jim and Kouji then face the other evil karate experts that Ashura has brought with him.

Alas, tragedy awaits Jim as he faces Brocken. Brocken appears to be using a sword, but fells Jim with three gunshots. How you may ask? Well, Brocken is actually a pygmy on stilts wearing a trench coat and fake arms & head! This is why this is the best arc in Violence Jack.

All is not lost though, for back at Hell’s dojo, Kenzo defeats Hell in front of his men, tearing his heart out of his chest.

Aphrodite and Diana mop up the remaining members of Hell’s army, dispatching Brocken with a rock to the head. We then get a brief epilogue showing the grave of Jim Mazinger and the Kabuto dojo move on with their lives.

This is probably the purest remixing of another Nagai property in Violence Jack, mainly down to the fact Jack barely features in it. Instead the focus is just on changing elements of Mazinger into a martial arts movie parody. The flexible supernatural nature of the series means you can buy a headless hoodlum like Brocken, after all we’ve seen giants, demons and psychics already. So the gag of revealing him to be the Pygman stand-in in a ridiculous disguise, is further out there.

That flexible supernatural nature comes back in a big way during the next arc, where we get a prison exploitation movie homage/parody. More on that next time!