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Baoh. By Hirohiko Araki. San Francisco, CA: Viz Communications, 1995. 1v. (unpaged). (Viz Graphic Novel). $14.95. ISBN 1-56931-097-1.

Baoh cover

Science fiction; superheroes

Adults, teens; graphic violence

NOTE: This book collects issues #1-4 of Baoh.

A woman's mutilated body washes up on the shore. She was once a kind of smiling, evil nanny to a kidnapped orphan, Violet. The girl was kidnapped because she has precognitive and channeling powers, and placed on a constantly moving train that contains the Judas Laboratory: a secret government lab that performs bio-genetic experiments on animals and people. The evil Hazyeye is the chief overseer of these experiments. Violet manages to briefly escape her "nanny" and races through the train. Her "nanny," packing heat, gives chase, and manages to trap Violet in the frame of an automatically closing door. However, in her struggles to free herself, Violet turns a pressure valve, releasing a teenage boy, Ikuro Hashizawa, who had been in suspended animation in a tank of water. The boy tosses around some of Hazyeye's henchmen like they were toys. Meanwhile, Violet manages to uncouple the train cars so that the rest of the train is speeding away while she remains safe. Ikuro clambers out and tries to jump off by grabbing onto the overhead power cable. The baddies shoot him, and he gets a tremendous electrical shock, but he survives. The "nanny" is killed for allowing all this to happen.

Next, we see Ikuro and Violet sitting on a bench, waiting for a bus. Violet has a vision of an assassin coming to destroy Ikuro, and almost immediately Mr. Assassin shows up and stabs Ikuro, who apparently staggers into the path of a bus [there is no transition panel showing this]. Violet tackles him and saves his life. Ikuro staggers over to a motorcycle, punches out the owner, and roars away with Violet and her poof-tailed rodent-critter. Meanwhile, Hazyeye's superiors quiz him about this "disaster" and insists that Ikuro be killed and his corpse immediately burned. As they drive down the road, Ikuro's wound heals, and a strange rash is apparent on his arm. The motorcycle is almost out of gas, so they stop to get some. Mr. Assassin drygulches them and slits Ikuro's throat and knocks out Violet. But just as Mr. Assassin is about to burn Ikuro's body, it starts making strange noise. Ikuro comes back to life, looking rather odd, and grabs Mr. Assassin's wrist, which melts away. Mr. Assassin tries to run, but Ikuro melts his head, then rushes back to save Violet from the exploding gas station.

A set of seven assassins conducts a search for the two kids, who have gone to the race track to use Violet's precognitive abilities to make some money. They're grabbed by the track guards for being underage [and presumably kicked out, but we're missing more panels here]. Elsewhere, Hazyeye demonstrates to his superiors what Baoh is by releasing a dog and sikking a tiger on it. Wounded, the dog becomes another creature, rips the tiger to shreds, and attempts to break through a 48mm-thick plate glass window to get at the humans. The creature is lasered many times before a shot to the head destroys it, revealing the Baoh worm: a symbiote that reacts to adrenaline levels in its host's body and changes the body to deal with threats. Hazyeye is fearful that the Baoh in Ikuro will eventually reproduce and take over the world. Elsewhere, Ikuro and Violet camp out in an abandoned building, but Violet gets a precognitive flash, and they're ambushed by some of the seven assassins. Ikuro is shot up, and both kids fall out at least a third-story window. Violet is knocked out, and as the assassins are preparing to kill her, Ikuro reemerges in the second stage of Baoh transformation: armored, and with wrist-knives made out of hardened skin. He shreds the assassins, melts them, rips them apart, etc. Not far away, a man whose face is covered with bandages tsk-tsks the incompetence of the assassins.

The fuzzy critter, seeing his mistress out cold, floats down via his puffy tail and licks her awake. Baoh senses more danger, and a truck barrels down on him. It hits him, and he either throws it away or it bounces off him [I can't tell], and from the wreckage gracefully flips the bandaged man. He shows off his skill by showing Baoh a flower that he put on the boy when he was exiting the truck, then summons a gigantic mandril, Martin, to whale on the boy. They tussle. Martin has all kinds of things hidden in his fur and elsewhere, such as a stake that he draws out of his arm, and a rope with a grappling hook that shoots out of his mouth so he can swing around [I am not making this up--I wish I was, but I'm not]. He impales Baoh on a girder. With the boy apparently dead, Martin briefly turns his attention to a luckless mother and son who happen to be passing by, and kills them. He's about to kill Violent when Baoh steps in front of the three stakes he flings at her. Really pissed now, he chucks a huge piece of concrete at Martin. But Martin has a tank of poison gas concealed in his stomach, and that takes Baoh down, and the mandrill uses his throat-rope to tie up the boy, and hurls a metal sheet at him--but Baoh manages to leap up so that only one leg is severed. At this point Violet realizes that the bandaged guy is controlling Martin with the sound of the whip that he's constantly cracking, so she grabs the whip end. The bandaged guy tries to kill her. This triggers Baoh's "Baoh Piercing Needles"--Baoh whips his hair at the bandaged guy, sending hair needles into his face, which combust and burn him up. Baoh also rips Martin apart. Baoh retrieves his fallen leg and reattaches it, then returns to normal, and the entirely unharmed Violet embraces him.

Later, Ikuro and Violet hike, without packs or anything, into the mountains for some unknown reason. Ikuro remembers being there with his parents when they were all badly injured in an auto accident. The Judas Project took him to experiment on and killed his parents because that's one of the "principle conditions" of the experiment--no parents. Anyway, the two are found, sheltering in a shed, by a couple of farmers; the gruff husband invites the pair in for dinner. Getting firewood, the husband is brainwashed by a Judas Project agent to shoot Ikuro at 2 AM....

My god, my god, just when I think I've seen the nadir of manga, I discover this little gem. This book is over-the-top stupid, so bad that it's funny. It appears to have been written by an adolescent enchanted with "cool" ideas about what Baoh should look like and can do, but with no clue as to how to tell a story, create believable characters, or come up with a plausible situation. The very notion of a secret government lab on a constantly moving train is idiotic, and don't get me started about Martin! The narration is top-heavy with exposition about Baoh, what it does to Ikuro, how it changes him, etc. Except for one or two moments, Ikuro never questions what's happening to him, mourns his parents, or shows any emotions at all except startlement. At one point it's said that he has no memory of what happened to him, but later he describes to Violet exactly what happened to him, including a few things that he couldn't have known because he was unconscious at the time. Violet is never once injured, despite being mashed between a door and a door frame, falling out a third-story window, being knocked into a gas pump, being whipped, etc. (Who needs Baoh? This kid's powers of invulnerability are a lot more impressive!) Nor is she in the least traumatized by the things she witnesses--she's more concerned that Ikuro is still her "gentle friend" despite his looks. People don't just die, they die in the most gruesome possible ways. The villains pose like otherworldly models. The dialogue is pretty stupid throughout, but that of the "nanny" in the beginning is atrocious--for example, when she's caught in a snare that Violet set up [by stepping into a power-cord loop that winds around an electric fan that's about as powerful as your average floor fan] and hauled into the air, she cries "EEEEE! What is this--some new kind of game?"

Jeez, I could spend hours on this. I'd better stop.

The art is standard manga, with the one benefit that the fight scenes are easier to follow than in most violent manga. As noted in the synopsis, the flow is occasionally very poor, with things happening in Panel B that didn't follow from Panel A, or with plot points that simply die (as when the kids are grabbed in the race track--nothing happens after that). In places, Araki makes silly anatomical errors, such as in one panel when Ikuro is carrying Violet; she looks as small as a baby. (I wonder if he copied this panel from the cover of an obscure Piers Anthony book, Battle Circle, which has much the same scene on it, at least in terms of the man carrying the tiny child.)

Maybe it was supposed to be this bad. Maybe in some peculiar way, Baoh was meant to be a satire of this kind of manga. I hope it was, and that I completely misread the book's intent. But I seriously doubt it. A heavy-handed air of seriousness permeates both the book and the blurb on the back cover (which, by the way, is partially inaccurate in its summation of the story). It makes standard American superhero titles (e.g., JLA: New World Order, Generations) look like scholarly literature. Baoh--bah!


Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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