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Karakuridôji Ultimo

Karakuridôji Ultimo

Story and Art by Hiroyuki Takei Concept by Stan Lee

Shonen Jump Manga

Karakuridôji Ultimo

How does a Western storyline mix with over-the-top Eastern panel illustration? Not badly, if this collaborative project between Stan Lee and Hiroyuki Takei is any measure of multicultural comics. Lee moves away from his trademark musclebound superhero in spandex for the spiky-haired, small-nosed Japanese mecha-hero.

This story begins in Kamakura era Japan. Dunstan (Ok, Stan Lee) builds a pair of mechanical Karakuri Dojo called “Vice” and “Ultimo.” In the sort of absolutist thinking that pervades Manga, one represents Absolute Good, the other Absolute Evil, and they were built on a whim to see which is more powerful. Naturally, they fight their battles up in the sky, and each must have some sort of master to imbue it with a human quality and weakness, which all superhero fans realize is a requirement to avoid those “Can God make a rock so big not even He can lift it?” questions.

After wiping out vast areas of medieval Japan, the robots retire to various antique shops and wait for the internet and Hello Kitty to appear, and the battle resumes. Ultimo becomes property of Yamato and Vice that of K, and they take to tossing buses around Tokyo like Godzilla high on rubber cement. Small, ambiguous children surround the story, their exact roles and relations murky, forcing you to check the cheat sheet in the appendix. Besides their roles and relations, we discover they have theme colors, feed sparrows, and their blood types are critical to their personality. Overwrought battles with “Turtle Saw” maneuvers and “Millennium Cuts” fill the action in a sort of high-tech professional wrestling style. As this is Volume One of a series, the story stops abruptly with a politician offering to buy Vice. Government is, on some level, the same everywhere.

While the story simmers along, each page layout and individual panel is a gem. Dunstan appears from time to time, and there are lovingly rendered images of weird Japanese cuisine and the underside of buses. Graphically this stuff is brilliant, even when squeezed down to the 8” by 5” page size in this pulp. We learn a little about the Japanese way of life, and are reminded of this comic book truism – superheroes make noisy neighbors. If nothing else, Mr. Lee Americanized this art form enough to make it palatable to the comic enthusiast who doesn’t have a Japanese girlfriend.


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