Cartoonishly virile, absurdly smooth: The Crying Freeman Story

May 25th, 2012 by | Tags: ,

It’s sorta interesting to me that cape comics have survived as a juvenile male power fantasy for so long. I don’t mean that in terms of being childish or whatever, but more literally. The love triangles, skimpy costumes, brawny dudes, stunted sexuality, and simplistic morals all read sorta teenaged to me. That’s part of the appeal, I think, because things are much simpler in cape comics than they are in real life. There’s a really boring essay to be written about that fact, I figure, but that’s not the point.

Kazuo Koike and Ryoichi Ikegami’s Crying Freeman is some type of male power fantasy, but I can’t figure out what type. I decided to read the series whe Dark Horse started putting them up because I have vague memories of enjoying the movie as a kid. Plus, I dig on that whole ’80s Hong Kong aesthetic; the aviators, dusters, revolvers, and all that stuff. The John Woo/Chow Yun-fat steez.

The thing is, Crying Freeman starts as one thing (reluctant hitman who cries when he’s forced to kill) and evolves into another thing entirely when he’s made chief of the 108 Dragons triad. What follows is a lot of naked fighting and some pretty absurd sexual situations. I mean, there’s a bit where a guy attempts to make two body doubles for Freeman. Of course, Freeman is the overman, so they do a lot of work making sure that the doubles know his every movement and twitch so they can be perfect. Then, the lady who lured Freeman into the trap, Kimie, sleeps with Freeman in order to “absorb his every single sexual habit” so that when the doubles sleep with Freeman’s wife, she’ll believe that it’s actually him.

This is already pretty dumb, but it keeps going. They go at it for at least an hour, also known as “something like thirty pages of straight sex while onlookers gawk at his prowess.” Oh, and while all this has been going on, Freeman has been dosed with some type of super aphrodisiac that’s theoretically put him out of his mind with lust. Freeman invents a couple new fetishes for himself to throw off the onlookers (choking, mainly, and everyone Hmm!s and Aah!s over it and briefly psychoanalyzes him), but the rub is insane. He never comes, and that drives Kimie crazy. “You’re making me lose face as a woman!!” crazy. And then, on the night Freeman is due to die, Kimie sleeps with him again and betrays her criminal conspiracy for him. He basically let this lady sex herself into complete and total submission. And this isn’t even the strangest sex scene in the book.

Crying Freeman is incredible, is what I’m saying. I don’t know if it’s actually any good, but the stuff that Koike and Ikegami are putting down on the page is remarkable because it’s both extreme and strange. It’s a great book to read. It’s out there, and it’s out there in a way I hadn’t expected. Freeman, even when he’s hurt, always has the upper hand, having thought a dozen steps ahead and come up with insane reasons for doing things.

It’s the most Koike of Koike’s works, at least that I’ve read. The cartoonish Super Saiyan Level 4 Fusion-ha masculinity, the women who are sexy and dangerous until they meet Freeman and his incredible dick, the absurd criminal plots… all of this stuff I’ve seen elsewhere in Koike’s work, but it’s taken to such a ridiculous level in Crying Freeman that the book becomes as much a slow-motion train wreck as exploitation comic. Takao Saito’s Golgo 13 features some of the most manly manliness ever, and it still never manages to hold a candle to Crying Freeman.

If you’ve ever read anything featuring Golgo 13, whose own prodigious penis got a bio of its own in a volume of the manga, you understand exactly how outlandish Koike and Ikegami’s collabo is. I came in expecting a traditional crime comic, and instead got Crime Comix Plus. Freeman’s outthinking and out-screwing levels are off the charts, to the point where the book regularly shatters your suspension of disbelief.

Por ejemplo, this happens when Freeman returns to the 108 Dragons late in volume 5:

Those are gangsters, by the way, showing high school cheerleaders how to stunt properly.

Or this bit, which comes after a sexy might-as-well-be-naked eskimo assassin (she wears a fur coat sometimes, but is otherwise nude under it, because… of the arctic? I dunno) attempted to ambush Freeman in the dark while wearing a see-thru wetsuit, because apparently eskimos have great night vision and are built like porn stars:

No one has ever said or thought this. Ever.

Or this, where Freeman eavesdrops on a drug deal and kills three men before they can even draw their weapons:

(In their defense, if some dude in a suit hopped out of a pile of fish, I’d be frozen in awe, too. the only appropriate sound effect for that sight would be a harsh “ZANG!” or something.)

Or this, which I feel sorta speaks for itself:

I still don’t know what type of male fantasy this is. Like, is this how dudes dealt with impotence pre-Viagra? “This has never happened to me before, honest, but luckily I can go home in shame and read about a guy who is not only the most masculine man ever but also sensitive inside despite his magnificent penis and incredible aptitude for killing.” Does this represent some ’80s-era fear that I’m just not in the know on? Or is it just a couple dudes making a ridiculous comic that wears perfectly sensible clothes, as far as adventure comics go? I mean, it looks and quacks like a crime comic, maybe a little more heightened than I usually go for, but then you hit a speedbump that’s outlandishly sexed up (three or four times a volume, I figure) and pause to go “Whoa, wait? Is this supposed to be sexy?” What were Koike and Ikegami going for, here?

I know from male fantasies, too. Budd Root’s Cavewoman or Witchblade. They’re sexy girls with big boobs, and sometimes you get to see them (or parts of them, in Witchblade’s case), often when they’re doing exciting action-y things. Superheroes speak to wanting to impose our will on basically everything ever and be winners/popular, yeah? Righting wrongs and having an amazing life. And the only people who haven’t dreamed of being outlaws, whether that means cowboys or gangsters, are squares, I figure. I’m being flip, but you know what I’m saying: it’s easy to look at a lot of comics and go “Oh, this speaks to this insecurity or fetish that some dudes have and serves as a corrective/object of arousal.” Even something as gonzo as Crank is pretty easy to ID. But Crying Freeman?

Crying Freeman is a trip, is what I’m saying.

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16 comments to “Cartoonishly virile, absurdly smooth: The Crying Freeman Story”

  1. dub> I love that the fish wiggle first
    dub> like he’s an earthquake
    dub> or charging up or something
    Esco> it’s an allegory
    Esco> for erections
    dub> hahaha
    dub> his indomitable erection
    Esco> you see what the pile of fish represents, it’s obvious now
    Esco> the whole series is about triumphant erections
    Esco> in the face of every manner of impotence and oppression
    dub> hahaha

  2. @Esco: ^^^^real talk :smugbert:

  3. I mentioned this notion when I write about Golgo 13, and most recently when I did my own review of Crying Freeman in…damn, that was 2009? Anyway.

    “Male power fantasy” is one of those coded, dog whistle pejorative phrases people like to throw out about comics, but the realm in which Saito, Koike, and a lot of those original gekiga masters occupy demonstrates that the “male power fantasy” of most comics is traditionally ADOLESCENT male power fantasy. But these dudes deal in ADULT male power fantasy, and that’s something you don’t see so much of every day.

    What’s the difference? Sure, on the surface they both involve physically and mentally imposing one’s will over others. Yeah, there’s rude physiques and big ol’ tatas to motorboat. But the power sought after in the adult fantasy requires something more, and that’s power over SOCIETY. I don’t necessarily mean like being the President. I mean being superior to the WORLD.

    Oh sure, Golgo 13 and the Freeman are top-level assassins that all the ladies want to jump on, and they’ll oblige them as they see fit. But the REAL allure of these dudes is that they are free from everything. They’re above it all. It’s all right there in the name: “Freeman.” Free from all shackles of society or civilization. The cops can’t touch them. The politicians NEED them around. The ladies can’t seduce these guys and make override their ability to reason, because they’re above that base instinctual limitation of the mind. There’s no boss at work giving these dudes stress, making them put in extra hours doing crap they don’t want to do. No nagging family obligations (parents, spouses, children, etc). They don’t got to worry about money. They do WHAT they want to do, WHEN they want to do it. This is who YOU, the working adult man, wish to be at a base level!

    As Jason Thompson noted here, the allure of Crying Freeman is that by virtue of its paneling and framing YOU THE READER are this person! YOU are the super assassin! YOU are in charge of the mega-successful corporate organization! YOU are banging the daylights out of those hot babes! (That’s why the finale is drawn from 1st-person POV!) Plus, you have a wife who loves you, is there for you emotionally, and has a katana. Oh, and she’s TOTALLY COOL with you just hammering away at every piece of tail that comes your way (don’t worry, she won’t behave in similar fashion with other dudes because she loves you).

    This type of power fantasy isn’t about being the most well-liked or the most moral. It’s about being better than friendship and morality (and that’s why Golgo 13 is the ultimate, even over the Freeman, but that’s another topic). The funny thing about Crying Freeman…is that it’s the LEAST crazy of the Kazuo Koike / Ryoichi Ikegami stuff. Shit gets REAL in the stuff ComicsOne put out, like Wounded Man and Offered. The real-est of the real, AIUEO Boy aka The Starving Man, has never been released in English. I’ve been told that Dark Horse has long wanted to do so…but they’re too scared to do it.

  4. The only thing that improves that fish panel for me is imaginging that just off panel, there’s a single fish balanced perfectly on his hat.

    @Daryl Surat: Offered is one of those comics that’s stayed with me for YEARS based just on people describing it, despite never having read it. Aren’t elephant tusks full of Gilgamesh’s frozen semen the MacGuffin or something?

  5. What surprises me is that cape comics have continued for so long in a moribund narrative where no one ages, dies, or changes significantly, and yet the stories continue to be written as “new”, and the stories do not have a single predictable formula (they have many different ones, yes, but the comparison I would draw would be to Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.)

    As readers moved into older demographic segments, and without some budging on this model (which was tried many times and never worked for whatever reason), the readership was bound to shrink to a neurotic/obsessive core of people who want to read a story every month about X character doing Y activity for the Zth time, even if those people absolutely hate the story, the art, etc.

    And so: what happens when TV offers the same product?

  6. Isn’t this by the same dude who made cromartie high school

    or was he just someone who parodied it with his style?

  7. It’s the reverse: Cromartie specifically parodies Ryoichi Ikegami, who drew this.

  8. @Froggy: Different guy. Jason Thompson actually just talked about this.

  9. Superhero fans hating manga? Not on my watch.

  10. I think it peaked after the middle storyline, with that bear tribe trying to import guns to kill Japan or…something, that organization’s entire plan was completely incoherent. Regardless, my point is that I thought volumes 4 and 5 were kind of a slog because once you read something as magnificently drawn out and ridiculous as that plotline it’s hard to go back to regular-ish action movie stuff.

    You utterly nailed this comic’s appeal, though. Ikegami is a pretty masterful artist, I don’t know why he’s not brought up more when the greats are discussed.

  11. @Chris Jones: Oh man, and you didn’t even mention the part of that sexual insanity where Kimie starts ritually jerking off a twelve-year-old for reasons I don’t care to remember or understand.

  12. @John Space: who’s hating on manga here?

  13. thanks Gaijin D!

    I love cromartie and i couldn’t remember for the LIFE of me if dude did this or just parodied it with the super serious faces

  14. For the life of me, I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that the man who brought us the absolutely incredible Lone Wolf and Cub is also the same man who also brought us insane dreck like Mad Bull 34 and Color of Rage. I remember reading Crying Freeman when I was 16, and I had to put the book down after seeing two splash pages worth of an audience of soldiers going FAP FAP FAP FAP.

    This guy.

  15. Lone Wolf and Cub is Dark Horse’s best selling manga, yet Koike’s other works–even those for which Kojima was handling artwork–have fared noticeably less well. It’s not so much the unflipped pages as what Sean points out: the most oft-repeated critique of Samurai Executioner, Path of the Assassin, and so on is “how, HOW could the man who wrote Lone Wolf and Cub also do THIS?”

    When I read people express this “default” sentiment, I wonder just how well people actually remember Lone Wolf and Cub. Then it dawns on me: what people remember first and foremost is the EDITED Lone Wolf and Cub!

    The reputation of Ogami Itto is built upon the US compilation film “Shogun Assassin” and the original First Comics release in the US that Frank Miller/Bill Sienkiewicz worked on. Total up every issue of that and you realize they really only got through the first couple of expository volumes, before it actually “kicked off.” As such, very few people have actually been exposed to the pure Koike until recently!

    Indeed, by the time Dark Horse put out the full 28 volumes, LWaC’s status as a prestigious masterpiece was beyond dispute. But if you go ahead and READ LWaC, you’ll see that it gets pretty dang crazy too. “This is a masterpiece of storytelling and its depiction of the period and society is unquestionable in its research and accuracy…so of COURSE Ogami Itto has to kill that dude/have sex with that woman!” is a justification people will gladly extend to a populist classic they like already. Not the rest.

    It’s easier to accept “that guy used to be good back in the day but then he went off the deep end!” than it is to accept “that guy was always pretty much like this and I just never realized it until now!” But Koike didn’t “lose it” and he wasn’t a “one-hit wonder.” It’s totally the same man that wrote Mad Bull 34 and Offered that wrote Lone Wolf and Cub. We just have first-hand knowledge of New York and Boston than we don’t for feudal Japan.

  16. Man, I get why people like to talk up Lone Wolf and Cub and then poo-poo stuff like Mad Bull 34, but I think the latter is great on its own merits of insanity and delightfully overwrought gimmicks (motherfucking CATS WITH SHOTGUNS ON THEIR HEADS).

    And David, I managed to find this series, and I read it all in two days. It was more amazing than you could have described in words.