Wild 7 vol. 1
Mike Toole rates it:
Writer/artist: Mikiya Mochizuki
Wild 7 was a smash hit in Japan. It spawned a popular live-action TV show, and ran as manga for ten years. Its popularity carried over to a hilariously violent OVA series (available from Urban Vision), and more recently, a full-fledged TV series, which is likely to arrive in 2003 courtesy of Media Blasters. This rough-hewn, exciting tale of gangsters turned motorcycle cops is a little unusual, because author/artist Mikiya Mochizuki created the series in 1969. Wild 7 is more than thirty years old. So how does it hold up?
Pretty well, actually, in spite of the fact that its age gives it a heady dose of kitsch. Mochizuki's character designs reflect the style of the time, and are a lot more simplistic and cartoony than one might expect from a gritty crime drama. The story is also a lot more simplistic and cartoony than one might expect; his team of gritty vigilante cops includes a hippie, a circus acrobat, and a golf instructor. As Wild 7 opens, this team of affable rogues breaks up a bank robbery by simply forcing the vehicles off the road and filling the suspects with bullets. This climaxes with Hiba, the de facto leader of the group depositing the corpse of the ringleader at the police station and riding off into the sunset, with 10 percent of the stolen gold in tow as the gang's fee. Their name? Wild 7, of course!
Apparently, the lawmakers of Japan are completely powerless to fight organized criminals, who kill indiscriminately, bribe everyone in sight, and simply buy their way back to freedom if caught. A visionary police detective named Kusanami recognizes this problem, flinging forth gems like, "I know we can't do anything with bad guys if we don't have evidence, but it's better to eliminate scum like him rather than letting him go free!" Obviously, this man has a strong sense of justice and human rights. As such, the bespectacled Kusanami puts a plan in motion to recruit a team of policemen who could operate above the law-- ruthless men with nerves of steel. Also, since the best way to catch a crook is to employ one, why not just recruit these new super-deputies from the ranks of the incarcerated? That sounds like a great idea!
Okay, so it isn't exactly plausible, but Wild 7 is still a lot of fun. It's a really interesting little relic; the series seems to be a reaction to the social makeup of Japan in the late 1960s, which was fraught with corrupt politicians and enraged student rights groups, even as their economic miracle blossomed. How to fix Japan's social problems? Why, with cops who don't take any crap no matter what! As icing on the cake, these seven lawmen ride around on motorcycles, complete with flared pants, heavy leather jackets, and stylish helmets.
This first volume mostly concerns itself with introducing the Wild 7, telling the story of how Hiba was first brought to Kusanami's attention as a brilliant and reckless juvenile offender, and the group's first faltering attempts to bring down a gigantic crime empire. There's shootouts, games of "hot potato" with grenades, and it all ends up with the team getting ready to assault a gigantic building designed to resist any attempts to enter-- and Hiba's trapped inside with the bad guys!
Comics One have done a pretty good job here. The book is squarebound, with dimples near the spine to prevent breakage or pages coming loose. It's presented flipped, which might annoy some, but there isn't really enough signage to make it noticable-- retouches were made when necessary. Puzzlingly, a few of the characters' nicknames were tweaked to seem vaguely more American. These changes are noted in the book, so it's really not that obtrusive. Featuring about 200 pages for $9.95, the book's a pretty good value.
The appeal of Wild 7 is a little difficult to explain, because there's not a lot to compare it to. The edge-of-the-law and gunplay will no doubt please fans of Gunsmith Cats, but the rough art style, while pleasing to my indiscriminate eyes, might turn some off. Still, this series gets off to a rip-roaring start; it's a lot of fun.
Added: Saturday, October 18, 2003
Related Link: Comics One