Aphelion Issue 295, Volume 28
June 2024 --
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Naoki Urasawa's Billy Bat

by McCamy Taylor

First, congratulations to Japanese manga writer/artist, Naoki Urasawa who has five Eisner nominations this year, for his two series 20th Century Boys and Pluto . Both are being released in the U.S. by Viz Media. All 8 volumes of Pluto are now available in English. Here are my Aphelion reviews of the two sci-fi graphic fiction titles: Pluto and 20th Century Boys

Given Urasawa’s success in the U.S., I expect that his latest project Billy Bat will be coming to America one day so here is a preview of the three plus volumes that have been released so far in Japan.

The premise of Billy Bat seems very simple at first. The setting is post WWII. An American born Japanese comic book writer, Kevin Yamagata has created a hit for Marble Comics. He illustrates the adventures of a private detective bat, Billy Bat who solves crimes in a world populated by dogs. Things become complicated when an American ex-serviceman accuses Yamagata of stealing his idea from a Japanese comic.

Yamagata, who was in Japan immediately after the war serving as an interpreter for the U.S. military, worries that he may have accidentally copied from a comic book he saw during his tour of duty. So, he returns to Japan. And that is where things go from complicated to just plain weird.

He tracks down the mangaka who is working on the Japanese version of Bat Boy. The Japanese comic strip artist is drawn with a beret and glasses which make him look a hell of a lot like Osamu Tezuka. This brings to mind another manga about a winged creature who appears at different times in order to alter the course of human history, Phoenix .

The Osamu Tezuka look alike is not offended that Yamagata accidentally appropriated his work. On the contrary, he asks that the younger man take over the series. The fate of the world depends upon it. For, the story of Bat Boy or Billy Bat is the story of the modern world, especially its disasters, told in advance. And in its various incarnations---a figure drawn in the sand, a feudal Japanese scroll, graffiti scrawled on a concrete block, a modern comic book---the Bat plays an important role in shaping the course of human history—which is why so many people are willing to commit murder in order to get their hands on it.

So far, with only three volumes released, it has already been a long strange journey, spanning two thousand years, with a cast of characters that includes Jesus, Judas, Francisco Xavier (the Jesuit missionary to the East), ninjas and Lee Harvey Oswald and topics as diverse as the American Civil Rights Movement and feudal Japanese warfare.

Some random oriental bat facts: In China the words for “bat” and “good fortune” are the same, and bat symbols are often used on good luck charms or in conjunction with longevity symbols. During WWII, the U.S. military planned to strap tiny incendiary devices (bombs) on bats and release them over Japan, where they would set thousands of fires inside homes, factories and wherever else they chose to rest. (The idea was scrapped in favor of the atomic bomb). And there was a Japanese manga version of Batman drawn by Jiro Kuwata during the 1960s.

If you like comics, alternative histories and ninjas, check it out

© 2010 McCamy Taylor

McCamy Taylor is the long-fiction editor of Aphelion.

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