Shinji Wada died earlier this week. Regular readers of this site might remember him as the creator of Sukeban Deka, a '70s shojo manga of remarkable influence that was also amazingly violent for a "girl's comic". I'm inclined to think that was just the times and the mores: look at Wild Seven, another period piece allegedly for kids that had stuff that would never pass the censors today for that age group.
The concept for Deka sounded loopy enough: paroled high-school delinquent Saki Asamiya gets re-inserted back into the school system under a special juvenile-crime prevention program, and her one weapon is a yo-yo — albeit a rather high-tech yo-yo with a hidden badge that helps her out of a number of tough spots. If this sounds familiar, it probably is: the "girl with a toy as a weapon" conceit in most modern anime and manga can usually be traced back to Deka in some form.
After a prison break that's only slightly less preposterous than the one in Stalag 17, the series focused on various high-school level mysteries before adding a generous helping of swashbuckling action and eventually pummeling violence to the plot. Over time the scope of the series widened and its ambition broadened to the point where by the end of the fourth volume Saki was battling a surgically-altered nemesis on the deck of an exploding cargo ship.
Evidently Wada had meant to kill her off and end the series there, but a stupefying influx of fan mail kept the show going, and soon Saki turned up in the U.S. with a case of amnesia that turned her into a deliberate parody of weepy shojo non-heroines. She got her memory back, though, and over the course of the next several books things ramped up further and further until she faced down an archnemesis who had plans to take over all of Japan ... as well as her own estranged mother, who turns out to be a criminal mastermind in her own right. And that's not even counting the existential headfake coda, which I'm still puzzling over after all these years. It was an operatically-pitched series, and it was difficult not to get swept up into its excesses even when you knew they were as absurd as they came.
Deka became a cottage industry unto itself, even after it finished running. The animated version covered the first book and a half of the manga with some omissions; the live-action movies (plural) and TV series (three seasons) used the original concept more as a springboard for their own innovations. Most recently we were privy to a live-action cinematic remake, with Kenta (son of Kinji) Fukasaku behind the camera, and Aya Matsuura and the perennially-snarking Riki Takeuchi in front of it. That version even spawned a softcore parody version of its own, about which the less said the better.
Wada went on to produce a lot of other work after that, but from what I could see none of it really had the same punch or presence as Deka. His last work was Crown, which was being translated by Go!Comi, and the first volume of that was enough to let me know we weren't going to see the likes of Deka again from him. But something like that once in any career is rare enough.
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