Cosmopolitan Yakuza Manga ‘Ryuko’ Makes Belated Debut in Japan

©︎Eldo Yoshimizu/LEED PUBLISHING Co., Ltd.
The cover of the first volume of ”Ryuko” by Eldo Yoshimizu

by Eldo Yoshimizu (Leed Publishing Co.)

“Ryuko” is Eldo Yoshimizu’s debut manga. Before its release in Japan last autumn, it was already published in more than 10 countries abroad, including France, Germany and Italy. Even though the author is Japanese, Japan trailed those countries to publish “Ryuko.” What an unconventional and extraordinary newcomer Yoshimizu is!

The story begins in Forossyah Kingdom, a Middle Eastern country located on the coast of the Black Sea. Ryuko, the female leader of the Black Dragon group, a yakuza organized crime syndicate, takes in and raises Valer, the daughter of the former king of the country, who was overthrown in a military coup. Valer, now 18, commits a train robbery that triggers an all-out war between the Black Dragon Society and the Forossyah Army. In the midst of all this, Gen. Rashid, an enemy of Ryuko’s, confides in her that her mother, whom she thought was dead, is still alive, and then entrusts her with her mother’s memento, a mysterious golden seal. Eventually, Ryuko flees to Japan with Valer and continues her journey to find her mother.

That sums up the beginning of the story, as far as I have been able to decipher after a few painstaking readings. The illustrations are so strong and powerful, to the extent that, to be honest, it’s quite difficult to figure out what’s going on. So much for being wild and unrefined.

Yet such shortcomings are instantly blown away in the presence of our heroine, Ryuko, who is simply awesome. Despite her youthful looks, she is estimated to be in her 40s. Swirling her long black hair, she straddles a large motorbike as she goes on a wild shooting spree — watching her in action is intensely cathartic. The fusion of violence, eroticism and stylistic beauty of the Orient may remind many people of the 1970s yakuza movie star Meiko Kaji, an inspiration behind Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill.”

Yoshimizu initially became an artist who created giant sculptures, or public art, for communal facilities and commercial buildings. He began drawing manga at the age of 45. “Ryuko” was first exhibited at an art gallery owned by an acquaintance of his. Each page was enlarged into a panel and displayed as a “work to be appreciated standing.” As Yoshimizu drew more pages, they were again made into panels and displayed at the same gallery. When he had created enough pages to make a book, he took them to a French publisher, Le Lezard Noir, and the first French edition was published in 2016. The manga book was well received, and publications in other countries followed, spreading across borders.

Yoshimizu, now 58, said he never considered releasing the work with a Japanese publisher. I have to say that his insight was correct. Making a triumphant return home, accompanied by a high reputation overseas, may sound nice for “Ryuko,” but the reality is that there was no Japanese publisher that had the foresight to correctly evaluate Yoshimizu’s work or the courage to publish it earlier. Granted, this sort of thing does happen in Japan, and not only with manga.

“Ryuko,” which was completely unknown, gained popularity in Europe and the United States almost immediately. Yoshimizu recalls that it spread by word of mouth, thanks to fellow comic artists. Needless to say, Yoshimizu is a skilled and talented artist, but it blows my mind to learn about such a breakthrough as a manga creator. From now on, those who want to draw manga may want to try looking overseas for their first publication.

I mentioned earlier that the story of “Ryuko” may remind people of “Kill Bill.” But in fact, the theme of the story is the exact opposite. While “Kill Bill” is a tale about revenge, “Ryuko” is a story about breaking the cycle of revenge. This greatly enhances the contemporary significance of this manga. The story has a certain conclusion in the second volume, but I look forward to the sequel, which is apparently in the works.