Here in the smoky aftermath of the "anime boom" we're digging ourselves out from under piles of $1 clearance manga and unsellable VHS tape, wondering just what the hell happened. And as we survey the hits and misses, we start to wonder about some titles that, to our creaky old school eyes, are conspicuous by their absence...
CHOJIN LOCKE! The immortal teenager with immense psychic powers, an enormous shock of green hair, and a constantly-frustrated desire to just be left alone. For more than thirty years his story has unfolded in manga from more publishers than I can count and four separate animated adventures. Along with other dreamy ESPers with curious hair colorings like COSMO POLICE JUSTY and TOWARDS THE TERRA's Soldier Blue, the image of Locke decorated the bedroom walls and the fan artworks of many an anime fangirl, carving a vital niche between more manly space operas and the other, girlier side of the spectrum. Even the American otaku scene of the Reagan years was lousy with those giant-haired psychic prettyboys.
However, in the subsequent wave of manga translations of series both popular and obscure - an avalanche of imported Japanese comics destined to strain the shelving capacities of bookstores from coast to coast - our ESPer friend and his 38 volumes of manga were neglected. The LOCKE THE SUPERMAN animated film from 1984 was released here, after a fashion, and the LORD LEON and NEW WORLD COMMAND videos got American anime-boom releases, but manga? No way.
But why not? It's a no-brainer. It's a classic, reader-friendly space adventure series with appeal to Americans from both a "manga is cool" angle and a "X-Men meets Star Wars" approach. Yuki Hijiri's artwork plants one foot in the high-tech world of the future and another firmly in the delicate linework and soup-plate eyeballs of Shoujo manga. His art style is breezy, uncomplicated; yet manages to seamlessly integrate the outer-space computers, blasters, and starships aesthetic with that of beautiful youths and their rose-petal strewn melodrama, and sophisticated enough to make us believe in both. (Fun fact: Hijiri designed characters for COMBATTLER V, VOLTES V, and DAIMOS as well as drawing manga for the tokusatsu series NINJA CAPTOR.)
Even though the story of CHOJIN LOCKE spans a thousand years and the aforementioned 38 volumes - a heft that might scare your more chicken-hearted manga publishers - LOCKE's saga is conveniently spread out over dozens of separate, moderately self-contained stories set amid the backdrop of Earth's discovery of star travel and colonization of the galaxy.
Locke the Chojin (don't call him "Superman" when DC's lawyers are around) is - well, appears to be - a teenager with long green hair and a gentle manner. But in reality he's at least a thousand years old and is quite possibly the most powerful ESPer in the universe. His youthful looks hide a world-weary soul whose desire to enjoy the simple life is constantly being frustrated by the space criminals and secret organizations who attempt to conquer the galaxy and the Earth Federation who, backs to the wall, is forced to ask Locke for help. In spite of his wishes Locke is frequently forced to take an active part in events; his innate, almost childlike sense of right and wrong driving him to seek the truth and fight for justice. And tragically, even though he's the most powerful ESPer in the galaxy he can never have the one thing he wants most - a normal life.
The stories themselves are dense - packed with supporting characters who frequently take the spotlight from Locke, they jump from era to era over a thousand years of space history,leaving the reader with a colorful tapestry of mankind's journey to the stars. Events or people mentioned in one story will be expanded upon in another, and blank areas are filled in piece by piece casually, as part of a natural storytelling technique. The anime versions of Locke follow this tradition with flashbacks of Locke's time with the rebellion on Lonwarl or by inserting friends and foes into the opening credits of the OVAs.
|(fan translation of the first Locke story courtesy L.G. from the "Mind's Eye" APA)|
There has always been a Locke contingent of American fans who collect the manga and write fan fiction about Locke, Justy, Soldier Blue, Takeru and Marg from GOD MARS, and other angsty future psychics of manga. The 1984 feature film not only was one of the screen's earliest (and most restrained) uses of computer animation, it recieved two video releases in the States, an edited version courtesy Just For Kids (titled "Locke The Superpower") and a later uncut release from Best Film & Video. Locke's always been in the background of the Western anime fan scene, but unlike other contemporaneous titles like SPACE ADVENTURE COBRA, LOCKE's manga never made the jump. And that's the surprising part, considering the volume of Japanese comics that have been thrown at us over the past few years.
I'd like to think the success (or not - see comments) of Vertical's TOWARDS THE TERRA and Tezuka manga has proved there's interest in elaborate 70s SF shoujo action. While LOCKE perhaps isn't as philosophical as TOWARDS THE TERRA, it's at least girl-friendly, with enough spaceships and blasters to keep the guys reading. And that's my challenge to Tokyopop, to Viz, to Vertical, to CMX, to Del Rey, to whoever is still mining that manga vein - use your super psychic manga powers for good, not evil, and deliver LOCKE THE SUPERMAN to America!
|(Locke fanart by D.V. from the "Mind's Eye" APA)|