I’ve decided to start blogging about some of my favorite books, movies, games, manga (Japanese comic books), and anime (Japanese animation). I want to put a particular focus on the works that I feel have influenced my writing. When it comes to the action scenes in Golden Week, I feel like one of my biggest influences is from a little-known manga by Mori Kouji called “Holyland“.
When I was researching for the purposes of writing this article, I became incredibly excited to see MangaFox, the website where I had read a fan-translation of this obscure manga, now displayed the message “The series Holyland has been licensed, it is not available in Manga Fox.” Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any other evidence that Holyland has been licensed for official US distribution. It seems this niche-favorite will likely remain obscure.
Published from 2000 to 2008, Holyland begins with a catalyst that is all too familiar for many teenagers in Japan and around the world. The main character, Yuu, is a victim of intense bullying. He becomes a shut-in, refusing to go to school for fear of his tormentors, and he seriously considers suicide. During this time, he begins practicing boxing along with an infomercial as a way of tuning out the sounds of his parents fighting, or his own inner turmoil.
“I wanted… to be numb. There was nothing more for me to think about. I had my answer. If I step 30 centimeters forward, it will all be over.” – Kamishiro Yuu
His near-obsessive punching practice builds a strong instinct inside Yuu, and one day, he suddenly punched and broke the nose of one of his bullies. Yuu’s life begins to spiral out of his control after he defends himself from a gang one night, and he is soon hung with the reputation of being a ‘thug hunter’.
Though Yuu never asked for a life of violence, he got one, and he grew to realize that it had become important to him. Away from the judgement of his elders, in blood-stained back alleys and fighting rings, Yuu discovered his ‘holyland’, a place where felt accepted, and where he belonged.
“Anger… is dissipating my fear. My body is singing with violence… This is my world. “Exactly.” “No it isn’t.” My two selves answered at the same time.” – Kamishiro Yuu
I feel one of the most fascinating things about Holyland is that the author, Mori Kouji, includes a lot of information in the sidebar or narrative of the manga. In the middle of a fight, he shares important insight to both the mechanics and psychology of a fight, much of it borrowing from his own experiences with fights and brawls in his youth. Mori Kouji highlights how karate functions differently in non-tournament settings, where ‘points’ are worthless and dirty tactics are common. He even dips into the psychology of fighting someone who is fighting with a knife they’re untrained with.
“Those who practice full-contact karate often say “one low kick is enough for amateurs”. They often give reasons like “it’s easy to make contact with” or “it ends things without dealing major damage (to the head or other organs),” but the real reason has to do with reliability. Unless one’s legs are incredibly tough, they will not be able to withstand the hot, heavy, and paralyzing pain that follows.” – Author, Mori Kouji
The world of manga often devolves into ‘fight manga’. For all of their fan-followings and all of their upsides, manga and anime like Dragonball Z, Naruto, and Bleach are known for dedicating hundreds of issues and episodes to fights with little redeeming story movement in-between. Holyland keeps itself grounded in a brutal reality, where the protagonists can’t overcome their obstacles just by training for a few more episodes or learning a special energy-blast technique.
The most striking scenes in the manga are not the impact of the punches or kicks, but the realization of how much damage one human body can endure, or how much damage one human body can dispense.
The visceral senses portrayed in Holyland have inspired me greatly in working on Golden Week. There are times when Yuu is horrified, times when Yuu is frightened, and times when Yuu’s eyes glaze over and there’s nothing in his mind but the violence. Though Yuu and my protagonist are very different men, with very different experiences and at very different points in their life, that inescapable desire for violence rests deep inside them both.