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Yoshikazu Yasuhiko article published in Animerica
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.

Any hard-core Gundam fan knows his name. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko is the character designer for the original Mobile Suit Gundam series and its successors Z Gundam and Gundam F91. Add to that his involvement in over a dozen other shows and films from the seventies and eighties, and you've got an artist who influenced an era. He has animated, designed, illustrated and directed, but there's more to Yasuhiko than anime. He's also been making manga for more than fifteen years and has won numerous awards for it. In his manga, Yasuhiko explores topics of his own choosing, giving him the creative freedom he longed for while working in anime.

Gundam fans should know Yasuhiko does manga --VIZ is currently publishing his fantastically beautiful Gundam the Origin series in English. In his interview with Animerica last year (Vol. 9, No. 8/9 and 10/11), he mentioned he had every intention of creating a Gundam manga that is different from the show. As one of the people involved in the original TV series, he knows which aspects of the story they changed or added for the sake of ratings and product promotion, and he wants to take those parts out. Not only will fans benefit from a purer form of storytelling, but they will also get to experience the art of a manga master. With his expert composition and control of black and white, and his figurative and expressive skills that are the envy of other artists, Gundam fans are fortunate Yasuhiko finally agreed to commit on this lengthy project.

Yasuhiko's desire to do things his own way is illustrated perfectly in his reinterpretation of the original Gundam saga, but Gundam the Origin is not his only title available in English. A whole generation of U.S. anime fans grew up on his anime and manga, so it's only natural more of his work has been brought out here. Most recently, the innovative, online comic publisher Comics One has released two of Yasuhiko's newer titles.

Jeanne (Joan)* is a remarkable full-color comic set during the end of the Hundred Years War. Magnificent castles and landscapes, grim battle scenes, emotions ranging from rage to despair-- this series highlights Yasuhiko's artistic abilities beautifully. More than 500 pages of Yasuhiko watercolors is enough to make Joan worth it, but the story is also fascinating and a unique look into the politics and people of that era and the legacy of Joan of Arc.

Nine years after the death of Joan of Arc, France is still in the throws of civil war and English occupation; Joan's job is unfinished. Emil, the fictional bastard daughter of the dead Duke of Lorraine, has been raised as the adopted "son" of Robert de Baudricourt, a compatriot of Joan of Arc loyal to the King of France. Like Joan, Emil (a.k.a. Emily) is a girl living as a man and loyal to the King, so she is well suited to walk in Joan's footsteps. This is exactly what Joan would have her do, for Joan appears to Emil in visions to instruct, guide and aid the young noble in her quest to help unify and bring peace to France. Emil's journey takes her through many of the places Joan traveled, revealing not only the history of Joan's life but the politics that followed her death. This thoughtful, spiritual series has been republished from its online English version into three paper-and-ink graphic novels.

Comics One's other Yasuhiko title is Iesu (Jesus). Also in spectacular full-color, the series is told primarily from the perspective of the follower Joshua and begins during the crucifixion. Most of the story is revealed through flashbacks, for tied to his cross, Joshua has little else to do but think about his situation from his painful, elevated new perspective. As he struggles to cope with his own imminent death, Joshua must strive to understand how this innocent man he has come to believe is the Messiah could be dying at his side without even disciples to mourn or pray with his passing. Set amidst the larger tale of biblical events, the story of Joshua's inner journey toward faith distills and intensifies the overall impact of this remarkable series. Like Joan, Jesus is an engaging story of people, society, politics and faith as well as a unique interpretation of a classic story. Unfortunately for those who prefer tangible graphic novels, Jesus is only available in English online, however, at $4.95 per downloadable graphic novel, it's quite a bargain.

Two other, older Yasuhiko titles were brought out by Dark Horse Comics in the nineties. First published in the U.S. in April 1991, a year after the animated film came out in Japan, Venus Senki (The Venus Wars) is a wonderfully complex sci-fi epic filled with remarkable characters and settings. After being struck by a meteor that made the planet habitable for humans, Venus was colonized in 2012. Seven decades later, and the continents have been filled with farms, cities and urban sprawl. The youth, the third generation of Venusians, are considered to have no focus or goals, like the battlebike-playing hero, Ken. This daredevil fullback leaves his team to join the army of Aphrodia, one of the major countries of Venus. Before he has a chance to decide, an act of terror involves him too deeply to back out, and he becomes part of Aphrodia's desperate attempt to thwart rival Ishtar's military advances.

Ken's trials and tribulations are just one of the tales involving this otherworldly global conflict. The second story deals with a straight-laced Ishtar cadet named Matthew. With Earth playing an under-involved peacekeeper between the nations, there was supposed to be a third Venus war story told from an Earthling's perspective, but it was never written. Based on Ken's story, the film of The Venus Wars was released in English by U.S. Manga Corps.

Long before Desert Storm or the U.S. news began to cover Saddam Hussein's persecution of this tribal minority, Yasuhiko wrote Kurd no Hoshi (Star of the Kurds, Rebel Sword). The action-packed first chapter introduces the half-Japanese lead returning to Istanbul for the first time in ten years. Jiro thinks he's been invited back by his mother, but he is met by the mysterious and massive Kasim who forged the letter that brought Jiro to the Middle East. No sooner does Kasim reunite Jiro with his mother, who is a junkie belly dancer, than the military raids the bar. Kasim tosses Jiro a gun and shortly Jiro must use it to defend himself, killing a soldier. Aided by a biker girl who thinks Jiro's running from the police, the two hook back up with Kasim as they blast their way through a military blockade and out of the city. It turns out Kasim and Jiro's mother are rebel Kurds fighting for their people's independence.

The story of the Kurds is a complex one. Kurdistan, their traditional land, is divided into the borders of Turkey, Iran and Iraq. Some Kurds merely want cultural independence, others political autonomy and some their own nation. The region is also a major avenue of drug trafficking with drug lords who have no regard for the law or the lives of the people. Jiro's part in the plot is that he may be a leader of legend who will unite the Kurdish people--such a man would be legendary, indeed. The single volume of Rebel Sword, an open-ended work, is not long enough to completely convey the complexity of this aspect of the Middle East. Still, its diversity of character perspectives does a remarkable job of portraying the region's people, and it demonstrates Yasuhiko's interest in real settings and politics.

Complex societal and political situations are a mainstay of Yasuhiko's comics. His stories are all set during times of great strife and change. To emphasize the effects such world-altering events on regular people, he humanizes his stories with everyman characters struggling to come to grips with issues that are larger than their own lives. From his first comic, Arion, Yasuhiko has portrayed great events through the lives of relatable characters. Although it begins with the simple, universally sympathetic situation of a child taken from his mother, Arion's title character is soon caught up in a web of escalating intrigue and conflict, and the resulting epic involves humanity's triumph over the Greek gods! From this exciting and complex shonen series, Yasuhiko has gone on to create progressively more sophisticated stories, all constructed with the same carefully researched effort as his first. From Jesus to Nero, the beginning of Japanese history to the Meiji Restoration, any historically intriguing person or landmark in humanity's social evolution offers a potential plot to this remarkable creator.

Perhaps it's his youth that makes such politically charged characters and settings inspiring to him --he was kicked out of college because he was involved with a student movement. Perhaps the artistic challenge of bringing significant, meaningful moments in history and legend to life is a catalyst for Yasuhiko's creativity. He has stated he's always wanted to do something for society and the world, something meaningful. Combining his interest in humanity and history, his masterful artistic abilities and his careful, complex storytelling, he has created a wealth of deep, engaging, beautiful manga and is succeeding in his goal.

 

*In Japanese, Joan of Arc is appropriately known by the French pronunciation Jeanne d'Arc, and Jesus is also known by Iesu, the French spelling much of the non-English speaking world uses. (While not essential, please try to include this footnote!)

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