By Yasushi Baba. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Nemesis. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Kevin Gifford.
There are two scenes that I think between them perfectly sum up the mood of this manga and the demographic it’s going to appeal to. The first has a cute couple, just married, asking a stranger to take a picture of them outside the church. All three are then shot in the head by passing terrorists. In loving detail. The other is when we see a shirtless Vladimir Putin, whose name has been slightly changed to protect the guilty, drinking tea and laughing as bullets vanish before hitting his incredibly muscular body. Which is also drawn in loving detail. In between this, we get the actual story, which is about alien bracelets that protect and strengthen the wearer – sometimes to ludicrous degrees – and a sad yet incredibly violent woman who can see other people’s past. At heart, though, Golosseum reminds me a bit of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, in that it’s totally ridiculous, and also filled with ridiculous deaths.
There is a certain element of political satire here, though frankly it can get somewhat lost among the muscular posing. In addition to “Vladislav Putinov”, we also see the United States equivalent, “Billary Quintone”, and one of the villains rampaging through America is clearly an ersatz Hulk Hogan. More than a political thriller, though, Golosseum feels like one of those ultraviolent 90s comic books, attracting your attention through fights, murders, more fights and more murders. Sasha, our heroine, doesn’t really seem to want to do this (she’s the one who reminded me a bit of Crying Freeman, though I suspect she won’t be making love to her cute waitress friend anytime soon), but she’s certainly capable of taking on smug Chinese martial artists if need be. As the volumes go on, I’m hoping that her story remains the priority. Also, I could have done without the narrative saying that, despite her age, she has the body of a mature 14-year-old, with accompanying nudity.
That said, glorifying the body is in many ways what this is about. The main villains throughout are people who are wearing the “Peacemaker” bracelets and using them for evil, which mostly involves being really strong. The best reason to read this is to see these guys show off and eventually get what’s coming to them. It’s a glorious spectacle, though not for the faint of heart – being shot in the head like the newlywed couple is at the start is actually one of the milder deaths in the book. As for the politics and backstory, unsurprisingly, the bracelets are being treated as political capital in a quest to have the most world power, so no doubt we will be seeing a lot more of Vladislav and Billary. That said, it’s a bit sad when the most nuanced of your real-life caricatures is Rasputin. Oh, and for those who like Hijikata, we get two desce4ndents here – one male, one female, and one good, one bad.
In the end, I liked reading Golosseum, but more in a “Good Lord” sort of way than actively being interested in the story. It’s complete at six volumes, which should be enough. If you like ridiculous ultraviolence, or just big muscley shirtless guys, come read this immediately.