As the first wave of the translated manga gained traction in the North American direct market in 1987, so too did a number of home-grown works pop up to homage and/or parody these “strange” and “exotic” funnybooks from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Eclipse Comics, one of the first and most prolific purveyors of localized manga material, was not above mocking the trend with its own satirical one-shot….
…Radio Boy and, yes, your eyes are not deceiving you.
Supposedly a collection of tales crafted by the revered “Hawiya Nistamicha” (the expression on your face is no less pained than mine, trust me), Radio Boy was actually the handiwork of a well known American comics scribe (hint: his name rhymes with “Buck Nixon”) and a trio of cartoonist collaborators.
It is also one of the worst funnybooks I have ever had the misfortune of reading.
Making fun of anime and manga tropes isn’t that difficult a task. In fact, there’s a whole subgenre of Japanese works that do just that, with the results occasionally overshadowing the source material in terms of popularity. Ninja High School may have been a derivative grab bag of stuff pulled from American “Japanimation” fanzine features, but at least it demonstrated an understanding of what it was parodying.
Radio Boy, on the other hand, shows only the sketchiest grasp of the material it was purportedly mocking. There’s a titular riff on Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy, more inspired by the fast-and-cheap American localization of the cartoon than the original comic stories, followed by two overpadded gag strips poking fun at the Giant Robo genre and Fist of the North Star.
The latter is the only one that even come closest to approaching wit, but its mildly amusing “all leathered up and nothing to kill” punchline is derailed by…well….just see for yourself.
Lacking any sort of insight about or engagement with the world of Japanese comics, Radio Boy’s attempts at “humor” take the form of racial caricatures and ethnic jokes — a sustained barrage of buck teeth and Mr. Moto style Hollywood “Engrish” dialogue.
It’s snide, it’s crass, and it reeks with the resentment of a creator pissed off that the readers were opting for imports instead of buying American. Yet as tempting as it may be to lob brickbats at the writer, the sad truth is that this type of nonsense wasn’t that uncommon at the time.
Sixteen Candles, Remo Williams, scores of “Wacky Japanese Businessmen” in period sitcoms — 1980s weren’t exactly a high water mark for sensitive depictions of Asian people in American popular culture. It might not have been as virulently malign as similar phenomena, but that only allowed to it persist while other racist caricatures became outright unacceptable.
Radio Boy is a nasty bit of low-road reductiveness aimed at the alien and the exotic — and though their professed intentions claim to be more benevolent, strains of these behaviors still exist among sincere and “enlightened” American anime/manga fans in the present day.
(Props to rap genius Adam Warrock for reminding me of this atrocity’s existence.)