FEATURE: Monthly Mangaka Spotlight 3: Oh! Great

A look at the works of Japan's perverted master of sexy battle manga

Ogure Ito, or as he is better known by his pen name Oh! Great, is a mangaka I like to refer to as the master of rapid escalation. In terms of writing, his two most popular original published works have told the tales of delinquent teenagers participating in gang rivalries which somehow--almost seamlessly--develop into monumental conflicts to determine the fate of all mankind. Matching his own characters' rise from back alley brawls to magical martial arts, the development of Oh! Great's art during his career is a sight to behold. His earliest work was conceptually creative but lacked the technique to support his personal ambition and monolithic imagination. Today he is undoubtedly--both technically and conceptually--one of the most dynamic and technically brilliant artists currently working in the industry.

Oh! Great is one of a surprising number of mangaka that got their start in hentai, and has continued to work on adult projects over the course of his career. His first work was creating the now (in)famous Silky Whip series in 1996, which gave him an early reputation for dark themes and disturbing content. Following the release of Tenjho Tenge, Oh! Great also released Junk Story in 1998, a science fiction hentai involving cyborg lovin'. Since all of Oh! Great's work includes a great deal of fanservice and sexual themes, it might be better to use a sliding scale instead of categories. His work is rather shameless and even daring, as Oh! Great really pushes the boundaries of what is typically considered acceptable in his manga. There is no mistaking that he is very aware of the limits he is testing as he will often tease at sexual scenes, only to reveal reveal the object the two girls were licking was actually just a popsicle held by a male student at roughly waist-height. Females often get the raw end of the deal in his stories, as they can be used as tools to get at other characters in ways that usually involve them entering some degree of undress. It’s actually remarkable that, despite this, Oh! Great has managed to write so many strong female characters. I might even try the argument that he's simply attempting to make some sort of artistic statement regarding the harsh reality of how women are mistreated in modern culture if it wasn’t for the metric tons of fanservice.

Oh! Great has been extremely prolific over the course of his career, with his work including a considerable number of one-shots and shorts that are difficult to really give all the details they deserve in one article, and have been so scattered over the course of his career that it's difficult to organize them in any real way. Needless to say, they are all worth taking a look at, both on the merit of their own stories and as a study of his artistic development. The same year as his release of Silky Whip, Oh! Great also published Burn Up Excess & W, a three volume short of the popular science fiction series. During his run of Tenjho Tenge, Oh! Great released the six volume Himiko-Den starting in 1999, a series about a highschool girl that discovers she is the chosen one from a fantasy realm that has begun spilling over into our world (this was also released as an anime and PS1 game), and the two-volume Majin in 1998, about a group of high school students attempting to stop a peak evolutionary creature rampaging through their neighborhood. Somehow, two years into working on both Tenjho Tenge and Air Gear at the same time, he was able to also publish Naked Star in 2004, a two-volume short which can best be described as a space opera where a former soldier and his wife discovers a girl in a box. It’s interesting to read many of these series together, since it feels like you could grab elements from each work and piece them together to make Tenjho Tenge, as if Oh! Great was testing out various aspects of a his larger work in shorts before integrating them into a larger, more established story.

Tenjho Tenge was Oh! Great's first major work, published in Ultra Jump in 1997 where it ran until completion in 2010. Beginning as a story of high school gangs, it follows Nagi Soichiro and Bob Makihara, two career delinquents who have transferred to the toughest school in Japan, Todo Academy, with plans to take over the school one club at a time. The duo quickly discover they are in over their heads when it becomes apparent that all the students and faculty are expert fighters and some even have special abilities they developed with the use of ki. Nagi and Bob are forced to fall in with the disenfranchised Juken Club, composed of sisters Maya and Aya Natsume and Masataka Takayanagi, who have collectively gained the unwelcome attention of the elite Student Council. What seems like a straightforward schoolyard rivalry becomes a much deeper story as Nagi discovers he has unwittingly taken sides in a generations-long conflict that has origins extending back to the dawn of history and deities from Shinto myth. If that weren't enough, Nagi discovers his family’s own involvement in this history of violence, and the key role he is destined to play in its ultimate resolution. 

Air Gear was Oh! Great’s second series, published in Weekly Shonen Magazine from 2002 to 2012. This manga was an accomplishment on several levels, as Oh! Great began the weekly series before Tenjho Tenge was even halfway through its run. If that wasn’t difficult enough, Oh! Great essentially did the impossible by creating a manga that made rollerblading not only an acceptable, but a desirable activity. Air Gear starts out as a futuristic sports manga reminiscent of the Jet Grind Radio franchise, in which gang leader Itsuki Minami, also called Ikki, Baby Face, and Little Crow, gets absolutely humiliated by a rival gang leader making use of Air Treks, futuristic rollerblades capable of riding on vertical surfaces, in a gang conflict. This series becomes so unbelievably chaotic so rapidly that it is difficult to summarize in a single paragraph, but Ikki takes up Air Treks himself and forms a new gang to dominate the Air Trek scene. Much like Tenjho Tenge, he quickly discovers the gang rivalries are much more than they seem, tying back into the mysterious origin of the Air Trek technology and even involving his foster family. Fortunately, Ikki is a prodigy rider capable of riding on the air itself and his tremendous charisma draws together a band of talented misfit riders who enter the conflict to dominate the rooftops of Japan.

Oh! Great's most recent work has been as an illustrator in collaboration Maijou Outarou on Biorg Trinity, an ongoing series originally published in 2012 in Ultra Jump. Taking place in a not-so-distant future in which mankind is faced with a plague of a unique disease that causes them to merge with objects or animals, Fujii is a high schooler who catches the bio bug and develops heart-shaped holes in his hands, which is secondary to his greater problem, since he discovers that he has a rival in love for his crush Enomoto Fumiho. The art in this Biorg Trinity is, predictably, absolutely exquisite since it looks like Oh! Great is really able to cut loose working on a single series and focus only on the art. In addition to his usual quality, you can see the great deal of that he is able to focus on such as redrawing eloborate logos and designs on items of clothing or more experimental shots such as one perspective in which he draws reality distorting by bending the image. His penchant for drawing extremely detailed theoretical machinery also shines through as some characters who have merged with vehicles like motorcycles and helicopters are given a really wild and elaborate look.

In addition to his original titles, Oh! Great has done a considerable amount of work as a concept artist and illustrator. When not simultaneously publishing two weekly series at the same time, he frequently worked on a number of side projects which may surprise those who have seen encountered it without knowing of his involvement. Much of his work has been with Bandai Namco designing alternative costumes for characters in Tekken 5, Tekken 6, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, and even designing the character Ashelotte for Soul Calibur IV.

As I briefly discussed before, Oh! Great may hold some sort of record for the fastest artistic development of any manga or comic artist I have seen. Perhaps that is simply what happens when you are simultaneously working on two original manga, but witnessing his dramatic improvement within the space of a single story arc is a surreal experience. From a more-stylized, less anatomically exacting illustrator, Oh! Great rapidly improved to perhaps one of the best manga artists of our era. His anatomy went from awkward to hyperrealistic, his backgrounds more elaborate, and his style developed to become much more experimental and daring. Although his females could still be described as impossibly bodacious, this is more a result of his almost western comic style of proportion and, well, catering to his demogrphic. Much like Takeshi Obata, Oh! Great developed a tremendous eye for fashion and his characters typically wear highly-stylized fashions both modern and futuristic. Another emerging theme in his art has been elaborate battle dress and machines, or totemic representations of power which you see in the images I have included in the article. It’s hard to really come up with sufficient superlatives to really describe the many ways Oh! Great's art stands head and shoulders above most of his peers, but it really speaks for itself.

In terms of writing, it is easy to pick out a lot of recurring themes in Oh! Great’s work. Both of his major series featured delinquent, but charismatic, youths with a chip on their shoulder who gather a gang of unique characters around them and take on similar groups and thereby establish themselves as the strongest. In both cases a hierarchical order of the gangs requires the protagonists fight their way to those at the top, who are revealed to be much more than they orginally seemed. Oh! Great makes great use of flashbacks to develop very modern battles into generational conflicts. What begins as a fun but fairly shallow story essentially has the floor dropped out from under it to reveal deep, tragic plots that add a great deal of context to the present day aggressions and complexity to the motivations of what previously seemed like fairly stereotypical antagonists. Of course the main characters are destined to play a key role in the conflict and from here the scale of power in his stories takes off as they struggle to break the cycle of violence. Oh! Great is excellent at playing with tone, usually starting things off very carefree but dives progressively deeper into dark themes while always finding a way to return back to the surface. Fate, dedication, and belief in oneself are all huge themes in his work, with the second two fighting, but not always succeeding, in overcoming the first.

Oh! Great has really made his way around the industry, working in multiple capacities with multiple publishers and several different artistic mediums. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise since, although his original series might be considered somewhat formulaic, his smaller works have shown him to be a tremendously flexible writer. After the meteoric rise of his technical artistry to match his imaginative designs, it’s hard to imagine there wouldn't be a demand for his skills and a market for his unashamedly perverted mind. Although, since the conclusion of Air Gear, Oh! Great has found a great deal of success just off the merits of his art alone, we can only hope that he has plans for future original works ahead of him. What he may lack in substance he more than makes up for in style.

That’s it for our third Monthly Mangaka Spotlight--Have you picked up Biorg Trinity yet? Would you vote for John Omaha 2016? Next month, we're focusing on Hiromu Arakawa. Who else would you like to see featured? Let us know which mangaka you'd like to see featured in MONTHLY MANGAKA SPOTLIGHT!

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