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What's So Great About Ogure Ito?

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This story originally appeared in PW Comics Week on August 1, 2006 Sign up now!

by Kai-Ming Cha, PW Comics Week -- Publishers Weekly, 8/1/2006

As far as manga-ka go, Oh! Great, aka Ogure Ito, has it all. A knack for storytelling, a talent for drawing sexy boys and girls, the ability to illustrate kinetic action and a romanized name that is easy to recognize.

Oh! Great, who derives his pen name from the actual pronunciation of his given name, Ogure Ito (Oh-goorayee-to), is the talent behind the almost too-hot-to-handle Tenjho Tenge from CMX—editorial changes in the sexy series led to a fan protest—and the comparatively tamer Air Gear, forthcoming this month from Del Rey Manga.

"Air Gear is about discovering yourself," says Del Rey Manga associate publisher Dallas Middaugh. "Itsuki discovers the Air Gear world is more complicated than he ever imagined—and we discover it along with him."

In Air Gear, Itsuki Minami is the baby-faced king of wrestling on the east side. But when a west side inline skater gang defeats him, Minami is forced into the world of hyper-extreme inline-skating in order to regain his throne. In this manga, extreme inline skates give the wearer the dynamic power to skate into the air and through the sky. Air Gear combines the action of a sports manga with the tension of a teen gang war to create an edgy tale of junior high school heroes.

Most manga readers in the U.S. will be familiar with Tenjho Tenge, Oh! Great's mature series about warring high-school martial arts clubs that debuted with controversy in the spring of 2005. Tenten, as it is referred to in manga circles, is filled with electric fight scenes and buxom young women in school uniforms. The young male characters are depicted as petite versions of WWF wrestlers, with fully developed musculature and ripped physiques. Incidentally, the story is also filled with sex and nudity, material that CMX decided to censor in order to make the series accessible to a younger audience—a move that outraged readers.

Oh! Great's ability to weave together compelling narratives without shying away from sex or violence has set him apart from other manga-ka while earning him a number of loyal fans. His use of sex in Tenten is recognized by his readers as an important aspect of the storyline, hence their outrage when it was edited out. Despite some disgruntled readers and the challenge of managing such sexually charged material, CMX seems to have Oh! Great on its side, emphasizing that the manga-ka agreed to the editing on Tenten in order to reach a wide audience in the U.S.

For CMX v-p and general manager Hank Kanalz, much of the attraction to Ogure's work is derived from his artistic ability—as well as the beautiful women he draws. "He can make his women look extra soft and so appealing. But when they get into action, he changes his art style so that it's dark and gritty, all in a good way. It's fascinating to see how he can play with that."

Asako Suzuki, CMX's recently hired director of manga, acknowledges the role that sex plays in Tenten. "He uses it as a powerful motivator," Suzuki says. "It's both negative and positive—as an assault in the beginning of the story, and as a bond of true love. He uses it in both directions very effectively. And it allows him to draw women very nicely."

Oh! Great got his start in the Japanese market as a hentai (porn) manga-ka, writing and illustrating pornographic comics. His hentai series Silky Whip was licensed by the Fantagraphics imprint Eros Comics for release in the U.S. According to Eros editor Michael Dowers, many aspiring cartoonists in Japan as well as America get their start in erotic comics.

"It's a way to get a foot in the door," Dowers says. "It's very difficult to get published. The industry is so tight and sewn up." He adds that it's not uncommon for up and coming manga-ka to get their start in erotic comics as a means to move on to mainstream material. "If they're creating in Japan, they want to get into the mainstream. There's more money involved than in erotic material. Erotic material is very popular, but mainstream material way outsells it." But Dowers admits that most manga-ka who start in erotic comics often carry that sexual flare into their mainstream work. "There's always a bit of the erotic that gets in there."

This is certainly true for Oh! Great; his background is apparent in his mainstream work. Tenjho Tenge was Ogure's first crossover mainstream comic and contains a fair amount of erotic material. CMX's visual edits included obscuring panty-shots, drawing clothes onto naked characters and air-brushing genitalia. In response, a number of dissatisfied readers protested the changes on CMX's online forums and elsewhere and urged a boycott of the title.

While Air Gear contains a fraction of the nudity contained in Tenjho Tenge, Oh! Great throws in panty-shots with abandon. Sexual situations are still part of the storyline, and rape and sodomy are alluded to although not depicted. Middaugh says that Del Rey Manga will not edit the art although it has "toned down dialogue to reduce [sexual references] in the first volume." While Air Gear is not considered a mature manga, it will be shrinkwrapped and rated 16+.

Air Gear was Del Rey Manga's big release at the San Diego Comic-Con and fans may be tempted to compare Del Rey's decision to shrinkwrap Air Gear to CMX's editing of Tenten. However, Middaugh doesn't believe it's an apt comparison. "It's not quite an apples-to-apples comparison," he says. "Air Gear was serialized in Shonen magazine. Tenten was serialized in a magazine for adults. If we need to edit a book for the American market—edit it in a major way like CMX did—then that's not a book we should publish. DC/CMX were in a very different situation."

Earlier this month, CMX's Suzuki posted a response to dissatisfied Tenten readers online at the Anime News Network Web site (www.animenewsnetwork.com), on the possibility of an unedited edition of Tenjho Tenge. "Although we do have frequent, internal discussions about the possibility of publishing an unedited version of Tenjho Tenge, we believe our focus now should be to complete the current vision." Suzuki also notes that Oh! Great "takes a great deal of time to inspect each volume and every one of our editorial changes." Oh! Great, Suzuki emphasized, agreed to the visual edits of his work so Tenten could reach the widest possible audience.

So will readers miss the sex? "He's got sexy women who are very strong, and very cute boys," says Middaugh about the characters in Air Gear. "But with Oh! Great, more than anything else, he's got a strong sense of motion, of movement on the page. It's very dynamic and very alive. Air Gear lets Oh! Great flex his muscle in areas that he's great in."



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