Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lawyer Comics: 『Kuzu the Lawyer』 & 『Saibancho!』 & 『The Lawyer of Shimane』

Three newish comics about lawyers. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of each:

Kuzu the Lawyer (『弁護士のくず』) by (井浦秀夫) is arguably the best. Premiering in 2004 in Shogakugakan’s “Big Comics Original,” the main character, Kuzu Motohiro (九図元人) has a knack for saying the wrong thing at the right time. His comments offend everyone, but simultaneously reveal an angle or perspective that happens to resolve the dispute. That’s the formula. The images are great, the language is fairly rich, and Kuzu makes me laugh out loud pretty frequently. In addition, the situations are complex and substantive enough that I actually learn about the law, social issues, etc. The main drawback is that the characters don’t seem to develop from one episode to the next. It seems the “reset” button is hit after each episode. Kuzu won the Shogakukan Manga Award in 2006 and was picked up for television by TBS the same year. The current English title, “Scum of Lawyers,” is a mistranslation and needs to be scrapped. This manga expresses no cynicism about lawyers as a whole. The main character, Kuzu, is a scummy guy, arguably unfit to be a lawyer. That's the point. The message of this comic is not that lawyers as a whole are scummy.

Saibancho! (Your honor!) (『裁判長!』) by Kitao Toro (北尾トロ) is about an air-conditioning salesman who plays hooky from work to watch criminal trials in Tokyo. At court he meets a motley group of characters who share his hobby and teach him about what’s going on in the courthouse and how to find the most interesting trials. Unlike Kuzu, which takes place mostly in Kuzu’s law office, Saibancho! is litigation focused and takes place in the courtroom. I like this manga because I learn a lot about how Japanese courts work. And many of the trials are grizzly, which is fun. Saibancho! was released in book form by Bungeishunju in 2006. I’m not sure when the serial started. It hasn’t won any awards that I know of, but I hear it has triggered a trial-watching fad among Japanese teenagers.

The Lawyer of Shimane (『島根の弁護士』) by Kagawa Masahito (香川まさひと) is of an entirely different type. This is clearly otaku manga designed to show as many boob shots and butt shots as possible of the heroine Yamazaki Mizuho, a leggy and nubile young lawyer — full of breathy and quixotic ambitions — working her first lawyer job out in Simane Prefecture, which is Japan’s second least-populated prefecture (Tottori is the least populated). The Lawyer of Shimane debuted in 2004 in Shueisha’s “Business Jump Comics” and was picked up by FujiTV in 2007. With more pictures than dialogue, this one might do the best in translation, commercially speaking.

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