I spent a year or two of my life pretending to be an anime fanboy. It didn’t stick but one thing did: Golgo 13.
I was an anime poser
I’m not a big anime fan. I’m aware of titles and have passively watched series like Trigun, Full Metal Alchemist and Cowboy Beebop, but none of them really held my attention…at least not now. There was a time in high school when I claimed to be a big anime fan but it was really all an act. I thought I was supposed to like anime because I worked at a computer store, played video games and was otherwise a big nerd (well before being a nerd was cool). Those were the days when hacking was glorified by movies like Hackers…it was all roller blades, techno music and, of course, anime. Anime was part of the gimmick so I had a shelf full of VHS movies like Akira, Guyver, Armitage and Golgo 13. Most of those films were wasted on me except for Golgo 13, but this wasn’t my first run in with Duke Togo.
My Nintendo led the way
I was first introduced to Golgo 13 well before high school through one of my early Nintendo games, Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode. I don’t really remember buying the game or when I got it, nor am I sure what drew me to pick it out. If I had to guess, it was probably really cheap so my mom agreed to buy it because the box for the game was less than attractive and the graphics were on par more with Atari than even a Nintendo. In the game I controlled super assassin Duke Togo, taking him all around Europe in search of…something…something probably very top secret. I don’t remember the game being very good and it was pretty forgettable, but that game made “Golgo 13” part of my vocabulary.
I later got the sequel game, the oddly named The Mafat Conspiracy. Once again Duke Togo was traveling the world shooting bad guys, stealing secret plans and wooing the women. However, compared to the first Golgo 13 game, Mafat was pretty epic and dramatic. The game had side-scrolling machine gun action, first-person snipering and even Rad Racer-like levels. I really got into The Mafat Conspiracy to the point where I had mounds supplemental notes and maps to help me along the way. Mafat is not an easy game and it’s long so it’s not a game you’ll finish in a night. Once again, I was fascinated and caught up in the escapades of Duke Togo, but this time I did some investigation and found the source – anime movies.
Golgo 13 anime movies
Even though I was an anime poser during my teen years, Golgo 13 was one of the few characters that interested me. Sure, I discovered the video games first but those games made me aware of the character, so when I came across the Golgo 13: Queen Bee movie I had to buy it. Prior to that full-length anime movie, I had never seen a Golgo 13 cartoon or read any of the comics (which date back to the late 1960s). I got the movie because a) I was trying to keep up my anime street cred, and b) it was one of the only anime characters I honestly knew. Well, at the time the Queen Bee movie confused me. The animation was incredibly different from what I was used to seeing, and the story included a lot of talking, intricate plotlines, and many different characters. I remember somewhat regretting my purchase, but the movie looked good on the shelf next to my unwatched copy of Akira. I haven’t seen Queen Bee since so I might understand it better now, but unless it comes to Netflix, I’m out of luck. Yet even though my first exposure to Golgo 13 animation was somewhat of a bust, Duke Togo and his pimped out M-16 had a special place in my heart, if only because I felt like I had discovered the character for myself. I didn’t latch onto Golgo 13 because it was popular or because I saw it referenced in some hacker movie.
I quickly grew out of my anime phase and after selling all of my VHS tapes, I pretty much left anime behind me. I accepted that the animation, characters, and stories didn’t really excite me. I had moved on…until a couple years ago when I got Netflix and discovered the incredibly vast catalog of anime titles available on instant streaming.
Netflix to the rescue
I browsed the Netflix anime collection with a smile on my face, flicking by the likes of Trigun, Macross, Rin and Initial D only to see something I never expected to find: Golgo 13. There in front of me was instant access to a part of my past I had more or less given up on. With nothing to lose I started to watch the Golgo 13 series and found something very…awesome. The Golgo 13 shorts I was watching were relatively new, originally released in 2008, so the animation was far less dated than the last time I saw Duke and friends. Each episode is your standard 22 minute fare and every minute is wonderful. I felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend, but was just now finding out that he had been awesome the entire time.
These recent Golgo 13 cartoons are some of the most succinct action stories you’ll ever watch. Almost no time is dedicated to explain any of Golgo 13’s background except that he is the best assassin in the world and is very expensive to hire. Every episode sets up the bad guy (aka, the target) and then you watch as Duke calmly overcomes every obstacle in his path, ultimately making an impossible sniper shot from eight miles away in the middle of a sandstorm. He’s kind of like a one-man Asian A-Team. And of course being anime, Golgo 13 offers up a lot of graphic violence and a little bit of sex just to keep things interesting. You won’t find much depth in a Golgo 13 episode, but you will find some very satisfying international spy action. But you’ll love Golgo even more because it tries so hard to be serious that it doesn’t realize how unserious it really is.
In the end, even with all the over-the-top gun play, womanizing and explosions, I’m able to enjoy Golgo 13 because it doesn’t fit the usual anime stereotype of kung fu kids, big-boobed teenage witches and fire-tailed pocket monsters. Much like another one of my favorite cartoons, GI Joe, Golgo 13 is squarely set in the real world…even if the rules of that world are exaggerated just a bit. However, even though I’m able to enjoy Golgo 13 and a few others like Ghost in the Shell, you won’t find me claiming to be an anime fanboy anytime soon. The days of being an anime poser are well behind and I’m okay with that. Now all I can do is hope my daughter doesn’t get caught up in Sailor Moon, otherwise I’ll be forced to show her some “real” anime.