A true legend of horror, Hideshi Hino was a major name in manga between 1967 and the turn of the millennium. Born in 1946 in Manchuria, Hino’s family was among the last of the Japanese migrants who fled the region after the war. On his website, Hino recounts in great detail how he experienced the winter exodus and how it nearly cost him his life.
Growing up in Japan, Hino tried to become a manga artist in his early 20s, only for his last ditch effort to be rejected for being too disgusting to publish. Just as he was ready to give up, a new editor was brought in and decided to go through with publishing his work anyway. Hino’s distinct style and creepy stories caught on, and soon he was put in charge of publishing a recurring series of horror manga. He even found himself in the director’s chair for the late-80s movie franchise Guinea Pig soon after.
Hino’s manga are blood-soaked and depict gore in great detail, yet the deformed character design and simple stories make them seem deceptively kid-friendly. Many of his manga follow an anthology format, such Gallery of Horrors and Skin and Bone, which use a loose framework to tell various horrific stories. Many of these utilize themes of bullying, revenge, and animal cruelty, such as in one short story where a group of children are haunted by the skeleton of an anorexic classmate who died as a result of their relentless bullying.
Two of his most noteworthy manga are Hell Baby and Panorama of Hell. Hell Baby is one of his few stories with a linear narrative, telling the tale of a hideous child that is abandoned in the wild and grows up eating live animals. One day she is guided towards civilization and sets out on a quest for vengeance against the parents who cruelly abandoned her. Panorama of Hell, meanwhile, is another one of his anthology works, but some of its chapters touch on Hino’s own life-story and memories of Manchuria.
While his output has decreased in the years since then, he still pens the occasional one-shot and in 2004 chapters of his Gallery of Horrors series were brought to film. He returned to the director’s chair himself in 2014, and in 2019 a documentary was released about his life and work, which also featured commentary from artists like Junji Ito and Inuki Kanako.
Now 74 years old, Hino still draws and writes, alongside other hobbies like martial arts and collecting cool swords. He’s described as an energetic and passionate person, so perhaps we haven’t seen the last of his manga yet. Then again, few would begrudge the man for retiring after such a long and industry-changing career; during which he brought horror to the forefront of the manga world and inspired many of the younger mangaka whose works we enjoy today.
Shinataro Kago is a name synonymous with the ero guru scene; a genre blend of hentai and horror focusing on erotic imagery contrasted against extreme gore. That may sound insane to some, but I guarantee you there is no shortage of people looking for this stuff and artists willing to supply it.
Staples of Kago’s work include extreme (sexual) violence, body horror, harsh satire, and poop, all of which are present in abundance in his most renowned work Kagayake! Daitoua Kyoueiken. In this alternate history story, women have their bodies engineered into living machines of war that fire shells from their sexual organs and spray the enemy with mind-altering feces. It’s certainly disgusting and cruel, but Kago creates such absurd storylines with these ideas that it almost reads like a comedy at times, in spite off the horrific imagery.
His satirical angle often makes Kago’s manga stand out and causes it to sometimes flow out of the typical ero guru circles. An example of such is Holy Night; a Christmas story where Japan fights back against an evil Santa Claus who floods people’s houses with gifts until they are crushed to death. It’s clear that Kago is always trying to branch out and in Fracture he admits to wanting to be known for more than just ero guru. This is complicated by the fact that he’s not very good at much else.
He’s good at drawing grotesque corpses, but struggles with people that are still alive. This leaves his attempts at mystery stories (Fracture and Anamorphosis) looking incredibly mediocre. Another downside of living people is that they talk, and dialogue is not one of his strong suits either. His characters are never very interesting and he is bad at establishing a setting. This is a problem, because he has a strong preference for short stories, where exactly those skills are vital for success.
His manga thus rely on old shticks like gory imagery and aggressive anti-PC humor—i.e. shock value and controversy—to remain interesting. It’s shallow and particularly the gore and sex ends up looking half-hearted in many of these manga. Dabbling a bit in his work through Kagayake! Daitoua Kyoueiken and Kijin Gahou can be interesting for shock value or to get an impression of what ero guro is like, but Shintaro Kago is an author you’ll likely bore off quickly.
And if this man is a messiah of scat manga for you, then you’ll be happy to hear that his poop-themed film festival is still scheduled for April 2021
Another big name from the 80’s, Tetsuya Saruwatari is an author who went all in one of the rising popularity of violent action manga. He dropped out of high school and went on to apprentice under Hiroshi Motomiya (Mada Ikiteru, Salaryman Kintarou) and Shinji Hiramatsu (Doberman Deka, Black Angels) before finding his own success in 1983.
While not all his stories are about Herculean men savagely fighting back against some evil authoritarian force… many of them definitely are. Damned, Dokuro, Dog Soldier, they are all very similar and very violent. I don’t know what Saruwatari has against faces, but he loves creating brutal fight scenes in which people’s heads are completely destroyed. He has mastered the artistry of gore and kept making the same style of manga well into the new millennium, even as trends moved on.
Though I respect him a lot as an artist, it’s very 50/50 if you get an interesting, kick-ass story out of Saruwatari or a tiring edgefest. Bad Police is a hilarious example, as it follows a police officer who kills every criminal regardless of the crime, often by deliberately allowing situations to escalate. He recklessly endangers civilians and colleagues alike just to do things his way, yet the story always panders to his viewpoints and goes through great lengths to make him seem heroic and wise.
The Hard follows a very similar premise, though with a bounty hunter rather than a formal officer of the law. It too is grim and violent, but like most of Saruwatari’s better stories, it also has jokes and colorful characters. The Hard is also one of the few Saruwatari works that ended up getting a great anime adaptation, alongside the very enjoyable martial arts series Shootfighter Tekken and Riki-Oh. There is also a 1-episode OVA for Dog Soldier, but it’s literally just shitty anime Rambo and can be safely skipped.
While martial arts and action heroes remain favorites for him, Saruwatari has dabbled in a few other things. He has a manga about competitive surfing out there, for example, and in 2012 he began work on Gokusai. This is a manga about a teenage art student whose life is falling apart around her, until she meets the impoverished but incredibly talented Jou, who becomes something of a boyfriend/tutor to her. It’s completely different from his usual work both in subject and art-style.
Saruwatari is the only author I looked into for today’s article that doesn’t really do horror, but his devotion to intense action is worth noting nonetheless. Even a massive, mainstream success like Tough enjoys graphic detail and pushes its fights as close to death as they can get. I highly recommend Tough, The Hard, and Dokuro in particular, and have heard promising things about Riki-Oh.