By Kanta Ishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior SpecialistThe manga this week
Ichinichi Gaishutsuroku Hancho (Squad leader’s one-day leave)
Story by Tensei Hagiwara, illustration by Motomu Uehara and Kazuya Arai, with the cooperation of Nobuyuki Fukumoto (Kodansha)
Manga spin-offs, in which a supporting character from a manga is upgraded to a protagonist in a side story, are typically not undertaken by the original authors. Spin-offs also tend to be more like an epigone or second-rate parody. Recently, however, people have started to take the format seriously because an increasing number of spin-offs have turned out to be more popular than their originals.
“Ichinichi Gaishutsuroku Hancho” (Squad leader’s one-day leave) is based on the popular gambling manga series “Kaiji” by Nobuyuki Fukumoto, whom I’ve already introduced in this column. Kaiji, the protagonist of Fukumoto’s original, falls into a huge amount of debt through his gambling losses. A corrupt organization called Teiai Group takes over his debt and forces him to work in a labor camp in return. “Workers” at the camp fall prey to a rigged gambling scam organized by Otsuki Hancho, or simply Hancho (squad leader), who deceives them out of their meager daily allowances. This scoundrel is the protagonist of “Ichinichi Gaishutsuroku Hancho.” Otsuki is always smiling and appears to be kind, but behind the facade lies a despicably cunning character. A scene where Hancho loses to Kaiji playing dice for money is one of the standout moments in the original manga.
So what is this spin-off with Otsuki Hancho as the protagonist actually about? Although the workers at the forced labor camp are almost like prisoners, if they raise enough money, they can purchase the right to go on “day leave” to the outside world. Hancho often uses the money he gets from his gambling scam to pay for the opportunity to spend time out in the free world. How Hancho uses his ingenuity to find the best diners and have the most fun in his precious 24-hours of freedom is the theme of this manga. Surprisingly enough, it is actually a variation of the gourmet manga genre.
Fukumoto’s original is faithfully adhered to in this spin-off. Fukumoto’s drawings may not have been difficult to imitate, but the team behind the spin-off production has even admirably reproduced the speaking style of the characters. Seeing Otsuki turning into a master of fine living as he makes the best of his limited freedom is heartwarming — I’ve even felt a trace of pity at times. We must not forget, though, that he pays for his one-day leave with money won through his gambling scam.
Another “Kaiji” spin-off, “Chukan Kanriroku Tonegawa” (Middle manager Tonegawa’s record), was released before “Ichinichi Gaishutsuroku Hancho.” It excellently describes the pain and sorrow of Teiai Group executive Tonegawa, a nemesis of Kaiji’s.
Spin-offs are typically intended to reap benefits at the expense of the original creators, so I’d been reluctant to treat them as independent creative works for a long time. After reading these two stimulating stories, this is no longer true. I must hold my hand up and confess how much I enjoyed them both. This inevitably leads me to admire Fukumoto, who managed to create a roster of exciting and appealing characters in the outstanding original manga, even more.