A shocking and violent look at a post apocalyptic future. Many different stories centre around an array of characters dealing with life in this desolate world. All the stories feature a huge man named Jack who is in an ongoing battle with a villain named Slum King.
Note: This is kanzenban version which consists of: 7 volumes (published by Kodansha) and 31 volumes (published by Nihon Bungeisha) merged into 18 volumes.
This manga is only now being translated very slowly by various groups, so bear with this preliminary review.
Violence Jack is where Go Nagai's style I feel starts to shine compared to his earlier violent mangas. The main character, Violence Jack, lives up to his name as a sadistic if slightly moral protagonist, ripping all his enemies into bloody shreds and reaping death across the post-apocalyptic world. I can't say this is a new high for Go Nagai's gore and violence, but in certain aspects such as the gore or the horror it may take the cake over Devilman. There's a lot of very fucked
up imagery and sadism on part of Slum King, the main villain, that was a key missing element in the previous Nagai manga Devilman where there's no central antagonist. It's as if Go Nagai picked right off where he wanted to continue Devilman before he kicked it off a cliff near the end.
Although it's not very clear even at my point in the manga, it is obvious that Violence Jack is a part of the greater Devilman franchise and is one of the more important parts of it, so it is slightly annoying this has yet to be translated decades after publication. I won't spoil how exactly it ties in, but this is a very good expansion on the lore if you think about why the world is the way it is, definitely one of the most crucial parts of the series' world building and overarching story. All you need to know is that you should read Devilman first, which is generally the one rule for reading any Devilman manga. I wish Violence Jack would be finished so that this, Devilman and Lady could form something of a trilogy, as right now Devilman is almost impossible to fully comprehend if you don't read Japanese. Now that's out of the way...
Violence Jack is a surreal manga, as well as a violent one. There's a lot of mystery about who or what Violence Jack is from the beginning and most of what happens involves largely unexplained supernatural powers. The best comparison I could make for this series is Hokuto no Ken/Fist of the North Star, both violent and have intense fights, although I'd say HnK easily has better fights while Violence Jack is more, well, violent. Unlike Hokuto no Ken, Violence Jack's structure is not as linear, instead veering off in typical Go Nagai fashion to focus on sub-plots that almost seem unrelated to the main story, but unlike Devilman or large parts of Lady, these parts I actually enjoyed! Not all of them however, this manga might have some of the worst filler yet but what's good is by far the best of this weird series up to this point in Go Nagai's career.
Most of the time the manga follows Violence Jack, but does cut back to show a flashback of what went on before an apocalyptic event happened and at other times to follow side characters. The one flashback in the series is obviously building up to a later reveal, as of now untranslated, but it's a decently interesting foreshadowing that is well executed to show off why the world is in such a bad state, and why Violence Jack is such a messed up immoral person. Other characters it follows tend to be less interesting than Jack, but they have a personality and motivations that are well done. I'm not really sure if there's going to be a pay off for any of this later on, but it's impossible for the ending to be as gloriously dumb as Devilman or Lady anyway.
The story can follow a formula at times of side characters get in trouble -> Jack shows up to save them -> moral dilemma -> dilemma solved (sometimes in very unorthodox/sadistic ways by Jack) -> Jack leaves. This is not too bad though, as it at least leads to a fun little scene of Jack solving the problem, usually dealing with a villain terrorizing innocents. Despite how violent it is, this has a level of subtlety and simplicity that is sorely missing from Devilman. The villains tend to be episodic but there are a few who have their own mini-arcs, with Slum King as the very, very disturbing and awesome villain of the manga. This character really carries what is out right now of this story with his absolute sadism and cruelty, his fight isn't fantastic or anything but knowing he comes back later as well, it's definitely worth reading to see his segments in a similar way to Jinmen in the original Devilman.
What is bad is simply that there's too much plodding, the plot being stalled by these sub-plots and the fights are a little lackluster at their best. Go Nagai's fights are pretty sloppy although I can't blame him too much given the characters and scenarios he has to draw, he does a competent job. The art in general is also some of his very best if slightly more simple. It can feel somewhat by-the-books for art, as characters tend to have this very old-fashioned style, oblong faces, not too imaginative. However if you're coming into Violence Jack expecting a work of art I'm not sure why. It delivers fully on that violence, gore and over-the-top action, even if the art falters at times.
As far as filler goes, there's definitely some padding between the Jack sightings where not much happens. This is another case where a super long manga just has tons of down time between the important events, if only the parts with Jack or his direct interactions were in there, nothing would be lost of too much value. Everyone is only reading for these parts anyway, as the side characters aren't too interesting. It's a shame as without these parts this would be a very solid, short manga that may have been translated by now. Nonetheless one of the stronger parts of this often confusing and loosely-connected franchise. Directly compared, Lady is arguably as good or better than this but in my opinion is worse solely for its inexplicably stupid ending. Recommended strongly to Devilman fans and if you like mangas such as Hokuto no Ken but also have a taste for violence, gore or horror.