ichi the killer

Categories: manga


Reading all ten volumes of Ichi the Killer in one sitting is kinda like eating a huge meal before getting on The Mantis at Cedar Point. Sure, you can do it, but you’re not going to feel right afterwards.


Well, guess what. I’ve done both in my life now, and I can’t say I’m better off. Like seeing Hulk Hogan’s bald spot and mechanical joints on Hogan’s Knows Best, there’s just no going back now. I’m now sure how to describe Ichi the Killer manga beyond, “It’s sick. It’s twisted. It’s disturbing. It’s troubling. It’s riveting.”

Let’s start with the protagonist, only who? The troubled youth shaped by his memory as much as his perversion of his memory? The delusional “old man” who may or may not be delusion, yet still is? The sadomasochist yakuza who loved pain, until pain loved him back? The real/fake/non-imagined/fictional girl who may or may not have been raped? There’s no clear cut answer, and the reader eventually feels sorry for each one of them, not because we are sorry for the predicament (completely their fault, and, as I like to say, you mess up the kitchen, you clean it up), but because they’re part of the human race. It’s one of those, “How can we do this to each other?” type of things.

Well, since I can’t decide on a definitive protagonist (I’m leaning towards the sadomasochist yakuza, just because he seemed the most human… he asked for something, got it, then regretted it… the same buyer’s remorse that I got when I bought my Nintendo Gamecube), so let’s just move onto the plot, the meat, of the story. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure about this part either. Give me a few years to digest what I’ve read. On the surface, the plot is highly disturbing: a yakuza war where the worst in humanity is trotted out for all the see. That’s probably most people’s first impression of the manga: it’s hard, hard, hard, hardcore. There’s scenes of torture. More torture. Yet more torture. Cornucopia of torture. A sheer torture buffet. And just when you think the torture has abetted, no way, that’s when they start dipping penises into boiling oil and when they start cutting off nipples of street whores to be used as a chewy snack. “Don’t worry, they grow back.”

Basically, watching Ben Wallace shoot free throws in a close game in the fourth quarter.

But everytime I told myself, “Well, maybe I should stop and go walk outside or something,” I jus couldn’t stop turning the pages. It wasn’t the torture that was riveting, but how these characters justify and fool themselves into believing what they are doing is right. It’s basically like talking yourself into something like “Higurashi is a good anime series with crisp pacing and excellent writing” only 50,000 times magnified. All of the characters think that they are doing the right thing even though they are self-destructing at levels even George W. Bush and Alberto Gonzales would be appalled by. Ichi the Killer is about people self-destructing. You feel like telling them, “No! Don’t do it!” but can’t. Not because you’re physically unable, but because you want to see what happens. I’d use my old Nina and Mr. Wong analogy, but this manga had a great one built in. There’s a crime scene. Do you look? Or do you keep on walking? We look. We galk. If we see something horrid, we gasp. But do you think anyone ever said, “You know what, I’m going to just keep on walking down to the 7-11 with the hawtie who works behind the counter there.”

The troubled youth, Ichi, thinks that he freeing himself of the bullies that raped a poor girl who tried to save him from the bullies. Just he’s not doing it for the right reasons. He wanted to rape the girl. He hasn’t forgiven himself for not doing it… and it haunts him. He’s a fine killer, but he kills because he gets off of on the violence. There’s only one problem: his memory of his event may or may not be real.

The delusional “old man” may have planted the memory into Ichi to control him and mold him into a killer, not unlike what Palpatine did with poor Anakin, and, for the most part, the real “Ichi the Killer” isn’t the troubled youth but the old man. Yet, he himself is delusional… is it just a huge sinister social experiment that he’s doing (and, if so, he must be really messed up to do this), or is he just fantasizing about everything like how old fishermen “remember” the fish that they caught. “Oh, sonny, I tell you… back, in the day, I used to catch salmon THIS BIG.” The big problem: why?

The sadomasochist yakuza, Kakihara, seems to be the counterpiece that the old man plays against Ichi. Both the Kakihara and Ichi are chess pieces to the old man, but for different reasons. Kakihara thought that he was secure in his twisted world where pain is welcomed and flesh is unnecessary. Ichi, though, isn’t secure in his world… and the two eventually swap. Ichi eventually comes to turns with himself while Kakihara starts questioning his own beliefs. And, yes, this is after Kakihara shoots a guy up the ass and then tosses him over a building in the most gruesome way possible. Still, even though money is tossed around as a motive, it doesn’t seem that way. The old man scored NBA max contract amounts of money in the first murder, but he decides to come back and egg on Kakihara for a not even the veteran’s minimum. Why? Why did the old man continue to egg on Kakihara and Ichi? Personal pleasure? Revenge? Boredom? Fantasy? I dunno.

(When I was reading the manga, I was already thinking about what I was going to write for this post, but had to scrap my “Suspiciously enough, the old man is the only character in this series who didn’t have a torrid sex scene” line. Enjoy. It’s not as awesome as Keyser Soze, but getting there.)


In typical modern adult manga style, Ichi the Killer is stylish and intellectual. That’s one thing I enjoy about Japanese manga: you learn something sometimes, like with Initial D or with Yakitate Japan or even the new fortress that I constructed thanks to Bokko. Just, in this case, I now know more about torture than I ever did, and, ohbytheway, is there any way to extract this information from my brain? Please? It has a similar feel to the style of Death Note, only the murders are much more hardcore, and there’s a huge emphasis on inflicting pain, but not necessarily death, onto others. Probably is more like Lady Snowblood, but that’s a lot more obscure example than Kira’s and L’s lovefest. There’s times when I thought that the mangaka, Hideo Yamamoto, was crazy and needs mental help and other times thinking, “Wait, this shit (because I can’t think of any other way to describe it; my vocabulary escapes me) goes down all the time. Man is speaking truth to power.” I can’t deny that Ichi the Killer is a well-done, (en)grossing, slick, and riveting piece of manga.

(There’s also a movie based off of the manga that doesn’t do the manga justice. For one, they screwed up a lot of the final plot points… like… the whole point wasn’t for a happy ending. Whatever.)

And as I mentioned before, this shit is hardcore. There’s a lot of violence: from simple gunfights to fist fights to domestic violence to rape to slicing a man’s brain off, you’ll find it here. There’s a lot of sex and nudity, and not the Skinemax kind. For example, Ichi gets off killing people, so after he’s done killing someone, he pleasures himself over their dead body as he’s dripping with sweat and blood and sometimes vomit. We get to see this. Many times. Be warned.

Still, I don’t recommend Ichi the Killer as something to be sprinted though. It should be paced slowly, like a marathon, and to be digested as such. But I get the feeling that once you see the people slowing destroying themselves in the most inhumane ways possible, you’ll be like me and just can’t stop flipping the pages. Even if the next page begins a three-page discussion on how to properly mutilate a penis.

13 Responses to “ichi the killer”

  1. Solid advertisement.

  2. started it a while back and had to stop, seriously. there is at least a light trying to make itself seen at the end of the tunnel when you read Berserk, this is clear cut band ending material. i skipped to the end just to see who got theirs, and it looks like everyone got a piece of karma in the end.

  3. I’m guessing this manga makes Elfen Lied look like Sesame Street.

  4. I just realized the manga also did Homunculus. Really good stuff.

  5. The Mantis just hurts your crotch. A real meal chucker would be the millenium , dragster , or the rickety mean streak.

  6. Eh I was feeling dizzy just reading your description. Elfin Lied was ok but I don’t think I’ll get around to checking this out

  7. God, I know. I just couldn’t stop turning the pages either, pulled an all-nighter reading it in one sitting, I didn’t even feel the clock ticking. Amazing manga. Kakihara is love.

  8. This sounds interesting so I’ll check it out sometime – is it available anywhere in English?

    I’d suggest Battle Royale (in stores or you can download off gotlurk) if you haven’t read it yet. It’s 15 volumes worth of brilliantly written plot centered around high school students placed on an island and told to kill each other as the last one standing gets to live. You get in-depth looks into the pasts of the characters so you can really feel for, or hate them before they die. It’s extremely violent and has some graphic sexual scenes (a couple of incredibly disturbing ones..) and the art may seem slightly plain at the beginning but it really leaves an impression on you later on.

  9. After reading this I couldn’t help but read it.. is it wrong that I came off of it not all that disturbed? It was just a really really entertaining train-wreck complete with some of the most fucked up scenes I’ve ever seen, like that two page spread of Ichi chasing Kakihara (dick split and minus an arm) with Jijii calling it Romance.

    I hope that description encourages some more readers.

  10. You should see the movie…… Takashi Miike delivers the feel of the manga.

  11. where do i d/l this lil gem?

  12. @Tim: That… yeah, wow, that was a memorable spread indeed.

    Good god. I’m not sure if I’m really in the right mind to be evaluating this, but after an all-night sitting, as others here have done, I can only come to the conclusion that there was something riveting indeed about Ichi the Killer, and I’m inclined to say that it may be because it’s actually a very fine piece of work (despite “good” and “interesting” not necessarily going hand-in-hand).

    I am… awestruck. People speak of other things, particularly in anime or manga, as twisted or psychotic or “mindfucking”, but in what I believe to be a true understanding of the absurdity yet surrealism of Ichi the Killer, I cannot come to think that it gets any more perverse and disturbing than this, without being incoherent, pretentious, or self-indulgent.

    Take what I say as praise or as the simple pedantic “WTF” it may be, but this was certainly… out there.

  13. Ichi the Killer is the most fucked piece of perverted horseshit i have ever read/seen.I mean how can a mindfucked boy with razors in his shoes and a sadomachochistic yakuza make a storyline so incredibly fucked up that people despite feeling disturbed and sick continue with their viewings …For gore hounds its a trip to Disneyland but for weak tumied bastards its a trip to the crapper for the puking of their lifetime.Me of course enjoyed it as hell.

Leave a Reply