Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sazan Closes its Eyes

One of the longest and most ambitious Scanlation projects just recently finished this week; the legendary 3x3 Eyes, better known as Sazan Eyes. The tricky nature of the name could be part of why it was so difficult for this long-running series to find an audience here - readers wouldn't know what to call it. Would they ask store clerks to order Three Times Three Eyes, like it says on the box? Would it be filled under Number, for "3", "T" for Three or "S" for Sazan?

It's been a bumpy journey to reach the end, with translations being wiped out by computer glitches, translators being absent for ages, or real life concerns. The translation effort's taken almost as long as the publication of the actual itself, which seems somewhat fitting. There were a lot of starts and stops along the way. Releases would range anywhere from small chapters to large chunks at a time, with long hiatuses in between giving casual audiences doubt over whether the project would ever be finished. Chances are that most online readers never gave it a try, being too intimidated by its length and were put off with the knowledge it wasn't finished yet.

I only got better acquainted with 3x3 Eyes when the scanlation had gone up as far as the 36th volume. I figured at that point, I could read what little was available, and since it was only four volumes from the end, it wouldn't be that much of a dealbreaker if I didn't enjoy it that much. What I read in the beginning was as typical as I expected. Then the later volumes became more imaginative in terms of action and story. By the time I reached the cliffhanger of the 36th volume, I was mentally and physically exhausted. I felt like I'd gone through a Harry Potter Marrathon with the rest of the climax in the 7th book yet to be written.

So apart from its confusing name, what is 3x3 Eyes about? Well, it has roots in Hindu mythology, which is a refreshing change of pace from a country that mainly focuses on Japanese monsters. It's about a 300-year old 3-eyed humanoid female with a split personality who wants to become human. She comes from a civilization of Saiyanjins that's now nearly exinct because of the actions of Kaiyanwang, a rogue Saiyanjin who became power-hungry and caused the near-exinction of their people before being sealed away. The problem with sealing evil beings is that such seals don't last for long, and it creates a power vacuum over the subjects under his control. Various monsters are running amok without a leader to rule over them, and for that reason, there are multiple factions who're conspiring to bring Kaiyanwang back.

This young-looking Saiyanjin lady named Pai (or Parvati, depending on the personality) finds Yakumo, an Asian-looking guy working part-time at a crossdressing cafe. Apparently, Yakumo's father, an anthropologist professor got involved with this triclops and promised to make her human. As is typical with traveling absent parents, his father passes on his duties onto his son. Naturally, Yakumo is resistant to helping her out, but is distracted at how cute Pai is. Then things are complicated when Pai's familiar, a man-bird monster accidentally tears him apart. Upon seeing her only link to becoming a human die in front of her eyes, she sucks up his soul, turning him into a "Wu", an immortal zombie who can recover from any damage, no matter how life-threatening. since Sanjiyans can only convert one soul in their life, Pai's alternate personality considers this a waste, since Yakumo isn't much of a guardian. But that suits him fine, since the combined soul of a Sanjiyan and chosen subject share the same fate. When Pai becomes human, Yakumo will be human too. This is a common factor for ordinary people getting special abilities in Manga - the story ends when the main character loses their powers.

Shortly after, they discover that a triple-body statue called the Ningen (Humanity statue) somehow has a key role in making Saiyanjins human. However, before they can even meet their goal, they're delayed by undercover monsters who want to prevent that from happening. It isn't until the 10th volume that the humanization ritual is revealed. It's more complicated than merely touching it, which should satisfy anyone annoyed at Pai being denied the chance to get close to it.

This unrequited romance between an undead manservant and his multiple-personality subversive/dominant girl could easily appeal to the Twilight crowd. However, unlike Twilight, both the male and female leads are quite capable in their abilities. Especially Parvati when her third eye is open. She's usually dormant and asleep, but When she's active, watch out.

Sadly, despite being saved from cancellation not once, not twice, but thrice, first by Innovation, and later by Dark horse in pamphlet form and in Super Manga Blast. However, the slow pace of the issues kinda ruined any real enjoyment of the Manga, which demanded to be read at a rapid pace, and some chapters were dropped in order to speed things up near the end.

In a way, the Manga being continued via scanlation probably helped spread its popularity better. Frankly speaking, I wasn't quite captivated by it from the get-go. I felt that the series was too mundane and simplistic in its goal, which would always be just slightly out of reach. In fact, many of the early stories are pretty short, usually consisting of five-six chapters. Not to mention how much the tone changes, especially early on when Yakumo undergoes training offscreen, and Pai loses her memory.

Personally, the Manga didn't start to gain its reputation until the 17th volume. For comparision's sake, that's shorter than it normally takes for One Piece to gain fans among American readers, usually around volume 33-34, the start of the Water Seven / Ennis Lobby arc. Compared to the collection of short stories that are predictable in their length and can be timed with a stopwatch, later volumes have longer story arcs that continue with ever-increasing rising action in search of a climax. You'd think it'd be impossible to maintain that amount of intensity for such a long time, but Yuzo Takada somehow manages to make it work.

A slight warning - 1/3 through the 19th volume, the pages are flipped during the climax, so you better be prepared to read the other way if you don't want to be confused. Some warning would've been nice, and I'm sorry I didn't notice until much later. Apart from some double-page spreads not being pieced together, everything else is acceptable. Other than most of the minor characters in the first third of the Manga are mostly irrelevant or redundant in the last half.

Also, for every time that Yakumo finds something that'll increase his power, he'll either lose it later, or have it handicap him somehow. There's a lot of improvisation that happens in any given situation, which is a refreshing change from other Shonen formulas. What really sets this Manga apart from the competition is that later chapters will continue from the last with no summary of what just happened. While the lack of recap can make the story telling more dynamic, it also makes it difficult to recall certain people when they show up after a long absence. The Beast Attack names (summoned monsters) are often called without much fanfare or introduction. For ease of access, here's a partial list of some of the most used monsters early on:

  • Tou-Chao (Earth/Ground Claw) - tears up the ground
  • Kuan-Yaa (Shining Fang) - a dragon in the form of light
  • Shou-Rin (Running Scale) - mainly used as a skateboard
  • Chin-Kuu (Mirror Tick) - can reflect magic and shoot thick silk
  • Shiva's Claw - a wrist protector that can repress the dominant Saiyanjin's personality
  • Fei-Oh (Flying Jaws) - a flying creature with its eye in its mouth
And then, there's Benares...

Benares is Kaiyanwang's devoted manservant who's trying to find a way to unleash his master back into the world at any cost. Just as Yakumo's life is inexorably tied together with Pai's Benares' life is threatened since he's bound to Kaiyanwang's. Even though he's trapped in sealed confinement, Kaiyanwang is wasting away in his prison, and Benares wants to prevent that from happening at all costs. Sure, Benares could undo the seal anytime he wanted to, but that wouldn't bring his master back into power and full health, and the Humanization ritual has something to do with it.

In many ways, he's more interesting than the master he serves. Though you'd never think that judging by his first appearance. When I first saw Benares, I wasn't very impressed. I had no idea why Yakumo & Pai saw him as such a threat. In his very first appearance, Yakumo readied his attack, and rather than match him head on, Benares just dodged, saying there was no point in two immortal Wu's fighting each other. Were this any other Shonen series, we would've been treated to a dazzling display of power to let us know just how high the stakes were. But we got none of that - Benares kept his cards close to his chest - for volumes to come.

Every time he did reveal his powers, they never quite felt very threatening. It wasn't until the epic fight on the Moon that I finally got a sense of how overpowered the opponent was. There aren't many series around that'll make the Dragon sound like a 2nd-hand Villain Sue (everybody talks about how awesome / terrifying he is without that bad guy actually doing anything) and then turn around and actually deliver on their promise.

What surprises me the most about Benares is that he can be surprised. He's an immortal who's lived years, gained tons of experience, done and seen things beyond imagination. And the actions of his opponents can still leave him shock. And he's no dummy either. We're talking about someone who can see through a magic trick like it was glass and sense someone's intentions before they make their move. All this makes him more interesting than the typical All-Powerful Boss who smugly sees his opponents as mere pawns in the palm of his hand. (I'm looking at you Naraku)

Like any good Manga, 3x3 Eyes is influenced by a Tezuka Manga, The Three-Eyed One. (They didn't call him the God of Manga for nothing) Sharaku is normally a docile schoolkid who's untalented and easily bullied. But if the X-shaped bandage is removed, his third eye opens, and he becomes a malicious person capable of telekenetics, magic and great charisma. He always wants to conquer the world and make the subjects of Earth his willing slaves. Only Wato, an older woman who he constantly wants to claim as his wife is able to stand up against Sharaku and put the bandaid back on his forehead. Think of him as the Japanese equivalent of Hot Stuff, the baby devil in diapers.

So far, Sharaku's mostly showed up in Tezuka's other Mangas as a docile boy, particularly in Buddha. The evil side only appeared in the Gameboy Advance game Astro Boy: Omega Factor. After you reach the last level and fight the strongest robots (Mont-Blanc, Hercules and Gerhardt aren't even fought against, and Denkou doesn't count) and defeat Pluto, a floating robotic head named Death Mask declares death sentence on all robots for causing so much destruction on Earth, Astro included. Only after the credits of the BAD END stop does Phoenix bring Astro back to life. Any game that has cameos of both Phoenix AND Black Jack was enough to get my attention. You have to play through everything twice with slightly different storylines the second time around, but its worth it to see a philosophical argument between Dr. Tenma and Black Jack. Especially fitting since Black Jack's been described as the anti-Astro Boy.

Despite its childish-looking graphics, AB:OF surprisingly difficult, even on Easy mode. Fortunately, everything is revealed, no matter what challenge level you choose. Hard mode is for sadists and completists only.


  1. Personally, I've always pronounced it as "Three By Three Eyes".
    I'm not sure where I got that from, though. Adverts for the manga entertainment dub of the old OVAs?

  2. It's 'Sanjiyan,' not Saiyanjin. I'm with you Metronome, I've always called it 3 by 3 Eyes. 👊