I've been a longtime fan of Katsuya Terada since seeing his fantastic illustrations the old issues of Nintendo Power magazine from way back in the late 80s/early 90s. I'm glad to see that he's still at it and has shown no signs of quitting anytime soon. Every single thing he draws just oozes with pure awesomeness and this entire book is no exception.
This book, volume 2, is the sequel to the earlier volume 1 book The Monkey King Volume 1 (v. 1), which was actually originally published 12 years prior to this one. I've no idea why it took Katsuya Terada so long, but it was worth the wait!
---STORY & THEMES---
This book follows the story of The Monkey King, the ultimate legendary badass in all of world mythology, as he battles freaky-looking demons, as well as sexy demons, on a journey to the west, along with a cowardly pig, a living disembodied head ( who inexplicably begins to grow a body ), and a super-powered monk in the form of an embryo stored inside the body of a woman. The Monkey King's ultimate goal is to kill The Buddha, who in this adaption, is an invincible giant shape-shifting world-dominating being!
This volume revolves around two plot points: Naga, a rival character to Goku, emerges to stir up trouble. And unexpected consequences occur when the disciples decide to transfer Sanzo's embryo into a demon's body. These stories are in addition to several side stories, including an encounter with some tragic snow demons, the story of how The Monkey King obtained his staff, and the humorous misadventures of Hakkai the pig.
In case you don't know, these stories are, in fact, mostly based (albeit loosely with ample amounts of gratuitous violence and nudity) on chapters from the original Journey to the West tale, not simply invented by Terada. It might be easy to assume that Terada is being sacrilegious to the original Buddhist themes of the story by taking it and inserting mindless sex and violence, but the Buddhist symbolism is actually still there.
For instance, the monk Sanzo's disciples each represent flaws in the human mind as defined by Buddhist philosophy. For example, the pig Hakkai is a representation of temptations and pleasures. It is Hakkai's cravings and desires for these things that get him into trouble. Goku is a representation of anger and rage - it is his propensity to launch into violence without thinking things through that get him into trouble. These deep themes are all present in the book - it's not mindless violence, it's philosophical!
My favorite of these subtle themes, however, is Terada's depiction of Shaka (a.k.a. Buddha). Shaka Nyorai's name - specifically the "Nyorai" part - has the thought-provoking meaning of being present everywhere, yet not specifically defined at any one place. It's clear that Terada understands this concept, because my favorite moment in the book is when the Monkey King realizes the truth behind this meaning himself, because Terada's depiction of this revelation is nothing short of spectacular.
If anyone asks you to explain Buddhism to them, just show them this book!
Be warned, the content in this book is extreme - the explicit content parental advisory warning on the cover is certainly well deserved.
I don't consider myself much of a prude when it comes to seeing violence and nudity, but some of the violence in this book made even me wince. Did we really have to see a naked decapitated corpse sliced open with a knife? Yikes! Avoid this book if you have a weak stomach.
Also, the sheer awesomeness of the action and everything else is enough for me to overlook some of the perverted aspects, such as Terada's questionable fetish for drawing bound and naked women. That's in addition to just about every female depicted with giant exposed breasts. Since everything is so extreme to the point of ridiculousness, at some point nothing's actually shocking anymore, but I do wish Terada would tone things down sometimes - maybe just a little bit.
If you found yourself confused by the first volume, which assumed that you're already familiar with the Journey to the West story, which is widely known across Asia, but perhaps not so much elsewhere, this volume is actually more forgiving than the previous volume, because whereas Vol 1 was comprised of disjointed episodes that frequently jumped back and forth between past and present, Vol 2 is more straightforward.
Of course, if you don't understand anything, there's also a well written essay at the end of the book, detailing helpful things such as the intricacies of the translation, the historical context, and the relation between this book and the original tale.
This book, along with the previous volume, easily ranks among my favorite comic-books. I can't wait for volume 3! (...that is, if Terada ever gets around to drawing it...).