By Gilles Poitras
Screenshots courtesy of Michelle A. Hoyle
Nitta Tatsuo’s Shizukanaru Don (静かなるドン), translated into English as The Quiet Don, began publication in November 1988 in the men’s manga magazine Shukan Manga Sunday (Weekly Manga Sunday) and, at nearly 100 tankobon, is still running. This is a tale of a tough young yakuza boss who is head of the largest organization in Kanto, and of a mild-mannered salaryman who works in the design department of a lingerie company. The salaryman is the bottom man in his office—meek, picked on, yelled at. His incredibly slight size and habit of producing bungled designs don’t do him any favors either. (Editor’s Note: Giles notes that almost all volumes of the manga can be downloaded and read on the iPad. Please click the link above for more details.)
The contrast between these two is interesting because, in reality, they are one and the same person. Born into a high-ranking yakuza family, Shizuya Kondo wanted to distance himself from the life of his parents and walk in the light of day as an ordinary person. He created a life for himself as a designer at a lingerie company, but fate had something different in store for him. One day, after scolding him for another failed design, Shizuya’s boss turns on the office TV to watch a broadcast of the company’s new commercial. A news alert comes on: Isamiashi Kondo, the head of the Shinsengumi, has been shot by members of the Choshu-kai. After work Shizuya rushes to the hospital, only to find his father has just passed away.
At the funeral, the tension is thick between the major oyabun as they vie for the organization’s most prestigious seat. Shizuya’s mother explains that the only way to prevent a bloody internal struggle is for him to take command. He reluctantly does so on the condition that he keep his day job and carry out his role as a yakuza boss at other times. Comedy ensues as Shizuya works to balance the two sides of his life, and the two sides of his persona.
This is a story that will delight Japanophiles of all kinds. As seen above, the story contains characters and groups named after many famous foes from the Bakumatsu period of the mid 19th century. On a more contemporary front, The Quiet Don began near the end of the bubble economy of the 1980s, giving readers a glimpse of a booming Japanese economy, the glitter and glam of hostess clubs included. We’re also taken to see small neighborhood eateries, middle ranking yakuza operating modest enterprises, and salarymen trying to do their job in a very competitive environment. Another interesting touch is Shizuka’s mother. She’s drawn in a dramatically different style that manga fans will identify as the high realism of Ryoichi Ikegami, a manga artist who has drawn yakuza manga such as the Sanctuary series.
The yakuza are portrayed as competitive, both between gangs and internally, trying to rise up the ranks. Shizuya Kondo comes off at first as eccentric and weak, but those around him soon start to realize just why his mother says he is most capable of leading the organization. There is in fact a beast lurking inside this mild office worker, one more than capable of handling the fiercest opponents, one-on-one or in a showdown against other bosses at a major event. But then, as a salaryman, he is also capable of dancing in his underwear to amuse drunken coworkers at a hot spring resort.
For all of the drama contained in The Quiet Don this is a gag manga filled with slapstick, very earthy humor, humorous situations, and great mix of 19th century history with late 20th century reality.
The English translation of the first two volumes is available in the US, and possibly other areas, as an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Each volume is broken up into four parts that are sold separately. It will also display on an iPad in a small window. There is a free app that gives a preview of the manga, so it’s easy to try out some of the early story.
The downside is that reading manga on handheld devices leaves plenty to be desired as you are basically doing it one frame at a time, making it hard to maintain a reading rhythm as you have to tap to go to the next image (or in the case of large frames, for the system to scan across). Also, don’t expect to pick up yakuza related vocabulary from this translation. The translation is rough with many terms in English that could have been left in Japanese. These days readers of English translated manga are used to Japanese terms left un-translated when there is no real English equivalent. One example of a word that could have been left untranslated is oyabun consistently translated as “father”.
All in all, the story of The Quiet Don is compelling, the characters full of depth, and it’s easy to understand how this continuing series has continued running for over 20 years. There have even been adaptations of the story, including an OVA (straight to video anime), a TV drama series and two movies, both of which have been released in subtitled versions through iTunes.
(Jake’s note: In addition, there is a long out of production computer game/interactive manga based on the book that in some ways may have been the model for Sega’s popular Yakuza series. I don’t know any yakuza with sons that went into the apparel business but I do know one mid-level yakuza enforcer who’s son became a hairdresser. He is not interested in taking over “the family business”, and his father seems very happy with that decision.)