The ANN review of Golgo 13 DVD box set one mentioned one small point that made me sit up and scratch my head as I sleepily read it on the bus in to work. The review text mentioned that there was no overarching plotline to speak of, and when it came time to give the score this was singled out as a reason to ding the series.
I am in no way saying this is incorrect; in fact, pointing this out to the prospective buying audience is a service, informing them of one of the cornerstones of the series’ format. But as a key part of the series structure, should it be cited as a negative issue? I don’t think so!
The episodic nature of Golgo 13 is one of it’s great strengths. You can pick up whatever story you like and be able to hit the ground running immediately. You don’t even need to know who Golgo 13 is, as you can bet at some point in the storyline someone will exclaim “Golgo 13? The legendary assassin? Jesus Christ!!” If you are finding the story to be rather slow, or god forbid dumb you can safely shelve it and move on to the next one.
What it set me thinking was about the alternative. What if Golgo 13 had a multiple episode overarching plotline? It would be the most wretched thing ever done to the franchise!
Golgo 13 is a hitman. The best one ever, able to make impossible jobs possible without breaking a sweat or even changing his facial expression. The authorities are baffled, women are enamoured, and those who try to betray him turn up dead in short order. Each of the anime series episodes is about a single hit he carries out, mirroring the format of the original manga. He is all about the hit, nothing else. Filling in his actions in-between jobs or providing a long term motivation to the separate events is pointless as it would bog his character down with unnecessary details. Recurring plot elements would have to be introduced, explained every time they are invoked and would pad out each storyline with gumph not directly related to Golgo sniping a bitch with an M16. These things are undesirable as they would wreck the tension that surrounds each story- instead of wondering how Golgo will pull off the hit you have the audience wondering if genki genki mayumi-chan will turn up again. I’m using an extreme example here but you get the point.
With a long term plotline also comes the need for secondary characters, which would necessitate Golgo building relationships, something that is rather redundant when you are supposed to be a cold hearted killer of men. Having someone around in the storyline who is familiar would also take some of the gloss off of his accomplishments and make them seem dull. As it stands, every secondary character introduced in a Golgo story is either in awe of or frightened by his abilities. Those who are contemptuous are usually converted with a rifle round to the forehead. If you had a character lingering around who knew Golgo and was used to his abilities then you risk the audience getting comfortable as well, pulling back the curtain to reveal the cold truth that each story has the same exact premise.
Recurring characters would also require that Golgo interact with them, and this would involve speaking in more depth than his usual terse manner, if he talks at all. Putting words in Golgo’s mouth would impart him with opinions, feelings, viewpoints, and other inconvenient things that ruin the power fantasy that he embodies. You can’t indulge fully in a badass power fantasy as a viewer or reader when the template you are supposed to put yourself into starts saying things you don’t agree with. Half the fun of the Golgo manga is to have a desperate character spend a chapter explaining their dire predicament in exacting and emotional detail only to have the master assassin say “…” or “where can I find him?” and walk off without a single care given.
Sure, Golgo 13 is not the most deep or demanding show plot wise, but never do you feel that you have been shortchanged by the episodic nature. It is a little unfair to cite this as a negative item, as it stands at the very core of why Golgo 13 works as both a manga and an anime.
Also, you should run out and buy the Viz Manga, Sentai Filmworks DVDs, or the movies from Urban Vision if you like the sound of what has been written here, you will not be disappointed.