We’re going back to the old school for this one. Now when I say “old school” I mean the old school of manga being released in America. Back in the days when series were published one issue at a time. Back when being an action manga set in America was considered a selling point. Back to a time that makes me feel old just by talking about it!... Anyway, “Pineapple Army” is a cheesy relic of a bygone day that tends to be entertaining for the wrong reasons. Much in the way I loved “The A-Team” wholeheartedly as a kid, but find it to be absolutely hilarious now. Why am I even talking about it? That’s because the series features art by someone who has gone on to become one of the greatest talents in the medium today: Naoki Urasawa.
In talking about the setup for the series, I’d normally begin with something like “Stop me if this sounds familiar.” However, if you lived through the 80’s or have any familiarity with the TV series that were a part of its landscape, then its premise should sound instantly recognizeable. Jed Goshi is a member of the Civilian Defense Force who spends his time training others in the art of warfare. A seasoned veteran of Vietnam, he has been to many of the world’s hotspots in the intervening years and his skills serve him well in the urban jungle that is New York. Though his gruff demeanor initially gives weight to his statements that he’s not going to fight his clients battles for them -- only train them to do so themselves -- he always winds up getting more involved than he initially plans.
These incidents that he gets entangled in -- helping some young sisters fight off the man who killed their dad, training a young Jamaican boy to survive on the streets, going to Central America to foil a kidnapping plot -- are pretty simplistic and predictable. Though there’s usually some twist to them, but a discerning reader will figure it out well before the end of the story. Then you have the tropes which the comics are rife with. One such example involves a mercenary talks about the “three greatest combat professionals” in the world in the kidnapping story. Coincidentially, one of them is the mastermind of the plot and another is some dude who wiped out an entire communist guerrilla company in El Salvador using a grenade launcher. In case you didn’t guess that this professional was Jed, we get to see him use a grenade launcher -- one handed -- with uncanny precision before the end of the story.
It’s very cheesy, but if you look at it as a time capsule from another era it’s pretty amusing to see how Japan thought of us back in the mid-80’s. There’s also an interesting text piece in one of the later issues by translator James D. Hudnall where he espouses the virtues of the series and praises Jed’s depth of character in comparison to your average superhero. Objectivity notwithstanding, I can’t quite laugh his words off because they serve as a reminder of how superheroes had a virtual stranglehold on the market at the time. I’m sure that if I had read something like this at the time it came out, I’d have had a more favorable view of it just based on the fact that comics like this were a rarity at the time.
As for Urasawa’s art, it’s not bad. You can see that he knows how to lay out the panels on a page and has a good grasp of storytelling even at this early stage in his career. The look of the series is, naturally, very 80’s with its manly men and girly girls. You can see how the man’s style evolved into its current form from the work on display here, though he seems to be quite influenced by Katsuhiro Otomo at this stage of his career. To be honest, I’m not sure if I’d have given this series a shot if his name hadn’t been attached to it. As it is, “Pineapple Army” is a work that, for better and worse, really captures the spirit of the time it was published in. The nostalgia is fun, but we’ve come a long way up since the day this was considered state-of-the-art.