Dark + Cruel = Sexy? Golgo 13's Strange Approach to Math
I love crime...yeah...Not in a I'm going to do anything outside of the occasional drunken bar fight and puke/piss/poop in an alleyway type of crime. I just have a fascination for the cruelty depicted, and what that might say about us as humans spectators who gain pleasure from consuming crime fiction. Golgo 13 is one of those commentaries on that exact subject matter.
The manga series Golgo 13 came about in the year 1968 and was masterfully created by Takao Saito and is the oldest manga still running. I am going to seem like I'm buttering him the fuck up, but I think he made such an amazingly consistent narrative, not a observation of a character's downward spiral in shows like Berserk who of course exhibit remarkable character development...No, Golgo 13 is a man who covets something beyond the value of human life. Money and sex are the only two desires. Duke Togo is an assassin who with a customized M-16 Rifle has become the top assassin in the world.
The show is episodic in its nature and has a Lupin III feel but only if Jigen was the star instead.
Animation wise the quality is beautiful, nuancing details in all the weapons as well as giving the character designs of the many side roles variety, a difficult task in a suit and tie contemporary setting. The dub is also fantastic so for those who cling to the sub indiscriminately, feel free to step out of your comfort zone. I also feel the dub furthers the narrative as many of the people Duke Togo meets are either located within English speaking countries or operating globally outside of Japan. The voice acting is somewhat stiff from time to time but they nail the dialogue where it counts to sell the vibe of a noir tale.
Duke Togo as a character is relentless in his ideals, no matter how radically brutal the consequences they be. He has a desire and he takes it. Again, he's not the good guy or the bad guy, he's just an extremely perverted fantasy we have from time to time. Someone cuts you off in traffic and you imagine doing something extremely disturbing...but we reassure ourselves because we know we won't actually do the deed so to speak. Duke Togo however embodies the worst in us, the distilled violence that is enriched with sexiness, efficiency, and a genuine passion for the fascination we have with powerful violence. He has no qualms indulging that worse part in ourselves, and knowing how normal that makes us when put in comparison to someone who acts out on those impulses we feel not only a sense of relief that we’re not “as bad” but also gives a level of cathartic release for those without an avenue to do so. He’s relatable without ever being even close to likable. Trust me...no one would like to have this guy around them, he’s not in the bodyguarding business, and he’s certainly not into semantics and trivial concepts such as friendships and justice.
Golgo 13's Main Character is by far one of the most disciplined masters of his trade I have seen. He has a strict life he protects. Travelling from country to country, taking on contracts on HIS terms, Duke Togo is a killing machine, but unlike many series where they use the fact that they're OP to do some incredibly suspense defying things because the episode needs some beautiful choreographed fights. Have any of us seen an MMA fight? It's ugly, and awkward violence where the opponents dominates over the other, whether in size, or range, or pace. Rarely in life do we ever find our exact match, either we are outclassed or we outclass. The world Duke Togo lives in is similar in that regard. He lives in constant conflict, gunfights in narrow hallways and constant smoke breaks perched on balconies, peering through the perch of some high rise as he is about to pull the trigger of another poor soul. There isn’t any desire to make the violence somewhat aesthetically pleasing as much as impactful. Real people may not fight like in Golgo 13 but it’s definitely closer to contemporary street fights than anything else I usually watch in anime, where both fighters are masterful martial arts. Duke Togo may have practiced martial arts but you don’t get the feeling that it’s due to his love of the craft. His hands, knives and revolver are just another tool of the trade. He maintains his dominance over the competition by remaining competent in as many unexpected situations as humanly possible. Other than the long range kill shots, I think this is what makes the violence in Golgo 13 stick with me. Duke Togo is a killing machine with very clear motivations conveyed from the very beginning of the series and by the end of each episode we see these henchmen, mob enforcers, police officers and other foils less like people and more like obstacles to the end goal, sucking us into his warped headspace. We couldn’t get there with dance like choreography or sports based martial arts fighting where the intention is to just beat the opponent. Duke Togo kills...that’s it, a simple and yet complex character all wrapped up in the enigma of an assassin who can’t seem to fail.
Loaning out his services to the highest bidders meant he would inevitably run into his fair share scum bags. One false move andit's instant death. He never lets his guard down, therefore whether or not his nonchalance and coldness is genuine...it’s the only side of Togo we get. His stoic guarded nature has even become a referential joke within the anime medium as a whole, different series parodying the sexy badass becoming a trope in his own way like the Tsundere or the Yandere...there’s the Golgodere? But seriously look at some of these parodies. .
Adult themes of sex, gunpowder and betrayal give the show more of an HBO feel with consistently great animation and an amazing English Dub. The series recognizes the mystique that comes from being an outlaw, and even more so with one who can kill for their own personal worldly gain. Duke Togo makes a compelling argument for people who think money is the root of all evil when someone as “evil” as him can survive and even thrive as a result of his blood money. This is even indicated in the series title, Golgo is short for Golgotha or Calvary where outside the city walls Jesus was said to be crucified. The '13' can refer to Jesus and his 12 apostles, with a more specific focus on the 12th member of the group Judas Iscariot...the betrayer and murder of Christ. The fact that Duke Togo is such a detached being without any easily explained away justification spits at the viewer who try to dig too deep into his psyche. I feel like Duke Togo is one of the few main characters in anime that doesn’t give a shit about any lesson he was supposed to derive from the episode. He is the antithesis of Jesus’s portrayal in Biblical terms and yet we’re still fascinated by the man put before us.
This is to highlight the cruel methodical nature one would need to carry in their heart to be able to live a life like that of Duke Togo, to even further emphasize this the series logo is usually accompanied by a skeleton wearing a crown of thorns standing in Duke Togo's shadow as seen above. We know it takes a different type kind of person to be able to do somebody like that and so it's easy to just relax and enjoy the cathartic stimulation that comes from watching a beautifully thought out assassination come together. And they are indeed beautiful, Togo has an attention to the smallest of details and most times he beats his opponents by outsmarting them.
Even when his plans comes against any obstacles he has contingency plans one after the other. Slowly peeling the layers back of his web of cruel methods to ultimately snuff out the life flame that we all hold precious, that we would do anything to protect, as easily as if it was just laying there on the street unguarded with little regard for how we feel.
The moments when he's not shooting a poor soul to shreds or drinking in solitude at the smoker's section of a bar is usually spent on sexual gratification. But unlike most of us who shun the use of prostitutes (or pretend to at least) he seems to understand the act of achieving a means to an ends. He's hungry so therefore he eats, he needs money therefore he kills, he's horny therefore he fucks. And in that methodical and callous approach to sex lies a trail of all the scorned femme fatales desperate for Duke Togo's attention.
This formula borrows heavily from the Bond Girl archetype but Golgo 13 takes it a step further with how little regard he holds for the temporary objects of his lust, often tossing them out as soon as he is finished with them. There is not a single redeeming trait in this man, just a amalgamation of deadly skills. So why do many of us find merit in shows like this?
There is a piece of all of us that craves domination, whether you subject yourselves to those in government, or to the wills of those who employ us, we voluntarily give up the tiers of freedom that Duke Togo flaunts in front of us everytime he takes a life. And that great unknown is sexy. Even with people who have been in war or in situations where we have to defend ourselves, can rationalize our actions because we were either doing it to protect our own lives, or the lives of others, and in psychological studies before the days of Skinner mental conditioning you would be considered a statistical oddity if you were actually capable of pulling the trigger on someone (enemy or not) who you identify as defenseless. Dexter, Hannibal Lecter, The Joker, The Punisher...all fall into this category, and that base sadistic desire to dominate and be dominated is perfectly encapsulated in the romantic yearnings of the hitman lifestyle. Someone who for money, looks through the scope of a rifle, targeting ESPECIALLY at your most vulnerable and defenseless, and STILL pulls the trigger.
Duke Togo is a show where sexy characters live and die in a sexy manner with very few moments that ever undercut that sexiness. But when the show does so it’s usually nuanced in the fear and dreadful realization that the character put before you, the viewer, has no chance of surviving the encounter. Where many anime try and moralize the viewer or try and undermine their own themes Golgo 13 is successful because of how self aware and respectful it is to the tropes and archetypes used in noir tales, often taking the most efficient way of communicating these genre nods to the reader. Antagonists are either the target or the client, Togo either fucks prostitutes or former lovers, Golgo 13 either pulls the trigger in the beginning or towards the end of an episode. You would think the formulaic and episodic villain of the week would hurt its format however the characterization and thought that goes into every one of these episodes makes each one feel more than anything like an unsolved contract murder. The viewer feels closure in the lack of closure Duke Togo offers his victims.
Golgo 13 works because mob movies, horror movies, and thrillers work. Violence is stimulating and those who commit it are sexy on a primitive level, and this show is commentating just as much on the audience who are fascinated by that violence, as the warped beings who perpetrate it. This is not a show to help us learn a valuable lesson on the meaning of friendship or overcome some sort of personal obstacle. Golgo 13 is as honest as it can be to a pack of drooling hyenas craving blood. And sometimes we need that honesty...