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Before he gave the world The Dirty Pair, sci-fi author Haruka Takachiho created a space opera series focusing on a team of galactic mercenaries called Crusher Joe. Crushers, the mercenaries in question, would do anything for a client if the price was right. And the titular Joe and his team would frequently find that the jobs they were hired for were much larger than they first appeared.
While the series mostly appeared in literary form as The Dirty Pair would later, a series of manga stories was produced as well. These stories were not constructed with deep plots; they usually allowed the action and the characters to carry most of the weight. The charm of Crusher Joe comes mainly from the comical antics of Joe and his teammates (the fawning Alfin, motormouthed Ricky, the cyborg Talos and the robot Dongo), whether aboard their ship, the Minerva, or anywhere else they happened to be. It also presented a number of well-drawn action scenes that artist Fujihiko Hosono made seem effortless. There was just the right amount of attention to detail without the panels ever becoming too busy or cluttered.
Crusher Joe eventually went on to spawn an animated feature film before falling into the shadow of its more successful successor, but that fortunately did not stop it from finding an American audience as well. While Animeigo handled the movie, the now long-defunct Studio Ironcat brought over the manga in a single-volume paperback (ISBN 1-929090-02-1; $15.95).
Joe and his team take on seemingly simple missions that prove full of surprises, though aside from a nicely-handled flashback in the first of the book’s three stories, the characters are never examined too closely. We’re left to learn all we can about them through their words and actions; very little else about them is ever revealed. We’re engaged by them mostly through how they treat and react to one another and their surroundings, while the stories’ villains are given little more than stock personalities and motives. However, this isn’t meant to be a groundbreaking series. It’s meant to be a series of fun romps through space, and it is.
Though out of print for some time, the Crusher Joe manga can still be found through online retailers such as Amazon, and fans of Takachiho or the Dirty Pair would find it worth their while to snag a copy. Aside from a few very minor spelling flubs, Studio Ironcat did its job well and gave us a nice, easy-to-read translation. There really isn’t a whole lot of substance here, but there is plenty of adventure and fun. And sometimes that’s all we really need.