Billy Bat

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"Do you want to be this country's hero?"

A manga series by Naoki Urasawa, the man behind Monster, 20th Century Boys, and Pluto.

Kevin Yamagata was born to Japanese immigrants in California in the 1920s, and during World War II he worked with allied forces in Japan as an interpreter. After the war he became a comic book writer, and by 1949 his series Billy Bat, about a private detective in a world populated by animals, is a huge hit whose popularity rivals the biggest titles of DC Comics. His comfortable life comes crashing down when the police use his apartment for a stakeout, and one of them notes that his work is very similar to a Japanese manga. Kevin is horrified that he may have subconsciously plagiarized a work he saw while in Japan, and promptly stops work on the comic to go back and investigate.

Post-war Japan isn't the easiest place to conduct his search, with soldiers everywhere and many locals forced into poverty. To get anywhere he has to sign back up with the American forces and wear a uniform, which naturally makes people less likely to talk to him. However, these are the least of his problems when he tracks down the source of the Billy Bat image, and learns that it's the calling card of an Ancient Conspiracy who aren't very happy that he's been poking around about them.

After that, the story really takes off as it careens around time to show how the Billy Bat image has influenced events throughout history. There's clearly far more going on here than just the conspiracy, but in Urasawa's typical style whatever it all may mean remains incredibly murky.


Tropes used in Billy Bat include:
  • Adaptation Decay: In-universe. Some of the people in the conspiracy express that Chuck Culkin's Billy Bat is nowhere near quality-wise to Kevin's. If the conspirators searching for the original Bat's scroll succeed no one will remember Kevin's version at all.
  • The Aloner:
    • Kanbei
    • and now Kevin
  • Alternate Universe: As if time manipulation by a cartoon bat wasn't enough! There used to be many, but now there's just one.
  • Ancient Conspiracy
  • Anti-Hero - Lee Harvey Oswald
  • Art Shift - from Kevin's Funny Animal comic to the "real" manga.
  • Ascended Extra - Diane and Tony Goodman, the black bride and the white groom, get not only fleshed out later on, but become important characters later in the series, and specially their son Kevin.
  • Badass Decay
    • Billy Bat goes from a tough noir detective to an expy of Mickey Mouse within 10 years, and to top it off no one remembers the original artist.
    • No one remembers the original art work either. When someone starts publishing new BB comics in the original style the boss at Billy Bat World hates how sinister Billy looks.
  • Badass Grandpa - Yajirou
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy - Those confirmed to have been influenced and guided by the Bat are: Judas, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Albert Einstein.
  • Biblical Motifs - An entire arc's worth.
  • Big Bad - So far, Agent Finney and Kurusu from EAI seem to fill the role, also it is implied that General Walker, Fake! Chuck Culkin and Henry Charles Devivie are part of the same circle. Should be noted, due to his ambivalent nature, that there are times when the same could be said of the Bat himself.
  • Big Damn Hero - Lee Harvey Oswald saves Kevin from a thug sent to kill him.
  • Big Fancy House: The Goodmans seem to be doing all right.
  • Brick Joke - The Momochi clan seems to be intrinsically tied to the Bat all the way from Momochi Sandayu, from Iga, to the taxi driver, Randy Momochi, back in 1959, to his daughter, Jackie Momochi, in 1963.
  • But Not Too Foreign - Kevin is a Nisei (second-generation) Japanese-American.
  • Captain Ersatz:
    • Billy Bat is one to Mickey Mouse.
    • Chuck Culkin is one to Walt Disney.
    • And the real Chuck Culkin is one to Ub Iwerks.
    • Zofuu-sensei could be one, with beret and all, to Osamu Tezuka, who however is mentioned in-story as being a huge influence in manga.
    • Mitsuru Yamazaki for Minoru Yamasaki, the guy responsible for designing the WTC Towers.
    • Henry Charles Devivie might be one to Esmond Cardon Walker, the man behind Tokyo Disneyland.
  • CIA Evil, FBI Good - Inverted, Captain Finney works for GHQ (The Military) and Agent Smith works for the CIA.
  • Companion Cube - The taxi driver (Mr. Momochi) 's Billy Bat toy, who's his "navigator". Subverted when Billy talks back, and also knows the future - er, present.
  • The Conspiracy - Everywhere. With a heavy dose of Mind Screws and Historical In Jokes.
  • Could Have Avoided This Plot - What the Bat seems to be saying when he lists all the wars and man-made disasters that will happen if Kanbei doesn't deliver the scroll.
  • Cowardly Lion - Kanbei.
  • Dark Is Not Evil/Light Is Not Good - It's vaguely implied that the white (unfilled) drawing of The Bat is evil while the black (filled-in) one is good. or is it the other way around?. Zofuu-sensei says the white one is sort of Mad Oracle, and the black one manipualtes people into doing bad things.
  • Decoy Protagonist - Where is Kevin, anyway?
    • Billy Bat himself could arguably be seen as this. He's the star of the first chapter. Then, the second one reveals that it's just a story within a story.
  • Dirty Communists - The series starts at the beginning of the Red Scare, and several conspirators are supposedly commies in Japan.
    • Lee Harvey Oswald is a costumed employee in a Billy Bat theme park.
  • Dodge the Bullet: Appears to be one of the Bat's powers that he loans out, although it says it was just "Kanbei's heart" all along. One the one hand, Kanbei is a ninja; on the other, by that point he's literally running on fumes
  • Doomed by Canon - JFK, and Lee Harvey Oswald.
  • Drowning My Sorrows - Kevin, who has become an Alcoholic to stop seeing the Bat.
  • Expy:
    • Zofuu-sensei looks like the assassin from 20th Century Boys.
    • The dog-wife from Chapter 1 has similar eyes and facial expressions to Eva Heinemann. So does Diane, the black bride.
    • Billy himself becomes one of Mickey Mouse.
    • Kevin is a dead-ringer for Sahad, Agent Smith for Gesicht, and the real Chuck Culkin for Professor Hoffman, all from Pluto.
    • Jackie Momochi is a less ditzy Kyoko Koizumi. They even end up having to do their class reports through similar misunderstandings.
    • Chuck Culkin's relationship with the man who portrays him in public is very similar to Ub Iwerks' relationship with Walt Disney.
    • The two detectives from the first chapter look a bit like Laurel and Hardy.
    • Akechi, the Japanese effects director hired by the US government to fake the moon landings seems to be a combination of Akira Kurosawa and Stanley Kubrick -- all three are obsessive over the tiniest details including the texture of moondust and the proper color of the earth, despite having only one black and white photo to work with. He also directed a "Gazura" movie.
  • Faux Affably Evil - Henry Charles Devivie, an agent sent to acquire the land where Billy Bat Land will be built in Japan, a fake front whose real purpose is to find the scroll, and who will kill anyone that stands in the way.
    • The Fake Chuck Culkin also qualifies to some degree.
  • Facial Profiling - Invoked when two American agents walk around in Tokyo and wonder where all the yellow-skinned, buck-toothed, geta-wearing, bespectacled people have gone.
  • Flash Forward - And back again.
  • Frame-Up - Oswald is set up as JFK's assassin, thanks to three doubles.
  • Friend on the Force - Agent Smith for Kevin.
  • General Ripper - It is implied Retired General Walker is this.
  • Go Out with a Smile - Lee Harvey Oswald is told that he must not allow Jackie to be captured and thus sacrifices himself to the police to buy her time to escape. After doing so, he smiles, feeling satisfied that he at least did something good at the end.

Lee Harvey Oswald: Mission accomplished.

  • Gotta Catch Em All: Devivie is destroying all traces of the "original" Billy Bat along with anyone who knows too much about the Bat and/or his mission.
  • Government Conspiracy: While Marilyn Monroe really did kill herself, capitalist forces are conspiring to kill the Kennedy brothers, and succeed. They also succeed in framing Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone killer of JFK. Later the US government hires a Japanese director known for his obsession to detail and great special effects to fake the moon landing.
  • Grandfather Paradox: Weaponized by Einstein. Zofuu-Sensei uses it against Devivie by revealing he knows his parents' names.
  • Green Lantern Ring - The people involved in the conspiracy declare that the scrolls can control The Bat, up to a certain point, and thus, alter the course of history.
  • Harsher in Hindsight - Intentional within the Billy Bat comics, since they're predicting the future: The boss at Billy Bat World and his friend wonder if "a sexy, Marilyn Monroe-ish-thing" in a comic that's clearly about John F. Kennedy is going to be killed by a Government Conspiracy. [1]
  • Heel Face Turn - Lee Harvey Oswald used to work for Kurusu.
  • Heroic BSOD - Kevin was in one, until Agent Smith pulled him out of it.
  • He Knows Too Much - The reason why Jackie Momochi is in danger. Not only she saw Kurusu with one of the sniper teams, but also has bat-visions about the other sniper teams, including the one on the grassy knoll.
  • Historical Fiction - Sort of.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade - Lee Harvey Oswald.
  • Historical In-Joke - This may as well be called Historical In Joke - The Series. So far, the Bat has either had influence on, or predicted Jesus, Judas, and the foundation of Christianity, the fall of Iga and the rise of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and the civil rights movement, MLK, the Lunar Landing, the JFK Assassination, the Warren Commission, the RFK Assassination, and Marilyn Monroe's relationship to both men. At one point, it predicted Obama's Presidency as well.
    • Don't forget when talking to Kanbei the Bat starts talking about Napoleon, the Sarajevo Incident, Hitler, Stalin, the World Wars in general, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the Shimoyama Incident, and 9/11. The Bat sure gets around.
    • Kevin does some sightseeing by the Grassy Knoll, and other suspected sniper spots on the eve of the JFK Assasination.
    • And Zofuu-sensei basically describing what a Meme basically is (In-Universe) and how it pertains Human Evolution, many years before Richard Dawkins even coined the phrase.
  • Homage - Chapter 32 is based on Bad Day At Black Rock minus Smith's gimpy arm, the burned house, and dead Japanese-American. The locals act mean to protect Kevin, who gave their little town a cameo as the setting for one of his non-Billy Bat comics.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold - Unfortunately also a Disposable Love Interest
  • Identical Grandson - Momochi Sandayu looks exactly like his descendant, Randy Momochi.
  • I Just Want to Be Special - Lee Harvy Oswald.
  • Insistent Terminology

Lee Harvey Oswald: I'm not a communist! I'm just a Marxist!

  • Instant Awesome, Just Add Ninja
  • It Will Never Catch On - "Who's gonna read a comic that isn't for kids?"
  • I Will Definitely Protect You - Lee Harvey Oswald to Jackie Momochi.
  • Jedi Truth - The Bat will employ this at times.
  • Jesus Taboo - Averted. Jesus is (or could be) an actual character in one of the flashbacks, along with Judas.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot - After spending some time with Kevin, the story suddenly starts wildly moving through many different time periods to show all the people the bat image has influenced.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo - Kevin works for Marble Comics and by The Fifties Billy has his own theme park in Florida.
  • MacGuffin - The Ninja Scroll (no, not that one). -
  • Man Behind the Man - Or in front of the man: Chuck Culkin, Kevin's Woody Allen-looking assistant who took over Billy Bat after Kev went to Japan, is "played" in public and in business by a Walt Disney-lookalike.
  • Manipulative Bastard - the Bat and whoever is/trying to control it.
  • Mind Screw - It's Urasawa, what do you expect? Examples include:
    • "What's this [doodle] on the moon?!"
      • Is it even the real moon?
    • "Welcome home Judas."
    • The Three Lee Harvey Oswalds.
    • Einstein to Zofuu: "If you tell anyone about the Bat I'll go back in time and kill your parents". And "There used to be uncountable Earths in alternate universes but now there's only this one."
  • Mr. Alt Disney - Chuck Culkin and the real Chuck Culkin! who took over Billy Bat when Kevin left.
  • Mushroom Samba - Kevin is sent on one thanks to some drugged sake, where he imagines Billy Bat and some of his other characters talking to him. Now, he doesn't need to drugs to have the bat talk to him.
  • Named After Somebody Famous - In-universe. Tony Goodman explains he named his kid Kevin after Kevin Yamagata.
  • Never Found the Body - Agent Smith.
  • Non-Indicative First Chapter
  • Non Linear Story - It jumps back and forth between different eras and locations, including the US in the 40's, 50's and 60's, Feudal Japan, Modern Day Japan, and Judea in biblical times.
  • Passing the Torch - The Bat tells Lee Harvey Oswald that he must protect Kevin at all costs until he can pass his powers to his new successor, which according to The Bat, has already appeared. It was assumed it was Jackie Momochi, the daughter of the Taxi driver from the mixed-race wedding mini-arc and descendent of the ninjas. It is actually Kevin Goodman, the son of Tony and Diane Goodman, the interracial couple!.
    • Zofuu-sensei handing the last parts of the his manga to Yamashita, a somewhat dim-witted fan of his work, so he can then hand them over to Kevin.
  • Pet the Dog - for Lee Harvey Oswald
  • Powers That Be - The Bat refers to itself as "The Administrator of the Human Race". It's also actively working for humanity, trying to prevent the apocalypse from happening early.
  • Private Detective - Billy Bat is one of these
  • Private Eye Monologue - in the first chapter
  • Reality Warper - The bat allows people to either predict the future or change it, (apparently).
  • Red Herring:
    • Anyone would think the sheriff was at the KKK meeting where they burned a black man. It was his cousin.
    • Jackie Momochi being the successor, turns out it's Kevin Goodman, a 3 year old kid. Also, it was the boy that Kevin Yamagata was meant to save, not JFK.
  • Reused Character Design - Several characters in Billy Bat have an uncanny resemblance to characters in other Naoki Urasawa's works.
  • Room Full of Crazy - Kevin's cabin at "Black Rock".
  • Sacrificial Lamb - Shizu.
  • Sacrificial Lion - Agent Smith.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses - Kurusu
  • Sealed Evil in a Can - Kanbei attempts this. It doesn't work.
  • Shout-Out - Everywhere, what did you expect in a Urasawa manga?
    • Billy Bat(son) is the alter-ego of DC's Captain Marvel
    • In the original comics, Billy Bat is a private eye, clearly evoking Sam Spade of the Maltese Falcon who eventually becomes an inspiration for Dick Tracy. The 'real' segments with Kevin start off with every indication that this is Urasawa's Cavalier and Clay, then the mind screw happens.
    • Sometimes Billy's manifestations look a lot like Batman's classic symbol.
    • "The rabbit's name is Oswald." (although he looks more like Bugs Bunny) He's being groomed to be JFK's assassin. There's actually three Oswalds.
    • Chapter 52 features a shout-out to "The Freewheeling Bob Dylan" album.
    • Chapter 60 has Seven Days in May, not to mention that the current mini-arc is the JFK assassination!
  • Show Within a Show - The Billy Bat comic book inside the manga. When someone reads it you can see that it reads from left to right, like a comic book should.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace - The black bride's white groom's family can't keep quiet. The groom decides not to go along with it.
  • Species Surname - Billy Bat is, well, a bat.
  • Spirit Advisor - The Bat, as those who would be "carriers" see him while others do not.
  • Taking the Bullet - The Bat implies that Kevin must die to save JFK. On one hand, we know how that ended in real life, on the other hand, it's Naoki Urasawa. Except that the Bat died, and what Kevin was supposed to do was save Kevin, his successor.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That - While Kevin is reading a letter from Agent Smith by the window, the last line is "PS. Don't stand so close to the window."
  • There Are Two Kinds Of People In This Town - Billy's opening monologue in the very first page of the (real and in-story) manga.
  • Time Machine - Fake!Chuck Culkin is able to figure out that the scroll is this, sorta, thanks to the real Chuck Culkin explaining the basics of Einstein's Theory of Relativity and Time Travel.
  • Time Skip - From the late forties to the early fifties to Biblical times to the Warring States Era to the sixties, to JFK's assassination to 10 months later.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball - A bat doodle beats the astronauts to the moon(?), and it seems Jesus is affected too.
  • Town with a Dark Secret - See Homage.
  • Trickster - The Bat, probably. Wasn't there two of them?
    • Now there's at least three of 'em.
  • True Companions - Ken-chan and pals. He ends up killing them all.
  • Unwitting Pawn - Oswald, even after his Heel Face Turn. And the Real Chuck Culkin working under the Fake one.
  • Villain Protagonist - Lee Harvey Oswald, although in-story, he is a would-be scapegoat for a government conspiracy.
  • Visual Effects of Awesome: The "Gazura" movie is so amazing even the US government is impressed.
  • We Can Rule Together - What the Bat seems to be selling ("Hey - want to rule the world, or become a superhero?")
  • Yank the Dog's Chain - To Lee Harvey Oswald, when he realizes that he was set up by a government conspiracy, and that he will go down in infamy in history.
  • Your Days Are Numbered - Kevin and Lee Harvey Oswald, according to the Bat. Apparently, he lied about Kevin, but was right about Oswald.
    • Zofuu-sensei.
  • You Shall Not Pass -- Lee Harvey Oswald against the police, buying time for Jackie Momochi to escape.

Notes

  1. I wonder if Urasawa's heard the conspiracy theory that Monroe was killed on John and Robert Kennedy's orders because she was ruining John's image and becoming increasingly concerned with Mexican socialists.