I first encountered Golgo 13 as the protagonist of the old NES video game, Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode. The game does not seem to be discussed very much compared with others from its era, but it was something of a hit, enough so to get the sequel released in North America, and even today seems noteworthy for a number of features.
Among them was its relatively "adult" content. When people got shot, they bled. Characters were seen smoking. And in James Bondian fashion, Golgo had intimate moments with two different women. However, there was also the context for all this--a relatively well-developed storyline presented through cut scenes. And of course, the game was novel for helping pioneer the first-person shooter in two of its stages.
At the time I took Golgo for a James Bond-type created just for that game. I had no idea that he was the center of a massive franchise in his own right--the star of one of the biggest-selling mangas of all time, which had already resulted in a number of animated and live-action films (one of which, Assignment: Kowloon, starred Sonny Chiba in the title role). Since then the series has remained in print, making it the longest-running manga of all time, while leading to several more adaptations, most notably a 50-episode anime series in 2008-2009.
But as it turns out, Golgo has a Bondian connection. His creator, Takao Saito, actually produced several authorized manga adaptations of four James Bond novels (Thunderball, The Man with the Golden Gun, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Live and Let Die) for the Japanese market during the 1960s before Golgo made his debut in 1969 in Big Comic--and as it happens, his version of Bond looks an awful lot like Golgo later would.
Still, it is worth remembering that if Bond has been an inspiration for other figures, it would be a mistake to forget that Bond's creator was also inspired by numerous predecessors, from Bulldog Drummond to Ashenden. It would also be a mistake to think of Golgo as simply a derivative of Bond. Unlike Bond, his work's not remotely like that of a double-o agent. He is, first and foremost, a freelance operator for hire, without any boss to answer to, who chooses and refuses jobs as he sees fit--and often taking purely private jobs, many of which make him a vehicle for someone else's personal revenge. Additionally, while he has a good many skills he is a gunman above all--a sniper, specifically. And where Bond is an open book to the reader, more or less (and the Bond of the films much the same, even if there is less to read in it), Golgo is presented as opaque--and the versions of the story I have encountered (mainly episodes of the recent anime) make this the source of much of his interest.
Additionally, what I have seen of the stories also differs profoundly from the Bond series. Often it is not a matter of the hero fighting pure and simple bad guys, the ambiguity considerably greater. At times the series abandons the action-adventure structure altogether. Many a time we see not a job but its aftermath, as a hapless cop questioning Golgo, certain of his responsibility for an assassination, and yet completely unable to prove a thing--Golgo having covered his tracks all too well, and anyway, no one able to believe that any human being could make a shot like that. In many another case, he is not even the center of the story. Instead what we see is someone else's drama, in which Golgo is a supporting player, perhaps just pulling a trigger near the end--someone else the viewpoint character, perhaps narrating the tale, their impressions of Golgo the only ones we get out of the tale.
Besides helping distinguish Golgo from Bond, this variety of story structures and viewpoints has doubtless helped keep the adventures going for nearly a half century.
In short, Golgo manages to be much, much more than a "Bond-type secret agent"--while at the same time, out-Bonding Bond. More superhumanly competent, combining lavishness with independence--and to go by the anime series, has made fewer concessions to the changing times in his sex life--he realizes the old fantasy even more fully than the original ever dared.
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My Posts on James Bond