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Manga: Billy Bat
"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:

  • 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.
  • Ambiguously Jewish - Fake Chuck Culkin. Chapter 100 confirms he's at least partially Jewish, by Hitler himself!.
  • Ancient Conspiracy
  • Anti-Hero - Lee Harvey Oswald
  • Anyone Can Die - Kevin Yamagata in Chapter 93. Or so we are led to believe.
  • 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.
    • Fake!Chuck Culkin's illegitimate son, Timmy, can see The Bat as well.
  • Bad Ass 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, Francisco Xavier, Albert Einstein and Adolf Hitler.
  • 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 Call Knows Where You Live - 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.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Adult Kevin Goodman. Never goes to class. Relies on classmates' notes. Yet he's good at memorizing and passes all his classes. And he's good at writing college papers too. Turns out he spends most of his time painting murals at the guidance of Billy Bat.
  • 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 man responsible for designing the WTC Towers.
    • Henry Charles Devivie might be one to Esmond Cardon Walker, the man behind Tokyo Disneyland.
  • Chekhov's Gunman - Remember the alleged Soviet spy living across Kevin's room who got mentioned in chapter 1 and never appeared again? No? It's fake!Chuck Culkin! Did I mention this guy has never, ever again been mentioned until chapter 110?!
  • 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 manipulates people into doing bad things.
  • Declaration of Protection - Lee Harvey Oswald to Jackie Momochi, as he decides to buy her time to escape.
  • Decoy Protagonist - Where is Kevin, anyway? This is taken to its extreme after Kevin gets killed by a sniper in Chapter 93, and the new protagonist is Kevin Goodman
    • 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.
  • Defector from Decadence - Fake!Chuck Culkin, a lieutenant stationed at a POW camp, tried to desert but was captured, possibly in part because he's also part jewish.
  • 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. On 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.
    • In a meta-example, Chuck Culkin's relationship with the man who portrays him in public is very similar to Ub Iwerks's 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.
    • Kevin Goodman resembles a young Michael Jackson, a lot; he also tries to get his classmates to create the first music video (which might involve walking on the moon seeing as they meet Akechi) after hearing their unusual tune (I think it was "Billie Jean" — they dismiss him, of course).
  • 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.
    • Same goes for Henry's father. Gary Devivie, a LAPD Detective, and serial murderer.
    • 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.
  • Femme Fatale - The mysterious art dealer, Audrey Culkin.
  • Flashforward - And back again.
  • Foreshadowing - The Bat telling Kevin Yamagata that he was destined to die to save JFK. He was meant to save Kevin Goodman instead, he still gets killed eventually after his role has been completed and now the new protagonist is Kevin Goodman.
  • Frame-Up - Oswald is set up as JFK's assassin, thanks to three doubles.
  • Freudian Excuse - Gary Devivie's reason for the series of japanese murders. His real father ran off with a japanese prostitute.
  • 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.
  • Gonk: "Shishou", Zofuu's predecessor.
  • 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. The government claims the fake footage is a "training film" (and it may well have been) but when the astronauts go to the moon for real the fake film is spliced into the broadcast to cover up a familiar-looking doodle drawn in the moon's surface.
  • 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 - invoked 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.
  • 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.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade - Henry Charles Devivie, who might be based on Esmond Cardon Walker.
  • 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.
  • Hitler Ate Sugar - Hitler hosting Fake!Chuck Culkin, a german soldier of jewish descent, to his private house and showing him to his private art gallery.
  • Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act - Played with it. Chapter 100 reveals that Hitler ordered Fake!Chuck Culkin to find the Bat, take control of it and start an empire based on it, and if possible to get hold of the scroll with the intention of changing Hitler's history so that he is accepted at the Art Academy in Vienna.
  • 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 Normal - Hitler, in chapter 100 - he just wants to join the art academy and resurrect his beloved girlfriend/cousin (Einstein tells him that's impossible).
  • I Just Want to Be Special - Lee Harvey 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?"
  • 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.
  • Longest Prologue Ever - 93 chapters! Chapter 94 starts with the tag "And so our story meets its true protagonist"
  • 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?
      • It is! And there really was a doodle on the moon! The american public were shown the fake landing to prevent them to find out about the doodle.
    • "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
  • No Name Given - Fake! Chuck Culkin's real name has yet to be revealed, even though the latest arc depicts his backstory as a WWII german soldier.
  • 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).
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Surprisingly, the racist sheriff turns out to be an honest cop, and instantly helps Tony when he discovers his cousin was responsible for the murder of a black man.
  • Red Herring:
    • Anyone would think the sheriff was at The Klan 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.
    • Subverted
  • 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 Hero Dies - Kevin in chapter 93.
  • 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, to 1981.
  • 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.
  • We Can Rule Together - What the Bat seems to be selling ("Hey - want to rule the world, or become a superhero?")
  • Wham Episode - Chapter 93. Kevin Yamagata gets killed and the story jumps to 1981, with Kevin Goodman as the new protagonist.
    • Chapter 118. Agent Smith has been hiding the fact that Kevin Yamagata was alive all this time.
  • 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.
    • Kevin Yamagata, after getting so close to understanding the truth behind the Bat is unceremoniously killed by a sniper.
  • 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.
    • 'Shishou' getting in the way of Gary Devivie, so Gary's wife can escape.

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alternative title(s): Billy Bat
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