Written and drawn by Jun Morita from a story by Kyoko Murakami, ‘The Devil’s Harp’ is a rather strange and beautiful one-off manga, originally presented to readers of the popular girls comic-magazine ‘Ribon’ as a free gift accompanying the May 1969 issue.
Forty five years later, I was lucky enough to pick up a copy for a mere handful of change from the galactic nerd mecca that is Nakano Broadway in Tokyo, and found myself rather intrigued and delighted by the assorted imagery I saw within. Satori was nice enough to give me a rough page-by-page translation, and we both agreed that the comic was a hoot.
Thus, it is my privilege to present, presumably for the first time in the English-speaking world, the cautionary tale of ill-fated beat-group The Temples, and of the sinister Faustian pact that brought them to worldwide notoriety!
Thanks again to Satori for her help with the translations here, and for in fact providing just about every piece of useful information included in this post. Now, without further a-do, let us enjoy ‘The Devil’s Harp’.
Our story begins in rural France, where we find young Janet, who lives in a remote church-house, the ward of her grandfather, a devoted priest.
In her spare time however, Janet is more concerned with her devotion to fledging local rock n' roll combo The Temples, and in particular, their handsome leader Marc!
Encouraged by Janet’s enthusiasm, The Temples take a shot at a big gig…
…but their unpolished performance proves unsatisfactory, leaving the girls instead chasing the flash-in-the-pan pop star who was topping the bill.
Upset by their failure to make an impression on the crowd, Marc throws a right hissy-fit, breaking up the band in the process. [Click to enlarge for some dialogue translations.]
Not that this sinister fellow, who was paying close attention to their performance, seems to mind…
Walking the streets of Paris in an existential haze, Marc happens upon a music shop, and in the window…
…a golden harp!
Giving it a go, Marc discovers he has an immediate talent for the instrument, picking intoxicating , melodies seemingly out of thin air. But wait, is that the shop proprietor sneaking up behind him…?
To his surprise, the sinister fellow offers to let Marc take ownership of the harp free of charge, and the lad’s expression of his delight is, shall we say, a bit OTT.
But all Old Scratch requires of course, is a *signature*.
Before long, needless to say, The Temples are back in action, with the addition of Marc’s harp-based muse igniting their previously dormant creativity.
Soon, the group are super-stars, ensconced in a decadent, groupie-filled mansion, and setting the charts ablaze with a series of harp-infused psyche-rock classics whose unsettling titles hopefully speak for themselves…
At the periphery of their crowd though, a single girl watches, and reflects on the strange transformation that has overtaken her former sweetheart.
As its influence travels the globe, the Temples’ increasingly mesmerising and demonic sound arouses and intoxicates the world’s youth, stirring up an unprecedented whirlwind of teen rebellion!
The leaders of the free world flee, as student radicals capture the airwaves!
Sensing the Satanic influence behind all this to-do, grandfather ain’t too happy.
As Paris burns, Janet determines to stop Marc from driving the world to such frenzy with his infernal harping, and breaks into the group’s mansion to deliver an ultimatum.
After much toing and froing, Marc begins to realise the Satanic origins of his success and, to the shock of the band's entourage, cuts the strings from his beloved harp!
Janet is delighted!
But of course, this is merely the cue for His Satanic Majesty to turn up again, pointing out some of the fine print on his contract.
As Marc’s friends step up as advocates for him in a bid to overturn the contract, The Devil decides that the only way to settle things is a court case, taking place, of course, in his domain.
Following this, the comic rather slides into farce, with Morita’s illustrations beginning to betray the signs of a hurried deadline as we rush through one of those endlessly silly “trial in hell” scenarios, complete with the inevitable rollcall of potential prosecuting attorneys, including…
Jack the Ripper!
And, in case you were worried nothing specifically Japanese was going to happen in this manga, this guy in the bath is apparently the legendary 16th century bandit & thief Goemon Ishikawa.
Breaking up all this silliness, Morita herself makes a brief guest appearance;
So, to save the poor artist further embarrassment, and to save us all a bit of time, let’s just say “some stuff happens”:
And, of course, love wins out over Satanic red tape, The Temples return to the earthly realm, and everything’s back to normal.
Denied the benefits of their supernatural success, the talentless rockers are subsequently forced to mooch off Janet, hiding out in her grandfather’s dusty old chapel.
Looks like they might be done for when the rev finds out…
… but, turns out the old man’s got some rock n’ roll in his blood too!
Yeah, rock on Pops!
Woop, happy ending, yeah, etc!
THE LIVN’ END.