When it comes to kashihon, you can get a pretty solid sense via the Naiki Library of the larger A5 format that became standard after 1956. But in terms of the rarer and earlier B6 books, popular between 1954 and 1959, Aomushi has no equal.
For example, I had searched long and hard for a year to read the early B6 books from Osaka’s Hinomaru Bunko by Tatsumi Yoshihiro, Sakurai Shōichi, Yamamori Susumu, and Satō Masaaki of the Gekiga Studio. The Naiki Library has a few by Saitō Takao, but is thin on the others. Since I couldn't afford to buy the books myself (which is very expensive when even possible), I thought I would have to begin knocking on collectors’ doors (a touchy situation). But there in a case at Aomushi was a stash of a couple dozen Hinomaru books, including some of the key pre- and proto-gekiga works by Tatsumi.
I had already known through Matsumoto Masahiko’s work that judo and chanbara (sword-fighting) manga had served as an important medium between Tezuka’s early magazine work and the cinematized language of suspense that is basic to gekiga. It was a real education to see how this played out in Tatsumi’s work from 1955, a year prior to Black Blizzard.
Tatsumi’s older brother Sakurai Shōichi was also a manga author. He is often credited for introducing Mickey Spillane into kashihon manga with his book The City of Masks (Hinomaru, 1955). This book I had essentially given up on ever finding – part of the reason this column has changed directions so often is that within kashihon manga I often cannot locate materials I need to finish an article respectfully – but there it too was at Aomushi.
It's not what you would expect. Sakurai was certainly the least talented of the Gekiga Studio bunch. His work is often upheld as an example of just how bad the lively but generally formulaic and slapdash field of kashihon hardboiled manga could get. The City of Masks shows Sakurai trying to adapt the burgeoning language of gekiga suspense to the hardboiled genre. The result is a clunky series of gunfights and car chases, spearheaded by the more suave than gritty private detective “Maikurō Honma” (Mike Hammer). Later Sakurai works, also starring Honma, inch only a little closer to the degeneracy and violence of their original American inspiration.
Endless volumes of kashihon after 1960 carried the “hardboiled” tag on their covers. But the influence of the Nikkatsu Action films saw to it that playboy style and gangland violence took precedence over the liquor-stinking and broad-slapping types of their American pulp namesakes.