Ah! My Goddess (distributed in the North American continent as Oh My Goddess! by Dark Horse Comics) tells the adventures of university engineering student and gearhead Keiichi Morisato and Belldandy, the goddess who Keiichi accidentally called in a ‘Goddess Help Line’(they’re more like genies with divine titles, as if they’ve used ‘em under license from The Big Guy himself). Stuck with each other, the duo will face whatever otherworldly challenges friends, family and foes will bring, both here on earth and beyond. Created by the industry’s resident gearhead Kosuke Fujishima, this rated-teen-and-older franchise has been a key pillar in legit manga (Japanese graphic novel) and anime (Japanese animation) for the North American market before the genre’s latest wave of popularity a couple of years later, as well as being a gem in Japan, with its steady run producing 308+ chapters compiled to produce a very healthy 48 volumes -like Initial D- from 1988 to 2014. Even the author is dumbfounded at its longevity.
You may have noticed that the opening title for this post only mentions the manga, not the anime. I did that on purpose. I’m able to squeeze reading a couple of manga pages over watching anime episodes. There are far more stories in the manga. And probably most importantly, there are a TON of machines I want to feature, so I need all the space I can get.
It’s actually quite refreshing to read a manga without all the stereotypical behavior and characters that I’ve been noticing throughout the years in multiple titles. Well, most of them anyway. Because of the manga’s steady run-time, you’ll notice little details that are wonderfully stuck in their times: from LA Gear hi-top sneakers to Laserdisc, though I must say that it carries the story well through the years without the reader noticing. Like many long-running titles, newer trends sneak up as well, including cars. Speaking of which…
Behind the slice-of-life/action-adventure/comedy-romance/techy-supernatural/fantasy backdrop is one that will resonate with this website: gearhead culture. It’s the reason why I became interested in this franchise in the first place. The love for machines is so important that there are entire storylines dedicated to the bond between man (and goddess) and machine, whether it’s a Honda minibike or a rocket-punch-slinging robot. The author and co. went to great lengths making machines as accurate as possible (even background vehicles), as well as the history, terminology and romance on some. Even bicycles, cameras and watches get romanticized. The amount of detail poring through is enough to make me consider it as one of the greatest gearhead-driven Japanese franchises ever, and I’ll even go as far as saying that it bests other car-and-bike-based series, like Fujishima’s other motoring project, éX-Driver. Besides, any series that shows a character wearing a shirt saying ‘Suzuki Motor Co. DOT-3’ can’t be that bad, right?
Keiichi’s motorcycle, a vintage BMW RS54 Rennsport with a sidecart modification. Even back in the day, these rare motorbikes were renowned for their sidecar-racing achievements. This was also the machine that grabbed my attention when I found it on the cover of a graphic novel, IIRC. I’m not usually into BMW motorbikes, but the level of detail exuded on it made me take a mental note to check out this franchise in a near future. Aside from being Keiichi’s beloved means of transportation, the RS54 gets enough moments in the spotlight, and rightly so, as it’s pretty much a member of this family. That means it gets involved in some crazy situations: from racing with and without its sidecart, being modified with twin turbochargers to having its parts used for a demon-fighting mech. I did not make that up. Its swan song will be its hand in helping Keiichi to -well, putting it bluntly- win the hand of Belldandy near the end of the manga.
The second machine that appears in detail in the manga is, coincidentally, another BMW: a 5 Series. It belonged to Sayoko Mishima, Belldandy’s self-proclaimed earth-college rival. So confident was she that she’d humiliate Belldandy that she betted the 5 Series against a friend… and lost. No matter. Due to unforeseen phenomena, the engine was ruined. Don’t feel too bad for her: She’s later seen with a BMW 8 Series and a Porsche 550 Spyder sports car, a replica, I think.
Sayoko later trades up to a sweet AMG Mercedes-Benz SL-series.
What’s worse than an obsessive-compulsive prick? A rich obsessive-compulsive prick. Toshiyuki Aoshima is Sayoko’s cousin who’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants, in this case Belldandy. He even went as far as lending Keiichi his Ferrari 288 GTO as part of one of his plots to conquer Belldandy.
Way later on in the series, he drives a Ruf CTR with the alternate front chin spoiler. It appears on the Ruf brochure, so it’s legit. Not to knock on the Ruf’s giant –killer status, but it looks downright pedestrian when compared to the 288 GTO and the sharp-dressed character that drives it. By this time Aoshima has mellowed out on his schemes, but he used to be a major thorn in Keiichi’s world…
… to the point that he formed a rival auto club just to crush Keiichi’s and friend’s club. Just look what they have on display! A Koenig Specials Porsche 928!! The Japanese LOVE their Koenig Specials; their machines have also appeared in other anime/manga series as well. If you look up pics of this top-dog German tuning company’s machinery you’ll find that some of their most outrageous ones are under Japanese ownership.
Let’s talk about some of the Nekomi Tech Motor Club’s rides/antics…
Before we continue, the fact that the series honors the Honda Super Cub in such a matter cannot go unmentioned. This was years before celebrity British motoring icons as well as world-renowned motoring bloggers mused about these bikes and their achievements. Keiichi’s first motorbike ride was on a Honda Super Cub.
Celebrating the Honda Super Cub, the club built a number of bikes for different racing classes. This is the Unlimited Class entry. If it doesn’t look like a Super Cub, that’s because the rules stated that as long as you had one major component of the base bike, everything’s good. So what we have here is a Suzuki GSX1300 (bored from 1100cc) drag bike with a Super Cub front end. For those that don’t know, Suzuki GS/GSXs were darlings of the dragstrips and still command a strong following today. So we have a 1300cc drag-bike with a 100cc-max motorbike front clip and brake. Let that sink in for a moment…
This is the club’s rally entry, a modified Mazda T2000. I’ll let the pictures provide the description. The anime, which I’ve only seen in screenshots, seem to have recycled this idea, but instead of a T2000, they used the even humbler Daihatsu Midget MP5 3-wheeler truck.
Just so you know, this is the type of caliber that that Nekomi Tech had to deal with: a modified Ford Shelby Mustang driven by professionals. Guess the country.
What do you get when you mix a 50cc minibike, a custom frame, a Kawasaki KDX dirtbike triple clamp and an infamous Kawasaki 750cc “widowmaker” two-stroke triple, among other bits and pieces found here and there? Victory, that’s what! Keiichi had to spearhead this club endeavor when his upperclassmen weren’t available.
Not all club endeavors are successful. This pick-up truck drag racer being one of them. It looks like a Mitsubishi Forte, known in the U.S. as the Mitsubishi Mighty Max, Plymouth Arrow and Dodge Ram 50.
One of Aoshima’s crazier schemes resulted in the destruction of the Nekomi Tech Motor Club clubhouse. While salvaging the remains, Belldandy stumbled upon the buried remains of a prototype WWII fighter plane called the Kyushu J7W1 Shinden (Magnificent Lightning). The club dug up all the parts from what used to be an old air-base and put it all together (not a nut-bolt restoration, just making it flyable), with Keiichi tasked to fly it. The Motor Club has been involved with some high-profile events, but resurrecting a plane, a historical prototype at that, is one of their highest achievements. In real life, from two prototypes, only one exists while the other one was said to be scrapped, but I’m sure that the author couldn’t resist a what-if story (I wouldn’t), which by the way, is more beautiful than what this description can tell.
Another rather beautiful tale involving machines and the past is Keiichi’s grandfather’s motorcycle: A Brough Superior SS100, with a J.A. Prestwich engine. Tied to it is a promise that Keiichi would have to fulfill, after he gets it running again of course. Afterwards, rather than keep it, he would leave it where he found it.
Like father like son: Keiichi’s father, Keima, has the bike gene as well, riding a road-converted Matchless G50 like an absolute boss. The level of care gone into it is very apparent. Keiichi’s mother, Takano, isn’t so far behind, driving a rally-spec Datsun Bluebird 1600SSS (510) sedan, just like the one that won the 1970 African Safari Rally. As weird and different as these two are, they’re a match made in heaven.
Bikes run deep in the Morisato family, as even Megumi –Keiichi’s spunky little sister- has one: a Kawasaki KSR80 minibike. Megumi loves her little Kawasaki KSR80 so much that she completely geeked out over its predecessor, the Kawasaki KV75. I’m assuming that Chihiro sold it to her, but the manga wrapped up with such details left open-ended. She rides this liquid-cooled, 80cc two-stroke gem hard but takes good care of it, a key element that explains why this stock minibike can go fast without internal modifications. The two of them can best bigger machines…
… like the Yamaha TDM850 that’s ridden by the Queen of the ridge. It’s a parallel-twin bike known for its tall ride height, this one having some mods done inside and out. Queen is very proud of it.
Did I tell ya that Megumi was once turned into an Intermeccanica Porsche 356 A reproduction convertible? It’s not all fun and games when you have (then) two goddesses in your home.
Let’s move a bit outside club cars and antics…
Sora is a shy underclassman of Keiichi in the Nekomi Tech Motor Club. That’s her car, a Fiat Nuova 500 –meaning it’s an early model- probably one of the most beloved foreign classic cars by the Japanese, given that I’ve seen them in many other anime. While not discussed, this is one of the best car-owner pairings in the series, since both of them are more than what they appear to be: Sora is of great help in the club, and will eventually have it in her to lead it; the 500 is Italy’s Mini, it not only got people moving, it did things unexpected from it, like motorsports. Speaking of Minis…
We can’t mention beloved foreign cars by the Japanese without including the Mini, this one a Morris Mini Cooper S. These had choice parts that helped them stand the rigors of racing with 971cc, 1071cc, or 1275cc. The gang will learn the joys of vintage motoring: broken fuel gage with obvious results, flat tires, overheating, hood suddenly opening up, etc. Belongs to Chihiro. About her…
Chihiro Fujimi is the headstrong, make-up-the-rules-as-she-goes-along female character that used to be the main driving force behind the Nekomi Tech Motor Club in its early days. Without her, the club would just be a car appreciation club. After being part of a leading manufacturer’s racing team, she decided to open up her own motorcycle shop, with Keiichi and Belldandy as her employees. Her ride is the outrageous BMW-powered Krauser Domani three-wheeler, one of 100 units built as a cooperation between motorcycle luggage-maker Krauser and sidecar maker LCR. Because Chichiro isn’t tall it looks like she could get inside that glass area, but the thing’s ridden like a motorcycle with a sidecar. She even has a matching jacket.
This (is what’s left of) a 1985 Honda NS400R, a liquid-cooled, two-stroke V-3 gem of a racer replica that belonged to Chihiro, before she fell off it and it landed at the bottom of a cliff, with her unscathed. It’s hard to tell, but it sports the 1985 Honda Racing Tricolor paint scheme. Only by this was I able to deduce that this was an NS400R and not a NS250R. Chihiro planned to rebuild it. More info on this model found here.
The NS400R was rescued by Keiichi and Belldandy after the bike’s will to ride materialized itself in a ghost-like form and terrorized the mountain pass. Keiichi and Belldandy used a custom-built sidecar racer called the RS80 Tomboy to defeat it.
While we never see that NS400R again (a shame), this Yamaha RZV500R is insinuated to be another of Chihiro’s collection, rebuilt by her. It’s a racer-replica, liquid-cooled two-stroke V4 with only a two-year production run, making this home-market exclusive (different frame and bits when compared to the similar-looking RD500 and RZ500 export models) very rare.
While Chihiro has some serious exotica with her Domani and two-stroke fun with her NS400R and RZV500R, that doesn’t mean she has no love for minibikes. These machines are represented well in the manga. While a Honda Gorilla has been spotted as a background vehicle, its brother the Honda Monkey gets a few but detailed pages. It becomes the basis of a discussion of how much one should modify a machine, in this case with a Honda SS50 Benly engine and 5-speed transmission on the minibike, where 6 horsepower are definitely felt!
This is a Honda T360, the shop truck of Whirlwind, where Keiichi and Belldandy work with founder Chihiro. This kei-truck was seriously important for Honda at the time: it was their first 4-wheeled commercial vehicle, one with a mid-mounted engine that you sat on with an impressive spec sheet. Some info found here, here, and here. They also have a Honda Gyro Canopy tilting three-wheeler motorcycle.
If you want to know the type of work that Whirlwind does, how about using this customer bike as example? It’s a Gilera CX125, one of the most aerodynamic, innovative (single-sided front fork, anyone?), rare (about a 1000 produced, 500 local/500 export) and downright unbelievable machines to actually make it to production, yet not all that more expensive and rather straightforward mechanically thanks to component sharing with the Gilera Crono. If you want the most outrageous 125cc-category machine possible –particularly in those countries that limited engine size with learner laws and taxes-, this is it. I’d like to write a full post, but this one in Odd Bike.com is hard to top.
Showcasing their talent, Chihiro and Keiichi competed making their dream bikes on a budget, with abstract concepts of ‘Ecstasy’ and ‘Explorer’, respectively, in motorized form. Chihiro built a Yamaha FZR sports bike with a 110HP jet-ski-powered engine. She really wanted the 156HP version. Keiichi’s was more of a last minute flash of genius after seeing Chihiro’s spare parts and donor vehicles. The base is a 2000 Yamaha SX700R snowmobile. It may look awkward, but it performs where it counts, including water, but both bikes are engineering works of genius.
Then there’s Belldandy’s bike. Feeling Keiichi and Chihiro would be in trouble, she took Chihiro’s Honda Monkey minibike and with some borrowed parts built hers on the fly. It showcases bike tech that you can’t help but love: single-sided rear swingarm, cantilever front fork, center-mounted exhaust, etc. But it’s not the first bike she’s ridden…
This is a 1987 Honda NSR50, one of a couple that the Nekomi Tech Motor Club had. It’s a 50cc, liquid-cooled two-stroke gag bike, aping the looks of its bigger displacement siblings, including special editions. NSR50s have a dedicated following off and on the racetrack.
I wasn’t going to include this one, but I just had to look it up… In a club outing, the boys got to race these puppies, they’re Honda Fourtrax (TRX)250Rs. The one Keiichi’s riding is an ’87. They run 246cc water-cooled, two stroke single cylinder. The Fourtrax is a staple of the quad world.
Again, I just had to look it up… This is an early first-gen BW’s scooter, acronym for ‘Big Wheeled Scooter’, aka the Yamaha Zuma. I couldn’t help myself to include a real pic of it. I’m really digging it. More info on these found here. That’s Satoko Yamano, a minor character. BTW, you’ll notice that some things are backwards on the manga scan. Dark Horse Comics reversed the images, but at least kept the script on logos and such legible. This was a common practice in the early days of official manga translations. The internet manga sites have both formats mixed.
What is it with my curiosity for scooters and minibikes?! That’s Toraichi Tamiya, top dog of the Nekomi Tech Motor Club, Keiichi’s upperclassman and intimidating meathead, with one of his modes of transportation: a 1982-83 Honda CT50 Motra minibike. He’s able to carry it on his shoulder if he so wishes. The minibike has an urban-warrior thing going on, with its function-over-form rugged styling.
Beside Tamiya is a bike I couldn’t pass up talking about: a Cagiva Elefant 900ie Lucky Explorer. It’s a desert-style off-road bike, the Italian alternative to the Honda Africa Twin and Yamaha Super Ténéré. It’s more high-maintenance as well. It has some choice parts, also powered by Ducati’s V-twin (remember, Cagiva used to own Ducati back then). Yes, that’s a Lucky Strike tobacco livery.
One of the things that the original Ah! My Goddess manga publication has over Dark Horse Comics’ Oh My Goddess! translation is that every once in a while the former includes a spec sheet. The example above is a Gilera Runner FXR Italian scooter (circa 1999) that Belldandy and Keiichi use for small errands for Whirlwind, like going to the DMV. Without being fluent in Japanese, we can tell that the scooter has a 175.8cc engine, 21ps at 8,000rpm, CVT transmission, weighs 115kg… zzz. Sorry, if it wasn’t that the pic was lovely I would’ve used another example. At least it has the big two-stroke engine. Those are said to have some pep.
Let’s get back on track. How about some interesting background vehicles?
The club has a motor pool of vehicles available. Keiichi borrowed one for a fancy date with Belldandy: a 1970-71 Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO MR, a Japanese pony car in the same vein as the Toyota Celica. A Colt Galant GTO is already a special car, but the MR –meaning Motorsports and Rally- had a different engine (1.6L DOHC 125HP, mated to a 5-speed trans). Of these, around 835 units were made. Definitely worth mentioning on this list.
Hey, it’s a Maybach! Remember those? I can’t tell if it’s either a 57 or a 62, but it’s not the “base” model because the wheel isn’t a 7-spoke design. I was as surprised as Sayoko over there when this one appeared. The appearance of this super-luxo barge means that she’s about to get her wish granted… whether she wants to or not. You know what I wish? To visit that Star Trek Coffee (the second Star Trek reference that I’ve found in the manga) in the background, hopefully their prices haven’t gone where Starbucks have gone before…
No helmet, no riding gear, no license… that’s Urd for ya, Belldandy’s older, troublemaking sister and femme fatale. She got into a police chase minutes after borrowing Megumi’s KSR80. While not looking her best here, it’s the best shot of that bumperless Alfa Romeo Giulia GT. There are many variations of this car, but it’s a safe bet to say that this isn’t the convertible, the Giulia Sprint GTC.
When Belldandy needed to borrow parts for a bike performance upgrade, this forlorn Mazda R-360 gladly gave some up. There’s a reason why I’ve included it: it’ one of the most important cars to come out of Mazda, considered to be their first proper car. This 4-seat coupe is powered by a rear-mounted, air-cooled, 356cc two-stroke V-twin.
Besides all the other crazy stuff built and raced by the Nekomi Tech Motor Club (go-karts, economy runs, etc.), there are many background vehicles that I’d wish to include here, but including every single one of them -many having small and/or poorly-detailed illustrations- would flood an already huge post. These are the ones I was able to identify but unfortunately didn’t make the cut:
- Aprilia RS125
- BMW 8-Series
- Caterham 7
- Daihatsu Midget MP5 3-wheeler truck
- Ducati SS and 916
- Eunos (Mazda) Roadster (Miata)
- Eunos (Mazda) RX-7 FC3S
- 1st-gen Ford Mustang
- Hino cab-over-engine truck
- Honda Gorilla 50cc minibike
- “Fox-eye” Honda CBR Fireblade
- Honda (Acura) Integra
- Honda S2000
- Honda Benly SS50
- Honda Beat
- Isuzu cab-over-engine trucks
- early Kawasaki ZXR (ZX-7 Ninja)
- Kawasaki KV75
- Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IV
- Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII+
- Mitsubishi Minicab
- Nissan Cefiro
- (Datsun) Nissan Bluebird 410
- Piaggio scooter
- Early Subaru Sambar (360 van)
- Suzuki RG500 Gamma
- Toyota Hiace H100
- Toyota Sprinter Trueno (AE-86)
- 1970s Volkswagen Beetle
- Yamaha TZR 250
- Yamaha V-Max
All manga scans (before being cropped and cleaned where needed): mangafox
Yamaha RZV500R: http://global.yamaha-motor.com
Honda T360: http://openiso.org
Gilera CX125: http://www.odd-bike.com
BW’s scooter: http://motorscooterguide.net/Yamaha/ZumaBWS/ZumaBWS.html
Honda Motra brochure pic: Tumblr
Cagiva bikes: mototrips.free.fr
Colt Galant MR: pinthiscars.com
1987 Honda NSR50 and Honda Fourtrax: Pinterest