“X” is for…
And while it’s technically seinen, CLAMP transcends…
What are some of your favorite shôjo and sunjeong titles that start with the letter “X”?
I’m on the road, so here’s a bare-bones look at this week’s ComicList:
Naoki Urasawa’s take on Tezuka’s hero-robot with a heart concludes with the eighth volume of Pluto (Viz).
Vertical is releasing Osamu Tezuka’s Ode to Kirihito in two paperback volumes, so I thought I’d take the arrival to revisit my review of the book. This column was originally published on Nov. 6, 2006, at Comic World News. Any updated thoughts will be in italics.
What is it about Osamu Tezuka?
How is it that his works don’t seem to age? How can he embody so many graphic idioms, from four-panel pratfalls to grisly realism, and have them cohere into such an effective and singular style? And how can he execute a theme like “What does it mean to be human?”, so potentially earnest that typing it makes me cringe, and turn it into something sprawling and gripping?
Ultimately, I think it’s passion. There’s no arguing that manga wouldn’t be what it is today had it not been for his desire to elevate comics beyond an amusement for children into a medium that could offer something for every audience. But focusing on his impact as an industry figure, substantial as it is, can tend to obscure his accomplishments as a manga-ka.
Fortunately, there are plenty of examples of the vibrancy and range of his creations, from Astro Boy (Dark Horse) to Phoenix (Viz) to Buddha (Vertical). I think Vertical’s recent release of Ode to Kirihito offers the best evidence yet of Tezuka’s standing as “the God of Manga.” [Since Ode to Kirihito was originally released in English, Vertical has published MW, also recently re-released, Dororo, and Black Jack, each of which is excellent in distinct ways. Vertical has also announced the English-language release of Ayako.]
It’s Tezuka’s first effort in the gekiga category of comics for adults, summarized here by comics scholar Paul Gravett. Part medical thriller, it’s mostly a meditation on human weakness – cruelty, greed, racism, destructive ambition, hypocrisy. The disease that drives the action, Monmow, causes humans to physically degenerate into dog-like creatures, but Tezuka finds humanity’s moral degeneration much more alarming.
Tezuka’s protagonist, young and moral physician Kirihito Osanai, is searching for the disease’s origins under the guidance of politically ambitious Dr. Tatsugaura. Osanai’s supervisor believes Monmow is contagious, perhaps viral; he also believes his research will be a ticket to power and influence in the medical community. Osanai suspects Monmow has an environmental cause, and his forthright efforts to prove this put him in terrible danger.
They also lead him on a world tour of some of the worst human failings. It begins in the remote village of a Monmow patient, where Osanai contracts the disease himself. From there, it’s virtually impossible to succinctly describe what the good doctor endures in his quest for truth, vindication, and revenge. That’s partly because the book is packed with event, but it’s also due to a reluctance to spoil anything.
Osanai goes from peril to peril, tragedy to tragedy, fending off the impulse to succumb to despair with varying degrees of success. As he does so, colleague Dr. Urabe endures an equally dangerous journey, though it’s largely spiritual. Urabe faces external and internal corruption; his nobler impulses are often overwhelmed by an unexpected capacity for brutality.
[Urabe is] capable of compassion, as with a nun suffering from Monmow. He recognizes Tatsugaura’s myriad failures of character and suspects the lengths his superior will go to in service of his ambition. But he’s selfish and weak in big and small ways, and each forward step he makes toward morality and responsibility is matched or surpassed by a backwards one. He’s a fascinating character, even more than Osanai, because there’s no certainty. While Osanai isn’t exactly a plaster saint, he’s got a moral core. Urabe is unmoored.
[Ode to Kirihito is] a richly populated work, which should come as no surprise, given Tezuka’s profound humanism. He unflinchingly portrays the worst kind of human behavior, but he refrains from portraying anyone as entirely evil. As extreme as their actions may be, no character in Ode to Kirihito is a cardboard monster. There’s always a kernel of humanity, which makes the portrayal of their venality even more effective. [It has been argued to me that Tezuka is much more cynical than humanist, that his portrayals of the depths of human depravity indicate a lack of faith. I still think that Tezuka’s examination of the horrors people can commit doesn’t indicate condemnation so much as frank appraisal in the context of how people can persevere.]
There’s always some dissonance for me in Tezuka’s illustrations. Profoundly influenced by the animated films of Walt Disney (and by film in general), Tezuka’s art has cinematic energy and pacing, informed by a cartoonist’s imagination. Page layout is often imaginative and expressive, and passion is evident on every page. But Tezuka is also one of the progenitors of “big eyes and speed lines.” His repertory company of frankly adorable figures is playing out deadly serious drama, and the counterpoint can be startling. But ultimately it’s a happy, effective dissonance because of Tezuka’s passionate sincerity as a storyteller. [Over at The Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon provided a wonderful commentary on the things that Tezuka does so well.]
By all rights, the sheer weight of Tezuka’s reputation and his idiosyncrasies as a creator should make his work seem like museum pieces. But when reading his work, I almost never find myself viewing it through a “for its time” prism. In this case, it may be partly due to the fact that the failures of response to Monmow and the ostracism of its early victims that Tezuka portrays have an eerie prescience when one compares them to the beginnings of the AIDS crisis a decade after this story was published. The beautiful production by Vertical, particularly the sleek and stylish cover design by Chip Kidd, doesn’t hurt either. [I’m sure Vertical’s production values on the paperback versions will be equally exemplary.]
Ultimately, I think it all does come down to passion. Tezuka not only loved the potential of graphic storytelling, he clearly loved the act of it, and that’s so evident here. I may know what to expect from Tezuka in simple terms – the style, the worldview, the scope – but I’m constantly surprised by the way they manifest themselves.
You can view a lengthy preview of Ode to Kirihito at Vertical’s listing page.
Not Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece (Viz). That’s more likely to end in elation, if it ever actually ends. I’m talking about this process of writing about it all the time. I just know that these intermittent blog posts about the series will end up reading like those chapter breaks from Genshiken. They won’t make any sense to anyone who isn’t as hooked as I am, and I’ll start using some ridiculous numerical code to discuss character awesomeness.
She’s the navigator of the Merry Go, the ship of Luffy’s Straw Hats pirate crew. When we first meet her, she’s a thief who specifically targets pirates, presumably because she doesn’t think very much of them as a group. (Contempt for pirates isn’t a barrier to joining Luffy’s crew. Swordsman Zolo was a bounty hunter who specifically targeted pirates before he signed on with the Straw Hats.)
Nami initially strikes the reader as your typical shônen girl. She’s cute, but she doesn’t smolder. She’s keenly aware of her compatriots’ intellectual shortcomings, but she’s a good sport at the end of the day. She pitches in when things get rough, and she provides some eye candy for the girl-crazy characters (and the fanboys). She seems destined to settle into life as a Straw Hat, dutifully serving as the big sister.
Then she robs them and takes off in a boat while the Straw Hats are getting their asses handed to them.
In the third omnibus edition, collecting the seventh, eighth and ninth volumes, we find out about Nami’s association with a considerably more traditional group of pirates who rely on Nami’s navigational skills and aptitude for deception.
Then we find out why Nami is working with Arlong’s brutish, greedy crew, and we see the lengths she’ll go to in service of her goal.
And by the time all of these things have happened, the reader realizes just how formidable Nami is. She’s playing a very dangerous game, and she’s playing it as well as a person of her age and experience can, but it’s evident that this will end in tears.
But there’s also Luffy, and while Nami is providing the best example yet of Oda’s facility for genuinely moving drama in the midst of wacky mayhem, Luffy is proving that there’s more to the dim rubber kid than there seems. He’s already demonstrated his ridiculous confidence and his ability to clobber much more formidable opponents. With Nami, he displays another essential aspect of his nature, that being his excellent ability to judge the character of others. As Nami’s mystery unfolds and his crewmates are flailing around trying to solve it, Luffy is mysteriously at his ease. He’s waiting, but for what? That’s after the jump.
I saw something on Twitter this morning that made so little sense to me that I figured it had to be an anagram, so I went over to the handy Internet Anagram Server. I must have stopped caring about my earlier confusion in the time it took for the page to load, because I ended up typing in Fumi Yoshinaga’s name instead. In addition to all of the other ways Yoshinaga rules, which are legion, her name is also awesome anagram fodder. My favorite:
Hi, infamous gay!
I took the liberty of punctuating it.
I’m clearly very driven and focused today.
You know, it would be just plain rude if I didn’t take a look at the last two nominees for the Manga Taisho Awards. I’ve covered the other yet-to-be-licensed contenders in two previous posts, and I’m sure plenty of people will be talking about Bakuman, seeing as it’s by the creators of Death Note and has been picked up by Viz. But I keep thinking back on that scene in Brideshead Revisited when Charles and his ex-boyfriend’s married sister have hooked up on a cruise ship and she wistfully notes that they’re “orphans of the storm,” or some other quasi-romantic rationalization that adulterers indulge in during the afterglow, and I thought, “No… I will leave no Manga Taisho nominee behind.”
So, what’s left?
Well, there’s Chûya Koyama’s Uchû Kyôdai, which can be translated as “Space Brothers,” currently serialized by Kodansha in Morning. It’s about a pair of brothers who decide to become astronauts. As near as I can figure, one succeeds, and the other tries to shake off his mundane, earthbound life to join his sibling. I’m getting a (forgive me) down-to-earth comedy vibe off of it, though I could be wrong. It’s up to nine volumes so far, and it sounds like it would be a great companion read for Kou Yaginuma’s Twin Spica, due in May from Vertical. Space travel is just a dream for the young, is it? You can see some sample pages here.
And lastly, we have Kengo Hanazawa’s I Am Hero, currently serialized by Shogakukan in Big Comic Spirits. There are times when Babel Fish is incredibly unhelpful, but I’m thinking what we have here is psychological horror about a 35-year-old cartoonist’s assistant, maybe like Taxi Driver but with a manga-ka? Here are some preview pages from the first volume. Since it’s from Shogakukan, it could either slide into Viz’s Signature line, or it could go to Fantagraphics, who might see the appeal in a heavily armed, emotionally unstable comic creator.
Now, with the last of those Taisho titles out of the way, things can get back to normal. I’m thinking of looking into some yaoi about normal guys with jobs that’s still pleasantly smutty. Any suggestions?
Mohiro Kitoh’s Bokurano: Ours (Viz) is one of those comics that apply grimly serious coats of paint to popular fantasy architecture. In this case, it’s about a group of kids climbing into a giant robot to save the world. The twist is that the kids are realistic, or “realistic,” in that some of them are understandably frightened or emotionally disturbed or just plain awful instead of sunny and dedicated. There’s also some play with what would actually happen if giant robots battled in a populated area.
It’s a competent comic, but it isn’t particularly interesting to me. I’m not a fan of un-deconstructed giant-robot stories in the first place, and I’ve never yearned to see anyone expose their seedy underbellies. And it isn’t as though there’s a shortage of bleak versions of kid-friendly concepts, so I can pick and choose from the best of them. (Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto, also from Viz, is a great example. Come to think of it, there’s some great giant-robot nonsense in Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys which treats the concept with the degree of seriousness I feel like it deserves, which is just about none at all.)
I’d read the first few chapters of Bokurano on Viz’s SigIKKI site, but it didn’t hold my attention in the way that site’s weirder, more imaginative series have. I thought it might read better in a larger chunk, but I found myself even less attentive. You can’t win them all.
(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher. You can read a bunch of free chapters of Bokurano: Ours here.)