Manga Moveable Feast: My Tezuka Index

February 24, 2012

So, as I mentioned last week, the Manga Moveable Feast is currently on over at The Manga Critic, hosted by Kate. I posted a longer article last week, a guide to all the English-language editions of Tezuka titles, which is my more meaningful contribution. But I like Tezuka a lot, and I’ve written about him frequently. I’ve reviewed just about every volume published in English, save for Buddha and a couple of the most recent releases. I’ve also written a couple other articles on other topics, too, and I thought that it might be a good idea to collect all of it in one place.

Let’s see… well, the newest random write-up I’ve done is the List of English Language Editions, of course. But I’ve also got this article that takes a look at Black Jack Magazine, a compilation of different interpretations of Black Jack, both old stories and original ones, by a plethora of Shounen Champion artists. You can also blow the dust off of this article, which takes a look at Treasure Island, Tezuka’s earliest graphic novel. Alas, the edition I have is a later reconstruction.

For tangentially related content, you can take a look at this article on Medical Manga. I talk about both Ode to Kirihito and Black Jack there, among others (still need to add Anesthesiologist Hana!). My Year’s Best 2011 list awards a very prestigious award to Black Jack. And The Spinal Column, where I take a look at art on the spines of manga, has no less than three Tezuka series in it. There’s also my reviews of Pluto, the Naoki Urasawa re-imagining of an Astro Boy story from volume 3.

For nonfiction, I covered God of Comics, a look at Tezuka by Natsu Onoda Power, for Manga Recon some time ago. It’s a wonderful book, and the chapter that studies “The Curtain Remains Blue Tonight” is quite memorable and enlightening. Other books I would recommend, but haven’t covered here, include Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, which talks a lot about Tezuka (and is just worth reading in general). There’s also Helen McCarthy’s excellent The Art of Osamu Tezuka, which has a fun look at Tezuka’s Star System in it, among other things. And in an attempt to try and appreciate Astro Boy, I also picked up The Astro Boy Essays, by Frederik Schodt. All three of those are things I ought to write up here sometime soon.

I wrote up Adolf, as a whole, over at Manga Recon some time ago. This has some additional commentary, along with a link to that review. I also reviewed the series as a whole here. The overview is one of the better reviews I’ve got to offer, but the volume-by-volume write-ups I did are five years old and not that great. vol 1, vol 2, vol 3, vol 4, vol 5.

Adolf is probably my favorite of what I’ve read by Tezuka. Such a powerful story, and it’s very focused and gets its message across splendidly. It also casts his usual star system characters for a lot of the side roles, and it’s strange seeing them in such a serious way.

Apollo’s Song is next. I loved Apollo’s Song, it made a huge impression on me when I read it. It doesn’t seem to be one of the more highly regarded of the adult-oriented Tezuka released by Vertical, though. It’s got one of the best openings to any graphic novel I’ve ever read.

Astro Boy is next on the alphabetical list. I started reading this in 2006, and these reviews are even older and more embarrassing than my Adolf reviews. But they still convey my feelings on the series pretty well. The stories are interesting, and enjoyable in their way, but reading them was a chore. The only volumes I enjoyed were the Astro Boy origin volumes 6-8, and some of the short stories collected in volumes 21-22. There’s lots of other cool stuff scattered throughout, and reading back through these reviews, I keep thinking I ought to give the series another chance. I mean, it sounds like a lot of fun. Maybe I would appreciate it more now. Then again, I’m not the biggest fan of Tezuka’s early series.

Ayako struck me as much more realistic, and much more tragic, than a lot of the other adult-oriented series I’ve ready by Tezuka. I was dubious of a dark family saga-style story, but it’s a wonderful bit of storytelling, as always.

Black Jack is what it is. Which is pretty fantastic. It’s hard for me not to get excited while reading a volume of this. The anthology format is infinitely suited to the dark Dr. Black Jack and the array of maladies he treats, and I love these because you literally never know what the turn of a page can bring. Sometimes, you’ll hit a run of stories that are completely unlike each other in one volume, or maybe just a particularly crazy story that has an unpredictable narrative. Black Jack can take on anything with his stoic visage, and often does.

It’s worth noting that my first run-in with the good doctor was in Astro Boy. One of the later volumes of that series collects the Black Jack story “You Did It!,” which is a story starring a real boy-version of Astro Boy. Tobio, if you will.

The Book of Human Insects was my least favorite of the more mature series. It’s realistic, but with the heroine’s talent at copying and being the best at any talent, it’s not as grounded in reality, and thus must compete with the likes of Ode to Kirihito and Swallowing the Earth for my other favorite category, which is utter insanity. And it’s not nearly as crazy as the two stories I just mentioned. Not serious enough to be a serious story, but not crazy enough to be a crazy story. It’s still quite good, but just not my flavor.

I’ve only read the first volume of Buddha so far, but it’s comparable to Phoenix in terms of broad scope and message. In fact, comparisons to Phoenix kept sneaking up on me the entire time I was reading the first volume. The first volume of Buddha is plotted similarly to two different volumes of Phoenix, which I only point out because Phoenix is so unusual itself. And I love Phoenix, which means I’m eating up the serious plot of Buddha with gusto. I also appreciate the completely straight face Buddha has. I actually lack a good way of describing this, but Buddha and Phoenix also feel more “serious” than some of the other series, too.

Crime and Punishment is an oddball, and one I reviewed for Manga Village. I never linked it over here! I didn’t realize. Anyway, it’s a very early Tezuka work, and one that condenses the 500-page Dostoyevsky novel into 120 pages of comic. I’m not familiar with the original, but the narrative in Crime and Punishment is surprisingly smooth for such an abridgement. And the opening scene is quite memorable, too. It’s an oddball since it’s an off-edition published in English in Japan, but it’s my favorite of his early work.

I haven’t read Dororo in a long time, perhaps a re-read is in order. It’s got one of the most unique plots, and Hyakkimaru’s quest to find his body parts and become whole is memorable, if played relatively straightforward in the series itself. The ending is also abrupt, which is also a tragedy. It’s still a fun series, though, and a great read without being overly serious or preachy.

On a related note, Sega released a few Tezuka-themed video games in 2004. Astro Boy: Omega Factor is the most famous of these, and features Astro Boy on a quest through several areas that span Tezuka’s entire career, and include dozens of members of the Star System (you collect them, actually). It’s famous for being a beat-‘em-up developed by Treasure, but it’s also a love letter to Tezuka’s work. Another of the games is Blood Will Tell, which is a Playstation 2 game based on Dororo. Dororo makes for an amazing video game, and slicing through hundreds of enemies with Hyakkimaru, with each body part giving you new powers, is a blast.

Lost World is hands-down my least favorite of the Tezuka titles I’ve read. It’s the oldest, and Tezuka himself admits to several problems with it. The English edition has some formatting issues, and the story itself is a little… uh. Incoherent, at times, unfortunately. But it does feature a scene with Acetylene Lamp getting sucked out into the vacuum of space, and a two-page cameo of what must be every newspaper strip character from both America and Japan at the time, so that’s notable. And it’s hard for me not to like really old sci-fi stories at least a little bit. But seriously. This isn’t worth picking up unless you’re looking to read everything by Tezuka in English. And I’m sorry for that review. It’s very old.

I was a little disappointed that Metropolis wasn’t more like the movie of the same name. The 2003 anime movie adaptation is one of the best animated movies I’ve ever seen, and also works hard to include a lot of Tezuka Star System members and vastly improves the story in the original volume. This review is also very old, and I apologize again for the quality. This is another I ought to re-read. I would most certainly get something new out of it the second time around.

MW was the hardest to read, but also quite good. As the story of a serial killer and a priest that tries to stop him, there’s a lot of both good and bad morality on display. I ought to re-read this one as well, because most of the details of the story escape me at the moment. Really, the only thing that sticks in my head here is the violence. It’s intense, and that’s saying something coming from me, someone who love violent and over-the-top manga.

Nextworld is another of Tezuka’s old sci-fi series, and my favorite of this early “trilogy” (which includes Metropolis and Lost World). It has the full star system cast running through a plot that encompasses everything from a war between two countries over a personal disagreement to a killer space cloud that is out to kill humanity. It’s pretty great.

Ode to Kirihito is probably the best of the omnibuses released by Vertical, though I prefer Adolf overall and Apollo’s Song in terms of omnibuses. But I can admit that Ode to Kirihito is better than Apollo’s Song, and one of the best series that Tezuka wrote. It stars a Dr. Kirihito as he investigates an illness called Monmow Disease, which deforms affected humans and makes them look similar to canines before killing them. Dr. Kirihito contracts this disease, then wanders the globe looking for answers while his friend in Japan goes crazy and lots of other things happen. A summary can’t do this one justice, and it’s absolutely worth reading.

Then there’s Phoenix. Nothing I can say can really do these volumes justice. The experience of reading every volume of this series is cosmic, and almost depressed me with a feeling of insignificance every time. Unfortunately, my reviews don’t do the series justice, either. I read the first volume in 2005, and my old write-ups (before this site) were for personal use, and not terribly coherent. I actually have re-read this one since then, and I still can’t believe how wonderful every volume of it is.

As I am not the biggest fan of Tezuka’s early work, Princess Knight is not a favorite. I’m forcing myself a little in the reviews of the bilingual edition currently up on the site, because I have a hard time admitting that I didn’t like a volume of Tezuka, but also because those bilingual volumes were hard to get ahold of and I didn’t want to admit I’d wasted time and effort. I’ve since re-read the Vertical edition of this material, hoping a good translation would help, but alas. I’m just not a fan.

Remember that I’d mentioned I’m a fan of Tezuka’s craziest material? It doesn’t get any crazier than Swallowing the Earth. I love this book. I love every page of it. It’s not very cohesive, the main character’s a drunk, and the love interest/villain is just… wow. But I love it. I have a hard time recommending it, because I really think most people will not appreciate its special brand of insanity. But for anyone who’s up for a challenge, by all means, pick up the upcoming reprint.

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