I was going to wait and make To Terra my first Vertical purchase. I only ever hear how great it is that they release these retro series (and apparently novels/light novels, which I heard NOTHING about until I went to their website), but Buddha is not my cup of tea, and I was waiting for To Terra to come out before making my first Vertical purchase. But it’s impossible not to buy Ode to Kirihito when you see it on the shelf. It is a huge, 800-page single volume series. A truly beautiful brick of a series.
The series itself is quite good. I’ve only read the first volume of Monster, but I immediately drew a medical thriller comparison. Someone (perhaps the inside of the jacket) said that this is an entire genre that Ode to Kirihito started, and I know of Blackjack and it’s modern spiritual successor, but I am completely unaware of other series in this genre. Is it true that there are others?
One thing I need to get off my chest before going much farther is the mixed message I got from the book, which comes purely from having a modern perspective on a series that’s 35 or so years old. One of the main conflicts in this volume is that no one with Monmow disease can lead a normal life because their faces become so deformed and they are ostracized, put on show, run out of town, mistaken for the devil, etc. The main character tries for 800 goddamn pages to be accepted, and in the end it has to be in a place where he gets called “Dr. Dog.” Yet racial caricature is used throughout the volume on a variety of locales. I realize that at the time this was accepted (at least, this is what I understand), but this kind of lessens the impact for me, especially when I find myself shocked by not the Monmow patients, but the regular people drawn in such ways. Nothing to be done about it, as a preface would not change it and I would not have the art edited, but there’s the huge problem I had with Ode to Kirihito nonetheless.
Anyway! More nitpicking in the genuine authenticity of everything here. Tezuka is a medical doctor, so all kinds of medical details are included all the time. There are pages dedicated to technical terminology for every malady that is featured, but especially in the analysis of Monmow disease. The head of M hospital thinks that Monmow is caused by a virus, while the research would indicate that it is an endemic condition. I’d never heard this word before (reflect as you will on my education), and I had to look it up in the dictionary when the characters kept using it. The focus is very much on describing the condition in great medical detail, where any other series would’ve been like “Oh my God Dog People!!!” While the medical terminology got tedious at times, I applaud its presence, and I know it is probably very accurate.
Aside from the medical focus, this series is also extremely epic. There is a lot of traveling and globetrotting involved, which is really surprising, especially since this is mainly done by a stunted main character. The globetrotting aspect is extremely important, as this is how all the misfortune befalls Kirihito. Why he eventually outright rejects a normal life when he returns to Japan (aside from the obvious promise/loyalty issue) is beyond me, but I’m glad it was followed up at the very end.
I was also quite thrilled by the inclusion of Helen, who was only referred to by first and last name together and never casually. While Kirihito tried very much/was forced to adapt to his condition, Helen is the flipside. Her disease stopped progressing, leaving her deformed and unable to function in society anymore. She was further kept by the university as an experiment to advance a political career. She was forced into a great many subtle things, and while didn’t have to go through the brute trauma that Kirihito did, had to deal with a separate set of traumas relating to the condition. The parallel storytelling between both cases was quite good.
The conspiracy side was also good. All of that unfolded nicely, except I really didn’t understand the results of the election after Kirihito did what he did.
And that’s about it from me. I read the first half of this all in one night, then took a chapter or two before bed at night, then read the entire last third of the book at once. It was quite the large manga experience.