March 8, 2012
Osamu Tezuka – Vertical – 2003 – 8 volumes
Volume two covers the adolescence of Siddhartha, and how he came to be separated from his kingdom. Buddha is nothing if not epic, and the content of this volume feels like it could have been the entire lifetime of Siddhartha. But he leaves as a young adult at the end of the volume to find his destiny, which is certainly not being a warrior King of a small kingdom.
There are many trials. Tatta reappears, and smuggles the prince out of the kingdom on a whim. They go on an adventure together, the likes of which Siddhartha has never seen since he’s always been sheltered inside the kingdom. Even at a young age, he is bored with extravagant palace life, so this trip opens his eyes to the world at large.
It also brings a faithful meeting with a woman named Migalia. The two fall in love, but as a prince and an outsider slave, their relationship can never be. Siddhartha doesn’t quite understand why this is, or why the caste system must be so all-powerful, but it is what it is. Their relationship is revealed during a tournament in order to prove that Siddhartha is the most powerful warrior to marry the woman his father has selected for him. Things don’t go well for Migalia, though Siddhartha remains unscathed during the entire affair.
He’s forced to marry the noblewoman, but admits to her straight out that he doesn’t love her and doesn’t believe he will be king. He continually tries to leave the kingdom, and eventually tries to achieve enlightenment by sitting out and taking nothing but water for days and days.
Bandaka is wrapped up in all this. He tries to train Siddhartha to be a warrior at the beginning of the story, then challenges him for the right to marry the woman selected as his bride. He tries to trick the kingdom into exiling Siddhartha, then tries to step in as its king during its darkest hour. He’s a worthy adversary, and I loved that this volume focused on his life almost as much as Siddhartha’s. Or at least the important parts of his life. He’s an interesting character, and it’s interesting that his legacy is foreshadowed to haunt the future volumes.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot to say about this volume. It’s still a fantastic, sweeping story dripping with destiny and foreshadowing, and it’s extremely well-told. The themes this time around are somewhat less cosmic than the last volume, and only the first couple chapters with young Siddhartha and Tatta touch on some of the themes we saw last time. Those themes are put aside in favor of a story driven largely by Siddhartha’s need to escape, which turns into a desperate obsession as he is slowly shackled down by family and obligation. But an idea that proves to be a point of contention through the entire volume is Siddhartha’s objection to the caste system, and his idea that all humans suffer the same in nature and are thus born equal. Nobody else can conceive that their station in life isn’t decided at birth, least of all the Brahmin, the top of the pecking order that serve as the spiritual guides for everyone else. I’m curious to see how this ironclad system will be disrupted in later volumes, though there are hints that a monk is starting a new order where all are invited to leave behind the shackles of the caste system and join his beliefs to find enlightenment.
And the art. It’s fantastic. I have to say, it’s some of Tezuka’s absolute best. The sweeping, detailed landscapes and magnificent castles inform absolutely everything, and there’s some really wonderful panel layouts and compositions scattered throughout. The landscapes in particular really help lend the story a sense of scale and presence. I’m really excited to see how far this will take it when the more spiritual themes (hopefully) appear later.
It’s wonderful, and I’m so glad I’m finally reading it after all these years.