Graphic Lit: "Ode to Kirihito"
“Ode to Kirihito”
by Osamu Tezuka
Vertical, 832 pages, $24.95.
In the world of Japanese comics, no author is held in greater esteem than the late Osamu Tezuka.
It’s for good reason that he’s known as the “Godfather of Manga” and the “Walt Disney of Japan.” While he may not have technically originated the medium, no other cartoonist did as much to popularize it in his native land as he did.
His influence is enormous, even to this day. Virtually every genre in manga or anime originates with one of his stories. A workhorse, his complete oeuvre consists of more than 700 manga comprising about 170,000 pages. And that’s not including the numerous animation projects he had a hand in.
Even Western audiences aren’t as unfamiliar with Tezuka as they might at first think. Anyone who’s thrilled by the adventures of Astro Boy or Kimba the White Lion has enjoyed his work.
Tezuka’s manga has been published sporadically in the U.S., with Viz and Dark Horse doing the lion’s share on titles like “Phoenix” and “Astro Boy.”
Now Vertical, who recently published an eight-volume set of Tezuka’s classic, “Buddha,” has released “Ode to Kirihito,” a sprawling, gripping epic that hopefully will draw even more attention to this skilled genius.
The Kirihito of the title is a doctor who travels to a small town in order to investigate a mysterious disease that transforms people into bizarre, doglike beasts.
It isn’t too long before Kirihito himself contracts the disease, and while he’s able to stave off death, he isn’t able to get his good looks back.
Betrayed by his friends and co-workers, Kirihito begins a global journey that finds him sold into slavery and bumping up against a variety of colorful and nefarious characters who either want to help or exploit the former doctor.
“Ode” deals with many of Tezuka’s favorite themes, including the notion of karma, man’s capacity for cruelty, spirituality, survival in the face of overwhelming adversity, and general medical know-how (Tezuka having been formally trained as a physician).
Sex also rears its head frequently, though this being something of a horror story, the issue is used more as a metaphor for deviance or mental illness, as one otherwise noble character is guilty of sexual assault.
The real reason to read this book though is not for the compelling plot and characters but to revel in Tezuka’s considerable artistic talents. A fearless experimenter, he seems to constantly be trying different ways to lay out a sequence.
Consider, for example, how he shows Kirihito’s initial descent into illness, breaking down the page into a series of small panels showing the doctor writhing in pain.
Or, even better, consider how he shows Kirihito’s colleague — Dr. Urabe — mental collapse, first with a tight close-up of his face, then, in a series of fractured panels, having his face vanish until only the glasses are left behind, shattered and split in half by a knife.
Then on the next page he freezes the moment, pulling back and showing Urabe in a black room, the other figures whited out in silhouette.
“Ode to Kirihito” is filled with wonderful moments like these. It’s a true virtuoso performance that any reader, not just those interested in manga, should check out.
The Train Man saga
A nerdy young man defends a cute young woman from an ugly drunk while riding on the subway. Going home, he posts about the experience on an online forum, garnering much praise for his bravery. Bolstered by their advice, he decides to try to woo the girl after she sends him a thank-you gift.
It sounds like a cute Nora Ephron film, but the supposedly true story of Densha Otoko or “Train Man” caught on like wildfire in Japan, resulting in no less than two films, one TV series, a play and several manga.
Now three of those manga have been translated for U.S. audiences: “Train Man: Densha Otoko” by Hidenori Hara (Viz, $9.99), “Densha Otoko” by Wataru Watanabe (CMX, $9.99), “Train Man: A Shojo Manga” by Machiko Ocha (Del Rey, $10.95).
All three are pretty identical in plot, but the Viz volume is far and away the best, as it adds a good deal of slapstick into the proceedings. The CMX series takes itself too seriously and is way too over the top (the poor sap is so inhibited he can’t even bring himself to pick up a dropped handkerchief).
The Del Rey book, meanwhile, tries to tell the whole story in one volume, and feels anemic and rushed as a result.
“Train Man” is more interesting as a phenomenon than a story, but the Viz volume is amusing enough to entertain those intrigued by the basic premise.
Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006