Sunday, November 07, 2010

Osamu Tezuka's MW

I don't normally read manga because I don't have the time and patience to leaf through volumes of an ongoing series generally designed to entertain people half my age, but I decided to give this one a shot seeing that  there's an official one-volume release in english by VERTICAL and because not being the type to leave well enough alone, I had a few issues to sort out after seeing its big screen adaptation. It's the first of three mangas by Osamu Tezuka that I managed to finish, and while I found the overall experience to be fairly entertaining, what really captured my fancy was the author's layered attempt at making a socio-political statement in  the midst of creating something superciliously controversial and "shocking" to meet public demand for more serious and dark, adult-oriented material... in other words, something different from what they would normally expect from him.

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Osamu Tezuka's well-known for his contribution to the world of manga with enduring classics like Astroboy, Phoenix and Black Jack forming an integral part of his legacy, but as any certified manga buff would  attest to, his body of work was by no means limited to producing wholesome, kiddie fare, as the man dubbed as the kamisama of manga was apparently competitive enough to submit a few entries in response to the gekiga movement that gained popularity in the 70s.

MW is the story of a psychopathic killer, a priest and the former's obsession with finding a chemical warfare agent, which happens to be the subject of an intergovernmental conspiracy. From page one, the reader is brought in the thick of the action, where a frantic father is seen delivering ransom money to a designated pick-up point, only to discover his beloved son dead, ruthlessly murdered by the kidnapper. The criminal successfully evades the authorities through the aid of a priest, who is apparently conflicted and wracked with guilt but is somehow unable to bring this evil man to justice. What follows then is an account of how the two meet-- of how banker Yuki Michio and Father Garai Iwao shared a history, a secret which they hide away from society-- being the only survivors to a deadly gas leak which killed the inhabitants of an island, ultimately, dictated the way they lived and  inevitably bound them together to suffer a dysfunctional yet enduring relationship. And so begins this convoluted tale of madness, forbidden love and violence, as two boys who once held each other in a dark cave find themselves at odds with each other a decade or so later, but still unable to completely withdraw from each other.

Considered by most to be Tezuka's darkest work, MW provides an interesting examination on the nature of evil, the value of sacrifice, the commission of sin and man's continuous search for redemption in a world that can't be expected to pay attention to one thing, let alone have faith in something. Serialized in 1976-78, the manga contains undeniable references to particular places and events; characters are drawn in a certain fashion, firmly grounding the story's setting to a specific period, in effect providing a good measure of social commentary and political intrigue, almost enough to justify its more gratuitous and salacious content.

From the heart-stopping suspense, unabashed melodramatic elements that at times can come off as rather cheesy, to the more sensational and latent points of controversy, Tezuka's MW unabashedly tackles sex,  murder, homosexuality, political activism and terrorism with relative aplomb and mediocrity. There's a certain liberality as to how the story's villain is portrayed;  Yuki, being an amoral being, is shown to kidnap, extort, rape and murder at will in order to bring his diabolical plan to fruition. No person is spared  and nothing  is sacred, as Tezuka repeatedly displays the said character's penchant for cruelty; allowing him to perform heinous crimes with glee. MW paints a dark and sinister world where children are collateral damage, women are sexually abused and discarded, and mass murder can be committed without any thought or consequence, to the extent that the perpetrator goes scot-free. It's a place where the few who seek the truth are rewarded with their own brutal and untimely death; where faith and religion shine a dim light, and man's base desires weaken one's resolve and dominate over one's conscience.

Needless to say, Tezuka succeeds in making something close to a gekiga by packing MW with contentious material to meet a certain criteria; there are sections in it that were obviously designed more to alarm and shock readers than to nudge the story forward but that much was expected of the medium at that time. As a result, the manga panders and detours to include insignificant plot devices and side stories, giving it the illusion of greater depth and complexity, when all it needed was a more convincing ending, a better wrap up to the grandiose storyline that it  managed to establish. The great thing about it though is that while it's severely hampered by the trappings of its genre, there's nothing in it that's offensively explicit or graphic that will turn off a first-time reader. It might not have the epic scale and holistic finish  of Ode to Kirihito nor does it have the same trippy visuals and psycho-sexual pondering of Apollo's Song; but what sets it apart from his other works is that it's rather evocative of its time and unmistakably forthright of its stand on certain issues as competently discussed by Kristy Valenti in her piece entitled In Defense of Tezuka's MW. Like it or not, the man behind this controversial manga was a prolific storyteller. His artwork might be garishly cartoonish by today's standards, but a good number of his works do remain relevant and readable. From telling the tale of a robot boy who's more human than his inventors, to recounting the adventures of a samurai intent to retrieve his body parts from 48 demons, there's going to be at least one or two of his works that will speak even to the most hardened reader because he never failed to infuse his works with some food for thought.


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