Osama Tezuka is to comics what Henry Fielding is to the English novel. Tezuka, who died in 1989, was the father of manga. The medium’s clean lines, portrayal of sex and violence and its proclivity to adorn characters with large eyes and small noses are all inherited from Tezuka. Some people claim that Tezuka himself was inspired to do this (give characters big eyes) by Walt Disney’s portrayal of characters such as Bambi. From Bambi to Astro Boy and Atom (both Tezuka creations) to Pokemon that became as much a craze in the US as in India, things came full circle almost a decade ago.
Tezuka’s eight volume retelling of the story of the Buddha is representative of the man’s art.
There’s more to Tezuka, though, than his clean lines (usually in black and white) and uncluttered images.
There’s his view of the world—a dystopian and curiously religious interpretation of progress that is reminiscent of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. The two writers share one other thing: The split-loop narrative of Tezuka’s Apollo’s Song is similar to an identical device in Dick’s Martian Time-Slip.
Metamorphosis: This dog is no best friend.
This edition of CF isn’t about Astro Boy, Buddha or Apollo’s Song, though. It is about an unwieldy 822-page English language version of what this columnist considers Tezuka’s greatest work: Ode to Kirihito.
At one level, Ode to Kirihito is about a mysterious disease that converts people into dog-like creatures—the ensuing bone damage results in death. It is about the search for the cause of this disease (this being set in Japan, the cause ends up being not a pathogen but something in the water that affects the pituitary gland).
Kirihito Osanai, after whom the book is named, is a young doctor who is sent to the village where most of the people afflicted with the disease come from; he contracts the disease himself, but discovers its cause in time to arrest further deterioration in his condition. But he has the face of a dog. Sold into slavery and taken to Taiwan, he escapes and, after a series of adventures (or travails, since most of them end badly for him), comes back to Japan.
Some of Tezuka’s finest brush work can be seen in Ode to Kirihito, especially in panels that display the internal conflicts of characters such as Kirihito’s friend Urabe, who is given to strange impulses. Much of the book is also extremely dystopian. Yet, in some ways, Ode To...is among the most ‘human’ of Tezuka’s works.
It is a graphic novel equivalent of Pilgrim’s Progress, replete with religious symbolism (Kirihito, I am told, is the Japanese name for Christ). Kirihito suffers his way through the book but, in the end, he overcomes everything. Man becomes dog and stays that, but ends up more human than the people around him. Tales of redemption don’t come any better. Write to Sukumar at firstname.lastname@example.org