Thursday, March 05, 2009

Ode To Kirihito **

Ode To Kirihito
by Osamu Tezuka
Vertical, 2006 (Paperback, 832 pages)

Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka is universally admired and rightly called the "Godfather of Manga," but after finishing his excessively lauded Ode To Kirihito - published by Vertical Books in 2006 but originally serialized in Japanese newspaper manga form between 1970 and 1971 - I was somewhat disappointed. As Publishers Weekly noted in its review, Tezuka's works typically "deal with the most profound questions of human existence" and I guess I was spoiled by such thought-provoking masterpieces as his Buddha and Phoenix series. While Ode To Kirihito combines medical melodrama (interestingly enough, the young Tezuka studied medicine before embarking on his artistic career) with metaphorical questions about panic-inducing diseases (read: AIDS) and how society views physical appearance and concepts of beauty (Ode's hero Dr. Osanai Kirihito is a dog-faced man), for some reason I kept thinking of fellow artist Charles Burns and how much better he toppled the same topics in his Dog Boy serial and the graphic novel Black Hole.

Charles Burns' Dog Boy and Black Hole

Ok, so what's it about? Ode's protagonist Dr. Osanai Kirihito is researching patients suffering from a life-threatening disease that turns them into raw meat-eating canine beasts when he's suddenly sent to an isolated village where he believes the outbreak may have started. After he contracts the "mon-mow" disease himself, his life is forever changed, affecting not only his career, but his personal happiness (it destroys his engagement to his fiancee) and even, eventually, his will to live. Although he comes to realize that the condition can be controlled (shades of AIDS/HIV) Kirihito constantly must battle a society that not only ostracizes "people who look different," but often seeks to exploit them as "sideshow freaks" that are seen as evil and/or aberrations of God's "Laws of Nature" (whatever they may be).

After seeing Todd Browning's Freaks and three X-Men movies, reading Charles Burns and listening to Devo, I guess the whole "beautiful mutant" theme just didn't wow me like it should have. It's good, but certainly not his masterpiece. For a better appreciation of Tezuka, I recommend Phoenix and Buddha.


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