Tezuka's Buddha: falling for manga

A friend recommended that I pick up Osamu Tezuka's series on the life of Buddha and so I'm now reading my first manga. Tezuka is widely regarded the father of manga, the one who essentially reinvented it as a modern literary and art form. Buddha was his last major epic and so, I lucked out in starting with one of the masterpieces of the genre.

The imagery is gorgeous. Many of the panels are incredibly detailed, finely-wrought landscapes. This, for example, is a scene in which the young Siddhartha and a rebellious slave are sailing down a river. An entire page, that would take who-knows-how-long to draw, just to establish the fact of a journey.
The attention to detail of the execution does not carry out over to the content of the images, though. There is much that is anachronistic. For example, the geometric motifs that dominate in his rendering of the palaces date from the anti-idolatory of India's Muslim rulers. Buddha lived nearly 1400 years before Mohammed, though, so the palaces ought to be full of dancing figurines.
Because Japanese and English are written in different directions, the images are all reproduced in the English edition in mirrored form. Mostly, it works. Except when it doesn't. Here, for example, the image has some Hindi text. Hindi, is of course, also anachronistic. In 600 BC, they didn't speak Hindi. But anyway, the Hindi text is mirrored and that's like something out of Leonarda da Vinci's notebooks.

Some thing that surprised me was the explicit sexuality of the story. Most stories of Buddha stick to his philosophy and present Buddhism as an atheistic, monastic religion. But in Tezuka's rendering, it's God (Brahma presented as an old man) who keeps redirecting a sickly, bored youth back towards his destiny. And it is power, sex and revenge that keep the narrative going. A very, very good book.

I'm now a fan of manga and hope other manga are just as good. Any recommendations?

No comments:

Post a Comment