MW: A Review
It’s difficult for an American to appreciate the place Osamu Tezuka held in Japanese popular culture. Tezuka created the first massively popular character and storyline in manga, Astro Boy – something on the level of Siegel & Shuster’s Superman. But he also owned that character, and ran a studio to produce stories – something like Will Eisner. (And he went on to create more adult, complex works later in life, also like Eisner.) But Tezuka was also a major force in animation – roughly the Walt Disney of Japan. And he was massively prolific for forty years; his “Complete Works” (collecting just over half of his manga) runs 80,000 pages through 400 volumes, and his animation work was similarly large. So his impact is absolutely colossal; I’ve seen some commentators claim that every single Japanese comics sub-genre derives from something Tezuka did.
I’ve only read a few of those four hundred volumes – in my defense, most of them aren’t available in English — but I’ve found Tezuka an interesting but quirky artist. (I’ve reviewed the first six volumes of his Buddha series on my personal blog, and here at ComicMix I’ve looked at Ode to Kirihito and Apollo’s Song.) MW is another graphic novel in the vein of Apollo and Ode: dark, adult, violent and occasionally sexual. It’s from the late ‘70s, several years after Apollo and Ode, and originally appeared in the Japanese manga magazine Biggu Komiku (whose name I never fail to find humorous).
Unlike Ode and Apollo, MW has no supernatural element, and it’s even bleaker than those two works (neither one terribly cheerful). Fifteen years before the story began, a massive, horrific event occurred on a remote Japanese island, and that event bound together a boy and a man. When the story begins, the man, Garai, is a Catholic priest – from what I’ve seen, Tezuka was fascinated by Christianity, and particularly Catholicism, returning to its iconography and doctrines over and over. The man is tormented because of his relationship with the boy Yuki, who has grown into a dangerously attractive young man – and who was warped into a sociopath by the event they lived through.
The plot of MW is a multi-sided cat-and-mouse game, as Yuki’s inventively horrible plots work their ways toward fruition, as a prosecutor’s investigator, Meguro, tries to track down “the kidnapper,” and as the priest Garai struggles with his uncontrollable attraction to Yuki.
My understanding is that homosexuality was even more underground in Japan than it was in the USA at similar times, so it must have been a gamble for even an artist as beloved as Tezuka to put a homosexual relationship at the core of MW. (I’m not sure if the fact that it’s explicitly a forbidden relationship with a sociopath whom the priest tries to control or stop, made it more or less palatable to Japanese audiences then.)
As I said up top, MW is exceptionally dark: I won’t give away the ending – which is excellent – but it’s in keeping with the story and has a breathtaking moment in nearly the last panel that…well, I can’t tell you without spoiling the story. MW is a story that will make you think, and will probably make you unhappy about a segment of mankind, and will thrill you in ways that feel uncomfortable. It’s a major graphic novel by a major creator, grappling with the nature of evil in a way that superhero comics only wish they could. And it’s presented in a form nearly transparent to Western readers. From what I’ve seen, Tezuka’s dark works of the ‘60s and ‘70s are easily his best, and MW is right up there.
Vertical, 2007, $24.95
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at anticmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.