Sunday, December 6, 2009

MW: Scattered Thoughts (That May Form an Article)

As mentioned in a previous post, I've been trying to get myself to read more of the established "classics" of manga. I now own volume one of Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira (although Kodansha's decision to publish it in left-to-right has me awfully puzzled), Yoshihiro Tatsumi's "A Drifting Life", and a whole mess of Tezuka's catalog.

While Frederik Schodt has spoken extremely high praise of Astro Boy, I decided to start with a different title. When RightStuf had a huge sale, I picked up a few of Tezuka's giganto-manga. Apollo's Song, Ode to Kirihito, and MW are all door-stops of manga, weighing in at 500+ pages each.

Of those three, the title that sticks out most in my mind is MW, which the dust jacket labels as Tezuka's darkest work. I can see that, easily. The amount of dismemberment, sexual depravity, and misogyny is tremendous. Compared to the more wholesome image of Astro Boy, MW seems like it came from a very different man with the same name.

The main characters struggle with serious moral dilemmas. Actually, on second thought, only one of them does. Michio Yuki, arguably the "villain" of the story, has been exposed to a chemical weapon which has robbed him of a moral compass. His friend, a priest named Garai, hears all of Yuki's confessions and serves as the one who pardons him.

What keeps Garai from turning Yuki in is the fact that they have consummated a homosexual relationship. Garai, while physically attracted to Yuki, is always repulsed by Yuki's actions, which involve blackmailing, kidnapping, rape, and murder.

Several scenes with Yuki left me feeling completely disgusted, sometimes to the point of putting the book down and walking away. Even so, I remained intrigued by Yuki's character and wanted to see if he was capable of reform.

Tezuka's portrayal of homosexuality is surprisingly non-stereotypical, considering the time at which it was written. While their relationship is far from "loving", Tezuka does not use it insult Garai's integrity. Instead, it is used by Yuki to manipulate Garai and mess with his feelings and thoughts. The idea of being in love with Yuki throws all of Garai's judgments into disarray, which is an idea normally portrayed by a heterosexual relationship in the manga I'm used to reading. To see it presented in a different fashion works well.

As Yuki's crimes become more and more disturbing, it becomes painfully clear that the man is beyond any possible redemption. Despite the eternal optimism of Garai (who thinks "if I help him one more time, he might see the light), even his patience is worn away as Yuki continues to destroy the lives of everyone around him.

The ending is gimmicky and predictable. Along the way, though, the sense of tragedy never fades. Yuki may be the most evil person in the manga, but the entire time you can't help but notice how Garai--and Tezuka--place the blame on the military forces which created the chemical weapons. It's a super-thinly-veiled anti-war message that pervades so much of Japanese culture following the atomic bombing of their country.

MW is best read when spaced out over a longer stretch of time. Each chapter takes some time to digest (and, sometimes, the hope that you might forget a certain scene or two), and the overall sinister tone can become overbearing if read in huge chunks.

I'll offer up a few more Tezuka reviews as time passes. MW provides a very different (and very messed up) tale from the most famous name in manga history.

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