Now with more Gilbert and Sullivan in every bite!
Incidentally, copyright symbol notwithstanding, "The Number One Superhero Comic on the Internet©" is a non-exclusive promotional tagline. I encourage all you cartoonists out there to declare your work The Number One Superhero Comic on the Internet©, whether or not it actually features superheroes or is on the Internet. If we get just a few more people to add "#1 superhero comic on the web" to their Comicspace tags, we can make the tag list!
In other news, Andrew has posted a new installment of The Chronicles of William Bazillion, The Number One Superhero Comic on the Internet©, which I hope you've been following:
This weekend we'll be at Vericon, at Harvard. You should totally come see me on the webcomics panel on Saturday.
Meanwhile, enjoy another Overlooked Manga Festival!
David Cross has a routine about how, in New York, you're constantly torn between staring at the most beautiful woman you've ever seen and the craziest guy you've ever seen. That's kind of how Osamu Tezuka is for me. His comics are alternately the most brilliant and the most batshit insane comics I've ever read. Actually, strike that: his comics are simultaneously the most brilliant and batshit insane. And the more serious and ambitious his work gets, the nuttier it gets. It's a reading experience like none other.
But the man was a genius, probably the greatest comic-book artist who ever lived. And of all his many manga, this one was said to be his personal favorite.
Ode To Kirihito isn't quite as overlooked as some of the Overlooked Manga; at least, it's gotten some critical attention. But I don't see it on no Bookscan sales charts, and everybody needs to be reading this thing. You like globetrotting adventure? Medical drama? Psychological melodrama? Science fiction? Christian allegory? Naked women getting breaded and cooked alive in a giant deep-fryer? Good, then you'll like Ode To Kirihito.
The English edition comes to us from Vertical, which is quickly carving out a niche for itself as the publisher of Manga Shaenon Likes To Read. I'm not sure how lucrative the Shaenon-targeted market is for them, but I'm enjoying their output. Ode To Kirihito is published in a single fat volume, and the $25.00 paperback version (less than $20 on Amazon) is a total steal. I sincerely doubt that you will regret such a purchase.
So. Medical researchers in Japan are baffled by the "Monmow Disease," which causes its victims to change gradually into doglike creatures who crave raw meat. Dr. Kirihito Osanai travels to a remote Japanese village afflicted with the rare disease, where he discovers what he believes to be the cause. Unfortunately, he also contracts Monmow himself. He's able to stop the disease from killing him, but he's stuck with the face of a dog. (A similar fate befalls the protagonist of one of the later volumes of Phoenix, so the whole dog-head thing evidently fascinated Tezuka. Or maybe he just liked to draw dogs.)
Spurned by the medical establishment, shunned by humanity, attacked by random assholes, Kirihito lands in an underground freak show and begins a long journey home by way of Syria, Taipei, and other exotic locales.
Everywhere he goes, Kirihito has to struggle to assert his humanity. His animal features make people deeply uncomfortable, because this is a world where even ordinary humans are just a few steps and a nice pair of shoes away from devolving into beasts.
Nonetheless, Kirihito continues to abide by the principles of his profession, championing life in the face of death, and allowing Tezuka to work in some of that medical drama he loves to draw. Tezuka was educated as a physician, and the medical scenes in his comics typically walk a narrow line between his expansive professional knowledge of medicine and his desire to go completely nutzoid.
Meanwhile, his colleague, Dr. Urabe, investigates an outbreak of a similar disease in South Africa. His work is stonewalled by the medical authorities of the white half of apartheid South Africa, who refuse to admit that the disease could affect white people.
But, in fact, a white person has been infected: a saintly nun named Helen Friese.
So far, so good. But if you think the well-meaning Dr. Urabe is going to solve the Monmow mystery, save Sister Helen, and rescue Kirihito...well, obviously you aren't aware that he's a MENTALLY-ILL SERIAL RAPIST. Alternately good and evil, Urabe is running out of time as his mind rapidly deteriorates. The following sequence illustrating an Urabe breakdown is one that other bloggers have posted online, but I'm including it here as well, because it truly is one of the most insane things I have ever seen in a comic book.
Tezuka plays with format and style like this throughout Ode To Kirihito. He seems to see the story as an opportunity to experiment and do things he wouldn't do in a more conventional manga narrative. And this is not a conventional narrative by any stretch of the imagination. Alternately sincere and goofy, grittily realistic and wildly outlandish, it can only be described as bizarre. At times it reminds me most of Black Hole, the dark, pulpy graphic novel by Charles Burns about a disease that mutates teenagers in creepy ways. And then, at other times, it's just a crazy-ass manga.
It's also very dark in its outlook. Kirihito's condition dredges up deep-seated human fears: of atavism, of ostracism, of literally "losing face." And Kirihito travels through a world of brutes. People hurt each other in vicious and arbitrary ways. Sex is always taken by force, by men and women alike. Cruelty and suffering abound.
I would go out into the streets to fight with my delusion, and prowling women would mew after me; furtive, craving men glance jealously at me; weary, pale workers go coughing by me with tired eyes and eager paces, like wounded deer dripping blood; old people, bent and dull, pass murmuring to themselves; and, all unheeding, a ragged tail of gibing children. Then I would turn aside into some chapel,—and even there, such was my disturbance, it seemed that the preacher gibbered “Big Thinks,” even as the Ape-man had done; or into some library, and there the intent faces over the books seemed but patient creatures waiting for prey...And even it seemed that I too was not a reasonable creature, but only an animal tormented with some strange disorder in its brain which sent it to wander alone, like a sheep stricken with gid.
The Island of Dr. Moreau
Tom Spurgeon compared it to a Sam Fuller movie.
The only hint of salvation comes through small human efforts at divine grace. Like I said above, Ode To Kirihito is, among many other things, a Christian story. "Kirihito" sounds like the Japanese pronunciation of "Christ," and Tezuka draws parallels between his characters' ordeals and the suffering and humiliation of Christ on the cross.
I have never read a comic like Ode To Kirihito. It's harrowing and hallucinatory, a bad acid trip of a manga, and I highly recommend it.
Previous Overlooked Manga Festivities:
Please Save My Earth
From Eroica with Love
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
Your and My Secret
Knights of the Zodiac
The Drifting Classroom
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 1
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 2
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 3
OMF Special Event: Great Moments in Manga Baking
Shout Out Loud
Warren Buffett: An Illustrated Biography of the World's Most Successful Investor
Sexy Voice and Robo
OMF Special Event: 2006 Overlooked Manga Update
The Four Immigrants Manga
Gerard and Jacques