I have here a copy of Kasei Tanken
(A Voyage to Mars) by Noboru Ohshiro, and it is totally sweet. Published in 1940, which was, er, not a good time for the Japanese publishing industry, or indeed the Japanese anything, Ohshiro's one-volume opus has survived as one of the classics of early manga. If you were wondering what manga looked like before Tezuka, Kasei Tanken
will give you an idea (answer: a lot like early American comic strips). It was one of the first manga to tell a complete self-contained story, one of the first manga with science-fiction themes, and one of the best-drawn manga of its time.
Also, have I mentioned that it's totally sweet and kicks your ass?
Before we go any further, I should note that I can't read Japanese and have no friggin' idea what is going on in this manga. After careful study, I have determined that it is the story of a young boy and his two cartoon animal friends, a dog and a cat. The boy's father is a scientist who works at the local observatory and gets into hair-pulling fights with the other scientists. When the boy stops by one afternoon, the astronomers take him around the observatory, show him space photos (with actual photographs pasted into the artwork), and show off the awesome giant refracting mirror they're building on the roof.
That night, inspired by science, the boy and his animal friends dream about visiting Mars. In this manga, the part of Mars will be played by awesomeness.
A lot of crazy stuff goes down, most of which I can't describe with any accuracy because, again, I have no idea what anyone is saying. The Martians throw a big party for the voyagers and later take them on a tour of the Martian countryside. At this point the visit takes an unsettling turn.
I swore I wouldn't scan any more big two-page spreads, but I have to break that promise to myself because holy crud this is the next thing that happens:
Eventually the voyagers find a hanger full of whimsical spaceships and take off in the most whimsical of them all.
Things go badly, they have to parachute to Earth, but fortunately it's just a dream and the boy wakes up, Little Nemo-style, at the foot of his bed. There's a rather odd epilogue in which the scientist dad makes the boy and the animals put on gas masks and shows them photos of the surface of Mars. I'm sure it all makes sense in translation (actually, I'm not so sure of that), but the visuals are a bit disturbing. I suppose kids all over the world in 1940 were used to authority figures telling them to wear gas masks.
I cannot tell you how much I enjoy looking at this manga. Is it wrong to wish that comics still looked like this? At least sometimes? And the colors are lovely. If I'm feeling generous, next week I'll scan some pages from another Ohshiro manga, either Kisha Ryokou
(Train Journey) or this one about a robot factory that I don't know what it's called. I know, I know, I'm a terrible weeaboo.