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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
MW by Tezuka Osamu 
29th-Oct-2007 02:02 pm
Tezuka, Osamu. MW. Trans. Camellia Nieh. New York: Vertical, 2007.
          Summary: A night of coerced and forbidden passion becomes a night of horror for Garai and the youthful Yuki when they witness the gruesome deaths of every inhabitant of a small island off the coast of Okinawa. The culprit is a deadly gas called MW (pronounced “Muu”), and the government quickly covers up the incident to protect the secret of its weapon of mass destruction. Fifteen years later, Yuki has become a seductive but heartless killer intent upon procuring MW for himself so that he can destroy all humanity, and Garai has become a Catholic priest tormented by his desperate love for Yuki—and by the terrible cost he knows he will pay for doing the right thing. In the end, though Yuki's plot is foiled (for now), he--and only he--emerges unscathed to terrorize the world another day.
          Comments: Vertical does not bid competitively for its manga licenses, so you know that there must be something very much amiss when the mighty VIZ Media chooses not to publish a Shougakukan title by the late God of Manga Tezuka Osamu. To say the least. But I never imagined that it might possibly be worse than Vertical's release of the misogynistic medical epic Ode to Kirihito, which was haunted by the same disreputable cloud of VIZ Media's apparent first refusal. Clearly, I'm sorely lacking in the imagination department. This time around, not only are the women portrayed as pathetic objects to be used, abused, and/or gruesomely murdered--we have a genocidally-inclined gay man who also gets a jolt out of crossdressing, raping women, and having sex with his bloodthirsty pet dog...not to mention a Catholic priest with a pedophile past who, though he protesteth much, is essentially an accomplice to his lover's many crimes. Only the token lesbian manages both a positive portrayal and a happy (or at least unharmed) end in the arms of her (female) lover. Luckily for her, heterosexual men like lesbians. (Detect any sarcasm?) Obviously, Tezuka is slavishly catering to his Big Comic base here, and all that cutesy, retro, cartoonish artwork is just incongruous icing on the cake. I'm sorry, but no base that necessitates the deployment of such an array of phobias and pernicious stereotypes about women and gay men deserves to be catered to under any circumstances whatsoever!
          Of course, the centerpiece of MW is the near-hysterical criticism of Japan's unequal diplomatic relationship with the United States "Nation X" and the domestic political corruption that relationship engenders. Tezuka may have been an avowed pacifist, but the way in which he decries American "interventionist" military forays in one breath and glosses over Japan's own militarism (past and present) in the next rings rather hollow to me (despite how legitimately unsexy US foreign policy was then and is now). After all, Japan has the most expensively equipped "non-military" in the world; the US ain't the only one flying choppers with Big Guns! As such, I suppose Yuki might be taken as a dark metaphor for post-war Japan itself--submissive on the surface but fundamentally two-faced, perverted...and secretly nurturing unplumbed depths of rancor. Why am I suddenly reminded of Tokyo Babylon's Seishiro? Yes, indeedy, we appear to have an early example of the ruthless, bisexual, and, most importantly, Japanese villain archetype, now ubiquitous in manga for all audiences, on our hands.
          Purely from a production standpoint, the American hardcover edition is lovely, among the best I've seen manga-wise from from this publisher thus far. (It damn well better be at $24.95!!) The paper quality is respectable, the translation flows naturally, and the pages, all 582 of them, are crisp and seamlessly flipped (according to the late mangaka's expressed preference). And as usual, graphic designer Chip Kidd gives the book, like all of Vertical's titles, a distinctive look, but as usual, I'm not liking it at all. Kidd goes way overboard, putting transgressive sex scenes on the spine and both endpapers. In any case, I would much prefer to see some variation of the original Japanese cover art and design on Vertical's releases. Mainstream manga series almost invariably boast a piece of color art or two, and these, depressingly, never seem to get included in Vertical manga. If I'm paying top dollar, I'd like to have those, too, dammit! Less bling and higher quality licenses might be nice, as well.
          Notes: hardcover, 1st American edition; first published in Japan by Shougakukan from 1976 to 1978
          Rating: 2.5/10 - Shock value? In spades. Quality? Not a crumb to be found. Don't waste your time--or your money.
29th-Oct-2007 09:34 pm (UTC)
Awww, the more of Tezuka comes out the less I can look at his career so shiningly. I hoped his low point would be the Black Jack story about the woman who lives as a man after having a hysterectomy because she's not a real woman anymore.
29th-Oct-2007 10:50 pm (UTC)
Have you read this one yet?
29th-Oct-2007 11:08 pm (UTC)
No, sounds like one to avoid. I'm still working my way through Phoenix.
30th-Oct-2007 05:38 am (UTC)
OMG, did I actually just kill a sale? XD
31st-Oct-2007 07:39 am (UTC)
Probably. I'm so behind on my reading I usually look for warnings that could cross out a title that's on my "sounds interesting" list. There's so much I'd like to pick up, it's nice to avoid the titles I realize I'll just regret having read/purchased.
31st-Oct-2007 03:17 pm (UTC)
Did you hear that Vertical's going to be reprinting Black Jack as well? I find it interesting how selective VIZ is now being about Tezuka's work. Phoenix and possibly Ribon no Kishi? Ve~ry interesting...
31st-Oct-2007 04:51 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that did strike me as interesting. Funny, I remember buying Black Jack from the Viz booth at a San Diego con and the guy who recommended it to me advised stopping after the first volume (interestingly it was the next best recommendation he could give to a fan of Banana Fish at the time -- he also recommended Adolf, which was sold out at the booth).
5th-Nov-2007 11:48 pm (UTC)
You really upset the Tezuka fanboys over on CBR, didn't you? Haha, pay them no heed, they're complaining because they haven't read anything since the 70's. American comic book fans love trying to be smarter than each other, and become even less bearable and more forceful about it if you're female.
I think it's refreshing to see somebody who makes really daring reviews of manga and doesn't shy away from criticising a giant like Tezuka. I've been really enjoying your reviews so far.
6th-Nov-2007 12:23 am (UTC)
You really upset the Tezuka fanboys over on CBR, didn't you?

I didn't look (bigger fish to fry, more mangaka to skewer, what have you), but I can well imagine. Overaged fanboys love to hate me. (Though I do piss off the fangirls on occasion, as well. Equal opportunity and all that.)

Besides, I complained about misogyny in the only two books they were at all likely to read in the first place! ^_~

Anyway, I'm glad you're enjoying the reviews.
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