Osamu Tezuka’s vaunted storytelling genius, consummate skill at visual expression, and warm humanity blossom fully in his eight-volume epic of Siddhartha’s life and times. Tezuka evidences his profound grasp of the subject by contextualizing the Buddha’s ideas; the emphasis is on movement, action, emotion, and conflict as the prince Siddhartha runs away from home, travels across India, and questions Hindu practices such as ascetic self-mutilation and caste oppression. Rather than recommend resignation and impassivity, Tezuka’s Buddha predicates enlightenment upon recognizing the interconnectedness of life, having compassion for the suffering, and ordering one’s life sensibly. Philosophical segments are threaded into interpersonal situations with ground-breaking visual dynamism by an artist who makes sure never to lose his readers’ attention.
Tezuka himself was a humanist rather than a Buddhist, and his magnum opus is not an attempt at propaganda. Hermann Hesse’s novel or Bertolucci’s film is comparable in this regard; in fact, Tezuka’s approach is slightly irreverent in that it incorporates something that Western commentators often eschew, namely, humor.
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Osamu Tezuka (1928-89) is the godfather of Japanese manga comics. He originally intended to become a doctor and earned his degree before turning to what was then a medium for children. His many early masterpieces include the series known in the U.S. as Astro Boy. With his sweeping vision, deftly interwined plots, feel for the workings of power, and indefatigable commitment to human dignity, Tezuka elevated manga to an art form. The later Tezuka, when he authored Buddha, often had in mind the mature readership that manga gained in the sixties and that had only grown ever since. The Kurosawa of Japanese pop culture, Osamu Tezuka is a twentieth century classic.From Publishers Weekly:
Tezuka, the master of Japanese comics, mixes his own characters with history as deftly as he transfers the most profound, complex emotions onto extremely cartoony characters, and his work defies easy categorization. In Buddha, originally serialized in the 1970s and one of his last works, he lavishly retells the life of Siddhartha, who isn't even born until page 268. Instead, Tezuka introduces Chapra, a slave who attempts to escape his fate by posing as the son of a general; Tatta, a crazed wild child pariah who communes with animals; Chapra's slave mother, who stands by him no matter what; and Naradatta, a monk attempting to discover the meaning of strange portents of the Buddha's birth. Throughout the book, the characters engage in fresh and unexpected adventures, escapes and reverses, as they play out Tezuka's philosophical concern with overcoming fate and the uselessness of violence. Despite episodes of extreme brutality and broad humor, the core of the story revolves around various set pieces, as when Tatta sacrifices himself to a snake to save Naradatta and Chapra's mom. After a moment of intense emotion, the scene is upended by the arrival of a bandit who mocks their attempts at keeping their karmic slates clean. "Why were you all fussing over some stupid trade? Why not just kill the snake and eat it?" The answer unfolds over succeeding volumes. Heavily influenced by Walt Disney, Tezuka's often cute characters may take some getting used to, but his storytelling is strong and clean. Appearing in handsome packages designed by Chip Kidd, this is a stunning achievement.
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