Friday, July 18, 2008

Death, Sex and the Future (In Manga)

A long time ago in a Seattle far, far away, I started writing this blog. None of you probably remembers it, but I posted about a Japanese manga author, Osamu Tezuka, because I had just finished reading his Buddha series. Much more recently and closer to home, I found out that one of the guys who lives in my building is also a graphic novel fan, so we exchanged a few books and what should he place in my hands but an Osamu Tezuka manga!
Called Apollo's Song, it told the story of a young man, Shogo, raised by his single mother/prostitute. She made him call her clients "daddy" and if he walked in on them canoodling or otherwise, she'd beat him up. By the time he's a teen, Shogo is pissed off and cruel, associating love with anger so much that he starts beating up all the people and animals he sees coupling in anyway.

Thrown into an insane asylum after being charged with murder, young Shogo is "treated" for his illness by electroshock therapy and hypnotism. The first time, a goddess appears to him and curses him for his cruelty, swearing that he will live forever in bound to a love he will never be able to obtain. Susequent therapies throw Shogo's mind into other times and places where he indeed relives a tragic love story over and over.

It's about love's failure as much as love's triumph. I was completely blown away by how well Tezuka balanced the despair with the hope. Tragic ending though, of course, so avoid it if you dislike those.

Since I liked that so much, I decided to look up what Tezuka the KC Libraries had and checked out Pheonix: A Tale of the Future. This turned out to be even more depressing and I had to have a good cry when I finished it last night (though I partly blame the full moon). It's 3404 and the Earth is pretty much destroyed so people live beneath the surface in five enormous cities run by supercomputers treated like dieties. Moopies, an alien race that once lived with Earthlings and were able to shape-shift and provide pleasant hallucinations, are outlawed to keep people from living their lives in a dream-state. But Masato of the Space Corp. has one shaped like a woman who's been undetected until now.

Forced to escape to the surface, Masasto finds a 166 year old scientist who has spent his life trying to re-create the plants, animals and people that used to live on Earth. His experiments can only live in test tubes, however, because they dissolve upon contact with the air. Masato and his moopie love find shelter there, inadvertently causing the destruction of the 5 human cities that declared nuclear war against each other after their supercomputers refused to agree about what should be done with Masato.

The nuclear radiation kills everyone except Masato who is made immortal by a Pheonix who charges him with the task of creating a new race of humans. Masato grows ancient then decides to make himself companions - but they never work any better than the scientist's experiments. Eventually after thousands of years, he concludes that his job is to jumpstart the evolution of a new species - not to create them - and he dumps a mixture of elements into a warm pool. Billions of years pass as he watches species evolve and die, eventually leaving his body altogether and becoming god/part of the cosmos. And eventually humans do evolve, but to Masato's sadness they don't do any better than they did before.

Depressing right? Who would read that? Besides me, of course. I find Tezuka's ideas incredibly interesting and the way he plays them out throughout his manga is even more impressive. Apollo's Song is as much about the struggle of reproduction as it is an examination of love's ups and downs. Pheonix is as much a meditation on god's nature as it is on humankind's. The complexity mixed in the the absolutely random bits of humor he throws in always catch me off guard and that's what I love about him.

Related posts:
Sex, Lies and Buddha
How Kansas City is Like Gotham City
Futurama Shows Polyamory is Heaven

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Anonymous said...

You lost me in the first two sentences but I am sure it is a good post.

Tony said...

Damn, I didn't know about any of this stuff but now I feel a little better informed. My cousin is into Manga and now I can probably buy her a gift. Thanx!!!

May said...

Anon - probably not :)

Tony - what can I say, I love me some graphic novels.. and yur welcome