Sunday, June 24, 2007

Review - Buddha Vol. 4: The Forest of Uruvela

By Osamu Tezuka
Published by Vertical, November 2006 (pub. in Japan 1987), $14.95

Whenever I talk to folks about manga, I can count on the same two or three things coming up: they don’t know what these kids today see in the stuff, it’s intimidating to have to buy into a 30+ volume series just because you want to read a comic book, and Osamu Tezuka doesn’t count as manga, because he’s just too good. It’s the same point of view that leads MAUS and PERSEPOLIS to be shelved anywhere but the graphic novel section in your local chain bookstore -- if it’s that good, it must not be comics.

BUDDHA really IS that good, and that’s why it’s important to remember that they ARE manga. They’re about as good as manga gets, but still -- it’s a nice reminder that Japanese comics aren’t all cat people and yaoi, you know? Assuming you’re not into cat people and yaoi, that is.

BUDDHA’S most valuable asset is that it’s telling one of the Greatest Stories Ever Told -- literally, the story of Siddhartha achieving enlightenment -- but it never forgets to have fun with it. When Siddhartha spends a year sucking the pus out of a diseased and disfigured woman, he notes that it’s a bit scandalous for a man to spend so much time with his lips on the body of another man’s wife. “Skip the dialogue,” he says, “and this panel would look like --” But of course, he’s cut off by another ascetic stumbling upon the scene, one who doesn’t have the benefit of reading the words on the page. The story ranges from melodrama to slapstick, with characters such as Assaji -- a snot-dripping buffoon who can tell the day and details of anyone’s death simply by looking at them -- but rather than feeling scattered, BUDDHA instead feels intricately woven, a masterwork by a comics master.

Tell me more: Osamu Tezuka official site, Osamu Tezuka wikipedia page, Tezuka: The Marvel of Manga at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, Vertical, Inc., Buddha (the dude).

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