Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Manga Review: Buddha

My school library has two different places they put manga/comic books* and Buddha came from what I refer to as “the serious section.” The section with Akira, A Drifting Life, books talking about anime, manga, and comic books, a selection that makes sense to be shelved in with the non-fiction. All of the other recent manga I’ve reviewed have been from the, er, less serious section (Swan, Land of the Blindfolded, Children of the Sea, and Ooku**) but I’ve gone through most of the interesting stuff there so it’s more serious stuff now folks!

Buddha by Osama Tezuka

Summary: Tezuka re-tells the life of Buddha from birth to death

The Good: There's hardly a slow moment in the series so action fans may find themselves liking this more than they first thought. It's simple, speedy reading too; I do read rather quickly but I managed to get through a single 300-400 page volume in two or three days by reading a chapter or two each evening. So don't let the size intimidate you too much, it'll still take you a while to read through but it won't take you months. The book uses this time to really show not tell how the character developed and what choices they made that brought them to their current position. There are a lot of side characters it develops (to give you an idea, even though Buddha is the main character he barely appears in the first volume so that's almost 400 pages devoted to important side characters), although none so much as Buddha. As for Buddha himself, I think the story did a good job of showing how he became who he was and why. While I didn't agree with his choices (in life, beliefs, ect) many times you could see how he got to that position and sympathize with him for it.

The Bad: I have not studied that much about Buddha’s personal life but a quick check on Wikipedia makes it sound like Tezuka changed a lot of it (from characters to appeared to making Buddha sick and weakly when in fact he was probably a very strong young man). So, leaving historical matters aside, the one thing that annoyed me the most was the treatment of the side characters. We had many characters who would have dozens if not hundreds of paging building up their backstory, their motivation, and then they would bring their problems to Buddha which would not only be cleared up in a number of panels but then the characters would vanish from the story. It feels cheap to have so many characters whose only purpose was to demonstrate Buddha’s character and it makes me wonder if the story needed all that backstory at all.

The Art: Tezuka’s art is a lot more cartoon-y than I’m used to seeing and it did throw me off a bit (also, all the topless ladies threw me off† since most of the male characters are wearing shirts, don’t these people ever get sunburns?). The art worked I suppose but again, I’m used to and prefer a more realistic art style (usually historical works have more realistic styles too) and I’m just not that fond of Tezuka’s art. And one more nitpick, why oh why was the art flipped? I understand that is has something to do with reaching a wider audience but really, what decade is this now? I also just find it insulting to the author that people won’t take the effort to re-wire their brains to read their work, I felt like I had to atone by reading a lot of regular manga so it wouldn’t feel as wrong.

So, was this over 2500 page epic worth all the time it took to read it? Well, I’m not sure about not worth it but it wasn’t for me. I’m not religious but I still have a very particular set of beliefs so I often got annoyed at Buddha’s beliefs, thought the story could’ve been shorter, didn’t like the art style, and I don't think it was that historically accurate either. So, not on my re-reading list but I am curious on how the proposed movie will turn out.

*well, okay I found a random volume of Hikaru no Go in the YA fiction but I’m pretty sure that was a fluke
**wait, so the book that’s actually shrink-wrapped in stores get’s put in teaching materials non-fiction section right next to the YA? You know, my library just might be nuts.
†better yet, taking the book to be checked out and discovering that the inside cover, where the barcode is, has large pictures of topless women frolicking. Thank god the guy didn’t seem to notice and that one is probably Vertical’s but still, caught me by surprise.