My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I will excuse myself from writing a lengthy review since I am insufficiently grounded in the narrative idiom and traditions of manga. I confess that I find some of the conventions personally off-putting: the cartoonishness of the figures, the shrill and totally unsubtle character interactions, the extreme decompression of the storytelling. My own taste in comics was formed under the influence of Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Dave McKean and others, who emphasized a denser and more layered presentation. On the other hand, some of Tezuka’s devices are brilliant, not least using variously detailed drawings to control the narrative’s pace; swiftly and simply drawn figures speed one through pages at a time until a delicately rendered portrayal of a landscape or animal orders one to pause and pay attention. This first chapter of Tezuka’s eight-volume life of Buddha ends with its hero’s birth, but already its spiritual emphasis on animal life’s equality with that of humans stands out as a beautifully-handled theme. The manga’s anachronism—its ancient India seems to co-exist with contemporary America and all sorts of urban slang and pop-culture references—is brilliant and sets the whole story afloat in a world of its own, where all great fiction takes place. I am fascinated—attracted to and repelled by—Tezuka’s emphasis, in a book ostensibly intended for adults, on extreme puerility, from caricature to scatology to metafictional gags. I admire the wide tonal range this grants the book, but I also think it coarsens the overall mood. Humor per se is not at all a problem; humor that seems addressed to ten-year-old boys may be. But, as I said, my response could represent a cultural misunderstanding on my part, so I will say no more about it.