Book Reviews

some of the best modern literature and storytelling comes in the form of manga and graphic novels

it’s exciting to see a larger cross-section of readers being drawn to increasingly literate  graphic novels and manga. in the past year alone i have read several works of the manga master, osamu tezuka, including the entire buddha series, the black jack series, and currently  the 3 part work dororo. the plot of dororo involves  a young man with artificial bodyparts who is on a quest to kill  48 demons that have stolen said bodyparts. these demons were  commisioned to do that by the young man’s (named hyakkimaru) father, who “sold” him as an infant to dark powers in exchange for great political and social status. the father is samurai, but is misguided by the errant values of ronin. hayakkimaru is found adrift in a basket (his mother could not bear to see him killed, although he was born an inert torso) by a kindly craftsman who proceeds to make artificial extremities ( eyes, arms that double as swords, etc) for the boy. hayakkimaru has hightened paranormal senses, due to the loss of his sensory gathering organs and tactile capabilities, and is still able to become a great warrior, even considering his challenges. in the course of his journey, he meets an orphaned boy-thief, dororo, and they embark upon epic adventures. with each demon hayyakimaru encounters and kills, he regains a body part, becoming lierally and figuratively, more of himself. this is a quest tale of the highest order, and tezuka liberally borrows from tales such as pinnocchio, ullyses, etc, to strike at the heart of the matter….the eternal journey of a man to become more realized.

in addition to the works of tezuka, i have been reading the brilliant semi-biographical work of yoshihiro tatsumi, whose sprawling manga biography a drifting life has been the  inspiration of many modern graphic novelists that write from the perspective of dramatic realism. most notable is tatsumi’s influence on the very capable sacramento graphic novelist adrian tomine, whose series optic nerve is well worth reading. a drifting life is at once an examination of the drama that exists in the seemingly mundane, and a generational history of japanese culture, from the 30’s to the 80’s.  a brilliant read.

it has become my habit to intersperse graphic novel reading with reading of conventional literature, and i find it a complimentary process. as i finish the last installment of dororo, i draw near the end of  james salter’s wonderful remembrance ( it cannot properly be called a memoir) burning the days, and am about to begin miles davis’ autobiography, which he wrote in conjunction with quincy troupe. all of this reading material speaks to the same truth, that life is vivid, florid, tangible, universal, and other words, a damn fine experience, worth living.


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