Friday, May 16, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different

And Now For Something Completly different is the portion of our broadcast, I dedicate, something that is't a movie, and today's spotlight falls to Osamu Tezuka's "Apollo's Song".

Osamu Tezuka is the Walt Disney of Japanese comics or Manga as they popularly known. He created many of the mediums aesthetics those big eyes and simple cartoonish characters in front of photo journalist backgrounds, etc. Though he is internationally respected, very little of Tezuka's huge body of work has been translated into English. This book, "Apollo Song" is a stand alone graphic novel, not connected to any series, unlike other Tezuka works, like the better known "Astro Boy" and "Buddha" collections.

I'm not too familiar with manga, I guess I always associated manga with those sad lonely creatures I saw in comic book stores, huddling around the anime section and eager to play WarHammer or some such game (In my younger years, there were even things I considered too nerdy and Manga was one of them). I am happy to report back that the younger me was an asshole, who knew nothing about what he was talking about, because "Apollo's Song" is a very good book. Psycho-analysis, mythology, sex, the difference between men and women, social satire, reincarnation, the nature of artifice, and enviornmental concerns all find their voices in Tezuka's crisp black and white drawings.

The story begins with an epilogue where countless scores of men/sperm prepare to race towards a large floating egg with a woman floating inside, where we are told that this is the endless tragedy and primal relationship that has been played out since the dawn of man, and that this is the most basic of all stories, from which all other stories spring.

The first chapter then tells the story of a young man named Shogo who has violently psychotic reactions to any signs of affection. If he sees bees buzzing near flowers he tramples them, if he sees a mother and her kittens he drowns them, etc. What starts off as violence against animals soon escalates to attacking young couples in public until Shogo is eventually arrested and detained for psychological evaluation. In the hospital after several more outbursts Shogo receives shock treatment.

The shock treatment seems to dislodge Shogo's mind completly because the next scene is in the palace of a Greek Godess who curses Shogo for his inability to love, that he may love the same women again and again and always lose her forever. Then our hero begins waking up in different places and different points in time, like as a Nazi soldier loading cattle cars headed to concentration camps, a long distance runner trainer in a reclusive woodland hideaway, a shipwrecked traveler on an island of pascifist talking animals , an assasin in a dystopian future ruled by synthetic humans, and in each of these lives, he encounters and losses the same women but slowly begins to understand the intricacies of love and human affection.

Tezuka is a master of the comics form and knows how to play with and communicate large amounts of information through the simplest renderings. The story telling is heartfelt but also inventive enough to keep you turning through the 500 pages to the end. For those who have never read a Manga and want to see what all the fuss is about I would recommend this as a good introduction. It's adult comics working with a childs fervent imagination, and is about as good of reading material as your likely to find anywhere. A little difficult to get your bearings in this story because the nature of reality and dream are pretty unstable, but if you can stick it out the rewards are great.

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