Thursday, December 16, 2010

MW: A Children’s Comic for Adults

And we mean it. If this graphic novel was a movie (and it has been turned into one), it should be rated XXX. The story takes place in Japan in 1976, a time of global conflict and political tension. 15 years earlier, Michio Yuki, the main character, finds himself trapped on a small island with a teenage bully who would later become a Catholic Priest, Father Gerai. Gerai corners young Yuki in a cave and takes advantage of him, initiating a homosexual relationship between the two that continues throughout the book. MW, a poisonous gas created to inflict damage upon Laos and Vietnam, has accidentally been released onto the island, killing all of its inhabitants but sparing Yuki and Gerai. As the two realize that they are the sole survivors of this tragedy and prepare to leave the island, the gas affects Yuki, leaving him alive but robbing him of his conscience and moral compass. Gerai begins to feel responsible for the damage Yuki endures and vows to help him recover and gain back his morality, becoming his sole ally as the story progresses. The MW accident is covered up by the military, and the public never learns the truth about what happened. Fast forward to 1976, where Yuki has become an amoral serial killer, kidnapping and slaughtering innocent citizens and evading punishment by hiding in Gerai’s church while maintaining his low-profile job at a bank downtown. Without a conscience, he commits graphic atrocities without any remorse. He seeks vengeance on those involved with the MW incident, taking whatever extreme actions are necessary to get closer and closer to the truth; he disguises himself as the opposite gender, tortures, rapes, and murders those who stand in his way, and manipulates Gerai into becoming his accomplice. Through MW, Tekuza explores dark, adult themes unlike those found in any of his other books.

It’s hard to image such a dark piece of work came from Japanese mangaka Osamu Tezuka. Throughout all of his works, the genres are very diverse. One can easily observe this by looking at Astro Boy. This famous and beloved superhero tale comes nowhere near the violent and shocking nature of MW. Nevertheless, Osamu Tezuka has been a very influential figure throughout the Manga universe. After all, he was the founder of the very distinctive large eye style. He had received most of his early influence and creativity from his mother and the world around him. When he was very young, she told her son to use the surrounding skies as a source of ideas. However, the influence of his artistic style came from the very popular animation of his youth. This included cartoons such as Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop. Tezuka’s manner of drawing can be vividly recognized regardless of which work a person looks at. His general, unique way of drawing a person creates a very cartoon-like and unreal perception by the viewer. If one were to look at the overall artistic style of Astro Boy, they would clearly and quickly see that all of the characters have very cartoon-like features. However, the different style of MW allows for the characters to look less like cartoons and more like people. This greatly helps make the story, as a whole, a more thrilling and believable experience.

By “thrilling” we mean “borderline disturbing.” In two volumes, Tezuka-sensei brings up many controversial topics that still exist in the world today: kidnapping, murder, rape, bio-weapons and their development, church versus state, bestiality, sociopathic behavior and human nature. The blunt manner these topics are brought up within the book makes one think more than twice. The story starts out with a kidnapping, which leads immediately to murder followed by more murder, rape, and bloody carnage. Perhaps it’s us as westerners that are more sensitive to rated R material, but it’s more likely this is the inner mind of Tezuka questioning our own moral standards. Are we able to sympathize with the obviously insane serial killer Yuki because of his past? Or Father Gerai for his decision between religious duty and the law? Do we fully grasp the devastating results of bio-warfare and the hundreds of lives lost? How do we determine right from wrong in a world where everything is shades of grey? And can sociopathic behavior be justified? Wherever our personal opinion lies, we cannot deny this cold reflection of history and the implications that inhabit Osamu Tezuka’s world of MW.

Despite the disturbing storyline, devilish characters, and morally unstable plot, we still recommend this book. Why? Not because it’s “life changing”, or “created by a famous mangaka” – but because the four of use can’t tell you what you like. So go ahead and pick up a copy of MW. Take it for what it’s worth.

David Chatman
Katie Kramer
Rafael Rodriguez
Claire Zhang

1 comment:

Michael Hancock said...

Your review captures well the more sensational and disturbing aspects of MW, some of which can also be found in Tezuka's other mature works, including Ode to Kirihito and the recently translated Ayako. Your comments on Tezuka's art style in MW could be expanded so they match the specificity with which you address the narrative itself. Finally, your quasi-recommendation seems like a bit of a cop-out. Give a clear thumbs-up or -down and explain your reasoning.