Buddha

Created by: Osamu Tezuka

Published by: Vertical

ISBN: 1932234438 (Amazon)

Pages: 3013

Genre: Adventure, Drama, Folklore, Historical, Manga, Non-Fiction, Religion/Myth

Buddha

At 3013 pages, Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha was something of an investment in time. I received the last two hardcover volumes of the collection (vol. 7 and 8) for my birthday at the end of July and began reading from start to finish in mid-August. It’s true that one could possibly read the entire collection—and a handsome collection it is—in a day (at perhaps two hours per volume), but I didn’t feel compelled to rush things.

Buddha by Osamu Tezuka

In Buddha, Tezuka presents a curious blend of themes and styles. This project, ten years in production (1974–1984), presents the life of Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha, from birth to death, capitalizing on famous episodes and creating fictional ones as well. Tezuka includes a robust cast of characters both fictional and historical that waxes and wanes over the near-century that the story narrates.

Buddha by Osamu Tezuka

Not being a Buddhist, I have no idea how well Tezuka’s tale reflects either the historical man or the religious conception of him (though genuine Buddhists do seem to like the book). And I don’t know if Tezuka was Buddhist or not, though it seems likely or plausible. One thing, however, is certain: that Buddhists enjoy the book speaks well of their sense of humour with regard to their faith’s central figure. I cannot see a similar book being crafted about the life of Christ being well-received. And a similar version of the life of Mohammed would end in bombs, death threats, and ambassadors demanding apologies.

Because the thing is: Tezuka’s tale is as irreverent as it is reverent.

He clearly thinks highly of Buddha and his teachings. And yet, the books is filled with jokes and antics and all kinds of nuttiness. Pokes and jabs at Buddha himself are rare (though present), but there is a constant stream of silly asides, even in the midst of what would otherwise be a sober scene fraught with drama. A horse will arrive astride a messenger to deliver dire news to the king. A character will be confronted by his haunted conscience, seeing a vision of Buddha speaking to him—only, since it was a vision, he wakes to discover he’s been talking to his horse all along. Characters from Tezuka’s other works show up not infrequently and even Tezuka himself appears in cameos, taking the place of a character for a single panel.

Buddha by Osamu Tezuka

The story is filled with anachronisms as well. Both visual and verbal. At one point, a poor peasant family wishes to send their son with Siddartha as he follows the path of monkhood, claiming that their son should be able to become a monk “in this day when even actors can become president.” There are further references to Paris and New York and Spielberg. E.T. and Yoda even make appearances, and at one point a royal councilor asks if Buddha actually is E.T. (as Buddha has just healed someone with the touch of a finger).

It took me a while to get a handle on exactly how to approach the book. The fact of the sheer silliness of moments. The fact of the gorgeous and highly detailed landscapes intruded upon by Disney-esque cartoon characters. The fact of main characters who die 300 pages in to the 3000-page epic. The fact that every woman in the book is topless. The fact of mixing faith and fantasy so seamlessly in a book that I believe is trying to promote the teachings of Buddha. And the fact that Buddha isn’t even born until the end of the first volume. It was a weird mix, but after not too long, I found myself quite at home with his unique style and let the story wash over me.

Buddha by Osamu Tezuka

All in all, I found it both interesting and fun. And surprising. Characters you expect to be redeemed end tragically and characters you expect to turn their back on Buddha turn out to be some of his biggest boosters. Add to the religious story the sheer scope of the political story and you’ve got an action-packed tale of religious enlightenment.

I still couldn’t really tell you what Buddhism’s about though.

 

Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:

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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.

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