It may or may not be contagious. There seems to be no cure for it. Yet, Monmow Disease, a life-threatening condition that transforms a person into a dog-like beast, is not the only villain in this shocking triumph of a medical thriller by manga-god Osamu Tezuka. Said to have been the personal favorite of the artist, who held a degree in medicine, and surprisingly attentive to Christian themes and imagery, Ode to Kirihito demolishes naive notions about human nature and health and likely preconceptions about the comics master himself.
From pregnant vistas of the Japanese countryside to closed rooms full of sin and redemption, Tezuka astounds for more than eight hundred continuous pages, his art in turn easefully concise and flamboyantly experimental, his inquiry into our most repugnant instincts and prospects for overcoming them unflinchingly serious. Incorporating elements of the often lurid and adult-oriented “gekiga” style for the first time, Tezuka entered into his fruitful late period with this work.
A promising young doctor, Kirihito Osanai visits a remote Japanese mountain village to investigate the source of the latest medical mystery. While he ends up traveling the world to discover what it takes to be cured of such a disease, a conspiracy back home attempts to explain away his absence. Hinging upon his fate are those of his loved ones: an unstable childhood friend and colleague trapped between factions of the medical establishment that nurtured him; a fiancée emotionally transformed by Kirihito’s mysterious disappearance; and a stranger who becomes his guardian angel, a sensual circus-act performer with volatile psychological secrets.
From plutocratic Taipei and racially divided South Africa to backwater Arabia and modern Osaka, ambition and desire beckon “normal men” to behave uglier than any beast. Riveting our attention on deformity and its acceptance like The Elephant Man by David Lynch, Ode to Kirihito examines the true worth of human beings through and beyond appearances.
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Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989) is the godfather of Japanese manga comics. He originally intended to become a doctor and earned his degree before turning to what was still then considered a frivolous medium. With his sweeping vision, deftly intertwined plots, and indefatigable commitment to human dignity, Tezuka elevated manga to an art form. His eight-volume epic Buddha, winner of the Eisner and Harvey Awards, is also available from Vertical.From Publishers Weekly:
Starred Review. Tezuka earned the nickname "godfather of manga" not just by the length and prolificacy of his career but by the moral commitment he brought to such projects as the award-winning Buddha. His works deal with the most profound questions of human existence. Kirihito combines medical melodrama and anguished debates about guilt and redemption. The hero, complacent Dr. Osanai Kirihito, believes he's been assigned to study people suffering from a new, fatal disease that degrades them into doglike beasts. When the transformation hits him, too, he realizes that the cause is not what he was told and that the condition can be controlled. However, Kirihito soon finds out how violently society reacts to anyone who looks different. He also discovers that the medical establishment has betrayed him and now wants him to disappear permanently. Fleeing through episodes of brutal exploitation, he tries to find a place where he can function as a human being; he winds up as a combination of Jesus Christ and the Count of Monte Cristo. While Kirihito struggles with himself and other vividly drawn characters, the operatic plot swirls from one passionate scene to the next, reinforced by Tezuka's apparently simple but strikingly expressive line work. (Oct.)
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