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BUDDHA
Osamu Tezuka

Hazard Edizioni € 7.75 (Italian translation)

 

Osamu Tezuka, who died in 1989 at the age of 81, used to be known in Japan as "Manga no Kamisama", that is, the god of comics. His fame and contribution to Japan’s comics may be compared to Walt Disney in western countries. It’s a shame that Tezuka’s fame in Italy is more related to cartoons such as Kimba the White Lion (Jungle Taitei in Japanese) and Princess Sapphire (the bible story co-produced by RAI and Mushi Productions) rather than his other comics such as Black Jack, which were published on an ad hoc basis up until a few years ago. Recently however, Hazard Edizioni began publishing on a regular basis what may be regarded as Tezuka’s masterpiece: Buddha. Buddha is a really long saga of 14 books of 200 pages each. The saga was written after 11 years of work, from 1972 to 1983 and has no equal in Japan or in western countries.
It’s impossible to summarise "Buddha" and give an idea of its plot, which has more the feel of a long novel. We could simply say that the story takes place in India 3,500 years ago, when the country was made of state-towns organised according to a system of social castes. This system was ruled by the Brahmins, while the Pariah was the lowest class. Prince Siddharta Gautama, the future Buddha, was born in Kapilavastu in the 6th century AD. However, Tezuka’s saga starts years before the birth of Siddharta. The novel indeed begins with the journey of Brahmin Naradatta, who has been ordered by Prince Ashita to look for the kid who one day will become a God. Naradatta initially meets a young kid named Tatta, a pariah who is able to talk to animals, and then his friend Chapra, who belongs to the Sudra caste. Led by his desire of a social upgrade, Chapra is adopted by general Budai and becomes a soldier. Chapra’s life will follow a different track from Tatta’s but the pair will meet again to face a dramatic destiny. This is just the prologue to the story and only after describing the adventures of these two characters does the author take us to Kapilavastu, where the local queen is just about to give birth to a baby boy, who, according to the omens, will be really special…
It’s easy to understand that "Buddha" is not at all a didactic work or a work aiming at Buddhist propaganda. This fact may be regarded as misleading to the western reader, who may want to read Tezuka’s story with the purpose of learning more about Buddhism, a topic largely discussed by the media these days. Tezuka has declared that his "Buddha" may be regarded as a "science fiction work similar to Astroboy". This remark may perhaps not sound flattering for his work, but it is proof of the artist’s thorough attitude. "Buddha" is similar to a symphony, which Tezuka performs as a multi-instrumentalist.
If you happen to have a look at one of Tezuka’s books, don’t be misled by the "simple" and "childish" style of his drawings, or by the many anachronisms which the author introduces to amuse his youngest readers. The historical background is reconstructed in detail, and the plot itself, along with the relationships amongst the characters, arises issues, which are never common, but rather "mature". Tezuka manages to talk about life and death with the incredible simplicity of a genius whilst representing the violence of that time in a sincere way without being overly dramatic. He then deals with the delicate issue of religion without superimposing it on the story. Continuing with the musical metaphor, we could say that in order to be able to provide the wide repertoire of sounds from the strings of an instrument, the drawings have had to met a wide range of needs. Tezuka simplifies the style of the drawings to create funny situations; in other cases, when representing superb landscapes, his simple style becomes almost hyper-realistic. While always keeping in mind that comics are regarded as a "sequential art", Tezuka also uses a movie type of sequence to represent action, by defining the angles of the illustrations with a patient and fine art similar to the one used by movie director Akira Kurosawa.
In short, "Buddha" is a great story, which can be read over and over, especially by those who still believe that "comics are for kids" or that "these Japanese comics are all the same". It’s a shame that its publication, already limited, is erratic. However, it’s well worth looking for the old issues (nr. 7 has already been published) while waiting for the next one to come out.

 

M.M.

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