Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Buddha (1)

“Osamu Tezuka’s vaunted storytelling genius, consummate skill at visual expression, and warm humanity blossom fully in his eight-volume epic of Siddhartha’s life and times. Tezuka evidences his profound grasp of the subject by contextualizing the Buddha’s ideas; the emphasis is on movement, action, emotion, and conflict as the prince Siddhartha runs away from home, travels across India, and questions Hindu practices such as ascetic self-mutilation and caste oppression. Rather than recommend resignation and impassivity, Tezuka’s Buddha predicates enlightenment upon recognizing the interconnectedness of life, having compassion for the suffering, and ordering one’s life sensibly. Philosophical segments are threaded into interpersonal situations with ground-breaking visual dynamism by an artist who makes sure never to lose his readers’ attention.”

“Tezuka himself was a humanist rather than a Buddhist, and his magnum opus is not an attempt at propaganda. Hermann Hesse’s novel or Bertolucci’s film is comparable in this regard; in fact, Tezuka’s approach is slightly irreverent in that it incorporates something that Western commentators often eschew, namely, humor.” [ Text from the publisher's web site ]

Buddha (ブッダ) is a shōnen manga written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka. It was successively serialized in Ushio Shuppansha's magazines Kibo-no-tomo, Shonen World and Comic Tom between September 1972 and December 1983, before being compiled in fourteen volumes. It has been translated in french by Tonkam and in english by Vertical.

Osamu Tezuka did not limit his manga writing to stories for children, like Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atom) or Kimba the White Lion (Jungle Taitei). He also wrote very serious stuff, like his manga adaptation of Dostoyevski’s Crime and Punishment, Faust, Tell Adolf (Adolf ni Tsugu), Phoenix (a spiritual allegory told through the entire human history), and Buddha, a fictionalized biography of Siddhartha Gautama.

Buddha is Tezuka’s longest continuous story, spanning eight volumes for a total of three thousand pages! With this story, he wanted to tell the human side of the life of Buddha. It is not a reference book on Buddhism (although the book is endorsed by several Buddhist groups), but it is a very good introduction to Buddhist ideas—at the same time Tezuka expresses his own moral views of the world, deeply rooted in humanism and the respect of life, which happen to be similar to Buddhist philosophy. Volume one of Buddha tells the story of Chapra, a young man who tries in vain to elevate himself from his status of shudra (slave caste). In his endeavor he meets with the monk Naradatta and with the pariah Tatta. In this volume, we also see the birth of Siddhartha (but not until page 267!!).

Tezuka’s style is very old-fashioned and naïve, yet very cinematic at the same time. It is not surprising to learn that his strongest influences, as he admitted himself, were old Disney and Fleischer animations. However, despite his cartoonish art, he succeeds in telling a very serious story, while keeping it simple and accessible—even to children (however, parental discretion is advised since there’s some nudity and violence). Tezuka is an excellent storyteller, keeping the reader constantly captivated throughout this spiritual and historic fresco. He successfully balances the depth and drama of the story with a good dose of humor and poetry. It is a fascinating work that deserves to be considered his masterpiece. I am glad that Vertical chose to publish this title, first in hardcover, and later in paperback. My only regret is that they decided to publish it in the western left-to-right format and not in its original Japanese right-to-left version.

The manga was adapted into two anime film: Tezuka Osamu no Buddha: Akai Sabaku yo! Utsukushiku (Buddha: The Great Departure, released in may 2011) and Buddha 2: Tezuka Osamu no Buddha ~Owarinaki Tabi~ (it should premiere in Japanese theaters February 2014; a 10-Minute English-subbed trailer was recently posted).

Buddha, vol. 1: Kapilavastu (of 8), story & art by Osamu Tezuka, New York, Vertical, may 2006. 400 pages, 6 x 8 in., B&W, flipped, paperback, $14.95 US ($21.00 CND), rated 8+, ISBN 978-1-932234-56-5. Winner of the 2003 and 2004 Eisner Awards for Best Foreign Work. A twelve-page preview is available on Vertical website.
Also available in french from Tonkam:

Bouddha, vol. 1: Kapilavastu (de 8), par Osamu Tezuka. Paris, Éditions Tonkam (Tsuki Poche), Octobre 1997. 11.4 x 17.0 x 2 cm, 400 pg., 8.40 € / $16.95 Can. ISBN: 2-912628-01-6. Flipped. Recommended for children (8+). Republished in a deluxe edition in may 2004 as “La vie de Bouddha, vol. 1: Kapilavastu” (135x195mm, 15.50 € / $26.95 Can., ISBN 9782845805279).

For more information you can also check the following sites:

To know more about this title you can also check articles on Anime News Network, Tezuka in English and Tezuka's official website.

Another version of this article was first published in Protoculture Addicts #89 (Fall 2006): 77.

Buddha © 2006 by Tezuka Productions. All rights reserved. Translation © 2006 by Vertical, Inc.

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