Tezuka Month: Ode to Kirihito vol. 1

So far my blog has been limited in it’s review power because I have to fund my review stack with my rather empty wallet. BUT, for the first time, a publisher has been kind enough to give a review copy! Hurrah! A small manga critic milestone achieved!

That being said, this is not the first time I’ve read Ode to Kirihito vol. 1. In fact, the first time I read it was when I borrowed it from a friend in college. It blew my mind. I’d NEVER read anything like it at all. I pretty much thought that all manga was shojo or shonen and that there was little beyond Tezuka than Astro Boy. Yeah, this was only a few years ago. See how far I’ve come?

Ode to Kirihito is about Kirihito Osanai, a young doctor working to cure a mysterious disease called Monmow. In order to help solve the puzzle behind the disease’s origins, he is sent to Doggodale by the director of his hospital. Once there, however, he is forced into a relationship with a local woman and contracts Monmow disease himself after a number of incidences of suspicious behavior involving the village people.

Convinced he has found the cause of the disease, Osanai attempts to return to the hospital only to meet with unfortunate circumstances and be kidnapped before he gets there. His colleague Urabe and Osanai’s fiancee Izumi attempt to locate the missing doctor, but their attempts are thwarted by Tatsugaura’s campaign to become the president of the Japanese Medical Assosciation.

The first thing I noticed while reading Ode to Kirihito was that a fair number of panels had very very sketchy art, but then the art would revert back to normal. I don’t know if this means anything, as I did try and work out if Tezuka was trying for something here, but it doesn’t seem too inappropriate considering the nature of Monmow disease. Still, I wasn’t very fond of the sketchiness. It wasn’t often in scenes that were highly intense (the whole book is intense, but there are varying degrees,)  and were often followed by panels with art as clean as day. So whatever Tezuka’s intentions were, they are lost on me.

Another thing that bothered me a little was the choice to change the format from left-t0-right instead of keeping it right-to-left. Before this starts sounding like a case of fan entitlement, I’ll mention that I read two languages right-to-left often enough that I’ve been subconsciously opening English-language books the wrong way for about nine years now. It truly threw me for a loop to see that a manga I was expecting to read right-to-left was not be that way. Since this is the only “grave sin” that Vertical commited with Ode to Kirihito as far as I can see, I think I can say it’s not that big a deal unless you’ve got your panties in a bunch. If you do, there’s a note at the beginning to explain why it’s flipped. (edit: I have been since told that the decision to flip this manga is not their decision to make, however.)

I’m sure everyone’s heard more than enough praise about Tezuka, but I still have to admire him for what he manages to do. Since I’m not a shounen/seinen fan by nature, I prefer particularly well-written shounen & seinen material as well as stuff that seems to defy the gender-based lines that a lot of Japanese manga are written around nowadays. Tezuka manages to jump over that and write and draw something that is truly easy to read no matter what your primary interest in manga is. I say this because I was able to eat it up the first time I’d read this manga despite very very little experience with manga of this depth or nature. I think this explains why Tezuka is called a god and why his work is so revered.

One other thing I particularly enjoyed were the scenes of extreme mental states, which happens most often when the story switches to Dr. Urabe’s point of view. Since Urabe is at the same time villainous and very much on the side of good, it is helpful to the reader to see his mental state before he does something truly despicable. You might not understand exactly what Tezuka’s drawing, but the message is clear that the break in sanity starts here. At first you want to despise Urabe, but as the book progresses and he throws himself into researching Monmow in Africa, saves Sister Helen and returns to Japan, you find yourself needing to re-think him. The best part is when he re-thinks himself and decides understand what he’s doing wrong and correct it. Since I don’t have volume 2, I can’t say where this character ends up, but I think he ended on a good note in this volume.

I think, in a way, Urabe is my favorite character because we get to see his emotional growth a lot more than Osanai’s. Unfortunately, the title character is rather stuck in a rut due to his disease. As readers we pity him, want him to escape his many fates and be cured, but we spend too much time seeing him put in horrible situations and having to escape them than seeing what this does to him mentally and emotionally. Further blocking this development is his resilience of will. Osanai is the good guy who cannot do much wrong. We come to understand when he must resort to acts of violence because he defends himself or another in doing so. That part of him never changes throughout volume one, although the last portions of the book did not involve any of his narrative. I rather hope he drastically changes in the next volume because I’m sick of Osanai being used and abused with little consequence for those that hurt him. Considering how the net is beginning to close around Dr. Tatsugaura, I’m sure we will see something downright vengeful in the next volume.

If you haven’t read Ode to Kirihito yet, I highly suggest you do. If you suspect it is not your thing, read it anyway. Think of it as a good education in how entertainment should be: captivating and leaving you craving for the next part.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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One Response to Tezuka Month: Ode to Kirihito vol. 1

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