Sunday, June 24, 2007

Just Read: Buddha, Vol. 1: Kapilavastu by Osamu Tezuka

Since I finished Kapilavastu (and before starting to type this), I've also read book 2, The Four Encounters. I'll try to concentrate on Kapilavastu, but I might wander a bit forward.

The first thing you notice is Tezuka's style -- backgrounds are often carefully rendered with near-photographic detail, but most of the people, and many of the animals, are drawn in a very simple, pseudo-animation style. (As a rough rule, the smaller or younger a being is, the more likely he is to be drawn as if he wandered over from the background of Bambi.) This can be distracting, as can the fact that the women are generally depicted as topless (which is probably historically accurate, but it still means lots and lots of identical cartoony breasts on some pages), and some of the younger boys are completely naked (with very cartoony genitalia showing off and on). The art style knocked me out of the story several times before I got used to it, but, eventually, I did get used to it. (Though, I have to admit, if I was reading this unflopped, in the original Japanese right-to-left orientation, that might just have been too much strangeness to work through at once.)

The next thing you notice, though it might take some time to sink in, is that the Buddha (Siddhartha) doesn't actually appear in this book; he hasn't been born yet when it ends. (I guess if you're doing an eight-volume series about somebody's life -- and that's what Tezuka's Buddha is -- you've got plenty of time, and don't need to jump into anything.) In fact, most of the people in this book are dead by the end or don't appear at all in the second book (The Four Encounters). Kapilavastu is mostly the story of what happened to other people before Siddhartha was born, though one of the major characters here does return to play an important role in Four Encounters.

There's less philosophy and religion in this book than I expected from a life of the Buddha; it's mostly an adventure story involving lower-caste people, with an emphasis on their hardships. I haven't read any of Tezuka's long works before this -- I think I've seen shorter stories in manga compliations, but that's it -- so I can't speak to the claim that this was his masterwork. But it was done near the end of his life, and it clearly shows an expert storyteller in command of the elements of his story. I'm certainly interested in continuing, though I expect the series will have to take a turn into sedentary philosophy from politics and war at some point...

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