Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Osamu Tezuka's Buddha, an Epic Manga

© 2004 Vertical, Inc. All rights reserved.

Never have I read a manga story that is so captivating and epic as Osamu Tezuka's Buddha. Initially, I was reluctant to read this manga, because I thought it was something religious, which I have no interest in reading. However, after seeing the series multi times during different visits to the bookstore, I decided to give the story a chance (keep in mind that I had no idea who Osamu Tezuka was at the time). After completing the first volume, I had the desire to continue reading and that desire did not stop until the conclusion of the story.

In general, Prince Siddhartha, who grows up to become the Buddha, sets out to fulfill his destiny, leaving behind his life as a royalty: “your sole purpose for the rest of your life is to teach others...How to save humanity. You will know how, once you attain enlightenment. There you must awaken,” said Brahmin as told to the Prince in volume 1, p. 285.

Although the story did not immediately begin with Prince Siddhartha or Buddha and most of the characters are fictional, during the progression of the story each of the characters influenced each other's development. Also, the characters aged as the story goes on, so you might end up saying to yourself “why does this name sound so familiar?” and may not recognize them. Although the story is more on the serious side, sometimes Tezuka can make you laugh due to a character’s sense of humor or moments of frustration. In the end of each volume there is a sense of closure, but not enough to completely end the storytelling, nor can I say that it is a cliffhanger that leaves you in suspense. Rather, the ending of each volume gives the reader a sense of understanding of the characters’ chosen path, but his/her story continues to unfold afterwards.

For example, in volume 1 we are introduced to Tatta, a young beggar, who has the ability to possess an animal's body, befriends a young slave name Chapra, who is desperately trying to save his mother from being sold off. Although Chapra is able to reunite with his mother, they and Tatta's family are killed by soldiers. In the end of volume 1, Tatta declares revenge towards those who killed his family and friends: “Even if it takes a lifetime I'll get my revenge (p. 395)!” However, in the end of volume 5, Tatta, who is now a grown man and has befriended Buddha, “denied that very vengeance he has lived for (p. 350).” If not, Buddha would have cut all ties with him.

In regards to the artwork, it is not the usual manga style that many are probably used to seeing. However, this does not take away the visual storytelling. The expression on the characters’ faces has recognizable emotions: fear, astonishment, sadness and anger, just to name a few. Tezuka’s portrayal of the appearance of the Buddha is very close to what I generally encounter in a Buddhist temple: a body length robe, long earlobe and the distinguish hairstyle (not every culture depicts Buddha in the same way). I was greatly impressed with the Sleeping Buddha in volume 8. Tezuka drew him lying on the right side of his body, while resting his head on his right arm, which looks similar to what I have seen in pictures of Sleeping Buddha statues from Asia.

Overall, Buddha is not a religious manga story, but more about the philosophy in which we chose to live by. The choices that we make can have good or bad consequences that can affect our own future and others around us. It is a story that provides us with entertainment, while reflecting on a certain aspect of the human society. That being said, the story should be read with an open mind and not as a series with religious purposes.
© 2012 Linda Thai

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