Kimberly (kimberly_a) wrote,

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Osamu Tezuka's Buddha

I've been reading volume 1 of Osamu Tezuka's graphic novel Buddha, and I have to say I'm really torn about whether to buy the second volume or not. The subject matter interests me, of course, and I'm enjoying the story that's being told, but I'm just really not fond of the art style.

Sometimes, occasionally, the artwork is beautiful, but that's the rare exception. Mostly, the art is very cartoonish. And I'm not just talking about the actual drawing style, either -- I'm also talking about the visual concept for the story, how emotions are expressed, etc.

For example, there's a scene in which a woman is dying after giving birth to the infant who will one day be the Buddha. There are a few frames showing her pain, her servants' concern for her life, etc. ... and then there's a frame showing the servants carrying the sedan chair across a river, trying to get her home to her husband, the king, before she dies. But as they cross the river in a very cartoony panic, the frame is filled with the lyrics to "Row Row Row Your Boat."

As another example, when they do arrive back at the castle and the queen is on her deathbed, explaining weakly that she is dying, the king is drawn cross-eyed, leaping into the air and doing the splits as he asks what she's talking about. The surrounding panels are serious ... there's just this random guy suddenly leaping into the air with his legs flying in opposite directions. Sigh.

Now, it isn't that I have a problem with silliness. Ranma 1/2 is pretty darn silly most of the time. But it's a different kind of silliness, and it's fairly consistent. Nor do I take issue with Buddhism being presented lightly. That doesn't bother me at all, and in fact I find it sort of fun. What bugs me is that the tone is uneven, sort of awkwardly shifting around between serious and ridiculous. Shannon theorized that the strange juxtapositions are intended as a lesson in Buddhism, which Shannon summarized as "Lighten up." But I don't buy it. If that was the intention, it doesn't work for me.

I expect stories -- whether they're told in text, drawing, film, song, or whatever -- to somehow cohere. For example, a film such as American Splendor, which is told using many different media of different tones, has an overarching cohesion that creates a dense Gestalt. The diversity of the pieces only adds to the meaning of the whole.

I don't think that happens with Tezuka's Buddha. Instead, it reads as a bizarre mishmash of styles and tones. Personally, I find the over-the-top, Daffy Duck-style cartoonishness annoying. If the whole book were written/drawn in that style, I would never have gotten through it. As it is, I've almost finished reading volume 1, and I've enjoyed it for the story ... but I'm not sure whether I want to spend $25 on the next volume ... let alone an estimated $175 to buy 7 more volumes to read through to the end. I'm not sure. I'll have to think about it.

The idea still attracts me, but the execution isn't quite to my tastes. Unfortunately, there are other things I would probably rather be reading.
Tags: books, manga

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