Ode to Kirihito is the first long, serial work from Osamu “God of Manga” Tezuka that I’ve read, even in part. Oh, sure, I’ve got a couple of volumes of Astro Boy, a shelf filled with Black Jack, and somewhere I’ve got a couple of the books from Tezuka’s “life’s work,” Phoenix, but none of these series feature a single continuing plotline for more than a few hundred pages at a time — Black Jack features plenty of continuity, but wraps up every individual story in a single chapter, and Phoenix is about recurring themes and elements rather than one cohesive narrative. Not to mention that Kirihito is aimed squarely at an adult audience, rather than the boys’ comics he’s more famous for.
I’ve heard it said that Tezuka was a very competitive man, and works like Kirihito were something of a response to the independent gekiga ("dramatic pictures” — think “graphic novel") movement of the times, a chance for him to try a hand at more experimental styles of storytelling and presentation. So, the copy of the first of two volumes in Vertical’s reissue of Ode to Kirihito that we at Colony Drop received fresh from our grocer’s freezer (BUY VERTICAL PRODUCTS) is an exciting new experience for me.
The story centers on Kirihito Osanai, a young doctor among the staff of a prestigious university hospital, and his friends and colleagues, as they face one of the toughest cases they’ve ever encountered: a strange disease that transforms the body of its victim, changing them into dog-like beasts before eventually killing them. Kirihito and his best friend, Urabe, suspect that the sickness, known as Monmow’s disease, could be caused by some sort of toxin in the environment, especially since all the known cases of the disease originate in one tiny town in the mountains on an isolated island. His boss, hospital director Tatsugaura, is initially reluctant to allow Kirihito to pursue his theory, but experiences a sudden change of heart and sends him on a research trip to remote Doggoddale. Little does he realize that this journey to the secretive and superstitious town would turn out so tragically, as Kirihito contracts the disease and vanishes, while Urabe grapples with his personal demons and the quest for the truth about the disease and his friend.
Boy, if you thought Osamu Tezuka’s portrayal of women was uncomfortable in Black Jack, Ode to Kirihito is going to make you flip out. For starters, nearly every major female character in the book is raped at some point — one even dies during the assault. The uncomfortable moments start early, when Kirihito’s fiancée Izumi tearfully demands that Kirihito marry her as soon as possible. “I’m afraid I might stray,” she explains. “That Dr. Urabe, he looks at me all funny… I don’t like him one bit, but he comes on so forcefully, and you’re so cool toward me…” Kirihito reassures her that they will be married as soon as he finishes his research on Monmow’s disease, but true to her fears, Izumi “strays” only minutes later when Urabe locks her in and assaults her. The black “splotches” at her feet as she flees, and the oozing overpass above her, are but the first of many more “experimental” presentations Tezuka employs throughout the book (and easily the most awkward).
Izumi’s not the only lover of Kirihito’s who suffers. When Kirihito arrives in Doggoddale, a young woman, Tazu, is sent to bed him, apparently as part of an old village ritual to “accept” the outsider. As devoted and clever as Tazu might be portrayed, her motivations and true feelings seem very ill-defined. Perhaps, she was hoping to secure better treatment for her father, who also suffers from the village’s trademark disease, by befriending the visiting doctor. Yet, she never clearly states her plans, nor does she seem to harbor any doubts about going against her fellow villagers, the only people she’s ever known, even as they turn violent toward Kirihito. Her motives are stark in their absence, given how subtle Tezuka generally isn’t when it comes to the thought processes and motives of the other, male characters he focuses on. From her introduction, Tazu exists only to serve Kirihito as an able and devoted assistant. She and Izumi aren’t all that different, really — it’s not like Izumi does much more than worry about Kirihito’s safety for the majority of the book, either.
Kirihito eventually manages to flee the village after discovering the key to curing the disease, but his affliction has already taken its toll, with his body and face having been transformed into those of a dog. Worse, as they head down the mountain, Tazu is killed by a random thug in the wilderness, and Kirihito is abducted by human traffickers and sold to a rich Chinese businessman who collects “freaks” to be used as slave performers to amuse himself and a few dozen of his richest friends. During his captivity, Kirihito meets Reika, a young woman who performs a complicated and incredibly dangerous act involving boiling oil and batter, and who is probably the least favorably-presented woman in the entire book. There’s just no good way to read Reika’s scenes on the run with Kirihito after they manage an escape: when she tries to get fresh with him one night, sweating feverishly and extending her tongue toward his crotch, he smacks her away, calling her “improper.”
It doesn’t end there, as Kirihito discovers Reika’s ultimate goal: to turn him into her own masochistic sex slave until he dies, a fate that’s already befallen several other “freaks” she’s “rescued.” Yes, the only sexually-aggressive women in the entire comic are the sadist warped by harsh training since childhood and the village girl using every tool at her disposal to save her father, only to end up dead in the forest for her troubles. But before Kirihito can finish using hypnotic suggestion to cure her disorder, turning her into a “proper girl,” he’s discovered by the locals and placed right back into bondage (but not the kinky kind).
After that nasty business, Tezuka quite wisely shifts the focus of the next 175 pages entirely to the most interesting of the interwoven storylines in Kirihito: Dr. Urabe’s attempts to discover what happened to his friend and clashes with Director Tatsugaura’s political ambitions. You can’t throw a rock without beaning a blogger blathering about Tezuka’s demonstrations of anger with the Japanese medical establishment in Black Jack, but Ode to Kirihito offers a much more involved and sophisticated take on the subject than the flash-in-the-pan moments allowed by Black Jack’s short installments (and younger audience). Tatsugaura is determined to get elected as the next head of the Japan Medical Association, and his campaign is relying on an impressive showing at the Association’s medical conference when he presents his research on the “contagious” Monmow’s disease, a claim that puts him at odds with subordinates and experts alike. As reprehensible as Urabe is — and I’m sure some readers will be unable to sympathize with him, especially after his second attack — his personal conflicts are far more interesting than Kirihito’s continued abductions.
I’ve said a lot of negative things about this book, in part due to the cultural differences between America now and Japan forty years ago and in part due to my general boredom with the “something’s rotten in a tiny rural town” flavour of horror/mysteries, but the first 475 pages of Ode to Kirihito still make a darn compelling read, and I ordered the second volume right after finishing it. I can’t say that the second volume resolves all of my complaints: characterization is still somewhat strained, as Izumi still doesn’t seem to have interests beyond Kirihito’s safety, and many of Tezuka’s experimental layouts and visual metaphors fall flat. But even if many of the arcs are heavily telegraphed, it’s still satisfying to see them tied together and resolved. Plus, the second book opens with what is essentially a prototype Black Jack story, a nice familiar touch.
Big points to Vertical for re-issuing Ode to Kirihito in a two-book edition, by the way. As nice as it is to get an entire series in one volume, the similarly-lengthy doorstopper release of A Drifting Life from Drawn & Quarterly has made it quite clear to me how annoying and awkward it is to try and read a large, 800+ page comic book. The production values are pretty much standard for Vertical: the font choice is a little goofy for the subject matter, the balloons are always stuffed to bursting with dialog, and the retouched sound effects sometimes clash pretty obviously, but the printing quality is a lot better than the astoundingly cheap efforts by some publishers in this niche. Oh, yeah, and the book’s been flipped so it reads left to right, since American fans of Japanese comics fans don’t read Tezuka — American fans of graphic novels read Tezuka. I highly doubt anyone actually interested in reading a medical suspense thriller by Osamu Tezuka would have a problem with that, but you never know.
We've got plenty of excellent English terms we can use. They're not "yaoi-esque elements," they're "homosexual themes!" Instead of "content which can be interpreted as shota," why not try "pederasty?" Think of it as exercise, but for your brain.
It utilizes common tropes about homosexual characters in popular culture. That means it has "gay themes", even if those themes are in fact harmful to actual gay people, like Cruising is and like MW's treatment of the issue often is. Yaoi and homosexual content are not the same thing, and equating the two like you're doing and pretending you're doing it out of defense for us poor innocent queers is creepy - you're doing a damn good job of "protesting too much" and coming off like you're homophobic while claiming loudly to be anything but.
And pederasty is fucking pederasty, whether the character likes it or not - it's not a semantical issue, it's an age issue. And rape is also rape even if the rape victim experiences arousal during the act; arousal is a response to specific biological stimuli, it has fucking flat nothing to do with whether anyone wants to be raped - instead of spouting off like you're defending some moral line, why don't you just admit discussing rape makes you uncomfortable? It's probably true, and it makes it sound less like you're entertaining the possibility that the kid deserved to get raped 'cause he wanted it. (Which, yes, you were implying in that last sentence there.) That. Is. Creepy.
And on a structural note: it's not yaoi, it's not shota. These are specific generic terms that have specific applications and cannot just be thrown around for every single time a homosexual situation shows up. It's got gay characters who have sex and it has non-consensual sex with a young boy in it. The generic structure, the characterization, the themes at play, and the overwhelming narrative intent behind those scenes - influenced, as they are, by the chauvinist push of the gekiga movement - are antithetical to the aesthetic conventions of homosociality expressed by the shoujo stories that grew into the BL, yaoi, and shota genres. You cannot compare the two approaches to sexuality and gender identity except as a contrast, they are too dissimilar.
"and equating the two like you're doing and pretending you're doing it out of defense for us poor innocent queers is creepy"
Well, is it really fair to say, "Don't read it, 'coz it's gey?" I think it's a little more respectul to suggest, "If two dudes getting it on with each other isn't your cup of tea, you might want to skip it."
"you're doing a damn good job of "protesting too much" and coming off like you're homophobic while claiming loudly to be anything but."
Sorry, but I live in WeHo and voted against Prop. 8. Nice try, though.
"And pederasty is fucking pederasty, whether the character likes it or not - it's not a semantical issue, it's an age issue."
Um, if the character doesn't like it, it's technically sodomy.
"And rape is also rape even if the rape victim experiences arousal during the act"
Yes, but my issue is whether or not the guy actually consents to the act, or if he's just being taken advantage of, because of the radiation screwing up his personality.
"instead of spouting off like you're defending some moral line, why don't you just admit discussing rape makes you uncomfortable?"
It's not discussing rape which makes me uncomfortable. It's the character's predilection towards giving and receiving rape which makes me uncomfortable.
"And on a structural note: it's not yaoi, it's not shota."
I didn't say it was yaoi or shota. I said it has aspects which can be construed as such. Tezuka paved the way for the current tropes of the genre, after all.
"The generic structure, the characterization, the themes at play, and the overwhelming narrative intent behind those scenes - influenced, as they are, by the chauvinist push of the gekiga movement - are antithetical to the aesthetic conventions of homosociality expressed by the shoujo stories that grew into the BL, yaoi, and shota genres.
How so? Just reading Descendants and Gravitation alone gets me to notice elements parallel to MW.
In my book, it's "two guys doing the horizontal tango of the beefstick", not "yaoi". Why can't the portions of the internet with homophobia be as creative as me?
That's as bad as people saying set design on a film is 'Bioshock-like', not everything is related to games or anime.
C'mon internet, this is just getting stupid.
Congratulations, but not being a dick sometimes in life doesn't excuse you from being a dick where people who don't have context other than the context your words bring to the table can see you and call you on it. Imagine that! Being supportive sometimes doesn't get you off the hook when you're being offensive the rest of the time!
Well, is it really fair to say, "Don't read it, 'coz it's gey?" I think it's a little more respectul to suggest, "If two dudes getting it on with each other isn't your cup of tea, you might want to skip it."
It would be, if that's what you said; instead, you said "it's got yaoi in it!" which isn't the same thing, and then tried to dodge around the question by being homphobic when someone called you on equating gay characters with yaoi.
Yes, but my issue is whether or not the guy actually consents to the act
If consent is unclear, it's rape, you douchebag. Believing otherwise puts you on the Nice Guy list and tells me you're someone I'd warn my friends away from.
How so? Just reading Descendants and Gravitation alone gets me to notice elements parallel to MW
But then, reductive is the otaku way. Anything that can't be easily divorced from its context, classified, and filed away as an independent element for future use, they just don't want to know about. A work's relationship with real life becomes subservient to its relationship with other anime/manga works and independent thought is replaced by simple fetishism.
HOW TO EXPLAIN THAT MW MAY NOT BE FOR EVERYBODY:
"It has graphic and disturbing sexual content that will trigger some people because it depicts the rape of an underage boy and it's basically written for the people who think Cruising was a gritty, realistic documentary instead of melodramatic, homophobic bullshit."
HOW NOT TO EXPLAIN THAT MW MAY NOT BE FOR EVERYBODY:
"MW's got a better story, but more yaoi-esque elements to it, which might be a turn-off to those types of readers."
There's a difference between being the manga equivalent of a gay-panic grindhouse flick and being "yaoi-themed", and while both are caricatures and both are offensive and trivialize the experiences of real people for cheap melodrama, the caricaturization is in different directions and for different reasons.
The fact that you can't seem to grasp that narrowing all attempts, no matter how fucked up and misanthropic, to approach homosexual identity in fiction to "yaoi" is irritating to people who actually want to write about real queer people instead of a genre that still takes its inspiration from fake stand-ins for oppressed/repressed female desire is as offensive as seeing homosexual identities coopted by grindhouse films and yaoi manga for the sake of getting straight people off was in the first place.
So gay commingling isn't gay now?
Here, some capslock to make the point clearer since you seem too braindead to grasp it unless it's beaten into your head with a hammer: MOST YAOI HAS LITTLE TO NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH REAL HOMOSEXUAL MALE EXPERIENCES, NOR MOST OTHER DEPICTIONS OF HOMOSEXUAL MEN IN FICTION. (It has especially little to do with the experience of gay men living in Japan! This is old news. It shouldn't require explanation. Read the paper here for a brief introduction to the basic facts: http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue3/mclelland2.html and then we'll talk.) They're idealized figures meant for the pleasure of an audience that's primarily assumed to be heterosexual. I'm not going to pretend that as a queer person they weren't some of the first experiences I ever had finding people with a sexual identity that almost looked like my own, but the fact is they weren't meant for me, and finding myself in them is a happy accident instead of intentional on the part of the average yaoi mangaka, because the average yaoi has a completely different purpose than providing queer people with entertainment actually aimed at themselves.
Your average yaoi is about an idealized relationship meant for the sexual gratification of an audience that doesn't want a legitimate homosexual experience on the page, they want a relationship between a stereotypical version of a man and a stereotypical version of a woman who has a dick and thus provides the false illusion of not needing to reenact traditional gender roles within the story, despite most yaoi rigidly following standardized gender tropes in the narrative nonetheless (hello, magical rapist healing cock!). See also: your average yuri show is for the gratification of the straight dudes in the audience, not any of us actual lesbians who might want to find people like us in the story instead of Yet Another Guy's Creepy Sexist Fantasy.
Come back when you learn some basic media analysis skills (like learning how to differentiate between genres), little man. Maybe next time your foot will get stuck in your nose instead of your mouth!
(Also, here's a hint: if you want to make girls - like me, although you're hella not my type, being, oh, I dunno, obnoxious and male - actually respect you in the morning, don't fucking tell them it's not rape because they said "yes" the first time even if they objected later.)
Not sure what the "average" yuri show is nowadays, but I was under the impression that the roots of the genre were in shojo manga, and that traditionally it was created by women and aimed at a primarily female audience. Rather than providing titilation to male audiences, I got the impression that the purpose was to provide a less threatening version of the standard romantic experience to teenage girls who might otherwise feel intimidated by male characters. It's certainly been co-opted by male fans over the past couple of decades, so to what extent this meaning remains, I don't know.
Also, for what it's worth, the standard tropes of yuri manga appear to chime in pretty closely with the real experiences of many girls in Japan, particularly those that went to all-girls schools. The assigning of male gender roles to female classmates at least isn't unusual. I agree that it's got nowt to do with lesbianism, though: it's everything to do with practice to get ready for meeting real boys.
Anyway, sorry to interrupt. Please, as you were...
On the other hand, artists like Takako Shimura have proven that there are actual LGBT authors out there willing to reclaim and examine the popular tropes of the genre with an eye towards actually speaking to queer members of the audience (and recognizing we exist! and might find parts of the genre appealing, and other parts not so appealing! and that we're worth considering as an audience! yay!), so it's not all going from being merely frustrating to outright humiliating, at least.
It's a fucking manga with gay themes and sex scenes in it. Yaoi is associated with gay-themed manga.
"This is a square. It has four sides. A rhombus has four sides too. Therefore, all squares are rhombuses!"
Man, this whole "real vs. unreal" front you're putting up isn't dissimilar to those W.A.S.P. country club assholes who have problems with anyone of color like Tiger golfing.
You have officially passed the point where all your discourse is indistinguishable from white noise, I suspect, but in the probably-futile hopes this isn't the case, let's try this one more time!
That's weird. Kunihiko Ikihara loves the vagina, and yet at AX, no one questioned him on his credibility at depicting gay relationships in Utena.
And I say this as someone who found Utena deeply meaningful and life-changing: perhaps they should.
Hell, none of the people involved in BBM were gay, either, but you think GLAAD is gonna criticize the production for not casting gay talent?
GLAAD's flaccidity when it comes to publicly calling that movie out on its homophobia and reinforcement of internalized queer self-hatred has nothing to do with whether the movie was as progressive as the straights fapping to it in their overblown reviews thought it was, or the mainstream audience getting off to the emotional flagellation passing for characterization that made up the "plot", thought it was. Not to repeat myself, but: maybe they should.
You're just assuming that.
READING COMPREHENSION FAIL. No, nooooo, I'm really not.
But have you ever considered the possibility, that, maybe, just maybe, the Japanese just have a different view of gender roles-in spite of what you see on the surface-than we do, and that they do at least consider those possibilities once in a while, because they're not as hung up on sex as us?
If I had a cookie for every time a fellow anime and manga fan tried to tell me "It's not offensive, it's just Japanese!" I'd be Auntie Anne. Just saying.
Saying "there's a difference between yaoi and other works with homosexual content in them and you should actually respect that, because they're not identical and they're not intended to be so" isn't imposing Western values on the medium, but calling everything with homosexual subject matter that also happens to be manga "yaoi-themed" is. The first is acknowledging the generic delineations the medium's set up for itself; the second is saying "I don't care what most people working in the genre call it, I'll call it whatever I want!" Most self-respecting fujoshi, whatever their sexual orientation happens to be, will tell you yaoi, and likewise any other BL-associated genre, has nothing to do with actual gay men. As I have tried to explain before (only in less srs bsns terms), this doesn't mean the genre isn't exploitative, or that it's unique in exploitation of a predominantly silent minority, but it's important to understand the nature of its objectification; what's being exploited in what way differs heavily between the various BL genres and the dick-centered homophobia of the gekiga crowd. Which, uh, you'd have already figured out. If you didn't fail at basic comprehension skills.
I disagree with this on one point. It's not imposing Western values on it, it's perhaps more a case of unnecessarily otakuising it. Of dropping in this generic label, yaoi with a specific background in shojo manga and specific associated genre conventions into a discussion of an unrelated work. It's not Westernising, it's just wrong.
"Bullshit. No one considers it them imposing Japanese values on to our culture when they classify Disney as anime."
That's because in Japanese, "anime" just means "animation", the same way that "katana" just means "sword" and "sake" just means "alcoholic drink". They're using the word correctly and it's us who've attached these specifically Japanese meanings to these words, not them. If you want to argue that in Western fan circles yaoi is now simply a synonym for "gay" and that therefore its use to describe the non-shojo, non-yaoi-genre-in-the-Japanese-sense MW is perfectly correct, then by all means do so.
I think the point Torches is making with the "dick centered homomphobia" comment isn't that Tezuka was trying to "appease" anyone so much as that he was writing in this gritty, macho idiom that was influenced by the gekiga movement, and that therefore it naturally absorbs some of that nastiness in its portrayal of homosexuality. This contrasts with the background of yaoi, which, as we've already established, is an outgrowth of shojo manga and serves a very different purpose.
Trying to give depth to characters in MW is surely just a function of being a good writer and something you should try to do whatever kind of story you're making (which is another reason why casually tossing around these generic terms is reductive).
You are either an idiot or so intensely dense that the difference is indistinguishable. Done with you!
It's not imposing Western values on it, it's perhaps more a case of unnecessarily otakuising it.
Which I agree with, although as far as I'm concerned "unnecessarily otakuising" often is imposing a Western interpretation on the medium, because it's labeling stuff according to lazy disinterest in its actual context 'cause "it's cooler that way". It's been a problem with Western Japanophilia from before the anime and manga boom, and anime/manga fandom has inherited this arrogant taste for cool inaccuracy from their predecessors.
And - yes, precisely.
What are you saying? That the morality in an intentionally dark and gritty story could be, I dunno, ambiguous? It's like the hero is some kind of antithesis of the traditional attributes usually associated with heroism. If only there were a word for that...
But yeah, for sure. I don't think MW is a story that comes out with any intentional message it wants to give about homosexuality. Tezuka was just trying to be edgy and he felt the gay rape angle worked for him. I think the point about how I think the term yaoi is out of context has been hammered over the head enough now.
I'd hazard that the thinking in MW is similar to the repeated rape scenes in Kirihito. Tezuka is trying to be edgy, and in doing so he ends up being perhaps unintentionally revealing of some of the prejudices of the time and culture in which he was writing. He doesn't go into it thinking "OK, so all women are bitches, now how can I show that?" He's going in thinking, "So I've got this guy, his girl, and his best friend: how can I show the dark side of human nature?" That his first thought is to have the guy rape his friend's girl (and for the girl to secretly want it) tells you something about the reductive (man, I'm loving that word lately) Freudian sexual psychology that seemed to dominate Tezuka's attitude at that time.
Remember as well that this was work that grew out of the confused period of the 1970s in the aftermath of things like the Asama-Sansō Incident. To me, it's hard not to see this context as the backdrop to the rather bleak, negative attitude some manga of this period display towards human nature and its more violent and animalistic urges (see also Devilman).
For me, I'm fine with it. Considering how much crap Kirihito and Urabe go through in the book, it makes what the female characters go through a cake walk. Plus, I don't see why it's all right for male characters in any type of fiction to be mistreated and women are supposed to not be mistreated.
I don't think Tezuka is labelling anyone in "Ode to Kirihito' or even 'MW' as purely evil. To me, he's saying this is a harsh world, and for all our pretensions of superiority to the rest of nature, we humans constantly fail on our own terms. We're the only animals who spout platitudes and slogans while secretly behaving in ways that don't match them. As Tezuka points out repeatedly, many of us do bad stuff and hope never to get found out, but when we get what we deserve, innocent bystanders often get damaged too.
Women, children and the old are constantly abused and victimised in Tezuka's work because that's the reality he saw around him, the life that formed his worldview from his preteen years onwards. Militarism comes across as the big villain - and not just American/Western militarism: 'Yellow Dust', like 'MW', is pretty damning on the Japanese response. what Tezuka criticises in Michio Yuki and Father Garai is not their being gay, but the inhumane or cowardly choices that lead to them hurting others - and even then, he shows us the reasons behind their actions, which have nothing to do with their gender orientation and everything to do with their humanity. The characters in 'Barbara' are straight but they manage to mess up their lives and those of the people around them as effectively as Garai and Yuki.
On Jikorijo's point, I'm not comfortable with the notion of equivalence. Because shit happens to men, are women obliged to accept an equal amount of shit before anyone protests? The idea that because others have been abused, those currently being abused should just suck it up, is only perpetrating the problem. But imagine fiction in which nothing bad ever happens to anyone and there are no victims anywhere - and you will have written a story to send your reader screaming up the wall with boredom.
It would be fun to write a story in which women connive and scheme and oppress the hell out of men. The feminist equivalent of John Norman's oeuvre is just waiting to be written - if only history, biology, and economics didn't make it so hard to present that kind of story credibly, I'd be tempted to have a go at it myself. Tezuka gave it a try in "Swallowing the Earth', but making that kind of story work is tough.
Well, I may have come off wrong in what I meant and misinterpreted what Jeff said in his post on the book. I thought that Jeff took issue with how the women were portrayed in the book and it didn't like the book as a result.
For me, it brought bad memories on how people (in this present PC world) will whine about how women are portrayed and think that's it wrong to see them hurt in any way. Never mind these same people will never complain when men are hurt or abused in any way. It irritates me because of double standard and how authors are restricted to not show that women can be hurt as well.
Other than that I agree with everything you said.
P.S. Loved Art of Osamu Tezuka! Thanks for writing a book for newbies can learn more about him.
This post has 8 feedbacks awaiting moderation...