Ode to Kirihito

I’ve been dipping my toe in the worlds of manga and graphic novels over the past year or so. Allow me to express some neophyte enthusiasm: WOW!!! Seriously, I’ve loved the majority of what I’ve read and the stuff I haven’t like that much in the early volumes (I’m looking at you, Saiyuki) has become fabulous later on.

I’m pretty sure the 90% rule1 still applies, I just happen to have very excellent guides (thank you, Micole, Rachel, and Doselle). And Anne Ishii of Vertical Books who led me to Osamu Tezuka‘s Ode to Kirihito, which I loved so much I feel compelled to rave about it here.

Ode to Kirihito is like nothing I’ve ever read before. So much so that I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s a medical thriller, it’s a philosophic musing about what it is to be human, it’s completely unputdownable. That’s saying something because it is a very big book. There are depraved sideshow performers, corrupt doctors, scary small town locals, depraved and corrupt crime lords, nuns, as well as racist mine overseers.

From page to page I had no idea what was going to happen next, but when it did, it made sense. It all worked. More than worked, it sang.

And that’s just the story. The art is something else again.2 Although Ode was first published in the early 1970s if I hadn’t known that I couldn’t have guessed it. The art looks contemporary. More than that it looks cutting edge contemporary. It’s so beautiful that I would stop to just stare at many of the pages. And, trust me, I’m not someone who will stop to smell the roses when I’m as caught up in a story as I was with Ode to Kirihito. It was just so gorgeous I could not soak it up.

You all have to read this book. It is gobsmackingly awesome. And weird. Very very very weird.

I am now going to read the first volume of Tezuka’s Buddha. I must now read everything he has ever written. He is a genius and I am smitten.

  1. Otherwise known as Sturgeon’s Law: “Ninety per cent of everything is crap”. []
  2. Not that they’re separable. I know that. I’m just new to this, remember. []


  1. Sir Tessa on #

    There was an exhibition of Tezuka’s work down here, up until January. I haven’t read any of his books, but my goodness I want to. Only a couple seem to be available in english though…

  2. Allen on #

    sturgeon’s is jacked up to 95% when it comes to anime and manga, and i say this as a fan. never let go of your guide’s hand.

    also, read urasawa naoki’s work!

  3. Justine on #

    Sir Tessa & Deborah: I was very bummed to miss that exhibition! You both have to read Ode. Tis incredible!

    Chris: Care to enlarge on that?

    Allen: Where should I start with Urasawa Naoki?

  4. Ben Payne on #

    Thanks for the Buddha tip… I’d seen it around and was wondering whether to bother…

  5. Justine on #

    I haven’t read Buddha, but if it’s even half as good as Ode then it’s totally worth reading.

  6. Penni on #

    I’ve been thinking about reading some Manga, with NO idea where to start, so this is a very timely post for me. Thanks!

  7. Chris McLaren on #

    What you need to know is here.

    I’m sure if Viz hadn’t already tied it up, Vertical would also have done a much better-designed English edition of this stuff.

  8. oyceter on #

    Manga! Read Urasawa Naoki’s Monster, if Micole hasn’t foisted that on you already.

    Also, go forth and watch Honey and Clover, which is possibly one of my favorite pieces of anime ever. It reminds me a lot of Nana — five college students love and learn and just live. It’s very quiet and very beautiful. (feel free to email me for how to get it)

    Also also, if Micole and Rachel haven’t already sicced it on you, read Emma by Mori Kaoru. Vols. 1 and 2 have been published by CMX. It’s a small, quiet series set in Victorian England about a maid named Emma. The art is beautiful.

    Other current favorites include: Fuyumi Soryo’s ES (Viz), a creepy thriller about psychics with goth influences that’s more understated than it sounds; Mick Takeuchi’s Her Majesty’s Dog (GoComi), a sweet shoujo with a heroine who has power over words and is just learning how to interact with people; Yuki Kaori’s Cain Saga and Godchild (Viz), incredibly cracktastic Victorian gothic with references to fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and Alice in Wonderland (Cain 1 is awful, but the rest are good); and probably more that I forgot.

    And now, I will stop before I embarrass myself, though I could probably think of even more recs if you want!

  9. Justine on #

    Penny: Pay attention to Oyce’s comment above.

    Chris: Ooooh! Want! And, yes, aren’t Vertical’s books just gorgeous? So very lovely!

    Oyce: I just read the first Her Majesty’s Dog which Rachel gave me. Loved it! Emma is also on my list. Micole has been raving about it.

    Thank you so much for making my list longer! Yum! If this keeps up I will steer clear of all dud manga.

  10. oyceter on #

    Oh! To spam you more! I figure you have probably heard of these already, but just in case anyone else reading hasn’t…

    I am sure you have heard this from many people already, but Mushishi (Del Rey) is excellent. I also watched a few episodes of the anime, which is just as haunting and beautiful and strange.

    And of course Takaya Natsuki’s Fruits Basket (TP), which starts out a little sugary, but gains incredible depth.

    I don’t know if you’ll like Naruto, since it takes a good five volumes to even start getting good, but it does interesting things within the shounen genre.

    And the Fullmetal Alchemist anime (available on DVD) is the best anime I watched in 2006, with the possible exception of Honey and Clover.

  11. Allen on #

    yep, monster is the place to start with urasawa.

    everything oyceter listed is great, but fruits basket in particular would have a huge crossover audience with readers of YA lit. it’s one of those titles which is hugely responsible for the fact that girls are reading comics again in the west. there’s also a lot of it that’s been released, unlike monster, so you can read through masses of it in one sitting (the best way to read manga!).

  12. Ruth on #

    oh my goodness. if anyone gets the chance to see the tezuka exhibition. go! you can see where he pasted bits of paper on to pages to make changes.
    heaps of his work would be considered subversive if it was released in the west today (i can’t comment on how it sits in japanese culture) i did a lot of date checking. along the lines of ‘he made this when??? no? really??? weren’t people put in the stocks for even indicating that it might be possible to contemplate maybe thinking about the outside edges of this stuff then?’
    the exhibition’s brilliant. i was blown away. i even bought the catalogue. i never buy the catalogue…

  13. Chris McLaren on #

    I also encourage you to check out Monster. Very good.

    You might also want to check out Dragon Head.

  14. Rachel Brown on #

    naruto is one of my favorite series of all time, but I agree with oyce that it has a very slow start. however all that set-up leads to some amazing pay-offs, some as late as volume 31 (which I read in scans.) at something like volume 36 now, it just keeps getting better and better. it’s not just about ninjas, but about loneliness and love and finding one’s family and inspiring each other. and also about cool ninja powers. plus it’s extremely funny in ways that i would not have guessed from the rather juvenile humor of the first volume. also, it has giant frogs.

    mushishi is amazing. amazing. I wish i could do all caps here to emphasize how amazing it is.

  15. Justine on #

    Oyce: I did start Fruits Basket and couldn’t get into it. Sounds like I should try again.

    Chris: Okay, I will now get Monster. More than one rec makes it a definite. Of course I won’t be getting any more books of any kind until it’s warm enough to leave the flat and I’ve finished the fairy book rewrites . . .

    Rachel: I wish i could do all caps here to emphasize how amazing it is.

    You can. If you look closely at the blog rules up top you will learn the secret. Just make sure you swap out the curly quotes for straight quotes.

  16. Rachel Brown on #

    I second the rec for es (eternal sabbath): spooky, often funny, likable or intriguingly opaque characters, and gorgeous and poetic visual telepathy.

    dragon head is about some kids whose train gets trapped underground with three survivors. it fascinated me at first with its relentless claustrophobia even though I disliked all the characters and the only girl was a weeping wimp, but after nothing good happened to anyone in 4 volumes and the preview for volume 5 showed yet another “you think things couldn’t get worse? guess again!” catastrophe, I got bored.

  17. Dr. Slump on #

    Ode to Kirihito is indeed great, but Buddha is even better. It’s a masterpiece, and one of my favorite comics ever.

  18. Chris on #

    For those on the West Coast of the USA, the exhibition that the Aussies referred to above will hit San Francisco in June!

Comments are closed.