Showing posts with label Buddha. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Buddha. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Buddha: Ladies love a bald guy

Whoops, I was silent there for a couple days. But now I'm back, baby! And I have one review elsewhere: a look at Dan Dare #3 over at Comics Bulletin. Also, I noticed an interesting news story: Marvel has made a deal with the French publisher Soleil to publish their work in the U.S. I don't know much about Soleil's stuff, but I'm always very curious about European comics. I kind of missed out on most of the books from the partnership between DC and Humanoids a few years ago; I was just getting back into comics at the time and my tastes hadn't gotten as adventurous as they are now. But this time I'm ready for it! Bring on the wacky French shit, Marvel!

Okay, on with the review:

Buddha, volume 3: Devadatta
By Osamu Tezuka

Three volumes in to Osamu Tezuka's historical epic, and I think I'm starting to see what he's going for. I'm glad this isn't a dry history lesson about Buddhism, but rather a rousing series of adventures through ancient India; but what else should I have expected from a wackmeister like Tezuka? I will say that I'm really digging the crazy stories he's telling here, along with his style; if he decides to spend eight pages on a series of scenes of animals eating each other, he goes for it!

But while he often indulges in his trademark goofiness (lots of slapstick, but not as many anachronisms or attacks on the fourth wall as in other volumes), I'm starting to realize how well-paced the thing is. While we see the development of Siddhartha's spiritual philosophy, we get side narratives focusing on minor, tangential characters that illustrate the themes of the story.

In one of the major parts of this volume, we follow young Devadatta, the son of the evil warrior Bandaka from the first two volumes. Through a variety of fairly harsh plot developments, he ends up being raised by wolves and living as an animal. So of course he ends up running into Naradatta, the monk from the first volume who had lowered himself to an animal. This leads to some fascinating discussions of man vs. animal and the harsh nature of, well, nature:

Naradatta's philosophy reminds me of The Lion King's "circle of life" theory, but wasn't that movie kind of a rip-off of Tezuka's Kimba: The White Lion? If so, I guess it comes full circle here. How fitting.

But as cute as Tezuka draws them, this series isn't just about animals, so Devadatta has to end up back in man's world. Thus, we get to see him try to incorporate himself back into society and learn all about man's crazy ways, and finally set out to be strong and powerful. Is man actually more savage than the wild beasts? Eh, maybe, but he's also dumb, falling for Devadatta in drag (it makes at least a little bit of sense in context). Really, this bit emphasizes man's propensity for betrayal and disrespect of other humans. Interesting stuff, and I'm quite curious as to how Devadatta will play into the rest of the series.

But while the Devadatta bits are quite interesting, the heart of this volume is about Siddhartha (who actually gains his "Buddha" moniker this time around) becoming a monk. Right off, he has some problems with the idea of "ordeals", in which monks physically punish themselves in order to purify their spirits (or something like that). He gets to learn this from Dhepa, the monk who burned out his own eye in the last volume. Tezuka presents the reasoning behind these ordeals pretty fairly, but he also shows how Siddhartha doesn't agree with the idea, especially when they discover a dead monk who had allowed vultures to eat him alive (in an interesting bit of doubling, Tezuka has Devadatta subjected to this punishment in the next section of the book). What's the point of trying to purify yourself if you're going to die in the process?

Later, Siddhartha and Dhepa have some other adventures, including a visit to a city that has banned Brahmin after a deadly fever swept through the population and the monks' religious rituals were powerless to stop it. This leads to an interesting situation, but also another chance for a woman to be overpowered by Siddhartha's captivating manliness. I assume he's very sexy; this is the third woman so far to fall for him. In this case, it's the rich, Afro-haired Visakha:

She's a rich woman who kidnaps him and tries to seduce him, only to have them torn apart by Tatta, Migaila, and their gang of brigands. Tatta is trying to convince Siddhartha to return to his kingdom and become a great leader, but Siddhartha only wants to pursue spiritual purity. So Tatta and his gang burn the city down and ravage the population. Bastards. This eventually leads to some pretty cool action scenes, and Siddhartha pledges to return as kind after ten years of monking. It seems like ten years after this volume will be a momentous time; it will also see the return of Devadatta (according to a bit of narration) and the prophesied death of another character. I don't know how much story will take place in the meantime though.

One other interesting character in this volume is Assaji, a snot-nosed kid that follows Siddhartha and Dhepa around, trying to be a monk. In a hilarious scene, his parents try to get the monks to take him in early in the book :

And they spend most of the volume trying to elude him, because Dhepa doesn't think he has what it takes to survive ordeals. But I figured he would end up being important, since Tezuka has a tendency to introduce what seem like throwaway characters who turn out to be more pivotal than originally expected. Assaji is an interesting one; he seems like he might be a reference (visually, at least) to Tezuka's The Three-Eyed One. I don't know what that means (but I would love to read that manga and find out, so somebody please translate it!), but Assaji eventually becomes wise beyond his years, gaining the ability to see the future. It's an interesting development, and Tezuka gets some exciting scenes out of it:

It should be fun to see where he goes with this idea, and what other themes he will explore in future volumes.

So, that's the third volume. It doesn't seem like I have any insights or deep thoughts this time around, but I still want to praise the wonderful storytelling. It's page-turning reading, and it makes me want to get a book about the life of Buddha and see how much is actual historical fact, how much is legend, and how much Tezuka just made up. But whatever the case, I'll be raptly poring over every volume I can get my hands on.

Bonus: Valentine-themed Hyoutan-Tsugi!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Buddha: A bit less like Jesus this time

Man, I haven't been updating much this week, have I? Less to write about, I guess, although I've managed to finish several things, and I've got plenty more on the "to read" pile, so expect a veritable flood of content. Like this:

(I suppose I should warn that there are some SPOILERS here, since I summarize the story, but hopefully it won't ruin the book for anybody)

Buddha, volume 2: The Four Encounters
By Osamu Tezuka

In this volume, Osamu Tezuka starts to get into the life of his titular character, revealing the first installment to be setup, showing the beginnings of some of the characters and introducing the political landscape to set the stage for the main tale. There's plenty of setup here also, with hints at events to come and characters that will play important roles, but the volume is mostly focused on the early years and young adulthood of Siddhartha, would would become the great religious figure.

He has a long way to go to get to that point though; when we first see him, he's a morose ten-year-old prince, uninterested in the naked dancing girls in his personal playroom and prone to asking tough questions of his teachers. He rails against the class system, not understanding why he is so privileged while others suffer. He also becomes fascinated by death, wondering what happens when living things die. Some of these questions are answered by a wandering holy man, although these answers seem to raise more questions. The holy man also reveals that Siddhartha has psychic powers, giving Tezuka a chance to deploy the trippy visuals he loves so much:

Jump forward in time a few years, and Siddhartha is even more tired of his pointless life. He's not interested in the political trappings of his father's country, and he feels cut off from the real world, sheltered in a palace. So he runs away, hooking up with the vagabond Tatta from the first volume, who is now all grown up, wandering the countryside and fending for himself. He's the one with the powers to possess animals, and he often uses the ability to hunt. They set off on a journey down the river, picking up a third traveler, a young woman named Migaila. Sure enough, she and Siddhartha fall in love, but Siddhartha can't handle the brutality of the outside world. After seeing too many horrible scenes, he returns to the palace.

Siddhartha's father is none too happy about his son's "vacation", and he decides to conspire to keep him tied down by marrying him off to Yashodara, a princess from a nearby kingdom. Siddhartha isn't interested, since he loves someone else, but he can never be with Migaila because they are from different social classes. So he invokes a tradition in which any warrior can challenge him, with the winner getting to marry the princess. Bandaka, the dead-eyed evil guy from the first volume, returns to try, and so does Migaila, in a plan to defeat the prince, reveal herself as a woman, and show the ridiculousness of the contest and the arranged marriage. As you can probably imagine in a story like this, the scheme doesn't go well, serving only to permanently separate Siddhartha and Migaila, give Bandaka a grudge against the kingdom and a lust for power, and ensure that Siddhartha gets married to Yashodara.

This all makes life more miserable for Siddhartha, and he begins to plan to run away and become a monk, fulfilling the destiny that the old holy man predicted for him. But unfortunately, Yashodara gets pregnant, making him feel like he should stay, and he feels obligated to try to lead the people, since they are feeling political and military pressure from the nearby Kosala, a much more powerful kingdom. He ends up spending all his time meditating, which drives his father and all the kingdom's officials crazy. They concoct various schemes to try to get him to stop, but this only solidifies his resolve, making him sure that his rightful place in the world is as a holy man, not a king.

Eventually, he can't stand it any more, and he leaves, escaping his father's attempts to keep him confined. This makes him kind of a deadbeat dad, but I guess those human concerns are beneath someone like him. It is a bit offputting though. That's the end of his story for this volume, and I'm sure we'll get to see his enlightenment and the eventual creation of Buddhism. But that will have to wait for future volumes. This volume sees several other peripheral events occur, including the formation of a lower-caste resistance by Tatta and Migaila and their meeting with Naradatta, the animalistic monk from the first volume; the story of King Prasenajit, the ruler of Kosala, and his attempt to produce an heir; and Bandaka's brief stint as the ruler of Kapilavastu, his rejection by Yashodara, the birth of his son, Devadatta, and his eventual fate. All these threads will surely have real significance in the future; it's amazing to watch Tezuka build this large, expansive cast.

He still keeps the story entertaining though, with plenty of action and intrigue, and lots of slapstick humor. There is quite a bit less breaking of the fourth wall this time around; metafictional jokes seem to be limited to occasional references to modern technology (when a character has a nightmare, somebody tells her she has been watching too many sci-fi and horror movies). In fact, there is a bit less humor in general; instead, the focus seems to be on the drama of the story. But that's okay, it's an amazing tale, and Tezuka delivers it like nobody else could.

His art is as incredible as always, with dynamic page layouts and fluid, cartoony figures that really sell the drama and emotion of their situations. In the first volume, there were lots of scenes of animals, but there are not as many here; instead, the focus seems to be nature, with gorgeous splashes of lush greenery:

Even though the art is black and white, these pages seem colorful and full of life:

And don't forget the beautiful landscapes:

It's an excellent volume of what I'm sure will continue to be a great series. I can't wait to read more of it. In fact, I can't wait to read more of any Tezuka books I can get my hands on. I have yet to read something of his that I don't like.

Bonus: cameos by Tezuka regulars:


Big Nose!

And the man himself!

More tomorrow? I hope so! And I should probably have some stuff up at Silver Bullet Comics soon.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Buddha: He seems a lot like Jesus

I can't believe it took me so long to talk about this one. Read on:

Buddha volume 1: Kapilavastu

By Osamu Tezuka

I've been meaning to read this series for quite some time now, so I was pretty excited when I finally got my hands on the initial volume of Tezuka's epic historical fantasy/biography. That's a weird way to describe a series, but, hey, Tezuka did some pretty weird comics, and this one is no exception.

The purpose of this series seems to be to tell the story of Buddha's life, but it appears, judging by the first volume, that Tezuka went in with a bigger goal in mind: to tell the history of India leading to the rise of Buddhism, and to illustrate the precepts that Buddha lived by. So that means the first volume begins well before the birth of the title character, and said birth is really only a minor subplot in the story. Instead, we focus on the exploits of a slave boy who isn't satisfied with his lot in life. He doesn't understand why being born into a certain caste makes somebody better or more worthy of privilege than others, so when he gets the chance, he insinuates himself into the good graces of an influential military officer, gets adopted as his son, and defies social order to break out of the role that birth assigned him. As can probably be expected, this doesn't work out too well for him in the end.

We are also introduced to a few other minor characters, including a young monk searching for a wise man who "has the power to become a god, or ruler of the world" and a street urchin named Tatta who has the psychic power to possess the bodies of animals. When these characters meet up with Chapra (the rebellious slave boy) and his mother, they all have some rousing adventures together (and apart), illustrating the Buddhist ideals that Tezuka is trying to describe, like the fact that life is precious, and humans are no more important than animals.

It's a rousing, fun story, with heavy emotional overtones, and it's all illustrated beautifully in Tezuka's dynamic, cartoony style. I love the wild action scenes he cooks up, like Chapra's duel with a talented archer who has an acrobatic horse:

Tezuka seemed to be going for a Disney-esque style in this book, with many appearances by cute animals:

This fits the themes of the book, and provides a cheery atmosphere that is effectively harshed by the regular occurrence of human-caused violence:

Although, it must be said that animals also cause their share of violence; it's not like Tezuka is presenting the animal kingdom as an idyllic haven from death. In fact, life, death, and sacrifice are major themes here, beginning with the opening fable of a starving monk helped out by animals, which ends with a rabbit giving itself up as food. It's an interesting message that I'll have to watch for in future volumes.

But back to the commentary on the art; another thing that detracts from the "kiddie" nature that the story sometimes seems to lean toward is the near-constant nudity. Little Tatta, being a poor member of the "pariah" caste, doesn't have any clothes, so he's always naked, and Tezuka often draws his penis. Chapra's mother, along with many of the women in the book, never wears a top, giving Tezuka plenty of opportunities to draw bare breasts. This seems odd to Puritanical Americans, but it's probably a combination of relaxed views toward sex and nudity in Japan and an attempt at historical verisimilitude. Still, it does become a notable aspect of the work.

As mentioned, the violence is often unbearably harsh, with armies laying waste to cities and wiping out characters' families, or dramatic scenes of confrontation and violence. It's heavy stuff, and to lighten the blow, Tezuka uses one of his favorite tools: the breaking of the fourth wall. He did this a lot in his comics, and while it seems to stand out in a serious work like this one, it's an effective way to keep the story from getting too depressing. When Tatta is afraid that his mother is going to be killed, he gets so frantic that he bounces off the borders of the panels and even tears through the page's surface:

Other times, Tezuka is often very clever, like in this scene when Chapra gets so angry that he tears apart the page's panel structure:

On the next page, we see him still holding the previous page's panel borders:

I love that sort of gag, and apparently Tezuka did too. He also makes some knowing nods toward the reader, with occasional appearances by characters from his other books, and at one point, himself:

That's a funny joke, due to the fact that Tezuka was a medical doctor before going into comics. He also uses a lot of in-jokes, and one in particular had me kind of curious, so I looked up some information about it. In other Tezuka works (including the animated Astro Boy series), I had noticed the repeated inclusion of a pig-like character, often used as a gag of some sort. Here, it shows up quite a bit, including as the brand identifying Chapra as a slave:

And also to pay off various gags, like Chapra angrily scattering a crowd of the goofy things:

I found that the character is referred to as Hyoutan-Tsugi, and is actually supposed to be a poisoned mushroom rather than a pig. It was based on a drawing that Tezuka's sister did as a child, and he often used it as a sort of visual gag. More information can be found on this site (a great resource, with lots of information about pretty much everything Tezuka ever wrote). It's an interesting little tidbit in the work, and one of the thing that made Tezuka so unique.

This volume ends with the Buddha being born and various other characters drastically changed, some of them dead. I can't wait to see what else Tezuka did with them, along with the legions of other characters and concepts I'm sure he introduced in subsequent volumes. I won't be able to get to the next volume quickly enough.