Osamu Tezuka MMF: Buddha Volume 1 – Importance of Milieu

One of the things I’ve learned about constructing a story is that you want to be sure to introduce your main character as soon as possible. And yet, in the entire 400-page first volume of Buddha by Osamu Tezuka, we only see Siddhartha, the Buddha of the story, twice, and as a small baby.

So, why does Tezuka choose to start the story this way? It would seem that he’s giving Buddha a slow start by putting the focus on other characters first, especially ones who will only die before the “real” story of Siddhartha gets underway. Tatta remains a major player, as does the Brahmin monk Naradatta. But can’t their stories be told through dialogue or flashback? By including this volume, essentially a stretched out prologue, what exactly does Tezuka accomplish?

A bit, actually. This part of the story is told through the eyes of Chapra, a slave; Tatta, a pariah; and Naradatta, a Brahmin. Chapra and Tatta are of the two lowest classes, and thus are perpetually treated unfairly, hardly viewed as human and not even allowed an attempt to better their situations. The Brahmin monk is of the highest class, who would normally also look down upon slaves and pariahs. But as he travels with Tatta he becomes humbled by the boy’s pure heart and selflessness. Combined with viewing Chapra’s determination to better the lives of himself and his mother, the Brahmin begins to understand the flaws of the caste system.

We see the beginnings of other problems in this volume. There is the war between Kosala and the Shakya kingdom, in which Kosala is perpetually trying to crush their neighbors. This creates hate between two sets of people, but also specific hatred for the character of Tatta, who becomes driven by a need for revenge against Kosala after everyone he loves is taken from him. We also meet Bandaka, a villain who will not only create problems for Siddhartha in the future, but is also the progenitor of another foe.

Buddha is a character driven tale, and it is a key part of the story to see how the infant Siddhartha grows into the Buddha history knows. But just as important as character – possibly even more important – is the milieu, the location and culture in which the story takes place. What the first volume of Buddha does is set up this world so that we understand the culture and the people. We see the issues that are caused by the way society is set up, and the world-spanning problems brought about by other characters. It is the world that Siddhartha will step into as he enacts change on his journey to become a Buddha.

It may seem unnecessary to spend so many valuable comic pages on the world before Siddhartha, but by beginning his story this way Tezuka wraps us up in the world. Had Tezuka told the story of the time before Sidhartha, of Tatta, Chapra, and Naradatta, through flashbacks, we may have understood the gist of what he wanted to get across. But then we would not have really experienced these scenes, and we would not feel so deeply tied into the heart of the story. By spending so much time on his world, on the milieu, Tezuka immerses us in the story of Buddha in a way that carries us through all 8 volumes.

This post was written as a part of February’s Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Kate Dacey on The Manga Critic.

Cross Game MMF: I Love Okubo

For a second Cross Game MMF post I wanted to talk about Hiroko Okubo, the chubby female manager of the portable team. If you didn’t remember her name, don’t feel bad (I had to look up her first name on Wikipedia myself). She supports the baseball team, but she doesn’t do much to stand out: she’s not so fully developed as Aoba, and she’s certainly not as integral to the overall plot as Wakaba. Heck, she doesn’t even show as much depth as Risa Shido, her grumpy counterpart on the varsity team.

But I think she’s great.

Okubo’s an interesting character. She does whatever she’s told, but not in a sniveling, subservient way; she’s actually happy to take care of the team and help out the coach. The third years call her “tubby”, but it doesn’t make her wince or lower her self esteem; it’s just another word that rolls off her back. Later on you find out she’s the granddaughter of the school chairman. She could have used his position to draw herself a better lot, like the interim principal’s daughter does, but instead she takes things as they come. Of course, she says about her grandfather, “My granpa’s very strict about things like that [the deal with Coach Daimon]. Even if it’s a promise with a bad person, he will honor it.” So we can see how much of her good personality came from him.

Okubo also has a calming effect on the other players. When the varsity team gets runs off him in their first match Ko pitches a fit in the dugout. Okubo grabs his hand before he can hit something. “Not your right hand,” his pitching hand. Ko calms down. The third years are angry that they’ll never be on the varsity team, but Okubo tells them the (made up) story of the portable coach fighting Daimon and getting hurt for their sakes. They stop showboating and trying so hard, and play some real baseball.

And it’s the same for the reader, I think. Cross Game is full of interesting, well-written characters, and has plenty of funny moments, but there’s a bittersweet and often somber tone the manga takes on due to loss, guilt and frustration the characters feel. Not Okubo – there’s a smile on her face as she gives a bright “Okay!” and cheers the team on, and she makes me smile without being a joke or a mockery. She lightens the mood in a subtle way, and that’s why I’m so pleased that she’s a character.

(This post was written as a part of May’s Manga Movable Feast, hosted by The Panelists. Find my other MMF post on Wakaba’s character on this blog.)

Recent Reviews: Kurozakuro, Blue Exorcist, Yen Press Manga

I’ve been slow to update on this, but here are a few recent reviews I’ve done around the ‘net.

First was Kurozakuro volume 3, up on The Fandom Post. In this volume we’re starting to get more answers about what is going on, but the story telling is also really weird and clunky at times. And it’s still disappointing that none of the old female characters have returned. Read the rest of what I thought here.

On Real Otaku Gamer reviewed the first volume of Blue Exorcist. This manga had a slow start, but the Shonen Jump story is action packed, and has nice background art and awesome character designs. But it’s a supernatural high school story, and I got sick of that idea fast, so I’m not sure if it’s something I’d carry through with. The whole review is here.

Also on Real Otaku Gamer, I wrote three quick reviews of ongoing Yen Press series: K-ON!, Spice and Wolf and My Girlfriend’s a Geek. Each of them have their flaws, but they’re fun in their own way. And I’m finding myself increasingly biased towards Spice & Wolf. Check out each of my thoughts here.

I’ve also gotten some other blog posts done. On Real Otaku Gamer I posted a news clip on Digital Manga Publishing’s eManga website, and yesterday I had my say on the character of Wakaba for this month’s Cross Game Manga Movable Feast.

Cross Game MMF: A Look at Wakaba

This post is part of the Cross Game Manga Movable Feast, hosted this week at The Panelists. Visit his intro post to learn more about the series, or read my reviews of volume 1, volume 2, and volume 3. This post contains some spoilers, mostly from the first volume of the series.

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