I've been reading some more Tezuka. I teach him, he's major, and I should read more of his stuff. I always feel that way, even though by this point I've probably read more by him than any other mangaka: I've read Phoenix, Buddha, Jungle taitei Leo, Dororo, Shin Takarajima, all complete, plus several volumes of Black Jack and Mighty Atom. That's enough to know more or less what I think of him, but of course there's always more, and since I teach him (in small doses), I should know it. So, more Tezuka.
Ayako 奇子 was serialized in 1972-1973, and was, like Dororo, part of Tezuka's response to the more mature, adult-oriented manga that had appeared over the course of the
'60s. Even more than Dororo this one tries to escape the kiddie-comic
ghetto that Tezuka had owned for so long. This one's even more
ambitious: Dororo was working in established manga genres, while Ayako is a bid for comics-as-literature. I.e., no samurai, no spaceships, no monsters; a few gangsters, but mostly this is an attempt at realism. Multi-generational family drama, set against the historical backdrop of postwar Japan.
Dirty realism, or naturalism in the sense of dealing with humanity in a state of nature, unreconstructed, filthy and mean. He's telling the story of a wealthy rural family in northern Japan that's resisting postwar land reform, and all kinds of democratic reform, by becoming more and more insular and inbred. Literally. It's a family at war with itself - we get murder, incest, rape, all sorts of nasty stuff. All of this Tezuka ties to larger political things - not only the question of rural landownership, but also Occupation politics, spying, political corruption, and the Economic Miracle. Whew.
I kind of wanted to love it. I love the ambition. But I didn't feel like Tezuka's heart was in it. I know he loved the Russian novelists, and that this is supposed to have their grand scale, but the particulars of the story are largely drawn from contemporary Japanese film and/or fiction - Kurosawa's The Idiot and The Bad Sleep Well come to mind, along with Yokomizu Seishi's Inugami-ke no ichizoku. And the lurid details of the family's degradation feel tossed in just for cheap thrills. It all hangs together plot-wise, and Tezuka's smart enough that it's all nicely integrated in terms of subtext, but the nihilism feels unearned, adopted from early '70s underground manga because that's what the revolutionaries liked.
I read this in English. I almost never read manga in translation, because, well, I can read them in the original. But we happened to have this in English lying around, and I had a bout of insomnia, and I read it straight through in a day. Interesting experience. I read manga in Japanese, but not as fast as a native reader of Japanese can, which means that while I may be getting the same verbal experience, I'm not getting the same visual-verbal experience. That is, I'm not apprehending the visual-verbal synergy at the pace at which it's designed to be apprehended. That picture-and-text-at-a-glance thing that, really, comics as a medium is all about, I'm just a step too slow to really get when I'm reading in Japanese. So it was interesting to read Ayako in English. I kept wanting to check the original for language, of course, but meanwhile I felt like I was getting a more direct take on the comicsness of the thing than I sometimes do...