Call me old school or call me late, but in my defense I was just a sucker for pretty art when I read manga in my high school days. That being said, yes, I did read a lot of CLAMP. As much as I still love CLAMP and they are my favorite mangaka, I eventually ventured off in search of more compelling stories (sorry, CLAMP!!) and started reading the endless journey that is Detective Conan. I read a few smaller titles afterwards, including Hana Yori Dango (this was before the whole Meteor Garden/F4 explosion), which is one of my all-time favorites even though I usually don’t read shoujo manga. I was so caught up with reading the NEW titles, in a way, ignoring the classic goodies.
I was at Kinokuniya in Little Tokyo one day, browsing their manga section, when a title that would ordinarily not capture my interest, did–“Buddha” by Tezuka Osamu. Maybe it was my innate desire to learn more about my parents’ religion (I go to the temple sometimes but I’m not really Buddhist) and my culture that prompted me to pick up this title. I tend to read action/sci-fi/horror/mystery/comedy manga, and I shouldn’t have doubted that Buddha wouldn’t have those elements. I finished the first volume within the hour, and I now own all 8 volumes and tried to force my friends to read it. I don’t like to admit this, but I got teary-eyed upon the conclusion. I remember watching “Little Buddha” as a kid, but besides the fact Keanu Reeves was in it, a distinct memory of it doesn’t resound in my mind. Tezuka’s “Buddha”, however, was so much easier to connect to. Sure, some of the events in the manga were fictional, but Siddhartha wasn’t a perfect person–and that was made clear throughout. The magic of Tezuka’s story-telling (I later realized) is that he makes his characters completely real–the characteristics that Siddhartha embodied can be found in maybe one of your best friends. There were characters you hated, characters you grew to love, and characters you cherised–the most important thing was that you cared about all the characters. It is a rarity in manga for all the characters to have fascinating arcs, and especially for the reader to emotionally invest in so many of them.
After “Buddha”, I read “MW”, which was a very, very twisted thriller involving poisonous gases and a dose of homosexuality. There was a dash of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman in our main antagonist, who I wasn’t sure if I felt sorry for or absolutely despised. At times I felt bad for him, other times I just wanted him to die a gruesome death for all his sins. The story had me questioning who the true villain was at the very end, and I wondered why this story hadn’t been turned into a movie yet, it was one of the most captivating I had ever read.
“MW” and “Buddha”, 2 completely different bodies of work, both set decades, or centuries in the past, echoing modern social and political themes. Osamu never loses the connection to reality with his fascinating and seemingly unreal stories (I sure hope MW is 100% fictional, it is absolutely horrific). His characters are unforgettable, and most of the stories ARE character-driven, unlike a lot of manga today, which tries to hook its readers with a “unique” story idea, but leaves readers feeling empty with its underdeveloped characters.
I just picked up “Ode to Kirihito” the other day, which is still sitting on my nightstand, but this story revolves around a weird disease that turns people into beastly dogs. Can’t wait to start reading.