Review: 4/5 – The God of Manga Creates Characters He Hates
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.
Digital Manga, known mainly for their release of yaoi manga over the past few years, has a splinter group focused on releasing the works of Osamu Tezuka, Japan’s acknowledged “God of Manga”. Imagine Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, and perhaps some Walt Disney all rolled up into one figure, and you have an idea of Tezuka’s impact on Japanese culture and in particular the manga industry. Yes, he’s that important. He also created an amazing body of work right up to his death, some easily accessible, some not quite so simple to obtain.
It’s that latter area Digital Manga has been working to fix. Title by title they have gone through and secured rights, worked on translation, and released some of Tezuka’s lesser-known (or it’s better to say lesser known outside of Japan) works. Long out of print titles like Captain Ken or Ludwig are now back in print and Digital Manga used Kickstarter backing to do it. The process is not cheap, but neither does Digital Manga cheapen the process. The volumes I’ve received thus far have been beautifully done, with the occasional fun extra thrown in (it’s a nice touch to get a personal thank you note handwritten by the publisher on a postcard in each volume). The kicker? I know I’m paying more by backing the crowdfunding campaign than if I’d waited to see if they’ll release it via normal channels, but I’m still happy to do so. It goes back to the project not succeeding without my support, and to illustrate that point, Digital Manga’s recent effort to print Tezuka’s Wonder Three did not succeed. While I’m sure they’re going to revisit their efforts to see that title does get printed, perhaps it’s time (after all these paragraphs) to talk about one of their recent successes – Alabaster volumes 1 and 2.
Alabaster tells the story of James Block, an Olympic-level athlete who falls in love, has the object of his affection spurn and laugh at him because of the color of his skin (he’s African-American), and when he attacks her in passionate rage he’s thrown in prison. While there he meets a scientist who tells him about a device he’s created that will make his skin disappear – along with the rest of him – making him an invisible man. Intrigued, and bent on revenge, Block serves his time and finds this device, but of course something goes wrong, and he finds only his skin has turned transparent. Crazed and disfigured, he dubs himself Alabaster and decides to destroy beauty in any form. Only when the world is completely ugly like he is will there truly be any beauty at all.
“I hate every character that appears in it without exception,” Tezuka writes in the afterword to volume two of Alabaster, mentioning that this is one of his least favorite works due to its darkness. He was reluctant to have it included in the scope of his work, but for completeness’ sake he finally allowed it. It is, indeed, perhaps one of the darkest books I’ve read by him to date, certainly up there with Ayako and The Book of Human Insects, and character plays a big role in that. It truly is difficult to find a “likable” person to latch onto and root for. Alabaster himself is a deplorably vile person whose soul is as twisted as the veins running across his transparent face. His followers and pursuers both have few redeeming qualities to share with the reader. Even Ami, the young girl who was one of the earliest victims of the invisibility device (it worked on her), becomes easily corrupted and understands Alabaster’s hatred of beauty and those who worship it.
That darkness, and examination of what beautiful really means, might be the general idea behind the book. The vanity of beauty being only skin deep, as the saying goes, is put on trial by Alabaster and his crew of henchmen, and eventually Ami herself. It’s the story of a supervillain, told by those who have to deal with the horrors a supervillain can wreak upon those he chooses to terrorize. It is not going to be an easy read, and certainly isn’t recommended for the casual reader looking to introduce themselves to Tezuka’s work, but for longtime fans these two volumes will be invaluable additions to their collections.
Reviewed by: Al Sparrow
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