Known as the “godfather of manga,” Osamu Tezuka has drawn tens of thousands of panels in manga form that fans all over the world have viciously devoured. His more famous series include Buddha and Akira, both spanning thousands of pages and still sold today. Tezuka’s Ode to Kirihito has been translated into English and bound in a 800-page-plus trade paperback that readers will thoroughly enjoy.
In a Japanese hospital, doctors scour as they try to discover the cause and the cure of the Monmow Disease, a degenerative change that causes humans to take on animalistic features like fur and elongated muzzles. When young Doctor Kirihito Osanai officially contradicts the medical opinion of his mentor, Dr. Tatsugaura, about the cause of the disease, Kirihito is sent packing to a remote Japanese village to verify his findings. Shortly after arriving, he too contracts the disease, but not without discovering the cause and realizing that he was purposely sent there in hopes that he would never come back. Kirihito sets out to return, but his journey will be long, challenging, and filled with heartache and tragedy. He will give up everything he has and loved and lose all he has accomplished, but he is determined to enact his vengeance upon Dr. Tatsugaura. Kirihito is not the only one who has become suspect of Tatsugaura’s integrity and lust for power.
Tezuka blends many fantastic elements into this saga that pushes readers to fly through this book. But what makes this graphic novel so compelling is how Tezuka puts it all together into a long-running narrative interweaving the personal and professional lives of a core group of characters. While the story centers on Kirihito, Tezuka takes the time to explore the lives of others who are affected by his actions. Ode to Kirihito elicits a share of social commentary that criticizes the politics of the medical establishment, unquestioning obedience, and human decency and kindness (or lack thereof). Tezuka also doesn’t hesitate to be provocative and sexual, providing additional commentary on the nature of relationships, sex, and love.
With over eight hundred pages of panels, Tezuka often takes his time in playing out scenes and sequences. Yet he uses his panels effectively and creates some rather interesting positioning and layouts with them. Often his backgrounds are sparse, with only a few specific items. Since it was originally printed as black and white on cheap paper, adding extra details into the background can be time-consuming while also useless or at least unnecessary. With Tezuka’s work, the barren background only means readers pay more attention to the characters, their gestures and words. When Tezuka does decide to be detailed, particularly in full page panels, he certainly produces some fantastic images worthy of any fan’s bedroom wall.
Despite the fact that this series was published in the early 1970s, its themes and storyline are timeless (with the exception of a few minor anachronisms). Tezuka has certainly earned his title and Ode to Kirihito will amaze those who have yet to read anything by Tezuka while reaffirming those familiar with his work. Told by a master storyteller, this can easily become a tome readers will take up again and again.