Anime Vice News

Tezuka's BUDDHA Vol. 1 Continues to Befuddle -- Retro Review

Alternately hypnotizing and silly, this manga classic still sends seriously mixed messages.

Previous Retro Reviews...

Stripped of context and the legendary reputation Tezuka’s oeuvre, this retelling of the life of Siddhartha has to be one of the stranger works of graphic fiction ever rendered.

Imagine the Walt Disney Studio’s animation staff, circa 1942 or so, trying to reach again for FANTASIA’s high-brow in between the productions of BAMBI and DUMBO. Imagine them retelling one of the most meditative, abstract and complex narratives of world religion in their signature cute cartooning style. Imagine them also channeling - - through some metaphysical displacement of consciousness, perhaps - - the sensibilities of their successors from the 90’s, who just loved to add sidekicks voiced by comedians like Eddie Murphy and Cheech Marin to make old stories hip and current.

Imagine all of that and you’ll have a sense of how Tezuka’s BUDDHA plays, sight unseen. If you need a closer comparator, though, then the classic anime feature LITTLE NORSE PRINCE VALIANT is the most useful in terms of adult material being presented with incongruously kid-friendly art.

A little outside research reveals that this is the first in an eight volume set; the first 400 pages of a 3020 page epic. Additional snooping clarifies why so much of the plot doesn’t recall any version of Buddha’s life story I’ve encountered before. See, while it may have felt a bit redundant to summarize a story that two out of every seven persons in the world have presumably centered their spiritual lives on, some recap is still necessary here since Tezuka does a fair amount of embellishing. Indeed, the birth of Siddhartha doesn’t actually occur until close to the end and the hundreds of pages leading up to that moment are concerned with a handful of characters he’s inserted with some rather mirthful poetic license.

Two adventuresome young boys on the lower end of ancient India’s Hindu caste system lead this portion of the story. First, there’s Chapra, a slave (or “Shudra”) bitter about he and his mother’s wretched placement in this society. One day, while on the way to deliver a luxurious carpet for his master, he’s mugged by Tatta, an untouchable (or “Pariah,” in this translation) leading a gang of naked, thieving street urchins. The two butt heads when Chapra tracks Tatta down to take the carpet back but, after some surprisingly cruel rounds of torture and humiliation, they become friends with a near-brotherly bond.

Tatta has earned much renown in the region for his mysterious ability to take psychic/spiritual possession of animals. Though he’s able to free Chapra and his mother from their master by assuming the form of a vicious tiger, Tatta is tragically helpless to prevent an invading army from massacring his home village. Only the miraculous appearance of a locust swarm winds up saving these boys from execution and, in a latter bout of ironic circumstance, their rescue of this enemy army’s leader gets Chapra adopted up into the prestigious warrior class.

Despite Chapra’s best intentions and Tatta’s heroic use of his power, the two boys’ lives are fated to continue the very cycle of suffering which Siddhartha’s birth has been prophesized to end. So… enter the Buddha, then?

Without doing another, deeper round of research, I can only speculate upon Tezuka’s motives for crafting this ambitious tome. Is it a work of spiritual devotion? Did he simply find the story of Buddha to be great raw material to spin a good, ripping yarn out of? I think of Simon Bisley’s totally metal ILLUSTRATIONS FROM THE BIBLE, R.Crumb’s surprisingly-straightforward BOOK OF GENESIS ILLUSTRATED and Kyle Baker’s two-fisted KING DAVID while trying to interpret the mixed messages of this comic.

I expect that, sooner or later, Siddharta’s message of non-violence will predominate this series - - and that’d seem at odds with all the thrilling action sequences centered on Chapra and Tatta’s kickass super moves. There’s also Tatta’s potential as a false prophet whose misdirection will presumably be rectified by the Buddha’s coming of age. Grouped with the Tex Avery-style slapstick gags, the anachronistic jabs at modern cities and the cheeky cameos by Tezuka and his other creations, that would seem to easily set this up as some sort of iconoclastic satire of the order of LIFE OF BRIAN.

However, the tone of BUDDHA honestly doesn’t carry much sense of self-awareness. It’s maybe like a priest going on puzzling tangents about his picks for the NFL draft or his preference of KISS guitarists during a homily. The storyteller just keeps pressing on without much inkling that such digressions might contradict his overall message.

Look, there’s no questioning the regency of this book in the graphic novel cannon. I’ve opted out of enumerating its many merits because it’d almost feel like presenting tried, accepted and proven facts as my own novel insights (I must say, though, that the opening “silent” sequence with the riddle of self-immolating rabbit is a hauntingly virtuoso piece of graphic storytelling.)

Even though this review’s been written more than 25 years after press, the sight of such heady and heavy subject matter being presented with such simplistic tooning is still a novelty that remains hard to get over. And the novelty's all the more hypnotic for how BUDDHA never blinks once over its own strange and often unsettling contradictions.

Tom Pinchuk’s a writer and personality with a large number of comics, videos and features like this to his credit. Visit his website - - tompinchuk.com - - and follow his Twitter: @tompinchuk

marmito12on Aug. 13, 2012 at 3:45 a.m.

jejeje

sora_thekey moderator on Aug. 13, 2012 at 9:28 p.m.

I'll be honest, this doesn't sound like it'd be something that would be in my pool of interests... but your review's extensive use of high praise and convoluted positive comparisons makes me question my opinion of the book.

No_name_here staff on Aug. 17, 2012 at 2:41 a.m.

@marmito12 said:

jejeje

Ay-oh!

@sora_thekey said:

I'll be honest, this doesn't sound like it'd be something that would be in my pool of interests... but your review's extensive use of high praise and convoluted positive comparisons makes me question my opinion of the book.

Open your mind, broaden your horizons and see the universe around you, Geo!

sora_thekey moderator on Aug. 17, 2012 at 5:44 a.m.

@No_name_here said:

Open your mind, broaden your horizons and see the universe around you, Geo!

You're starting to sound very religious...

Dig Deeper into Buddha

Series follows the life young Buddha. It tells his tale on how he became enlightened and how he wanted to change the caste system of ancient India

Edit/View the Wiki
Hit the Forums (1 Post)
Add/View Images (4 Images)
Watch Some Videos
Pokemon Black and White Looks Delicious in Motion

First video of a Pokemon battle in Black and White.

Comment & Win: One Piece Vol. 52, 53

Time for a giveaway folks! Now, act civil, we don't want anyone to get hurt in the mad rush to win.

Beginner's Guide to FLCL

Gainax's madcap, surrealist anime, broken down for new viewers.

Ballz Deep

Steve gets intimately close to Dragon Ball Z, for science!

Top 3 Awful Anime Dubs

Grit your teeth and get your ear plugs ready cause this week we're taking on the three most amazingly bad dubs of all time!

Anime Vice Battle User of July 2014: Low

Congratulations to Low!

SAILOR MOON CRYSTAL #1 -- Special Review

What was revealed about this reboot from the Anime Expo screening?

Anime Expo 2014 Recap

Vice Pit sentai squad assemble!

DRAGON BALL :: Should You Watch Dub or Sub?

Episode #11. Retro review. He's bringing THAT question up again?

SWORD ART ONLINE II #1 -- Special Review

I really, really don't like MMO's gettin' real.

NARUTO Ch. 683 Review

When things are at their worst, the only place to go is up,....right?

BLEACH Ch. 587 Review

The war has taken an unexpectedly disappointing turn in direction.

Anime Expo 2014 -- THE VICE PIT

America's biggest anime convention pulls Sam back onto the show. And wait -- who's this mysterious third guest?

Anime Vice Battle User of July 2014: Low

Congratulations to Low!

SAILOR MOON CRYSTAL #1 -- Special Review

What was revealed about this reboot from the Anime Expo screening?

DRAGON BALL :: Should You Watch Dub or Sub?

Episode #11. Retro review. He's bringing THAT question up again?

ALDNOAH ZERO #1 -- Special Review

An info dump that... still smells good?

SWORD ART ONLINE II #1 -- Special Review

I really, really don't like MMO's gettin' real.

BLEACH Ch. 587 Review

The war has taken an unexpectedly disappointing turn in direction.

JOJO'S BIZARRE ADVENTURE : STARDUST CRUSADERS #10 + 11 -- Double Review!

This one will make you cry the manliest tears!

Anime Expo 2014 Recap

Vice Pit sentai squad assemble!

Mandatory Network

Submissions can take several hours to be approved.

Save ChangesCancel