Monday, June 01, 2009

Manga Monday: Metropolis

Osamu Tezuka
For Manga Monday this week, I decided to go old school and picked up a classic science fiction manga from Osamu Tezuka (on clearance at my local comic store) from 1949. As it is an earlier work, it has a different feel to it than the manga we've seen translated by Vertical recently, like MW and Apollo's Song. It's more whimsical, with plenty of slapstick and cartoony villians bouncing around, meanwhile full of astute commentary of the times. Things are much more blunt in this early work by the manga master, but the innocence of his characters brings to mind early animation and comic strips with their simplicity and naivety (and not just because there are giant Mickey Mouse-ish rats in the story actually called Mikimaus Waltdisneus). Events chug along at an extremely quick pace, leaving characters little time to breathe or develop, the opposite of which is customary for modern comics and manga, but it suits the futuristic, silly world that Tezuka has set up in this metropolis, corrupt with gangsters and machine slaves. It may just be that I'm biased or conditioned to read comics a certain way now, but I'm not a huge fan of this early work. I prefer Tezuka's later work exponentially, although I am still curious to read more of Tezuka's pioneering manga like Princess Warrior, despite myself.
I had the same feeling when I was reading Metropolis that I had from reading Tezuka's Astro Boy. It was just a different sort of pace, of storytelling, that people enjoyed back then. But Naoki Urasawa was able to "update" an Astro Boy story for his series Pluto, to staggering results, which makes me think that these early works are just as enjoyable as Tezuka's later works, just within their respective time, or if you're able to read them a certain way. Same thing with superhero comics. I'm not a huge fan of older superhero comics like initial issues of Superman, but modern renditions of the Man of Steel certainly hold my interest. It was just more old-fashioned and written differently back then. Things are darker and more complex nowadays in stories, and I've come to enjoy reading that type of a story. But Marvel's "Ultimate" universe, for instance, proves that retelling say, Spider-Man's origin story can be cool when updated. Urasawa had that same idea for his version of Astro Boy and it was really cool and well-received. I wish I'd liked Metropolis more than I did, but in the context of its time, I'm sure it was utterly riveting.

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