Seth T.'s Reviews > Buddha, Vol. 1: Kapilavastu

Buddha, Vol. 1 by Osamu Tezuka
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Sep 19, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: comics
Recommended for: anyone with patience and a lot of money - or a good library
Read in September, 2007

At 3013 pages, Osamu Tezuka's Buddha was something of an investment in time. I received the last two hardcover volumes of the collection (vol. 7 and 8) for my birthday at the end of July and began reading from start to finish in mid-August. It's true that one could possibly read the entire collection - and a handsome collection it is - in a day (at perhaps two hours per volume), but I didn't feel compelled to rush things.

In Buddha, Tezuka presents a curious blend of themes and styles. This project, ten years in production (1974-1984), presents the life of Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha, from birth to death, capitalizing on famous episodes and creating fictional ones as well. Tezuka includes a robust cast of characters both fictional and historical that waxes and wanes over the near-century that the story narrates.

Not being a Buddhist, I have no idea how well Tezuka's tale reflects either the historical man or the religious conception of him (though genuine Buddhist's seem to like the book - and I don't know if Tezuka was Buddhist or not, though it seems likely or plausible). But one thing is for certain, I cannot see a similar book being crafted about the life of Christ and being well-received. And a similar version of the life of Mohammed would end in bombs, death threats, and ambassadors demanding apologies.

Because the thing is: Tezuka's tale is as irreverent as it is reverrent.

He clearly thinks highly of Buddha and his teachings. And yet, the books is filled with jokes and antics and all kinds of nuttiness. Pokes and jabs at Buddha himself are rare (though present), but there are a constant stream of silly asides, even in the midst of what would otherwise be a sober scene, fraught with drama. A horse will gallop in on a messenger to deliver dire news to the king. A character will be confronted by his haunted conscience, seeing a vision of Buddha speaking to him - only to have Buddha bite him on the face and we realize he's been talking to his horse. Characters from Tezuka's other works show up not infrequently and even Tezuka himself will appear in cameos, taking the place of a character for a single panel.

The story is also filled with anachronisms as well. Both visual and verbal. At one point, a poor peasant family wishes to send their son with Siddartha as he follows the path of monkhood, claiming that their son should be able to become a monk "in this day when even actors can become president." There are further references to Paris and New York and Spielberg. And E.T. and Yoda even make appearances, and at one point a royal councilor asks if Buddha actually is E.T. (as Buddha has just healed someone with the touch of a finger).

It took me a while to get a handle on exactly how to approach the book. The fact of the sheer silliness of moments. The fact of the gorgeous and highly detailed landscapes intruded upon by Disney-esque cartoon characters. The fact of main characters who die 300 pages in to the 3000-page epic. The fact that every woman in the book is topless. The fact of mixing faith and fantasy so seamlessly in a book that I believe is trying to promote the teachings of Buddha. And the fact that Buddha isn't even born until the end of the first volume. It was a weird mix, but after not too long, I found myself quite at home with his unique style and let the story wash over me.

All in all, I found it both interesting and fun. And surprising. Characters you expect to be redeemed end tragically and characters you expect to turn their back on Buddha turn out to be some of his biggest boosters. Add to the religious story the sheer scope of the political story and you've got an action-packed tale of religious enlightenment.

I still couldn't really tell you what Buddhism's about though.
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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

I think the small jokes just simmer the pace to the more poignant and dramatic part.It builds up all the series.What a great surprise to me.I want to read his series The Flight of he Phoenix.If it this good its well worth all the money that I spend on it.


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