Monday, 21 November 2011


Expanded from an Amazon 4* review
A psychological horror story.

I shudder to think what was going through Osamu Tezuka's mind in the early to mid-70's when this master of the graphic story, known for his compassion and humour, created a series of bleak adult masterpieces which include MW, Ode To Kirihito, Apollo's Song, and Ayako. The Book Of Human Insects preceded all of them and very much sets the tone for what was to come. I have to say that I hate the title, considering it ugly and much preferring the alternative Human Metamorphosis.

The story is fairly simple. An attractive intelligent but completely ruthless young woman, who is completely devoid of empathy, associates with someone of talent in a particular field. She psychologically becomes that person, steals and adapts their work and becomes famous for it. She leaves in her wake a trail of broken lives, suicide, and murder.

It is both fascinating and horrifying at the same time, perhaps even noirish with its femme fatale protagonist. Tezuka populates this graphic novel with a bunch of individual and interesting characters many of whom, even knowing what she is like, are unable to resist her, though one does. Toshiko Tomura, the protagonist herself, is either an enigma or an utterly self-centred psychopath depending upon your own interpretation of what Tezuka is attempting to portray. Even the ending has an ambiguity to it.  It's difficult to discuss actual details without spoiling it so I won't.

The art is standard contemporary-setting Tezuka, containing explicit but never exploitative depictions of nudity, sex, even a brief lesbian encounter, and rape. Unusually, this edition has a dust jacket (see above) but remove it and revealed on the cover are multiple versions of one image -a screaming face.
The images aren't fuzzed out in the book

Tezuka was always fascinated by insects from being a child and clearly the insect theme contains metaphors which, not being well-versed in insect behaviour, have gone over my head. You may well get them.

One thing that is astonishing is that a work of such maturity and skill was published in Japan at the same time as American comics (Undergrounds excepted) were dominated by superhero comics aimed at children and teenagers. It's taken 30-40 years for these mature stories by Tezuka to appear in the West which is just a shame. Better late than never, but it's interesting to speculate what might have happened if western creators had been aware of them then and the impact it could have had. 

Post Script.
I believe that publishers Vertical are going to reprint Tezuka's Adolf series (yes, it both is and isn't what you're thinking) sometime next year. By all accounts this is one of his great works and I'm really looking forward to it. It has been available before  but is now out of print and expensive.

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