on June 3, 2009
This is the story of the two survivors of an "accident." In the early `60s, the United States stashed away on a tiny Japanese island, with Japanese cooperation, of course, some deadly gas (Tezuka calls it "MW,"--hence the title)--we really did---but in Tezuka's manga some leaks out, killing all 800 inhabitants of the island. The survivors, Iwao Garai, 15, and Michio Yuki, 9, are protected from the gas because they are sheltered in a cave. When they come out the next morning, it is to an island of the dead: men, women, children, birds and beasts--every sentient being. The gekiga (a manga for adults, which MW is, in spades) tells us about the rest of their lives, (almost...) beginning 15 years later. We find out about the events on the island in flashbacks.
What happened to the rest of the gas? (The cover-up has of course been enormous.) And what will Garai and Yuki (now, respectively, a Catholic priest and a loan executive at a Tokyo bank) do about it? Garai is haunted by his memory of the dead, and Yuki is simply a madman: he inhaled some of the gas, which gives him occasional attacks of bad health, but worse, it warped his brain, robbing him of every speck o conscience, so that he takes great joy in using, kidnapping, torturing and killing people. We find out his reason--just as insane as the acts themselves--in the second third of the manga. Yuki always confesses his crimes to Father Garai, who--and we don't understand why, at first-- never tells on him.
Yuki and Garai have (since when?) an uneasy homosexual relationship (Yuki is Tezuka's only true homosexual main character). It's very hard to hate our arch-villain Yuki: he's cute as a button , very smart, has a great sense of humor, and really loves Garai (although he loves nobody else on earth). Garai--until the second part of the manga, when he begins to develop a backbone--is a rather poor creature, although he's a big, handsome fellow, not being able to honestly follow any part of his heart. But it must be difficult to be in love with God and a sociopath at the same time. He lies to his father confessor, the police, Yuki, and himself. Of course Yuki lies to evrybody.
There are many fascinating characters in this manga: the reporter to whom Garai finally tells the story of the island, the public prosecuto0r, who has a face like a misshapen dinner plate, but whose brain is in fine order, Yuki's brother, an onnagata (a man who plays women's parts in Kabuki theater), who looks as much like Yuki as the second pea in a pod. Mistaken identity is common in Kabuki; it occurs here too. Some of Tezuka's best drawing is here--the faces of the dead in the reporter's article, Yuki's disquisition on...Garai's day. There is all you could wish for of political corruption, self-sacrifice, ugly violence, sadness, humor, anger, and occasional very kinky sex (which I have not mentioned). The ending is worthy of the darkest Hitchcock.
The translation (from the French I read) is occasionally disappointing, The French is softer in tone, but--is the French, or the English closer to the original Japanese? I don't know. Sometimes the drawing is too stark. (It'a 30 years since the serialization....what are we looking at?) Perhaps ....an "18+"would be more appropriate than a "l6+" as a rating. The sex is not explicit, nor is the plot just an excuse for it, but a few scenes would be shocking to some, and there is the occasional use of the right word in the wrong place at the wrong time (being used to American films, this really surprised me). I wouldn't want to keep anyone from reading it, but more conservative human beings might see the equivalent of an "X"-----and think, "I think I'll sit this one out."