Charismatic psychopath Michio and contradictory Catholic priest Garai are the only ones to survive a poison gas accident on a tiny island that was hidden by those responsible. Their eroded relationship is based on abuse and manipulation.
With references to anti-gay discrimination, left-wing student groups during the Vietnam War, and the real-life nerve gas disaster in Okinawa in 1969, the gripping “MW” manga is a prominent representative of the Gekiga genre. Hamburg-based Carlsen-Verlag has just published a complete edition of the three volumes in hardcover with a Western reading orientation. (Translation by John Schmitt-Weigand, 584 p., €28).
After a treacherous murder of a boy and his father, Michio once again goes into hiding with the priest, who begs not to reveal it to the police. But this one does even more. He talks to the investigators while Michio, a master of disguise and brother of a well-known kabuki actor, disappears as a nun.
Garai doesn’t want to go on like this after that. He demands that Michio turn himself in and wants him excommunicated. However, he is no match for the destructive young man’s manipulative charms and seductions, so business as usual for now…
The relationship between the two ambivalent characters began 15 years before this opening scene. In the 1960s, the impressionable Garai was part of a group of marauding students who bullied a small island after their plan to raid a foreign military depot failed.
More than “Astro Boy” and “Kimba the White Lion”
At that time, Michio Yuki, the innocent scion of a rich family, came to the island and was kidnapped by the gang for ransom. By a twist of fate, Garai was sent to care for the handsome boy in a secluded cave.
The next day, the two were faced with a horrible scenario: all the islanders and all the visitors were dead. All life had been wiped out by the leak of a poisonous gas called MW from the military depot, and Michio was also showing the first signs. of poisoning Garai and the boy fled the island on a boat. The accident was covered up.
Osamu Tezuka, who is often referred to as the “god of manga” for his contributions to the development of the comic medium, created not only works relevant to children such as “Astro Boy” and “Kimba the White Lion”, but also stories for an adult audience.
With “MW” in the mid-1970s, he took another step in the direction of the Gekiga movement and explicitly depicts homosexuality and rape in the intricate story told.
His expressive drawing style is much less Disney-like and more reality-oriented, but despite the theme, it doesn’t come entirely without humorous depictions. The blatant sex scenes sometimes even devolve into the absurdly grotesque.
A fine line between genius and madness
Osamu Tezuka creates a complex, often over-the-top and rushed psychological thriller about guilt and atonement, religion and sin, and a society plagued by unscrupulousness and mendacity with amoral and contradictory protagonists.
The doubling of the pages, which was done for the German edition in order to adapt the work to Western viewing habits, unfortunately disturbs continuity in places, as the film-like conception of the page is adapted to the Japanese reading address.
The characters created by Tezuka are difficult to understand. Michio’s actions, for example, sometimes seem random and erratic. He often seems like he’s making decisions out of childish instinct, at other times he seems completely insensitive.
This juggling act walks his battered soul on a fine line between genius and insanity to the monstrous, obviously fictional end, and viewers sometimes to the limits of empathy.
By the way, in “MW” Osamu Tezuka resorts to his metafictional star system, for which he uses recurring characters in various works in roles comparable to actors, thus making the unreality of the plot visible and returning the reader to reality.
For example, the legendary abstruse comic relief Hyotan-Tsugi, a mix of pig and mushroom, appears in one scene and Ban Shunsaku, who wears a mustache and is well known to many from “Astro Boy,” plays a pub owner. The character became known as Astro Boy’s friend and teacher, but he also played major roles in “Metropolis,” “Black Jack” and many other works.