When I started Chou -Dori back in 2009 if you had told me that a manga company Would bring out a manga title by the pure power of Crowd sourcing I would have wondered what you were drinking – and would have promptly ordered a double of it.
And yet In 2011 American manga company DMP [Digital Manga Publishing] set out to achieve just that – and now I hold the result of that project.
First and foremost Osamu Tezukas Barbara as a manga shows itself to be a work of its time – when published in 1973 Japan was still enjoying the euphoria of a culture addicted to the next big thrill – be it Drugs, art, sex and social and political revolution – and yet at this time it was clear that the party was coming to an end as political corruption was rife, and students of Tokyo university protested over the Japanese government signing the Security Treaty with the United States, a treaty that allowed American to place Air force bases on Okinawa.
Into this mix we are introduced to Yosuke Mikura, a relatively famous Author and social darling, with offers both political and matrimonial landing on his lap, all of which he casually casts aside, confident with his own talent and hubris – That is until the day that He find the young Vagrant, and the title character of the book, Barbara – whose otherwise foul mouthed, heavy drinking surly attitude towards Youske and his talents hide a gift that is both an unexpected boon to him and also a curse that will destroy him utterly….
In its execution this work shows the classic signs of a Tezuka manga , from the artwork to pacing to the script, with artist and philosophical quotes aplenty throughout the series – but don be fooled by this – even when compared to many of his other more adult works like supernatural series “Ode to Kirihito” and the murder mystery “Mu”, Barbara attempts to go into directions much darker still, dabbling into themes of the occult, physical abuse, drug taking and psychosis as we discover that Youskes own personal demons and……interests leave him to be less of a hero of this piece.
Indeed as we watch Youskes take for granted the good fortune that Barbaras presence seems to give to him I couldn’t help but be reminded of the endless line of talent show “celebrities” all desperate to reap as much as possible from their less than hard earned fame. It could also be seen in another way as an analogy of drug addiction itself, with Yosuke’s obsessive desire for both Barbara and for fame resulting in his eventual spiral towards inevitable loss and self-destruction.
Also the pacing of the series left me disconnected at times and while this could be attributed to the series being released episodically by the manga magazine “Big comic”, the episodes themselves felt at best only loosely connected – indeed some, like chapter 5 ,“the demon on the dune”, where Youske returns to an island where he met his first love in a younger time but which turns out to be much, much more – felt more like a short story in format that had been wedged into the series.
As a result this work could be seen as Osamu Tezuka’s attempt to both compete with the rising Gekiga movement, [whose series that were focused on violence and sex scenes gave us series like Kazua koike's samurai series Lone wolf and cub] But also His attempt to remain relevant as a mangaka at a time when, despite the fact that he is known now as “the godfather of manga”, by the 70’s he was struggling to remain relevant to an audience that was increasingly looking for more darker and edgier works to whet their pallet’s.
Indeed it could be argued that, while trying to appeal to the more adult readership, it feels like Tezuka has deliberately handicapped himself, with his plots and characters seemingly pantomime like and one dimensional in their personalities and backgrounds – it felt like he was hesitant to take the story too far into the darkness that others [like kazua koike] were wholesale plunging into for fear of alienating fans of his more light-hearted, child friendly series.
But one thing is clear though – Barbara is by far one of Osamu’s more darker and unsettling titles and you should not go into this looking for the comedy and light-heartedness that is symbolic of much of his other works.