Most of you know that I’m relatively new to the crazy world of manga. Now, when I get into something, I really get into it, so I’ve read a lot of manga in the short time I’ve been involved with it, but even at my pace, I’ve barely made a dent in the massive amount of material that’s out there and it will be a long time before I’ll feel like I can contribute anything truly meaningful to the discussion of the medium.
One of the things that’s weighed most heavily on me all this time is the fact that I hadn’t read any Osamu Tezuka. The truth is, I was actually kind of scared to do it. I felt really strongly that I needed to read some if I ever hoped to achieve any kind of deep understanding of manga, but I’d seen a few panels of it here and there and I was really concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get into it, which would leave me feeling forever like a hopeless newbie in the manga-reading world, deserving of whatever eye-rolling came my way.
Finally this morning I picked it up off the shelf. I was bizarrely nervous about it. What if I just couldn’t get into it? What if the old-fashioned storytelling and old-style art left me cold? What if I was doomed to be a helpless newbie forever? And at first, all my fears seemed to be realized. I struggled through the beginning of the volume, turning pages without real comprehension. The story was just not grabbing me and the art just seemed cartoonish and ridiculous, like those Saturday morning cartoons I never liked as a kid. I had failed. I was hopelessly ignorant and unable to appreciate Great Works Of Our Time.
Then something changed. I don’t know exactly how or when, but at one point I realized that I’d reached page 108 and I’d become completely enthralled. I suppose it was Haykkimaru’s backstory and maybe particularly his experience living with children who had survived their village’s wars which touched me, but from that point forward, I raced through the rest of the volume, eager for each new episode in the lives of Haykkimaru and Dororo. I was touched by the hardship and cruelty they endured and how it formed them as people. Both the storytelling and art are definitely dated, but there is a certain kind of poignance and insight there that more modern storytellers would have difficulty bringing into their work. In her review, Brigid mentioned that she found the juxtaposition of cuteness and brutality to be jarring, but I think this is actually what I mean. I think there’s something very honest and human about that and it’s something that a lot of writers today tend to steer clear of. I’m not saying it’s something I’d want to read every day, but I found it really compelling and oddly fresh. Now I can’t wait to pick up the next volume.
The reason I’m writing this here is not really because I want to share my ignorance and neurosis with everyone, because that’s pretty embarrassing. I would imagine, though, that there are others out there like me, new readers to manga, who have a longing to try the classics but fear their tastes have been too much shaped by recent work to be able to appreciate what came before. If I’m right and you’re out there, read Dororo.