Contrasts studied in Tezuka’s “MW”

by Kory Cerjak

Title: MW
Author: Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Vertical

MWOnce again, we’re back with the God of Manga, this time with his 1976 manga published in Big Comic by Shogakukan and it’s called MW. Also, does anyone else think Garai looks like Duke Togo of Golgo 13 fame?

MW is about a 20-something banker named Michio Yuki and a Catholic priest named Garai. Garai has committed two grave sins—shielding a murderer and having a sexual relationship with a man—and he’s conflicted over his responsibilities as a priest and his own moral compass. Garai first became a priest to come to grips with the slaughter he witnessed on a small island near Okinawa. The slaughter was caused by a chemical weapon, named MW, which was designed to kill massive numbers of people in the Vietnam War. And the event was also witnessed by Yuki, who was partially affected by MW, making him unable to feel emotion.

The main conflict, of course, is Garai’s own. He’s a partner to Yuki’s crimes of murder and blackmail because Yuki comes to confess his sins to Garai after every time. This is a beautiful conflict where Garai, in a forbidden and often unwilling relationship with Yuki, is unable to tell the police anything because Yuki says these things at a confession, yet they are heinous crimes. Garai feels responsible for Yuki’s transformation from innocent young boy to serial murderer and he wants to “cure” him, to allow Yuki to atone for his own sins and see the light of God (or to repent in the pits of hell—Garai’s own punishment along with him in hell).

MW-Golgo_comparisonIt’s interesting to see so much focus on Yuki when Garai is clearly the main character with the main conflict in the story. But it’s necessary because Yuki is the cause of all of Garai’s suffering. If it wasn’t for Yuki, Garai might have lived a complete life. Of course, things get more complicated when Yuki causes Garai’s first confession to re-lose her ability to walk, and later kills her. Yuki is clearly falling deeper and deeper into his mania and Garai realizes that he can do nothing about it. However, Garai still wants to help Yuki and watching it to play out is so compelling.

The story of MW, both the comic and the poison, runs deeper than that. Yuki is hoping to get his hands on the stuff to release it in Japan or the world, and for what? Just for fun. But its very existence has been covered up by all sorts of politicians and people who were paid off. Yuki’s been getting closer to each and every one of them, starting with the bank manager. Each event seems to be swept under the rug after it resolves, but they’re each important parts of Yuki’s puzzle to acquire the MW.

The most compelling part of the comic is to see the dichotomy of Japanese and Christian, good and evil, sane and insane between Yuki and Garai. Garai being a priest means that the story can be taken in several unique directions, including exploring the concept of Hell as this place of retribution. It’s a ubiquitous concept for us in the west, but it’s Christians make up a small percentage of the population in Japan. The ideas of Hell are similar to what I know of the underworld and afterlife in Shintoism, but Hell seems much more real and less cerebral. Garai constantly talks of retribution for his sins and for Yuki’s sins and watching it play out from a Japanese perspective is something you don’t often see done well. But Dr. Tezuka has clearly done his research regarding the religion.

In the end, though, the lines between these two conflicting forces, whatever they may be, are constantly blurred in the latter half. While they are clearly of two sides of one coin, it’s further blurred in the last half of the comic when Garai continually does questionably moral things at the behest of Yuki. Garai’s own reasoning is that he’s trying to save Yuki.

The comic, from the very cover, exemplifies a sort of duality or dichotomy. The pink and the black on the cover are perfectly contrast, and the white text provides a little pop to bring your attention to it. The artwork itself is gorgeous, as typical of anything I’ve seen from Tezuka.

MW is arguably better than Apollo’s Song, but both are undoubtedly masterpieces. Which is better will depend on personal taste rather than “objective criticism.” From beginning to end, MW was absolutely a thriller of the highest caliber and I was on the edge of my seat reading to see what was going to happen next and after that. Some of the reveals at the end were rather obvious (like the fact that the world will not be engulfed in MW and a bit with Yuki and his brother), but still exciting to see transpire.

Like Apollo’s Song, MW is available from Vertical at Amazon, Right Stuf, or any other online retailers. I don’t think I’ve seen it at my local book stores, but I live in a relatively small town.

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Resident of Japan since 1989, creator of "The Crazing Spider-Hag"

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