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The Book of Human Insects

by Osamu Tezuka

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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The Book of Human Insects by Osamu Tezuka
© Vertical
Vertical, September 2011

Osamu Tezuka's The Book of Human Insects feels like the result of a sobering metamorphosis, as if Tezuka wrapped himself in a chrysalis of youthful manga and emerged anew with statements to make and an older generation to speak them to. The Book of Human Insects is a far cry from the dreamy works that crowned Tezuka the king of Japanese comics (Ayako, for instance): this is a high-pressure book of 1970's political and economic intrigue and a story of sexual manipulation and betrayal. Tezuka's wide-eyed heroes and heroines have vanished and have been replaced with some of the most reprehensible (yet still quite captivating) antagonists that he's ever drawn. With nobody to root for and no characters to trust, The Book of Human Insects becomes a story not of empathy but of simply energy; you can practically hear the seventies action-film soundtrack as Tezuka's plot rumbles towards its close.

The beautiful Toshiko Tomura seems to find success in every artistic outlet she sets her sights on. After receiving a prestigious award from a design academy and countless accolades for her efforts on the stage, Tomura is honored with the Akutagawa Prize for her novel The Book of Human Insects. Her multifaceted success has led to an overwhelming amount of critical acclaim and attention, specifically that of the high-powered men in Japan's art and economic scenes. While seemingly basking in this glory, Tomura is actually on the prowl for her next victim. With her beautiful looks and sly smile, Tomura's developed a knack for sucking the spirit and artistic drive from the men and women around her, specifically those with whom she develops an intimate relationship.
Soon, it becomes clear that all of Tomura's success has been at the expense of her suitors and associates. Her design award should have gone the man she plagiarized, and her Akutagawa Prize to her former roommate whose manuscript she stole. But, with the media so enamored with Tomura's success, these double-crosses go unnoticed and she's able to plot her next transformation. Enter Kiriro Kamaishi, head of Dai Nippon Steel. Kamaishi is equally manipulative and is ready to extract all he can from Tomura. Just as she plans to use him for his money and success, Kamaishi is ready to take any necessary steps in order to secure his footing atop the ranks of Japan's international business world.

Fans of Tezuka's other comics will enjoy seeing the subtle stylistic changes in this book's artwork and composition. There's certainly a push towards something a bit more mature: more attention has been given to shading and more detail put into the larger panels in an attempt to transform Tezuka's "cartoons" into something closer to formal drawings. The Book of Human Insects may also be Tezuka's most fashionable work to date; by utilizing a range of dazzling patterns, Tezuka is able to exemplify the era's style and further situate his story into an authentic cultural relevance.

While not one of Tezuka's best, The Book of Human Insects is a must for those readers following Japanese comics in translation. This is not a plot to get lost in; readers might even get frustrated trying and will run the risk of exposing the story's thin structure. Instead, The Book of Human Insects should be viewed in situ with the medium's other offerings of the era. The adult themes and abysmally sinking plot are shocking to see in this format, and those readers who can see how far Tezuka's actually stretched himself will be thrilled with the result.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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