The Book of Human Insects by Osamu Tezuka

The Book of Human Insects
by Osamu Tezuka
Vertical, 2011

Blimey. Toshiko Tomura is an award-winning novelist, actress, designer, director and model, still in her early twenties. She’s also an avaricious psychopath who drains men of their talent and leaves them bitter husks. Why? Well, because it was written in Japan in the early ’70s, and apparently Tezuka had one or two issues to work through.

Tezuka’s psychosexual tale has more than a few Hitchcock undertones, but at least the disturbed heroine develops into a more sympathetic character as the tale progresses, despite lurid plot twists such as her obsession with destroying a powerful businessman – to achieve this, she (logically) gives up her extraordinary career and marries him, while conducting an affair with his mistress.

Her true love is a designer she exploited and ruined years before called Ryotaro Mizuno, who has subsequently married an ex-geisha who looks just like her, which means they can switch places so Toshiko can escape from her husband and get an abortion… yes, it goes on a bit in that vein, and despite the strong female characters is certainly not progressive in any way, with plenty of beatings and indignities heaped upon the indestructible Toshiko.

The structure is innovative, though, with a complicated parade of male protagonists who are caught up in her wake – the character you first assume to be the hero is killed off rather conclusively on p79… guess it wasn’t him! Even Mizuno fades out well before the end, proving that it’s Toshiko’s story.

The artwork is typically brilliant, naive human anatomy sharing space with hyper-detailed landscapes, seduction depicted as a wolf pouncing on a fox, the intrusion of Toshiko into Mizuno’s thoughts rendered as her forcing her way through a huge crack in a black void, even a striking abstract jazz sequence with a character lost in thought, distorted in the reflection of a brass trumpet.

This handsome hardback is published in an unusual format for a serious manga reprint, that is, with the art mirrored so it’s read from front to back and left to right. I don’t imagine the purists like this much, but it’s not noticeable… except for one scene where a villain is stabbed in the heart on the right side of his chest.

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