Buddha Vol. 3: Devadatta
From the publisher that brought us the English adaptation of Ring comes one of Osamu Tezuka's finest manga creations. No, I'm not talking about Phoenix (or Hi no Tori as it is otherwise known), but instead his epic fictional biography of Buddha, the enlightened one.
Hi no Tori is indeed great, though fans of Tezuka will understand when I say that Buddha is a superlative work of illustrated historical fiction, and as important as any other work he produced.
In this, the third volume of the series, Siddhartha truly begins life as a wanderer. Born the son of a king, the brave young man renounces all of his wealth - along with the love of his beautiful wife - and heads into the wilderness to live at the mercy of nature.
Siddhartha has never felt comfortable with the philosophy of his people. First of all, he rejects the caste system, which segregates people into various levels of superiority or inferiority based upon their ancestors. Slaves bear slave children, just as the offspring of nobles become the new ruling class. Siddhartha rejects this idea, feeling that all humans are equal. He also expresses uncertainty when he's told that the only way to enlightenment is through pain, for only by rejecting the physical form can one attain a sense of what's beyond it. He sees the ordeals pious monks inflict upon themselves as nothing more than useless self-torture.
Though he is not yet aware of his destiny, Siddhartha is driven by a desire to end the suffering of every human. He accepts the fact that everyone must die, but it is his goal to append meaning to each person's life.
This volume does not focus on the life of Siddhartha, however, but instead turns the readers' attention to the origin of Devadatta. A strong young boy fathered by a king, bad fortune instead places his rearing into the paws of wolves. Rejected from society, Devadatta is taken in by a wolf pack and raised as one of them. There, he strengthens his dislike of humanity and finds solace in nature. In the future, he is to become a significant rival to Siddhartha, though in this part of the story, he is merely a young boy.
Few writers can blend a sincerely expressed story of one of the most important religious figures in the world with humor, action, romance, and morals that never come across as heavy handed or preachy. There is a reason why so many people love the works of Osamu Tezuka, and if you give the first volume of Buddha a chance, you'll see why as well.
The visuals range from sweeping vistas of the mountainous Indian countryside to comical depictions of the very expressive characters that can be expected from any given work by this masterful artist. The shading at times gives the impression of woodcut images, adding a surprising level of depth to some panels of the manga.
Vertical Inc.'s adaptation into English is seamless, and the book is presented in a very attractive hardcover format. The only technical qualm I have about these books is the fact that they lack the original sound effects and they've been flipped to read from left to right. It's otherwise physically a wonderful way to read Tezuka.
I just don't like the idea of people altering Tezuka's artwork, especially in this day and age when flipping comics is so obviously unnecessary.
However, the artistic integrity of the work is maintained, and it remains a series that any person interested in Asian theology, manga, or history should check out. Buddha is not only entertaining, but it may teach those of us who lack detailed knowledge of Buddhism a thing or two about the philosophy. Sure, the book may be light on actual facts, but it's impossible to deny that herein one may find some rather weighty and important truths.