I have been working through Vertical Inc.’s backlist of Tezuka titles the past few weeks with some purchases spurred by the Tezuka MMF earlier this year, and after rereading Ayako and reading Princess Knight, I stepped up to the plate to read the massive tome that is MW. Let me be completely up front here: this content is clearly not for the squeamish, and is a very dark, melodramatic story that you don’t necessarily enjoy as much as experience.
The story revolves around two male characters caught up in a tragic event which reverberates throughout the entire volume – a leak of a poisonous gas called MW (pronounced ‘moo’) on Okinawa Mafune an island in the Pacific in which all people who present on the island minus our two main characters are killed. THis is all the more outrageous because the gas belongs to “Nation X,” a thinly veiled United States. Yuki is a sadistic serial killer, presented as the moral-less antagonist of the book, and his opposite is Father Garai, a priest that is his lover and attempted redeemer. Both are traumatized by the gas attack, but the damage from the MW gas has changed Garai and Yuki in individual ways – Yuki is determined to wreck havoc on anyone associated with the gas attack while the damage from it slowly kills him, while Garai lends his hand to saving others and attempting to prevent Yuki from doing harm.
There is plenty of action here – car chases, cross dressing bank robberies, airplane hijackings; but this story is better understood as an analogy of the relationship between the United States (the evil that made the evil of Yuki possible) and Japan (the greedy, ignorant politicians who sit comfortably in the hands of the United States) during the time of the Vietnam War.
Tezuka makes some powerful statements about the guilt of the Japanese during the Vietnam War, and uses Yuki as a sort channel for the evils associated with that period of world history. Yuki can be considered a harbinger of sorts, or even potentially a symbol of the violence of that period; Garai as well a symbol of how powerless the “good” were in their attempts to stop or prevent that violence, and how easily they too were seduced by the environment that allowed that violence to take place. Innocent people die left and right by Yuki’s hand, and his alliance with major banking, the Japanese government, and the United States military brass is all very well orchestrated; Yuki as an allegory ties these three entities to the death and destruction of Vietnam.
While there is plenty of intellectual content in MW, the story has some serious flaws often associated with Tezuka’s works. Tezuka represents Yuki and Garai as a homosexual couple, but their relationship is potentially based on a pedophillic encounter on Okinawa Mafune, and homosexuality is generally approached in a manner rooted in the time that MW was written. Likewise, women characters in this series are treated as doormats (one character actually loses the ability to walk after Yuki rapes her), with one notable exception. All of this leads to very uncomfortable reading, and although these dark spots aren’t enough to derail Tezuka’s discussion, they are enough to sour a reading experience.
Tezuka’s artwork is again fantastic in this series. His master draftmanship and layouts propel the story forward always at the right speed for the moment. His illustrations of the aftermath of the gas attack are profound, and while some modern readers may be turned off by the cartoonish look of his characters, his advanced panel composition and pacing is in top form in MW.
MW is dark, violent, and a fantastic tale marred by the heterosexual male chauvanist ideas that were mainstream at the time of its writing. While I do endorse Tezuka to most readers, I feel that MW is a series left best to Tezuka fanatics and geikiga readers who are used to this type of dark manga. It is certainly not a charming book, and not for your average manga reader. For those who are able to look past its flaws, you will find MW an intense and engrossing read full of symbolism and allegory. For the rest – it might be best to stick with Princess Knight.