A priest’s past comes back to haunt him when he is reunited with a boy he molested who has grown into a serial killer. So begins Osamu Tezuka’s darkest, most subversive thriller titled MW. The manga is as thick as a Bible and explores all that is unholy.
There was a Manga movement in the 60s and 70s known as gekiga (“dramatic pictures”), which was an attempt by manga artists to tell grittier adult stories free of cartoony stylization. While Tezuka pioneered mature manga storytelling, his works remained cartoony in proportion and stylization. MW was Tezuka’s response to gekiga artists who thought his work was “too soft.”
As a result, MW shies away from the cartoony sensibilities of Tezuka’s other work. Even in his stories for mature audiences like Black Jack and Dororo, Tezuka couldn’t resist adding in the odd fourth wall break or cartoon gag. By contrast, MW is a world of harsh realism and delivers a stomach-turning thriller that will leave your mind warped and your heart broken.
What makes MW a notable thriller is its graphic depiction of homosexuality. Yuki, the serial killer, uses his body to seduce and blackmail the priest, Father Garai. Yuki threatens to out Father Garai should he report Yuki’s killings to the police; their relationship is further complicated by the implication that Garai’s molestation of Yuki as a child may have triggered Yuki’s current killing spree.
Anime and manga are no strangers to violence and sexual deviancy. However, while many contemporary anime play off their subversive content for laughs, Tezuka takes a more sophisticated approach. I was amazed at how far Tezuka was able to push the envelope without going too far. The depictions of sexual violence in particular were rendered in a way so as to be affecting, but not degrading.
Just as in The Book of Human Insects, Tezuka is able to personify cultural evolution as compelling and flawed characters. Yuki is as fascinating as he is terrifying and the evils he commits make the Joker look like Ronald McDonald. As it stands, MW remains a gripping masterpiece that tackles taboo topics with creativity and ingenuity–as only comics can.