I do not hate Osamu Tezuka. I want to make that clear before I go any further. What I do hate are the half-baked intellectuals who see him as a golden god devoid of any imperfections, which, I find it strange how anyone who has read Apollo’s Song can hold tight to that belief. Those who claim to be an “authority” on manga but, at the same time, are ignorant of other mangaka from his era. I’ve never understood how Kazuo Koike, Shotaro Ishinomori, Go Nagai, and Ryuichi Ikegami never got the same level of international recognition. However, I’m not writing this article so that I can vent about western manga fandom.
The Book of Human Insects is a story of a woman’s skills of mimicry and deception, and how those have earned her fame and success as well as the animosity and, strangely enough, love of those she has wronged along the way. Toshiko Tomura is an interesting character. An actress, director, artist and, author, her varied roles throughout the story’s progression are often compared to insects who’s appearances help them survive in the wilderness, because if Osamu Tezuka and Shotaro Ishinomori have taught me anything, it’s that Japanese men all have this deep fascination with insects that they retain from childhood. Of course, such an engrossing main character is obviously going to have an outstanding supporting cast, to which Tezuka delivers in droves. What is most amazing about this cast ranging from washed up theater directors to cutthroat business executives is their varied reactions after falling prey to Toshiko’s feminine wiles. While some obsess and worship her, others do all they can to deny her existence and, most lose their lives altogether.
Another amazing aspect of this book is its grand scope. Within a mere 364 pages, the reader gets a vivid peek at the worlds of journalism, politics, international turmoil and, the ugly underworld of big business, One of Tezuka’s artistic strengths is made very clear in this work, his use of the pen to illustrate emotion or atmosphere, whether it be a man’s sexual urges or the distorted aura of a doctor’s office, they’re brilliantly executed. As the story reaches its climax, we begin to see a new side of our heroine that hints that she may not be what is initially expected. Under the guise of a crafty, adaptive woman we see what appears to be a lonely girl seeking attention but, Tezuka leaves that interpretation for the reader to decide. We don’t get a paragraph and a half on Toshiko’s motivations and how she came to be who she is now. Instead, we’re treated to imagery that shows rather than tells and does an excellent job of doing so.
The Book of Human Insects is an interesting read that will continue to intrigue with every turn of a page. A tale of how a single woman steps on the backs of many to achieve greatness. I won’t say Tezuka is a demigod but, he can write a damn good manga.