Just for the brilliant art-work, ‘The Book of Human Insects’ by Osamu Tezuka deserves a 5/5, he is a Manga Master after all! However, the story is a dark noir piece that isn’t as intriguing as a fan would hope for it to be. It starts off mysteriously, gets a little shocking, bizarre and then eventually gets into the rigmarole of repetition and predictability.
The story is about Toshiko Tomura, a young actor and designer, who wins one of the most prestigious literary awards in Japan for her debut book. On the same day, a young woman kills herself, and it’s hinted that Tomura may have plagiarized and published the victim’s draft work. Tezuka then makes the reader dive into the dark twisted life of Tomura, who is compared to an insect that can mimic dangerous patterns to look like something it isn’t. It’s a trick to survive, we are informed. So the protagonist mimics people she develops an unhealthy interest in and then gets away with wild successes that aren’t hers to claim.
Unlike Tezuka’s graphic novel ‘Ayako’, where the readers get acquainted with the heroine as a toddler, we are introduced Tomura when she is already in her early 20s. This lack of background makes ‘The Book of Insects’ a little shallow. Tezuka’s gives Tomura an almost goddess like aura with confusing character traits, she is an odd mix of cunning and childishness. But where does she really come from, what makers her this chameleon like evil insect that can suck the life out of those around her? Well, we don’t know. Her character just gets annoyingly lucky and unlikable as the story progresses. At one point, it feels like she is a 12-year-old brat masquerading as an adult who likes to imitate others.
There are a lot of characters that make their appearance throughout the course of this book, and each one serves as a silly pawn in the heroine’s game. The author packs in scoop-hungry journalists, disillusioned artists, hot-blooded anarchists, right-wing crazies, corporate politics, among other things in this story. Tomura is always surrounded by blood-thirsty wolves, but they realize an important fact too late – they are snuggling with the hunter. The climax fits in with the narrative that is spun through the course of the story, but doesn’t feel satisfactory, because it mirrors a lot of earlier sub-plots. The author also gets a little too ambitious with conflicts, making it a multi-nation story. So Tomura is hobnobbing with the biggest names in world trade, and yet, she manages to get away with things that should’ve ideally resulted in early death.
It’s the dexterous illustrations that will have you hooked to every page. There is a lot of sexual content in the book and Tezuka draws the love-making scenes in a blurry artistic fashion that makes the panel titillating without being explicit or vulgar. Tezuka has the ability to make sex seems like an other-worldly experience through his art, as if a hurricane is sweeping one away. Seduction, sex and success are perhaps the strongest themes in this tale.
‘The Book of Human Insects’ is like a 16+ pulp fiction novel in graphic novel format, with the right kind of background music, it would probably make for an insanely popular mini-series.
It’s a 3/5 from me.
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