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the Complete Review
the complete review - comic book



Tezuka Osamu

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To purchase MW

Title: MW
Author: Tezuka Osamu
Genre: Comic book
Written: 1978 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 582 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: MW - US
MW - Canada
MW - India
MW - France
MW (1) - Italia
  • Japanese title: ムウ
  • Translated by Camellia Nieh

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Our Assessment:

B : striking, but shies away from any real depth

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The 'MW' of the title refers to a poisonous gas that was stored on a Japanese island by "a certain nation X to inflict mass casualties in Vietnam and Laos". It leaked and wiped out almost the entire population of the island; only two people escaped: a young boy named Michio Yuki -- "as innocent and lovely as a girl" back then -- and a hoodlum who turns to religion after this experience, becoming Father Garai. The accident was covered up: the public never heard about it and the island was re-populated with outsiders. Now, years later, Yuki is working at a bank -- and looking for vengeance, going after those responsible and then trying to take things even further.
       Yuki has remained buddies with Father Garai, too, but that's a complicated relationship, and Father Garai is concerned with what's happened to Yuki: "His intellect remains intact, but his heart was completely stripped of any shred of morality or decency". Father Garai even complains that: "He's lured me into an unholy union ... every now and then he transforms himself into a woman and seeks my flesh ...", but the good father isn't blameless about that state of affairs. Certainly, also, his flesh remains weak -- he gives in pretty readily -- and as far as Yuki turning himself into a woman ... well, beyond dressing up like his brother, a famous kabuki actor, to look even more feminine he seems to remain pretty much all man, with the novel pretty heavy on the homo-erotic.
       So Yuki is doing some pretty terrible things, exacting vengeance in unpleasant ways (with some innocents getting caught up in it too) -- and cruelly tricking Father Garai into being an unwitting accomplice who can't give him up to the police. Yuki is fairly creative (and ruthless) in his crimes, duping a lot of people along the way, and juggling a variety of women and plots to further his own plans. He's ingratiating, a real smooth operator -- whose betrayals are then all the more shocking. A public prosecutor is on his trail, but finds it hard to prove that Yuki is responsible for all these heinous crimes.
       As the MW continues to destroy his "heart and brains" Yuki sets out to get his hands on the gas and use it for his own terrible ends. And even with the police and the military authorities hot on his heels he shows he has a few things up his sleeve, leading to a nicely ambiguous ending .
       MW isn't really a black and white story. Oh, yes, at his best Yuki is pitch black, entirely amoral. But there are few innocents here, beyond some of the daughters he seduces. Pretty much everyone has been compromised, many of them involved in the original MW cover-up. Father Garai turned to god for salvation, but the temptation of Yuki's flesh continues to trump all, and even when he tries to have it both ways and put an end to things without compromising his vows, pointing a journalist in the right direction, he just causes more problems (and horrors). Meanwhile Yuki himself is a compelling character because he can present such an innocent, helpful face to everyone -- and then uses their gullibility for unimaginable revenge.
       Visually, the comic book is striking. The drawings easily carry the story along, expressive and to the point (with only some of the sex scenes slightly awkward). Tezuka tosses in some nice variety, such as panels straight out of Beardsley's Salome-illustrations, but it's the angles and perspectives, whether of a plane or someone reacting to something terrible that has happened, that really add some punch to the overall impression.
       The story itself is more problematic. The basics -- pure and very seductive evil at work -- are fine and fun enough, but it spins pretty ridiculously out of control. Tezuka occasionally gets really lazy in the scenarios he dreams up for Yuki, as when he has Yuki drug a chauffeur with LSD, sure that "it would take effect right around the time they reached this location" -- which happens to be a tight turn on a highway overpass (so the car goes crashing over the side). There's unlikely, and then there's just plain silly, and even in comic-book-land this is just plain silly. So too the end-game, with Yuki carrying around a bag of MW .....
       Comic book stories can more easily get by with less realistic elements, but here they're flaws not because they're so outrageous but because they seem like lazy and hurried solutions, as if Tezuka couldn't be bothered to lay out the story more carefully or figure out a slightly more plausible act of horror. And, even at its nearly six-hundred pages, MW often feels very rushed. A bit more deliberation would have added a lot more to the work.
       MW is certainly eye-catching and gripping, but not nearly all it could have been given the talent at work here. Still, with its compelling (even if ultimately inadequate) story-telling and tough take on morality it is worthwhile.

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MW: Reviews: Tezuka Osamu: Other books by Tezuka Osamu under review: Books about Tezuka Osamu under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Prolific Japanese cartoonist Tezuka Osamu (手塚治虫) lived 1928 to 1989.

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© 2007-2016 the complete review

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