If you’re interested in a biographical manga here’s something for you. It’s not perfect, but still enjoyable.
Nichiren by Masahiko Murakami, Ken Tanaka
I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
In 13th-century Japan, disease, famine, violence, and natural disasters plague society. Samurai lords, blinded by power, shirk any responsibility to protect the citizenry. Religious leaders care more about currying favor with the powerful than helping common people find hope and a positive way to deal with their suffering. But one unknown Buddhist monk dares to speak the truth to power: Nichiren remonstrates with the authorities. He insists that all human life is precious and that the government needs to change its ways and become of service to the people.
I don’t read many biographies, so if I’m actually reaching for one I do have some expectations. In this case, I was more interested in the setting rather than the character, although the blurb caught my attention enough to read the story.
It’s all about the monk who decided to follow other Buddhist teachings then most of Japan follows. Because of that, he was outlawed, chased and punished. He had some faithful followers, and thanks to the mantra he chooses to follow, he managed to stay calm and happy throughout his life.
The story itself is nicely written and well drawn, but don’t expect a fascinating read and action packed story. It’s supposed to be based on a life of a monk after all ;). Most of the “action” happens when Nichiren convinces others to follow the same sutra as he does. Most of the people he meets follow him quite easily, I’d even say too easily. Actually, the more I think about this story, the lower rating I want to use, but it does deserve these 3 stars.
The “bad” characters in this book were portrayed as very simple minded, they instantly believed in what someone told them. They instantly wanted Nichiren dead or imprisoned. Names of both authors seem Japanese (although at least one is a pseudonym) and yet the characters they portrayed didn’t behave like they were in Japan. Everything seemed rushed, thoughtless, almost mad. When you imagine a person from Japan it’s usually someone calm, reasonable, someone who hides their feeling (yes, I know these are stereotypes, but it is kind of true). I can honestly say I found no person like that in this book except Nichiren.
One of the issues I had with the graphic is that the characters didn’t change. Maybe the authors thought we wouldn’t recognize them, but if you show a pair of kids and after ten and more years they look and behave exactly the same and even wear the same clothes it’s simply not right. I know some people have troubles with recognizing manga characters, it seems this style requires from readers some getting used to, but it doesn’t mean we can’t see the characters evolve.
As far as historical biographies go this was OK, but I think I was expecting more. I did like the graphic style. I do like manga and since I haven’t read any in a while this was a nice change from other graphic novels. I even didn’t mind it being black and white, although I might’ve added half a star for some colors. After all, if you’ll think about all the fancy kimono’s you could find in old japan it might’ve been a treat.
Have you read any non-superhero graphic novels lately? Any historical manga?