Clockwork Apple by Osamu Tezuka is a collection of short stories from Tezuka’s most mature period of writing. The stories were published with dates ranging from 1968 to 1973. The collection itself was translated by Steven LeCroy and published in English by Digital Manga, Inc., a company that is making it possible for fans to read in English the great works of the “God of Manga.” There are eight stories in this collection:
“The Execution Ended at Three O’Clock” is about a Nazi officer who tortured and killed many people, in particular a doctor who is the focus of the story. The doctor has invented a special drug that slows down time, and the Nazi officer wants the formula. He eventually gets it and uses it, but it turns out to be a great misfortune for him. It has a wonderful, delightfully satisfying cruel twist ending.
“Miraculous Conception,” a science fiction tale, is about a female robot who lives out in space alone with a man. They fall in love and get married. She even gets pregnant. Tragedy follows quickly when space bandits come and kill her husband, and she seeks her revenge. Tezuka raises interesting questions about what makes one a living sentient being: Is the ability to procreate necessary? Is agency? What if one’s action is to take the life of another? Tezuka also contemplates the existence of god, or a least some higher power.
“Clockwork Apple” focuses on a small town that is isolated from the rest of the world by a group of people for mysterious reasons. Tezuka’s character compares their situation to a fish tank with poison added to the environment. In this case, the “poison” is put in the rice and the townsfolk lose their will to fight and to question. And their memories, too, begin to fade. What is the reason for such an experiment? The story reveals the answer, but the main point, as Tezuka makes clear, is that “the most frightening thing of all is the insanity of man.”
“Night on the Bypass” is one of my favorite stories in this volume because of the mood of impending doom: A taxi cab driver picks up a man with a briefcase, and as they drive off down the deserted streets at night, the passenger confesses to his crime, taunting and threatening the driver if he tries to contact the police. The tables turn when the cabbie begins to make his confession.
“Sack” involves a young man who falls in love with a girl who seemingly has two different personalities. They go on dates and listen to jazz, but she warns him of the quickly approaching day when she will have to go away for good, but not in the way he expects.
“Yellow Dust” is the story of three ex-soldiers in Vietnam who take children and their teacher hostage. It’s a violent story as the main leader rapes the teacher and begins to kill the children off one by one until the tables are turned on him. The result is even more bloodshed. It’s a dark story, but Tezuka’s purpose in this tale is to critique the military, especially those who run it at the highest of ranks.
“Showtime with the Devil” focuses on an attempt to assassinate the prime minister in a government that has become corrupt and suppresses all the freedoms of the people. A radical intellectual writer is in hiding from the government and his book has been banned. He hires someone who likes his ideas to carry out the assassination. This young radical’s ideals are shattered as the story takes several twists and turns as Tezuka warns us of the insidious nature of governments that want control and the inability we have to trust anyone in such a situation.
“Homecoming” opens at a Space Peace Convention in the future where space hippies and others gather to celebrate. But Tezuka cynically questions our abilities as human beings to maintain peace: Soon after the convention, a crew aboard a space ship meets aliens in their own rocket. The confrontation is anything but peaceful, and the resulting need for revenge keeps the cycle of violence going and peace remains merely an impossible dream.
This collection is an excellent one, and it would make for a great introduction to Tezuka’s mature works. I highly recommend it and can give it no less than five stars. It’s available in both physical and digital versions from Digital Manga, Inc.