In Dust 8 by Osamu Tezuka, a plane wrecks on a strange island inhabited by peculiar beings. As the plane wrecks, it runs into part of a magical mountain, and bits of rock, or “dust,” land on ten people, bringing them back to life. Eight of these ten people leave the island and are rescued when they are found at sea. The other two stay on the island, and like the other eight, are alive only because they each have one piece of rock on them, as the mysterious creatures on the island explain. The creatures believe that the humans were fated to die, so they take back the rocks from the two survivors, who immediately collapse in death. The leader of the creatures sends off two others mysterious beings, who inhabit the two bodies of the recently perished humans, to retrieve the rocks, the eight pieces of “dust” from the eight survivors who have returned back to their everyday lives.
The story follows the two creatures as they seek out the rocks, and they are a strange pair in that they do not understand human beings or human society. Money, too, is perplexing to them. We follow the girl as she tries to get back each rock, but the boy seems to be working in some ways against her as he becomes fascinated by money and by the fact that humans will pay large sums to keep their rocks. He even comes up with a secret he reveals to each person about how to stay alive when confronted by the girl.
Mainly, however, Dust 8 offers Tezuka the chance to do what he loves to do best: Examine the wide varieties of human experience in order to ponder certain aspects of the human condition. For example, one survivor of the wreck who wears her stone around her neck is a famous radio DJ who uses her fame to try to save the life of a man sentenced to death in another country because he is seen as an enemy of the state. Tezuka is just as much interested in why nations imprison individuals as he is interested in why a woman would devote the remaining days of her life to saving the life of someone else.
In another chapter, a daredevil racecar driver finds that he has become so dependent upon the stone he has, he has begun to fear death, and fearlessness has been the key to his success. So, in this story, Tezuka explores our sense of mortality and our fears of dying prematurely. In yet another chapter, we meet a man who considers himself a Japanese soldier still fighting for Japan out in the jungles for the glory of his country. In this story, Tezuka examines patriotism, the spirit that can give life to bloodlust. Two of my favorite stories are the last ones: One is about an unknown artist who wants to know if he will gain immortality through his art, and one is about a man who has developed an artificial brain he wants to bring to life with sand chipped from his stone.
Each story allows Tezuka to examine some universal theme, so, even though the story is fantastical, the focus is on our everyday reality and the struggles we face. At three hundred and fifty pages, it’s a long book, but it never gets boring since Tezuka tells so many stories by switching to a new set of characters with each new chapter. Dust 8 is certainly a novel worth reading for any fan of manga or of Tezuka.