Melody of Iron and Other Short Stories: A wonderful work by the “God of Manga”

Melody of Iron and Other Short Stories by Osamu TezukaMelody of Iron and Other Short Stories by Osamu Tezuka

Osamu Tezuka’s Melody of Iron and Other Short Stories is a wonderful work by the “God of Manga.” It is has been translated beautifully by Adam Seacord and is published by Digital Manga, Inc., a publisher that is doing an excellent job of putting out in translation many of Tezuka’s works that are completely unknown in the United States. This work is one of Tezuka’s mature collections from late in his career. The original collection is from 1974 (Tezuka died in 1989), and this first edition in English came out recently in 2017.

“Melody of Iron,” the first of three stories in the volume, is the main one in terms of length and weighty subject matter. In it, a young man from the U.S. whose family is a part of the mafia in New York, marries a young Japanese woman. The Albini family, at first resistant to having a Japanese woman as a family member, eventually accept her and her brother. However, they have one condition: They make the brother, Takuya Dan, agree to an oath, promising fidelity to the Albini family. Not surprisingly, a situation arises in which young Takuya Dan is forced to break the oath. The Albini family punishes him by cutting off both his arms. His sister, the wife of Eddie Albani, has no idea what has happened to her brother and wonders why she never hears from him.

That’s the set-up of the story, but the premise, like many of Tezuka’s, is merely an excuse to explore universal themes. In this case, Tezuka is interested in revenge, and the story mainly follows Takuya Dan as he gets prosthetic limbs (in a bizarre manner) and seeks to overcome his handicap and eventually track down and destroy Eddie Albani. Along the way, he meets a Jewish doctor who was in the Nazi concentration camps and an African-American man who lost his legs in Vietnam. So, in addition to exploring the theme of revenge, Tezuka makes comments about war and the human tendency towards destruction. The twists and turns of this story are surprising, but they all come together in driving home Tezuka’s thematic points.

The second and third stories are much shorter but are well-written: “The White Shadow” is about a young woman whose lover drowns at sea while they tried to get to a life boat. For the rest of her life, whenever she looks at a white surface, she sees the image of him as he was right when he drowned before her eyes in the ocean. Perhaps the least didactic of the three stories, “The White Shadow” is about how we deal with our memories.

The third, and final story, “Revolution” is about reincarnation and the cycle of life and death, and for that reason is thematically similar to the volumes in the Phoenix cycle, Tezuka’s greatest work. In “Revolution,” a young woman goes into a coma after going through a rough childbirth. When she awakens, she remembers being someone else, and yet her husband can find nothing to verify her memories. Most of her memories are of a lover, a student protester, so much of this story is Tezuka’s way of giving commentary on the student protest movements in Japan. But he suggests that just as life and death are cyclical, so too is protest against controlling governments. Strife is endless, though there is always hope, too, according to Tezuka.

Though perhaps not at the level of his best work, these stories depict Tezuka telling the stories I enjoy the most: Though they all contain a touch of the fantastic, they are grounded in realism and his art reflects that realism. His art here is less Disneyesque compared to his early works, and for me that’s a plus. If you are new to Tezuka, this volume provides a great introduction to his mature art style and themes.


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BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Read Brad's series on HOW TO READ COMICS.

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