Record of the Glass Castle by Osamu Tezuka
Record of the Glass Castle by Osamu Tezuka is a manga that was originally serialized in 1970 and was recently translated by Marti McElreath and released by Digital Manga Inc. It has a great premise that allows Tezuka to once again explore the darker side of humanity, as he often did in his later work of the 1970s. The Glass Castle is a house in which a family has been in cryosleep for twenty years — from 1972 to 1992. And as this manga graphic novel opens in 1992, we are witness to the family waking up and turning on itself.
The father is known as a shameless and cruel man who forced his family into cryosleep in order to have his fortune increase over twenty years based on earning interest on a sum of money that is going unused by almost the entire family. Only one brother, Shirou, was allowed by the father to avoid cryosleep so that he could watch over his sleeping relatives and keep the Glass Castle running smoothly. As a result, Shirou ages and takes care of his family who are frozen at the age they entered the capsules.
The father wakes up once a year to check on things, and in 1992, Shirou decides to also wake up his “older” brother who is now almost twenty years younger than he is in physical age. This younger brother, Ichirou, unfortunately, has undergone a horrible change: His mind has become unbalanced and he has lost his morality, which, we find out, is the reason why the government banned cryosleep back in 1972. Tezuka, wanting to move the plot forward, quickly has Ichirou commit three horrible acts: He rapes his niece, whose mind he twists so that she thinks she loves him. He commits fratricide, albeit unknowingly, and then he commits patricide. He then goes on the run with his niece, only a few steps ahead of the police.
This basic setup allows Tezuka to explore one of his major themes: What does it mean to “lose one’s humanity?” In essence, that question is answered by a loss of ethics, of being capable of harming others, even going so far as to be able to kill them. But Tezuka doesn’t limit his question by asking it of individuals only. He asks it of society too. In the future of 1992, Tezuka imagines this new world has come up with a “Murder Law,” which allows citizens the legal right to vent their murderous tendencies by legalizing lynching mobs that are allowed to chase after criminals who have themselves committed murder. Not surprisingly, Ichirou becomes a victim of the Murder Law, and he questions all the while its morality, asking how the Murder Law is any different from the murders he has committed.
The rest of the novel is about Ichirou’s being on the run, about the rest of the family waking up, and about a detective who gets involved with the family. And, not surprisingly, there is a twist at the end since Tezuka loved a surprise ending. But the ending is not simply a plot device. It further conveys the theme related to the loss of humanity in individuals and society. Another theme of Tezuka’s in this book is our obsession with technology, including the cryosleep, which causes all the problems to start with. Of course, according to Tezuka, the problems in this book are not unique to the world depicted in this book; they are part of the world we already live in.
Though the ending is a bit rushed, fans of Tezuka’s mature works should not pass up Record of the Glass Castle. It is a fantastic read, and once again, we have Digital Manga, Inc. to thank for its availability.