MW by Osamu Tezuka

After I finished Black Jack, Alicia told me to read MW, only to say afterwards, “I didn’t think you would”. Hoho. But I always do what I‘m told!

I guesss MW isn‘t the kind of manga most people (in the west?) would associate with Tezuka … It‘s a bleak crime thriller with an abundance of sex and violence (and sexual violence), held together by some dark social/political criticism. It‘s like American Psycho except – obviously – not American but Japanese, and set in the 1970s instead of the 1980s.

Spoilers follow.

It‘s not exactly a fun and uplifting read, but it‘s the sort of manga that gives you stuff to think about. It’s literature! It made me want to read analyses and other people‘s thoughts. One thing I really wanted to discuss and read about is Garai, and how he‘s such a goddamn hypocrite. But I found … pretty much one blogger who shared that view, while surprisingly many people seem to hold Garai in much higher regard. For example:

Only in the ambivalent Father Garai, who desperately wishes to enlighten the public about MW, does Tezuka present a decent, sympathetic figure, someone struggling mightily against hypocrisy and deceit, even as he succumbs to his own sexual demons. (Katherine Dacey, Manga Bookshelf)

Honestly, this makes Garai sound like ~the lone virtuous fighter against injustice and all the badness of the world. But the hypocrisy he struggles against is mostly his own – and to be honest, I am not really sure if he even struggles against it. Garai may be the protagonist whose POV we share most of the time, and in comparison to the psychopathic Yuki, has the more relatable set of morals. But he’s also an infuriatingly wishy-washy, self-deceiving asshole. Hardly an inspirational figure. For all his lamentations of Yuki’s evil ways, he’s completely in denial about his own, different brand of evil: Not only does he tolerate Yuki’s actions, he even lets himself be talked into helping him with some kidnapping and blackmail and body disposal. Oh, he’s continuously appalled at Yuki’s cruelty, but what did he expect at that point? That’s the obnoxious thing about Garai: he knows exactly what Yuki is capable of, finds excuses for letting Yuki be, then is shocked, shocked about it all over again. Then goes back to him. Fuck you, Garai.

Priesthood

Many bloggers seem to understand Garai’s priesthood as shorthand for “he is a good person” – Dacey says “Garai embraces the light, becoming a Roman Catholic priest”, and in his own review, trying to illustrate how good and evil are intertwined in MWTim Maughan presents Garai joining the clergy as the “good” thing resulting from a “bad” thing … although, honestly, the paragraph is more than a little weird because Maughan also seems to imply that Garai sexually abusing Yuki is a “good” thing causing something bad with Yuki’s evil? I don’t think he meant to say this, but mixed up his arguments? It’s otherwise a decent article, but this paragraph is weird as hell. Maybe it just goes to show that the conflict between Garai and Yuki isn’t one between good and evil after all. Specifically, Yuki may be seen as evil, but Garai can’t be seen as just good. Anyway, back to the priest thing.

In MW, Garai being a priest is not a good thing. It looks that way in the beginning, when the manga starts with the contrast between “one is a murderer, the other a priest”. But the more you learn about Garai, the more you realize that he may be a priest, but that does not make him a good person. Maybe he would be a better person if he had not become a priest? Because as it stands, Garai is using the dogmas and rules of Catholicism and priesthood as an excuse not to do anything about Yuki’s crimes, and to stay in a sexual relationship with him – which violates other rules of Catholic priesthood, of course, so there you have another aspect of his hypocrisy. Garai is a hypocrite who treats priesthood as a tool to deflect responsibility for his own actions and inactions:

  • Garai can’t turn Yuki over to the police, because this would break the seal of confession.
  • He can’t kill Yuki, because killing would be a sin.
  • He can’t stop seeing Yuki, because he must stay with him to “save his soul”.
  • He’s only sexually attracted to him because Yuki is an ~evil androgynous tempter~
  • It’s all a test from god, dude.

None of these claims hold up under scrutiny, really. It isn‘t just in the context of confession that Yuki is letting Garai in on his crimes. Garai even witnesses several – heck, he ends up helping him. If killing is a sin, surely aiding and abbatting a murderer is a sin, too? As for the wish to „save“ Yuki … that‘d count for more if Garai appeared to have any sense of an idea how to go about it. But Garai has no plan, he wavers, he angsts, he doubts, he makes a decision, takes it back, and he keeps being with Yuki.

And how fucking self-centered can you be if you make the murders of several innocent men, women and children all about your own inner struggle? Test of god, my ass.

Yuki knows that being a priest is pretty much what keeps Garai from becoming a danger to him. It is only when he learns that Garai is ready to leave the clergy that Yuki thinks of him as a potential threat. Makes sense: that’s Garai finally willing to abandon his system of self-deception in order to do what he’s always known to be the right thing.

I don‘t say this for the sake of character bashing – I think it‘s the key to understanding Garai’s character, his role in the story. And it’s an interesting way to treat religion, putting it not, as expected, firmly on the side of good, but presenting it as just a concept that can be used or misused for good or for evil, by flawed people.

Garai’s confession

Near the beginning of the story, Garai meets his bishop and delivers a confession that reveals much of the manga’s backstory, how he used to be a gangster in his youth, he and his gang kidnapped an 11 years old Yuki, then a poison gas leak killed everyone except Garai and Yuki, but the latter was still affected by the gas and eventually became insane and is now comitting awful crimes, and – horrors upon horrors – evilly seduces poor Garai every now and then!

This confession says a lot about Garai, especially if you look at the thing he doesn’t mention. He acknowledges a lot of his own criminal acts – kidnapping! sexually  assaulting women! – but he leaves out that he raped Yuki.

He confesses his sins but leaves out the worst – that’s not what it means to be truly repentant! Deep down, Garai is still unwilling to take responsibility for his own crimes, for his own darkness, and he instead blames everything on the ~evil outside force~ that is Yuki, or on the devil, on evil itself. Anyway, it’s all not really Garai’s fault. Lalala!

Thankfully, Alicia agrees with me:

Me: But it says a loooot that Garai leaves the fact he raped Yuki out of his confession, and presents is as if oh man, this evil guy is seducing him wahh must be a test from god.
Alicia: Totally. He’s not at all actually repentant, and in that sense it fits that he chose the path of piesthood, sorry to say :p
Me: xD Yes. The path of denial.
Alicia: And I don’t think Tezuka wrote him as a “catholic priest” in a POSITIVE sense.
Me: It means he doesn’t even want to TRY to build any kind of healthy form of sexuality.
Alicia: Yeah, he just thinks this profession will allow him to run away from it and be absolved and now he can pretend to be a moral person. It’s a total facade.

Like Alicia says, it makes a certain amount of sense that someone who, at one point, found himself sexually attracted to a prepubescent boy, would flee into celibacy rather than acknowledge his own dark side or fucked-up sexuality. For Garai, becoming a priest means running away – or trying to, because Yuki doesn’t let him. And in a way, Garai doesn’t want to leave him, either. Not for any virtuous reason, but because he loves him. He’s deeply in denial about it, of course.

Sumiko

Garai’s hypocrisy also shows itself in his attitude towards Sumiko. He’s angry with her when she wants to stay with Yuki despite having been raped by him, despite knowing he’s a evil, extremely dangerous person. When Sumiko points out that this is fucking rich, coming from Garai, he sort of weasles his way out of the conversation and escapes in the usual self-pitying angst. It doesn’t really lead to an apology or an acknowledgment that he’s hardly in the position to judge Sumiko for her bad life choices.

I’m a bit bothered by Garai’ attitude towards Sumiko in general, though that may be my bias speaking. I feel like he cares about Sumiko only because she’s someone he previously helped as a priest. She is a life he saved, she is his accomplishment, the living, walking proof that Garai can do good – and Yuki takes that away. It’s just that … Garai is so unsympathetic towards Sumiko afterwards, as if she owes it to him not to ruin her life (and not to herself), although she is only making the exact same mistake that he is making. WTF, man, have some self-awareness.

Random thoughts:

  • Reading Katherine Dacey’s review of MW, I stumble over her general criticism of the female characters of MW, who she describes as “either passive victims (…) or venal shrews”. First of all, using a misogynistic slur like “shrews” in a feminist critique is just … unfortunate. No, none of the female characters in MW are especially admirable or strong. But the same is true of the male characters. Name me one character in MW who isn’t a “passive victim” of Yuki’s schemes? Yes, it’s uncomfortable. MW isn’t a feel-good story! I think it sucks when people judge male characters based on how interesting and complex they are and what role they play in the story, but judge female characters only based on how well they fit a certain -“feminist” ideal of a Strong Female Character Who Needs No Man. So Garai is “a decent, sympathetic figure” despite being a child rapist who’s protecting a serial murderer, but Sumiko, Miho and Miho’s mother are just “unflattering female stereotypes”, their personalities or roles not even worth talking about. Is this supposed to be feminism?
  • I’ve read only two Tezuka manga, but it’s interesting that both Black Jack and MW have main characters who were emotionally and physically scarred by accidents involving leftover WMDs. Both accidents were caused, not by evil masterminds, but by mundane evil, by the cowardice, greed and neglect of normal people. MW is definitely about juxtaposing the more batshit and theatrical pure evil of Yuki with the normal, everyday evil of other characters …most notably of Garai. It still boggles my mind that there are people who see the contrast between Garai and Yuki as good VS evil, rather than being between two different forms of evil.
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