Thinking about Naoki Urasawa

I read a bit of Billy Bat and came across a scene where a mangaka talks about how it’s OK to use other people’s ideas as inspiration for your own work, also he wants to surpass Osamu Tezuka. I was like “Awww, I know, Urasawa, I know.”

(And really: I agree with the idea that it’s completely fine to use ideas from other people as inspiration for your own stories. People nowadays are very quick with accusations of plagiarism,* but there’s a difference between ripping something off and using it  as inspiration. In the latter case, you add your own spin, your own interpretation, and turn the concept into something different and new. And as long as you’re open about your sources and thought processes, and don’t try to claim it as a completely original idea, it’s not morally wrong to do so at all.)

It’d be cool to have a flowchart of all the connections between Urasawa’s and Tezuka’s works. Sometimes they are very overt (especially how Pluto is a straight-up reimagining of a Tezuka story, and credits Tezuka alongside Urasawa), sometimes obvious but still subtle (in Monster, Tenma’s name and the rough similarities between Johann and Yuki from MW). I’m sure there’s more? I haven’t read much by Urasawa or by Tezuka, and I know that I’ll never read everything by them!

Anyway, if I am honest, that’s pretty much where my interest in Urasawa ends. Don’t get me wrong: he’s a great artist, an excellent storyteller and I appreciate that he has his own, distinctive overall style. But he tends to be a tad over-worshipped in Western manga fandom. His manga aren’t that clever, they just seem that way because they’re layering subplot over subplot and fill the gaps with real-life or literary references and lots of well-researched details. It’s extremely impressive, but ultimately leaves me kind of cold.

I’d have found Monster a better story if it had kept the focus on the initial moral dilemma and the triangular cat-and-mouse game between Tenma, Johann and Runge**. Instead, we get organized crime, Nazis, the GDR, human experiments, creepy children’s books, evil orphanages and so on and so forth, blowing the story up to fill 18 volumes I’m struggling to remember. Haha, sorry! But really, I guess Billy Bat is the perfect Urasawa manga because the very premise allows him to do all these time jumps and sideplots and political and historical references that he seems to enjoy so much, and that his fans adore him for.

Personally … I wish that Urasawa would try to imitate one of Tezuka’s greatest qualities as a storyteller: minimalism. Reading Tezuka made me appreciate how little it actually takes to tell a story effectively. Even in just a single chapter, you can create memorable characters and satisfying story arcs. Actually, I am 100% certain that Urasawa knows this and that he’s capable of it as well, it’s just that he prefers maximalist storytelling and crazily convoluted plots with all these added mysteries. In the end, that’s fine, he’s just not my cup of tea as a mangaka and that’s fine.

*) See also: the Yuri On Ice fandom accusing a Hallmark movie of ripping off YOI’s never-seen-before plot of “athlete tries for a comeback, falls in love with coach”.
**) Haha, I know what you’re thinking and I dare you. =P I know that “Lunge” is an actual German word. But “Runge” is an actual German surname, so there. (It’s also the spelling that was used in the German translation of the manga, so it’s just what I’m used to and I’ll keep using it forever.)

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