Change is a bitch


By Osamu Tezuka

Translated by Mari Morimoto
Graphic Novel / Manga
702 pages
Hardcover: 978-1-934287-51-4 U.S.$26.95 / CAN$33.00 Buy;
Trade Paperback: 978-1-935654-78-0 U.S.$24.95 / CAN$26.95 Buy;

Opening a few years after the end of World War II and covering almost a quarter-century, here is comics master Osamu Tezuka’s most direct and sustained critique of Japan’s fate in the aftermath of total defeat. Unusually devoid of cartoon premises yet shot through with dark voyeuristic humor, Ayako looms as a pinnacle of Naturalist literature in Japan with few peers even in prose, the striking heroine a potent emblem of things left unseen following the war.

The year is 1949. Crushed by the Allied Powers, occupied by General MacArthur’s armies, Japan has been experiencing massive change. Agricultural reform is dissolving large estates and redistributing plots to tenant farmers—terrible news, if you’re landowners like the archconservative Tenge family. For patriarch Sakuemon, the chagrin of one of his sons coming home alive from a P.O.W. camp instead of having died for the Emperor is topped only by the revelation that another of his is consorting with “the reds.” What solace does he have but his youngest Ayako, apple of his eye, at once daughter and granddaughter?

Delving into some of the period’s true mysteries, which remain murky to this day, Tezuka’s Zolaesque tapestry delivers thrill and satisfaction in spades. Another page-turning classic from an irreplaceable artist who was as astute an admirer of the Russian masters and Nordic playwrights as of Walt Disney, Ayako is a must-read for comics connoisseurs and curious literati.

Osamu TezukaOsamu Tezuka (1928-89) is the godfather of Japanese manga comics. He originally intended to become a doctor and earned his degree before turning to what was still then considered a frivolous medium. His many early masterpieces include the series known in the U.S. as Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. From the early seventies on, he increasingly targeted older readers as well, employing a grittier style and mature themes. With his sweeping vision, deftly intertwined plots, and indefatigable commitment to human dignity, Tezuka elevated manga to an art form. Since his passing, his international stature has only grown, his eight-volume epic Buddha winning multiple Eisner and Harvey Awards in the United States.

Mari Morimoto has been translating Japanese comics into English professionally from before “manga” was a buzzword. Her resume encompasses some of the most recognized titles including Dragonball, Inuyasha, and Naruto. Also a practicing veterinarian, she lives in New York City.

Critic’s Picks 2010
An ambitious, 700-page allegory of burying tradition while maintaining the patriarchy, defending honor by way of corruption, and the inevitable tainting of character by the simple presence of purity.”
Publishers Weekly

Best New Seinen/Josei Manga of 2010—Drama
Ayako depicts horrifying events, but it is beautifully presented. Connoisseurs of comics craft will find much to admire in Tezuka’s cinematic approach to paneling, pacing, and illustration. Peter Mendelsund’s striking design gives this 1970’s story a modern mood to attract mature readers.”

“Even though the book itself appears massive at 704 pages it is difficult to put down once you start to read it. Tezuka manages to level off the serious story filled with sadness with small bits of dark comedy… The images are done very well with impressive detail and the text is clear and easy to read. The hardcover design is impressive. 5/5”

“It is a portrait of humanity’s dark side on par with Dante’s Inferno… With so many interlocking storylines, all meticulously charted up to the final page, this drama plays out on a stage so grand that only Tezuka could have conceived it. Even the artwork reaches heights that are yet to be surpassed today… For pure story and visual impact, one of the best ever. A-”
Anime News Network

“Panel after panel flows effortlessly, composed in such a way that it draws you in, despite the cartoonish characters that Tezuka is so well known for. His scenery and backgrounds show a vibrant land slowly weighed down by filth and corruption… While I have been dismissive of Tezuka’s work in the past, I am fully convinced by Ayako… This book is one of Vertical’s finer achievements and a must-have for any Tezuka or intelligent comics fan. 9.5/10”
Comics Village

“From beginning to end, the characters and twists remain intriguing and are sure to keep you reading… A highly intriguing and enjoyable tale that should feel at home in anyone’s collection, assuming they can stomach the subject matter. Grade: A-”

“Tezuka’s Ayako is possibly one of the most trenchant dissections of post-WWII Japan that I’ve had the opportunity to read… Tezuka fills almost every page with anger, frustration, and heartbreak at a country that seems to have lost its identity in the wake of the war—made toxic and repellent thanks to the combined forces of money, power, and immorality… It feels like living, breathing fiction that after a point becomes a kind of horrible cancer that Tezuka, in the final pages, seems to want to cut out of himself. Grade: A-”
Manga Life

Ayako, the most recent Tezuka release from Vertical, is not exactly well-known among mainstream fans. But it should be, as it’s one of the best releases to hit the market this year… His mastery of the page is always at work here (even being flipped, it loses virtually nothing), and leads the viewer along wonderfully… Another strong point is the unpredictability of the tale. Very rarely could I say for sure what would happen to a character next… If you even remotely enjoy manga, pick this up. If you hate manga, pick this up even more so.”

“Hopefully, by this point, Osamu Tezuka’s capacity for seriousness is known to North American comic/manga readers. Ayako was written in the 70’s hang-over from the 60’s improvements in prosperity. It was a time to take stock of how matters arrived at their current state… While I would recommend the book to readers who know and admire Tezuka, I’d even more vehemently recommend it to those who are less experienced or more ambivalent about his work. In its consistent seriousness, it’s devoid of the jarring humor and cartoonishness that turn some off.”
Ain't It Cool News

“The disturbing and deeply human Ayako has turned out to be some of my favorite Tezuka thus far… Ayako is the only time I’ve yet seen Tezuka completely straight-faced. Working in a self-consciously realist mode, he spares only a few fantastical images as breathtaking metaphors… At 700 pages (at nearly $30, the striking hardcover volume is actually not a bad deal), the book refuses to be put down and it’s complex and ambiguous enough to warrant multiple readings. This comes highly recommended, particularly if you are one of those folks who can’t abide cartoony Tezuka.”
Colony Drop

“The accents the characters use might be a point of contention, but I found them rather comforting…and there’s nothing more heartbreaking than the characters (particularly the women) yelling 'NAW!' during the scenes of intense struggle and violence. There’s something haunting about it… [Ayako] is quite successful in its quiet and down-to-earth depravity, and somehow one of the most understated Tezuka stories I’ve read. Probably a good place to start off new readers of Tezuka.”
Slightly Biased Manga

“Like some of Vertical’s previous long-form Tezuka releases—MW and Ode to Kirihito in particular—Ayako isn’t afraid to get dark and dreary. In fact, Ayako may be one of the bleakest yet. That is, of course, said as a term of endearment; this nearly 700-page work sucks you into its twisted narrative from the very first chapter, and its grip only gets icier as the pages turn… From Peter Mendelsund’s elegant cover design to Mari Morimoto’s dialect-infused translation, this is another must for fans of Osamu Tezuka and comics in general.”
Otaku USA

“It’s all fearless stuff, and all in the service of a story that looks pitilessly at the way people cling desperately to scraps of power and influence even as it corrupts them from within all the more. No lie is great enough to tell, no sin mortal enough to contemplate, no life sacrosanct in the face of such need. What’s remarkable is how Tezuka’s storytelling makes such dank and horrific things into the stuff of compulsively readable, wide-gauge visual drama. You’re drawn in despite yourself, not just once but many times over.”
Genji Press

“A gripping piece of work that is exceedingly difficult to put down… This is a dark, depressing tale, yet it, as virtually all of Tezuka’s work, is incredibly deep and strong, and is worth picking up, not only for manga fans, but also for those who like gripping stories—even one that is near 40 years old.”

“There are a lot of complex characters in this book, mostly members of Ayako’s family, most of whom harbor horrible secrets and guilty consciences. All of the different plot threads come together for a very satisfying story, with a stunning finale… If you can say anything about this book, it’s that you can’t really predict what's going to happen next.”

“It is a testament to Tezuka’s tight cast and vibrant characterization that he manages to keep the story interesting despite its frequent jumps in both time and place. The small cast helps you create a deeper connection with them, as their relationships and feelings are all easily understood within the structure of their acutely dysfunctional family… A powerful story, almost Shakespearean… Highly recommended.”

Ayako is an epic. Spanning the years of 1949 to 1973, it focuses on three generations of one dysfunctional clan, yet fires on all cylinders to address in depth themes that are political, sociological, psychological and sexual… This is another stick-with-you masterwork from a man who produced more of them than should be humanly possible.”

“It may be my favorite by the Father of Japanese Manga... What really impressed me was the way Tezuka’s story, covering the fortunes of the Tenge family between the years 1949-1972, incorporated so many real-life events in Japanese history… I can’t recommend it highly enough!”
Accelerated Decrepitude

“Even though Ayako was written and drawn in the early 1970s, it is never a dated work and it amazed me as much as my other two favorite Tezuka mangas, MW and Buddha… Definitely for mature readers and definitely one of 2010’s best graphic novel releases!”
Ich Liebe Comics

“A scathing social critique… Tezuka’s mastery over line and layout are on full display here, and the result is something like a Lars von Trier movie. It’s bloody good.”
The Daily Texan (University of Texas at Austin)

“As always with a Tezuka manga, it is not just the complicated story but the well-thought-out artwork that makes Ayako worth reading. Befitting the subject matter, Tezuka often uses film noir effects on his pages, filling them with shadows and strange viewing angles… Many mysteries arise in the course of this long and multistranded story, and Tezuka provides clear solutions to only a couple of them. But the telling of this twisted tale is so stylish and intriguing that it doesn’t really matter.”
The Daily Yomiuri

Critics’ Picks 2010: Books While Tezuka may be known more for his kiddie fare like Astro Boy, he doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his adult works so have a box of tissues ready.”
The Coast (Halifax)

Manga Gift Guide Pick A dark and tragic Tezuka masterpiece.”
Comic Attack

Holiday Gift Guide Pick 2010 The house of Tezuka will always be the house of Tezuka, and this year’s new release is a doozy: Ayako, the manga so mature that Tezuka’s whimsical side, known to pop up even in his more serious works like Phoenix and Buddha, has been largely hidden. The subject is certainly one that lends itself to such treatment… It’s a nice, thick volume that will surely keep you occupied into the new year.”
—Jason Yadao, Honolulu Star Bulletin

“I would recommend anyone reading Tezuka for the first time to start out with Tetsuwan Atom/Astro Boy… Then I’d suggest that adult readers try a foray into Tezuka’s later work, with MW—one of my personal favourites—or Ayako, which has just been released in English from Vertical.”
—Helen McCarthy, interview in Hyper Japan London

“Clearly this is a dark work in several senses, and I could easily spend several hours analysing what Tezuka was intending to portray in Ayako… It’s a very engaging read, probably more similar to MW than any other of Tezuka’s works, in that he’s trying to express sentiments about the darker side of the human condition, whilst telling a very entertaining story. It actually reminded me very much in places of the prose book Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace.”
Page 45 (U.K.)

“The book is shot through with dark humour… Ayako also highlights Tezuka’s ability to use sex to amplify the messages he wishes to convey. At times, there is a certain sensuousness to his depictions of nudity and sex. At other times, there is a hint of desperation evident. And at still other times, the illustrations speak of degradation and depredation… There are few other artists who have been able to use them to as good effect as he has… Ayako doesn’t have a clean ending and that too is only apt.”
Livemint.com (India)

“I don’t think I’ve been as excited about reading a new comic in many months… This is great and untrammelled comics storytelling, an artist devising three genuinely original techniques in a single page, to tell his story with the maximum possible effect… Tezuka is too complex and substantial a writer to make [the heroine’s shutting away] into a mere allegory, or to become too literal or mechanical in his metaphor, so Ayako becomes the major character of the story… A contender for his best single work so far translated.”
—Martin Skidmore, Comiczine FA

“It’s tempting to take Ayako for granted, to think about it as ‘just another Tezuka book,’ but I remember when the only manga available in English were Eclipse’s monthly floppy translations of Mai the Psychic GirlAyako lacks the fun sensationalism of MW—no cross-dressing, priest-seducing genocidal gay megalomaniac in Ayako, alas—but Ayako is a more mature book, with a controlled narrative structure built around compulsive repetition.”
—Craig Fischer, The Comics Journal

“How awesome is it that the legendary Japanese cartoonist Osamu Tezuka’s work is (finally, slowly) appearing in print in America? The most recent volume Vertical has published is the intense family tragedy Ayako; next up is The Book of Human Insects.”
—Douglas Wolk, TIME Techland