Let’s Talk About Manga: Urasawa Naoki - Humanity at its best and worst
Manga artists are lucky if they have one hit series; Urasawa Naoki, who consistently publishes bestsellers and garners accolades, is an undisputed master. (I have only put up the best known of his work above. Some of these titles even ran concurrently - how hard working is this man?!)
Among his awards, he has won the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize “Grand Prize” twice in the space of years, and it’s great that he is gaining more recognition outside of Japan - such as winning the Eisner Award in 2011. His work spans many genres, from romance comedy to sports action, from psychological mystery to science-fiction, but at their core, all of his series are about humanity at its best and worst, plain and simple. Some readers might be put off due to the dense subject matter, and the lack of flashy characters. His artwork is grounded in realism and does not cater to those who prefer manga to look a certain way. However, for other readers, that’s exactly the appeal. His work is intellectual, international, exciting and suspenseful; his characters are convincing and relatable.
Disclaimer: I haven’t read all of Yawara or Happy due to the fact that I don’t have access to the complete series. However, they are truly endearing works.
Breakdown after the jump (readers on the main blog, click the date):
Master Keaton: Travel, intrigue, a former Master Sergeant of the SAS - who would actually prefer to settle down to life as a professor and father. He’s been compared to Indiana Jones, James Bond, MacGuyver, and in fact, he is such a popular character that the manga series has been rebooted recently, more than twenty years after it made its debut. And by reboot, I mean reboot - all new storylines, set 20 years after the original series. A classic adventure-mystery title in which Urasawa displays his considerable knowledge of international affairs, locations and cultures.
Monster: The work that brought him international acclaim. Set in Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was disturbing, thrilling and utterly compelling. The shadowy syndicates, the conspiracies, the eponymous ‘monster’: it was my first foray into seinen manga, and I have been a fan of Urasawa’s ever since.
Pluto: I love this work, in no small part due to my love of the original by Tezuka Osamu, ‘the god of manga’. And Urasawa must have nerves of steel to take on one of the most beloved works by the most revered manga artist in the world, and reimagine it in his own unique way. There’s no need to be familiar with the original “Atom” (Astro Boy) in order to enjoy this work. It’s a murder mystery, it’s a philosophical treatise, and it’s also a human interest story: the robots are more human than machine as they struggle with the weight of their existence and emotions. Urasawa’s work doesn’t usually make me cry, but this one…. This one cut right through my heartstrings, especially with the North 2 arc.
20th Century Boys: As if Urasawa wasn’t cool enough already, he goes and names the series after a T.Rex song. The multilayered story, the intricate twists, the unique characters - all make for a roller coaster ride. This is the most critically acclaimed of his works, winning many awards and was also made into a live action movie.
Billy Bat: Urasawa’s most recent work begs the question - can manga save the world? While we don’t have an answer yet, the plot (and metafiction) continues to thicken. Set in post-war Japan and US, Urasawa tackles issues of good and evil, predestiny, and mixes in some good old conspiracy theories for measure. I don’t suggest this for first time Urasawa readers as you’re thrown right into Urasawa world from the beginning rather than being eased in, and Urasawa world can be pretty bizarre and sinister. However, like all his other works, once you’re hooked, you’re hooked. As a fan of The X Files, I approve.