Apollo’s Song Part 1
by Osamu Tezuka
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 31st 2010 by Vertical (first published August 16th 1977)
ISBN 1935654047 (ISBN13: 9781935654049)
English language edition
Apollo’s Song Part 2
by Osamu Tezuka
Paperback, 264 pages
Published August 31st 2010 by Vertical (first published October 17th 1977)
ISBN 1935654055 (ISBN13: 9781935654056)
English language edition
Apollo’s Song is the compelling and tragic story of Shogo, a young man who had a difficult relationship with his mother when he was young. Living without a father and an unloving mother that thinks of him as a burden and a mistake, he develops a hate for love and whenever he sees acts of love he is engulfed by a fury that would make him violent.
He acts cruelly through his childhood and when as a young man his is treated with shock therapy in a mental hospital he is condemned by the gods to an eternal punishment; moving through time and space, meeting, falling in love with, and then losing the same woman over and over again. The story takes us to Nazi Germany, an island ruled by peaceful animals, contemporary Japan, and a dystopian future where humanity has been subjugated by emotionless clones. Through these scenarios he explores the intricacies of love and sex, the demands they place on individuals, the sanctity in which we approach those concepts, and the challenges circumstance and society place in front of those in love.
The storytelling is natural and compelling. The layout, landscape, backgrounds, characters, and text all contribute seamlessly to the grand narrative. Like the best filmmakers, Osamu Tezuka, the creator of this manga, uses the focus of the frame to intensify the emotions of the scenes. For example in Part 1 there is a scene where a bird has to fight a snake to save his partner and their eggs. As the bird plunges down on the snake’s head, the bird gets injured and although the bird killed the snake, Tezuka shows us the pain of the victory by zooming in on the bird’s head slumped over the dead snake. We then see a panel showing the little bird crawling to his lover. While the birds console themselves Shogo lifts a boulder and throws it at their nest. Next is a panel showing the boulder crushing the birds followed by the figure of Shogo standing over the massacre. This constant zooming in and out of the action lets the reader understand the gravity of the situation and also the emotions associated with the consequences of the action. In that particular example, the reader gets a sense of futility when we get the looming figure of Shogo standing over the dead birds.
Tezuka is also a master of landscape; Mountains, Volcanoes, and Cityscapes are rendered in breathtaking clarity and depth. The effect of these landscapes is multifold. First and foremost they establish that the cartoony character design is a conscious style choice and not the result of a limited ability. Secondly, they provide a different kind of narrative depth than is present in the rest of the story. They can be looked at and interpreted as paintings. They are stories in themselves that can be read. Furthermore, they provide another level of connection between Shogo’s different episodes, by drawing connections to the spaces in which they take place.
Apollo’s Song asks challenging questions about love and is one of the only works I’ve read that truly explores the connection between the emotion of love and the biological function of procreation. This does limit its scope to heterosexual relationships, but, ultimately, as a work of literature, it does not suffer from this limitation. Furthermore, Tezuka can occasionally be heavy-handed with his text, especially when his characters are called upon to expound about love or the description of the environmental mistakes of our society. But, in his defence, it is almost impossible to speak directly about love without falling into some kind of exaggeration and cliché. Considering that he was writing before environmentalism became a mainstream idea, he would have needed to shout to make his point heard. In most works, these faults would not stand out, but Tezuka’s work is generally so close to perfect that whatever flaws there are get magnified.
In my opinion the best part of the story is the futuristic dystopian story where synthians, artificial beings created by humans, have taken over the world. They are stronger and more intelligent than humans and that is why they have developed themselves in such a way as to being able to create themselves. Being superior to humans they started to disdain and distrust the flawed and violent humans. The humans on the other hand started to die off due to the pollution they cause. The sythians then found it easier to take over as the dominant species on earth. This story is so compelling because it is an argument that has been going on in other mediums for years. Basically it all revolves around what makes humans special and thus better than artificial life; be it robots or synthians. In this story Shogo is forced to show the Queen of the synthians the way humans love so that she can understand it. By the end of the story both Shogo and the Queen admit to loving each other. This is a dramatic turn of events which prompts the Queen to have a surgery that allow scientist to give her genitals, which all synthians do not have. It is a tragic tale that ends in a tragic way but it showcases Tezuka’s arguments of love being essential for humans and something that is universally transcended in such a brilliant way that readers will want more.
And the readers do get more! The story continues in such a dramatic way that by then end Shogo is cured from his hatred of love only to have his beloved once again killed. He decides to take his life so that he can be together with her in heaven. The climax of the two books is the page spread of the final explosion which carries with is a sense of gravitas. Shogo is once again at the presence of the gods who explain to him that he has to endure an eternity of all that he passed through as that is human nature. The book ends with a similar depiction of a man and a woman holding hands as a symbol for the drama of nature that love and the need to reproduce create.
Apollo’s Song deserves the close reading of a literary novel and will reward those who do so. Tezuka is a master storyteller, and as graphic fiction continues to gain acceptance as a form of literature, his prominence will rise as one of the great writers of the last half of the twentieth century.