Let’s make it clear right away — to the four volumes of the French edition by Delcourt, I prefered the superb American brick published by Vertical. Less expensive, with an impeccable print quality in a larger format, and wrapped in Chip Kidd’s elegant cover … what can we ask for more ? And it is with an unrefrained pleasure that I dived in to read this beautiful and thick volume.
The plot of this medical thriller counting over 800 pages revolves around a mysterious illness, the Monmow disease. A strange disease that turns men into dogs, it mainly strikes only the inhabitants of a small, recluse Japanese village. Traveling there to study its symptoms, the young and talented doctor Osanai (Kirihito being his first name) will end up contracting the famous disease, following the conspirations of his mentor, the arrogant Director Tatsugaura. His only hope, maybe, is his friend and colleague doctor Urabe.
The story structure evolves following Tezuka’s inspirations. Having done the set-up and put the protagonists in place, he can now unfurl effortlessly efficient sequences, builing along the chapters the parallel journeys of his two doctors — on one hand, Osanai the noble heart in the body of a monster, on the other Urabe with an unchanged body but hiding his inner demons.
On this topic, the suprising use of the art has to be mentioned — resorting to the “usual” Tezuka style for the major part of the story, but introducing a more realistic, darker line, mainly for emphasizing the sinister transformations of Urabe (thus creating a strong narrative break, often combined with a layout that gives it even more prominence, in particular with the use of close-ups), but also more rarely to display the suffering of people stricken with diseases, as if the gravity of their situation required to abandon, for a brief panel, a representation deemed too humoristic.
Started in 1968 in Big Comic, first collected in 1970, Kirihito Sanka is one of the first major adult work of Tezuka — and somehow, it shows. If there is little to criticize about the medical aspect of the story (Tezuka obviously putting to use his medical background to lend some credibility to this fantastic plot), it is undeniable that the representation of love relationships in general, and everything sexual in particular, is somewhat naive. One such example is the way the relationship between Osanai and Tazu comes into being, but Tezuka borders on caricature with the character of Reika : hyper-sexual, both in her representation and her behavior — to the point of making a nymphomaniac of her.
But in spite of those defaults and the use of some too-obvious plot devices, the dynamic narration conquers all — without a doubt, Tezuka knows how to tell a thrilling story, and manages to produce in Kirihito Sanka a humanist story on the acceptance of differences.
- A cover that presents the two faces of Osanai Kirihito, that can be revealed in turn by sliding the banner that bears the title. Simply genius.
- A duet that probably finds its inspiration in Shiroi Kyotô, a novel by Yamasaki Toyoko adapted as a movie in 1966, which features two surgeons with opposite personalities workin at the Osaka Hospital.
- The title is a reference to “Christ Sanka”, praise the Christ. But here, Kirihitio is far from being a Christic figure — the role would suit better Helen, the nun who will endure a real Way of the Cross but never give up her indefectible kindness to others.