7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2009
During World War II, stories begin circulating in the South Pacific about a bewitchingly lovely woman with the power to enthrall, then destroy, every man who sees her. Twenty years pass and the rumors resurface, this time saying that Zephyrus has come to Japan, once again using her wiles to control men. A former soldier, now a successful businessman, is determined to find Zephyrus and he hires dockworker Gohanmatsu to find and follow the mysterious woman.
Gohanmatsu is strong and simple and has only one love: alcohol. Like Popeye had his spinach, Gohanmatsu has his booze, gaining strength and endurance with each bottle consumed. So strong is his focus on finding his next drink that he is the only man alive who has ever resisted the lure of Zephyrus. His indifference to her beauty enables him to see past the glamour to her real goal, to destroy man by destroying his economy and his laws and morality.
Tezuka wrote Swallowing the Earth as a parody, poking fun at the panic that might arise if the world's dependence on the gold standard were to backfire. And while this is a fun story to read, complete with slapstick humor and cartoony guffaws, it's the quiet, solemn bits of social commentary that remain with the reader. Mixed in with the larger story, Tezuka also discusses modern sexuality, social issues, and even the racial and political climate of the time, as seen through the filter of the Japanese media. He tells the story of a group of anonymous strangers who bond as a family; of a man whose fortune disappeared after the economic collapse and is forced to sell his daughter to get out of debt; of women so desperate to be beautiful that they'll wear artificial faces. Many of these issues from the mid-20th century still echo loudly today, and Tezuka's deft touch holds true.
According to the foreword written by manga expert Frederik L. Schodt, this one-volume story written in 1968 is very much a product of its time. He explains clearly about the Japan of the late 1960s, the influences on Tezuka's art, and the seeming political incorrectness of some of the images in the book. Once the reader understands Swallowing the Earth's place in history, and where Tezuka was in his career when the book was written, it is easy to see why so many have been eagerly awaiting the translation of this book into English. This volume, published by DMP, reads from right to left and, due to some nudity, sexual situations, and the sensitivity some readers may have to a few of the images, this book is best reserved for older teens and adults.
-- Eva Volin
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 2009
In the beginning I was kind of weary of this book but I decided to give it a chance any ways. It was Tezuka's first gekiga work and I was pleasantly surprise at the depth of this story. Sometimes it drags a little bit but it is still a great read. I found it for less than 20 dollars and you can't beat the amount for pages for that price.
During World War II, two Japanese soldiers hear rumors of a beguiling beauty called Zephyrus, so intoxicating that no man can resist her. Just her photo is enough to turn one of the soldiers to obsession. Twenty years later, one of the soldiers realizes that Zephyrus is in Japan, so he hires the son of his former comrade to track her down and discover her history. Gohanmatsu Seki seems like the worst candidate for the job, for his one and only passion is alcohol. He doesn’t care what sort of booze he’s drinking, as long as it’s plentiful. But his single-minded obsession may make him the one man in Japan able to resist the charms of Zephyrus.
Renowned as the creator of "Astro Boy", Osamu Tezuka is one of Japan’s best known and most popular comic creators. But while people are familiar with his children’s hits like "Kimba the White Lion" and "Unico", fewer are familiar with his adult stories.
"Swallowing the Earth" was first published in 1968, but even after forty-six years it’s an entertaining story. Zephyrus’ goal is to destroy the world of man, and at times she and her sisters seem like modern-day Amazons. Yet they aren’t warriors in the traditional sense; Zephyrus will bring chaos not through battle but by systematically destroying the value of gold and reducing powerful men to her slaves. It seems a mad plan, yet as it is worked through you come to admire her cunning and forethought, coming up with such an intricate plot from the tiny island where she lives.
It’s also very strange to have a drunkard as the main protagonist. To be honest, there isn’t much to like about Gohanmatsu Seki. He comes off as lazy, callous, and crude. His complete and total focus on locating his next drink dominates his personality and gets him into trouble, but I have to admit there’s something very funny about a man so distracted by his desire for alcohol that he’s oblivious to the bombshell beauty who keeps throwing herself at him, clad in scanty outfits, unable to understand why her feminine wiles aren’t working on this buffoon.
The story is very much a product of its time, and some allowance has to be made for things that would be offensive today. Tezuka’s drawings of natives that Gohanmatsu runs into while escaping from Zephyrus definitely wouldn’t pass muster today – black skin, thick lips and grass skirts are no longer PC. But it was a very common way of depicting the foreign other in comics at the time, and Tezuka’s adherence to the tropes of his day is not exceptional.
Instead, focus on Zephyrus and her sisters, strong women who create a clever plan to bring down the current world system. Many of the issues raised in the manga, like the role of women in society and our obsession with beauty and the ridiculous depths to which men and women will go to enhance or preserve it, are still very relevant today.
As a single volume, epic, self-contained story, "Swallowing the Earth" was a highly experimental manga when Tezuka created it – and it’s quite good. Take a chance on it and check it out!