Love is not something that you should have to teach someone. Neither is empathy. Sadly there are probably people who have neither like Shogo Chikaishi in Osamu Tezuka’s Apollo’s Song. Spurned by his own unloving mother, Shogo is repulsed by love to the point where he kills animals that even show the slightest hints of affection toward another. Brought to Dr. Enoki, the unrepentant Shogo is subjected to electro-shock therapy. Under the treatment, Shogo hallucinates or travels to a goddess who asks him, “why dost thou hate love?”
By the goddess or possibly the doctor, Shogo is sent out in the world and in time to discover love. While the doctor believes it to be just a side effect of the therapy, Shogo becomes a World War II era Nazi soldier transporting Jewish prisoners to a concentration camp. On a train that he guards, he spots Elise, a Jewish girl who he falls instantly in love with. It’s a classic story about how they’re differences ultimately keep them apart but it’s also the first time Shogo loves someone. The trips/hallucinations continue through the whole book. Through living lives as a Nazi soldier, crashed airplane pilot, futuristic freedom fighter/assassin and even as novice marathon runner, Shogo repeatedly finds love only to have it ripped away from him.
Tezuka’s manga is a trippy piece of work, beginning with an amusing view of human fertilization through to the different lives that Shogo lives, it’s hard to tell what’s real in this book and what isn’t. A blurb on the inside back cover compares Apollo’s Song to Philip K. Dick but I was often reminded of Kurt Vonnegut, particularly a book like Timequake. The tone of the book is much more Vonnegut than PKD, somewhat hopeful even in situations where hope shouldn’t exist. Tezuka is searching for answers about the nature of love throughout this narrative but doesn’t find anything but pain and heartbreak. If there’s any optimistic point of view in this story, I guess that it is love will always exist even when it appears to be destroyed.
Apollo’s Song was originally published in 1970 and is supposedly from Tezuka’s transitional period. I haven’t read much Tezuka before. The closest I’ve gotten is scanlations of Pluto, Naoki Urasawa’s adaptation of a Tezuka Astro Boy story. Here he’s slapping together a number of stories, trying to make a larger point about the purity and nobility of true, emotional love. Thanks to Jog, we get a quick lesson in the publishing history of Apollo’s Song and personally, I enjoyed it more without knowing the background. It seemed more pure and innocent that way. (Well at least as innocent as murdering sociopaths and Nazi concentration camps can be.) Tezuka, who was around 51 or 52 years old when this was originally published, is playful and creepy at the same time. Learning love through paired animals and futuristic robotic despots? It’s an idealistic viewpoint of love that I wonder how much of is inspired by the flower children in America a few years earlier.
Tezuka doesn’t seem to be hindered by plot. He changes Shogo to suit the story. When Shogo needs to be a murderer, he is. When he needs to be a marathon runner, he is but little connects the two versions of Shogo. Perhaps it’s the serial nature of the book but for a large portion of the second half, Shogo’s crimes seem all but forgotten until they’re needed for the resolution of the story. Hoping that the reader gets lost in each love lesson or alternate life, Tezuka borders on being a series of narratives connected by a theme rather than a whole narrative with a single beginning, middle and end. Much of Apollo’s Song is metaphor. Almost every element in the book is a symbol for some aspect of love. From the godlike race in the opening pages to the actual myth of Apollo, everything contributes to the examination of physical and emotional love.
Written and Drawn by: Osamu Tezuka
[tags]Osamu Tezuka, Apollo’s Song, manga, Vertical Inc.[/tags]