Tezuka, famous in the North American markets for children’s properties like Astro Boy, Unico, and Simba the White Lion, also produced a wealth of amazing works of graphical literature intended for older audiences. Vertical has brought over many of these mature titles and has amassed a stunning library for english-language readers; chief among them Tezuka’s Ayako.
The traditional, aristocratic Tenge family suffers the twin shames of post-World War II governmental redistribution of their family estate to their tenant farmers and the stigma of a soldier son who survived as a prisoner of war rather than dying for his Emperor. Worse, the returning son complicates the horrible back-room deals already struck between the Patriarch and his primary heir over the dwindling inheritance and brings the shame of the home family’s incestuous dealings to the surface. At the same time, Tezuka masterfully intertwines a second plot. The Tenge family’s youngest adults are used to explore the political climate of defeated, occupied post war Japan. Brothers are pitted against sisters in a series of murders, cover-ups, and intrigues that tear the family apart.
The whole book is a fugue of hidden crimes and abuses, a Russian nesting doll of metaphors for the confusion and struggles for identity and prosperity of the Japanese nation following WWII. Tezuka mirrors the macro sociopolitical forces of rival social classes against the micro inner-family struggles amongst to the Tenge clan: all of it shame, guilt, and an overwhelming drive for self-protection used to justify greed and brutality. At its nexus sits Ayako herself — an innocent, abused and deranged — she is the unwanted product of the all-too human storm around her, a perfect survivor who can never go home.
~ Sarah Martinez