Lenni Reviews: Ayako by Osamu Tezuka

Any otaku worth their salt knows Osamu Tezuka. He’s the godfather of manga, a master storyteller, and is known for some of the most influential manga and anime ever created. When presented with “Ayako”, I was very excited to read something of Tezuka’s I’d never read before.

In terms of sheer scope and power, “Ayako” does not disappoint. Ayako, the product of an incesuous relationship between the head of the Tenge clan and his son’s wife, sees too much of the family’s dark side and ends up imprisoned in a basement to keep the family sins quiet. Tezuka’s telling of this poor woman’s life from childhood to adulthood is unmercifully dark and cruel, almost beyond belief.

The backdrop is post war Japan when an occupied Japanese government is dividing up the properties of wealthy landowners like the Tenge family to give to tenant farmers. In the fight to keep what they can, the family is willing to do anything to save face, including kill, blackmail, and keep a little girl a prisoner for her entire life.

There are times where the machinations you see are just unreal. It difficult to believe anyone could be so cruel but there are rays of hope and snippets of humor that keep the book from being completely depressing. Tezuka’s art is in rare form, providing an eerily cartoonish display for such a dark story.

While it is a great book, Lenni advises reading it in spurts with a more upbeat book in the wings to break up the sadness. “Ayako” is a fantastically rendered trip through the darkest parts of humanity so I advise a literary flashlight, so to speak. You won’t regret reading it, though.