“Hanging By A Wire” – The Book of Human Insects (manga) – 9/10 Atoms

“As fast as each opportunity presents itself, use it! No matter how tiny an opportunity it may be, use it!” ~Robert Collier

Mangaka: Osamu Tezuka

Genre: Psychological/Thriller

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: This manga is licensed by Vertical in the US.

Art: Very typical Tezuka, with cartoonish figures and backgrounds. This does have some more realistic ones thrown in of a jazz band.

Summary: Still in her early twenties, beautiful Toshiko Tomura (b. 1947) has won the Akugawa Prize for her sotry “The Book of Human Insects.” The great honor is not her first: she has previously won the New York Design Academy Award, before which she was the lead actress of an established theatrical troup. Yet, while the media go abuzz, the woman in the limelight slips away from the metropolis; what the sole paparazzo who manages to trail her to an abandoned house in the country witnesses is an immobile figure of an old woman and the star herself, naked, in a reveries as bizarre as it is erotic…

Featureing a noir cast of jaded journalists, anarchist hit men, right-wing shadow brokers, cutthroat executives, and spent artists, The Book of Human Insects traces the career of an ingénue who is every bit those men’s match but is far from a feminist role model. In step with a heroine who is equally self-seeking, the usually “humanist” author here achieves with a Wellesian smirk a portrait of a world without heroes. (cover description)

Review: Tezuka does something really interesting with this story; he delves into the point of view of a woman who’s both a little more and a little less than she appears. It’s a departure from most of his works which center on a male’s perspective, and an interesting change.

This story starts out with the image of Toshiko Tomura, a brilliant and successful woman, then deconstructs this image bit by bit. There is no end to how twisted and terrible she is, yet she’s a terribly tragic figure at the same time. Though she does indeed shamelessly collect people’s talents – essentially becoming them in all but name and form – she has no other way of surviving. The only talent and skill she has is the mimicry of others, the ability to slip between their defenses and take everything that they have. And that is indeed a skill, an astounding and terrible one to be sure. Toshiko, though, is still prey to human emotions. As inhuman as some of her deeds are, in the end she has nothing to show for it except a little money – and what is that worth compared to the love she can never have?

She is deconstructed through the eyes of the men around her, who are intrigued by her beauty and charmed by her supposed talents. One by one they plot against each other, kill each other, are destroyed by Toshiko as she manipulates by fluttering her eyes and tweaking events when the men are off their guard. Watching how she does this – rather cleverly, and sometimes with a little deus ex machina – makes it a fascinating look at a woman who has nothing of her own to survive on, constantly seeking out and draining others so she can make a living.

Overall, while there were some lucky coincidences that made this story possible, it really was fascinating – definitely one of the better stories I’ve read.

Recommended: 18+. There’s a lot of sex and nudity in here, but it’s done in Tezuka’s usual style; that is to say, theonly genitalia are from the waist up, and the sex is never graphic, usually blacked-out or depicted in strange, indistinct shapes. She is raped once, and once she has sex with her husband’s female secretary. She ends up having an abortion.

Other titles you might enjoy:

MW (manga)

Ayako (manga)

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