Thursday, July 22, 2010

メトロポリス (Metropolis)

Metropolis is a 1949 manga classic by master mangaka Osamu Tezuka (creator of such famous series as Astro Boy and Black Jack).  It explores the effects of strange "black spots" that appear on the Sun one day; one of the most important effects is that these spots allow for the creation of synthetic cells, to the point of making an artificial being, Michi.  The manga follows, in intertwining plots, the story of Michi, the effects of these black spots, and the search for a dastardly criminal by the name of Duke Red, along with his governmental subordination group, the Red Party.  Overall, it is a tale of the danger too much technology poses for the human race, among other themes.  A lot happens in a very, very short amount of time across these 160 pages; I feel the plot moves too fast, leaving each page cramped with events and dialogue, sometimes crowding out the art.  I also feel the very quick plot does not give ample time to deeply explore the characters and connect strongly with them (which I think is a major part of a good work of art), besides a few somewhat endearing characters.  In general, I feel Metropolis is a work with a tight, complex plot, good artwork (even if it's not my favorite style), and a needed message, but I feel it all moves too fast, not leaving enough room for either strong character development or too much exploration of the theme.  In conclusion, I would give Metropolis a 7/10: it's worth reading, even if it's just for its status as a classic in manga.

A Deeper Look

As mentioned above, probably the biggest theme of Metropolis is the danger that too much technology can pose for the human race.  In our increasingly technology-obsessed society, this is always something to keep in mind: technology can be a great tool, and but it can also be a corrupting force and a devastating destructive power.  This is shown most of all by a sequence near the end of the manga: the robots with artificial intelligence created by Duke Red were used as meaningless slaves by him to do his dirty work, and if one displeased him, he would destroy it.  When Michi, who recently learned of his/her (it can change gender) being an artificial being, learns of this cruelty, he/she helps lead a rebellion of the robots against the humans who heartlessly used them.  While never explicitly shown, it is assumed that the humans defeated the robots, especially after Michi's synthetic body fell apart.  His/her existence was only possible because of the man-made black spots on the Sun; when those were removed, his/her body made of synthetic cells could not sustain itself.  I guess it shows that, even though technology can be dangerous in and of itself, humans can still overpower it (although when they use it on each other, it can be devastating, such as in the second volume of Tezuka-sensei's (I've been informed that is the proper way to refer to a mangaka) Phoenix). 

This theme of the dangers of technology has been a common one in the past century (see, for instance, the film version (I haven't read the original yet) of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot or the sci-fi film trilogy The Matrix; even Satoshi Kon's anime adaptation of Yasutaka Tsutsui's novel Paprika deals with the idea of not letting technology completely overwhelm our humanity).  Even the namesake of Tezuka-sensei's work has that theme.

Speaking of the namesake: Tezuka-sensei was inspired to write this manga partially based on a single screenshot of the female robot in the classic 1929 German silent film Metropolis.  While Tezuka never saw the movie (at least not before he wrote his manga), that one screenshot inspired him, and he adopted the name as well (though the story is very different).  Another work of the same name is an anime film from 2001 called Metropolis, which is a loose adaptation combining pieces of both the silent film and Tezuka-sensei's manga.

In my opening section, I lamented how cramped the work can feel at times.  This is due to the fact that Tezuka-sensei had a 160-page limit when he wrote this manga.  Even though the original draft was longer (including more character development, especially for Emmy, and more theme development, such as more coverage of the robot rebellion), he had to cut it down to make it fit the limit.  Sadly, I feel like this reduced the quality of the work: I think I would have found it a much greater work if it were longer and more fleshed-out.

While overall I did not feel too impressed by the majority of this work, it did have some very good parts.  Even though there was little time spent on character development, I did become somewhat attached to them, especially Michi, Emmy, and Mustachio.  It is a mark of a good artist that I was able to become connected in so short a space (although these characters are not too high on my list of most connected characters).  I also enjoyed the times when Tezuka-sensei broke the fourth wall: for instance, once Mustachio is asked to describe recent events, and he says, "For the details, you'll have to ask the people reading this comic."  Also, there are some giant "rats" caused by the radiation of the black spots, and their scientific name is "Mikimaus Waltdisneus."

In conclusion, I think Tezuka-sensei created an entertaining work with many bits of comic relief, a very quick-moving and somewhat complex plot, a still-relevant theme, and a few characters you could get connected to.  While I wouldn't go so far as to call it a masterpiece, it definitely ranks as a classic, and all in all a good read.

Thank you for reading.  God bless, and peace.

Nota Bene: All images in this post come from Google Image Search.  I would also like to thank Wikipedia and Tezuka-sensei's afterword in the print version of Metropolis for providing me with background information regarding this manga.

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