by Osamu Tezuka
Cover Artist: Osamu Tezuka
Review by Ernest Lilley
Vertical Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781932234664
Date: 08 June 2007 List Price $19.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
SF fans probably remember anime artist Osamu Tezuka for his early creation, a boy robot known in Japan as "the Mighty Atom," and here in the US, where it was the first anime shown, as "Astro Boy". But that's hardly where this prescient illustrator's story stopped, and Apollo's Song shows the direction that he went in somewhat later years. Greek and Freudian themes mix together in a story of a young man's search for his humanity, and the woman who he is doomed to fall in love with, over and over in a mixture of dreams and reality.
Shogu is a young man with some seriously anti-social tendencies. As the author, Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka, shows us, he's the product of a twisted childhood, brought into the world by a "bar hostess" and scarred emotionally by her punishment for his intruding on one of the many scenes of sex with one of the many men he knew as "papa". As a result, he's got an antipathy towards affection, which expresses itself in violence towards anything he sees showing tenderness. At the outset of the story we meet Shogu being checked into a mental institution where a kindly doctor decides to mend his broken pysche/heart by subjecting him to a series of electroshock induced hallucinations in which he loves, and loses, the woman of his dreams. Later, when he escapes from the hospital, he manages to get beaten up, knocked down, and thrown off a cliff often enough for regular vision interludes to the overarching storyline which strings together the episodes.
In the first vision he meets a goddess, who tells him that he must be punished for "disdaining the beauty and sanctity of love" and sets him on a course of Sisyphean fantasies in which he meets, falls in love with, and loses the same girl, though in different guises, over and over. The story shifts back and forth between these dreams and reality, which ultimately parallels the dreams as he falls in love with the real version of the girl, with the same tragic consequences in the end.
Apollo's Song is as much a collection of short stories by the author as it is a continuous narrative. The visions stretch from Nazi Germany, where Shogu struggles to save a girl condemned to death with her parents to the distant future where synthetic humans look down on the few remaining original models. The stories are both familiar and alien, coming from a time more than three decades past, and a clash of cultures as Japan's post WWII generation children reached adulthood.
The story was first published as a serial in Weekly Shonen King, (Shonen Gahosha) in 1970, and reflects the loss of innocence of the time, when student riots flared and sexual taboos were questioned. Tezuka's drawing style is so distinctive that for anyone, like myself, who grew up watching Astro Boy, it's really jarring to see essentially the same cast of characters play roles so much darker. Yet, even in Astro Boy the themes of lost love and childhood trauma were very much apparent, so you gradually get a feel for how one maps into the other.
If you're interested in the history of Manga, or curious about Osamu Tezuka's development you'll find this lengthy (over 500 pages) work intriguing, if disturbing. One note, though part of its intent was evidentially to discuss sex and love in terms that young people could understand, it no doubt deserves the 16+ label on the cover. On the other hand, as erotic art goes it's quite tame, with little or no actual genitalia (the future synthians were created without it, to simplify that) and nothing that strikes me as pornography. Ultimately, though, it is about love and its physical expression, so you may want to consider the content before recommending it to YA readers.