Saturday, November 15, 2014

Neo Faust review

Osamu Tezuka had kind of a fascination with Goethe's Faust. He wrote a book entitled "Faust" in 1950, then adapted it to the Japanese historical play style in 1971 as "A Hundred Tales". He attempted to have the story reworked as an anime, announced in 1984, but the project was abandoned "for various reasons" (according to the Tezuka database site). Eventually, Tezuka produced this manga under the name "Neo Faust" and it was published through the Asahi Journal. However, he developed stomach cancer and was ultimately forced to stop writing shortly after the second section started. It was collected and released as a single book under the Tezuka Osamu 'The Complete Works' collection label in 2011. It doesn't look like it's been released in English in the U.S. yet.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Neo Faust, Osamu Tezuka, Grade: A-
The story starts out in 1970 during the height of the student protests in Japan, where the main issues include changes to society, and America's involvement in the Vietnam War. Ichinoseki is a professor at NG University (NG = No Good), which is one of the sites of the protests. The main protest leader is a student, Ishinomaki, who has riled the students up against the campus faculty, but Ichinoseki is so oblivious to everything going on around him that the students leave him alone. He trips over a fallen barrier, and is helped up by a young researcher named Daiichi Sakane. As the two of them go to Ichinoseki's office, the old man notices the destruction and starts ranting about how things have deteriorated during the 50 years he's been teaching there. Later, we see that Daiichi is planning on killing Ichinoseki and taking over his position, while he also attempts to seduce a young female student and protester, Mariko Takada. A day or two later, Ishinomaki's body is found, burned to just a pile of ashes, with a dog's footprints nearby. The lead homicide investigator is Inspector Takada, Mariko's older brother. Takada arrives home when Daiichi is in the apartment, so the young researcher hides in her closet, but when Takada looks inside to try to capture him, all that's inside are the footprints of a large dog.

On campus, Prof. Ichinoseki is depressed that after 50 years of work, multiple awards, and even a Nobel for Life Sciences, he still doesn't understand how the universe works or the basics behind life. He attempts to drink poison to commit suicide, but is accidentally thwarted by a nearby bomb blast. Daiichi shows up and the two of them decide to summon the devil to get answers. Daiichi hears a sound outside and checks to see if it's the protestors, and while he's gone there's another explosion and a female demon, named Mephist, appears to offer him a deal in return for his soul. After some wrangling, Ichinoseki agrees, saying that he wants to become young again to relive his life, and she can collect only after he's satisfied and says "Time is beautiful". Mephist takes him back to 1950, where he's given a potion that turns him into a young man, but it erases his memories. Not recognizing Mephist, Ichinoseki encounters a corrupt businessman being harassed by angry yakuza. Ichinoseki saves him, and Mephist turns the attackers into piles of dust.

(The old Ichinoseki fumes over having wasted his life in the university.)

The businessman, Daizo Sakane, likes his savior and gives him advice and a job as a construction worker. He also names him "Daiichi". Through a series of events, Daiichi rises through the company's ranks, and presents Daizo with plans for building Japan's first bullet train network in order to transport people from over the country to Tokyo for the 1960 Tokyo Olympics. Daizo continues to become filthy rich, but develops stomach cancer and adopts Daiichi as his only heir, then dies. "Daiichi Sakane" then decides to use his new-found wealth for his own purposes.

(Daiichi (Ichinoseki) seduces Mariko and is interrupted by her older brother, the homicide detective.)

Right around 1970, Daiichi is driving by NG University and spies the pretty Mariko. He falls in lust with her and orders Mephist to help him seduce her, and get him a job at NG to get him closer to her. It's a slow slog, made worse by Mephist's feeling that Daiichi is just using her too casually. Mephist starts acting like a jealous lover, and tries seducing him in return. This fails, while Daiichi slowly kills off all the opposition in the university regency, gets closer to Mariko, and attracts the suspicions of her older brother, the homicide detective. At the same time, Daiichi attends the lectures of Ichinoseki, learning more about the principles of life without recognizing his older self. Eventually, he does figure out that he and Ichinoseki are the same person, and this brings him up to the "present", when Ishinomaki and the other protesters plan on bombing one of the university buildings, which would result in Mariko being imprisoned with the rest of them. Mephist saves Mariko, then turns Ishinomaki and the others to dust. The bomb does explode, harmlessly, but it disrupts Ichinoseki's suicide attempt.

(Ichinoseki summons Mephist.)

Daiichi helps Ichinoseki after the blast, and the old man confides in him that he wants to use science to summon the devil to get answers regarding life's secrets. Daiichi laughs about this to Mephist, saying that he's not going to share her with anyone else. This causes Mephist to tell him that they're currently at a crossroads, with the devil about to choose which one of them to keep - either the old Ichinoseki or the young Daiichi, leaving Daiichi with no choice but to help himself build the demon summoner. The summons works, but the devil kills Ichinoseki, and Daiichi is allowed to carry on with his plans to create a new "Adam and Eve" via biological breakthroughs. Unfortunately, in laying out his future for him, Mephist specifically states that Mariko isn't going to be a part of it. This is where Part 1 ends.

(Mephist prepares to wipe out the campus protesters.)

Part 2 picks up a couple decades later. Daiichi has been living and working in research labs in the U.S., and is on his way back home. On the plane, he attracts the attentions of the flight attendants and other passengers for his habit of arguing with an empty seat. No one else can see Mephist sitting outside on one of the engines (she is avoiding a priest also traveling first class). They get to Narita, where Det. Takada is waiting. The inspector knows that Daiichi is cavorting with demons, and promises to unmask him as a monster. Daiichi laughs at him, but the other man tells him something he hadn't known - Mariko had been pregnant with Daiichi's baby, but had killed it. Ever since, she's been locked up in a mental asylum. Daiichi runs to the asylum, and discovers that Mariko, now in her 40's, is really insane. She rants about demons for a while before finally recognizing her lover. She keeps carrying around an empty blanket, referring to it as her "real child". She sees Mephist and goes into another rant. And this is where Tezuka stopped drawing the manga. There are a few pages of pencil-sketch layouts and tentative dialog, but most of the handwriting is too difficult for me to read. All I know is that Mephist drags Daiichi out of the hospital and tries to talk to him a bit.

Neo Faust is an interesting look at how people can change under new circumstances. When Daiichi encounters his original self, he holds himself in contempt, while the older Ichinoseki is completely oblivious to his younger self's murderous machinations. I'm also amazed at how far in advance Tezuka planned the story; when the bomb goes off and Mephist tells Daiichi to show Ichinoseki how to build the summons machine, all of the artwork and story development matches exactly the first chapter of the book. We see events that were separated by at least a year in real-time from two different viewpoints. Highly recommended if you like older manga and philosophical conundrums.

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