Tag Archives: Jason Thompson

The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography

The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography is an educational manga by Tetsu Saiwai being published by Penguin Paperbacks, available in stores Sept. 28th. While it covers what you’d expect from a biography, it doesn’t give readers a montage of important events throughtout the long, eventful life the current Dalai Lama has lived so far using a distant third-party voice. Instead, it focuses what made Tenzin Gyatso a world-renown leader in the first place, China’s invasion of Tibet, using the Dalai Lama himself as a narrator. The manga starts with the death of the 13th Dalai Lama and proceeds quickly through finding Tenzin as a boy, his childhood and his quick rise to power in the face of adversity. Then it gets down to the nitty gritty of what went down with the Chinese  government, the Dalai Lama’s exile from the government and wraps up with a quick look on how he’s tried to run a nation from outside its borders.

First of all, I was really excited to read this manga. I love learning about history and I think Asian history is some of the most fascinating stuff out there that we rarely get to study in school. Clearly, I am the right audience for this manga, just to let you know because it affects my opinion a little.

But regardless of that, I feel like the approach that Saiwai took with this manga is interesting. A lot of biographies in illustrated form that I’ve seen tend to gloss over the details in favor of packing an entire life in a certain amount of pages. Reading history via a highlight reel is a bit boring to me and I can imagine it’s worse for people less interested in history. Instead, Saiwai uses the Dalai Lama’s voice and thoughts to narrate his biography. The focus is placed not on dozens of separate events, but what was probably the most dramatic period of the Dalai Lama’s life,  turning this into a story, not history. There’s war, drama, betrayal, torture and tears to prove it.

Things do go a little quickly at times, but Saiwai really only rushes through Gyatso’s childhood, pausing to show us how he was found to be the 14th Dalai Lama, and what he does after his exile in India.  But do we really need to see page after page of the young spiritual leader learning the intricacies of Buddhism? I really don’t think so. While I would have liked to see a bit more of what the Dalai Lama did after his exile, that might get a bit complicated and boring at times too and would up the page count significantly. So we are treated to a semi-happy ending, showing the prosperity and freedom from persecution of the Tibetan people in India instead. I should mention that the Tibetan people play a considerable role as a group character that affects the Dalai Lama’s decision making, which I found appropriate to include. It certainly makes the decisions made throughout the book a lot easier to understand and history is made just as much by the people as it is by the world’s leaders.

The reader hopefully comes away with a better idea of what happened (although admittedly, it is quite one-sided) and why it was wrong. I am still quite fond of the way Saiwai has written this educational manga and it is noted that Saiwai worked together with the Dalai Lama’s liason office for Japan/ East Asia in order to create the 1st person tone of this manga on top of using numerous films, speeches and source material about and from the Dalai Lama. The result is quite good. It doesn’t sound like PR schlock, which I’m sure the liason’s office might have wanted to force unto Saiwai, or any sort of Buddhist evangelism. Saiwai specializes in educational manga on human rights issues and reading The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography made me want to look at the other issues he has covered via manga. I imagine that is the best sort of reaction an educational/historical manga could hope for.

The art is pretty functional. It doesn’t really fit neatly into any one genre’s typical style, so it feels easy to read, which is a good fit for a biographical manga. My one big complaint is that everyone has bug eyes. While this may just be a style quirk, it hinders being able to see the characters emotions. More than once, a character would cry and it would take me a second to realize what they were doing exactly. It also made some characters a bit hard to distinguish because there were very few other features to set them apart from one another. In the end, the art’s nothing to get excited about, but it’s certainly not bad. I rather liked the way Saiwai drew the detailed embroidery on Tibetan clothing. It certainly isn’t super-intricate Kaoru Mori style, but it’s cute and gets the idea of embroidery across. The art does seem a little bit old-fashioned, which might turn off some readers, who prefer super-slick styles, but anyone who loves an old Tezuka manga won’t be turned off.

In conclusion, I’d say this manga is worth buying for anyone who loves history, Buddhism, Asian politics or is just plain interested in what happened, but doesn’t want to read a long string of Wikipedia pages. This manga will give you what happened to the Dalai Lama a nice linear fashion from his own perspective. By historical research standards, yes, it is one-sided, but this could be easily solved by a bit of  side research by the reader if they care to see it. By biography standards, the one-sidedness is fine.

While I was writing this review, Jason Thompson tweeted about a Buddhist commenter on another blog (he didn’t share the link, so sorry for not providing it), that said this biography was a Chinese government plot to discredit Buddhism. I want to let you readers know that this is false. The entire book is about the single most important Buddhist leader in the whole entire world, and while the focus isn’t on Buddhism itself, the manga clearly shows why this man is considered the reincarnation of Buddha himself. If discrediting Buddhism was the intent of the manga, it sure failed spectacularly at that! (And it doesn’t make the Chinese government look that great either.) Later tweets from Jason suggested that the commenter may just dislike comics or something. Oh well!

Review copy provided by the publisher.


Filed under manga, reviews

My San Diego Comic-Con 2010: Part 2

My this is late. Sorry everyone, I had to take care of a loopy boyfriend on Monday, Tuesday was just non-stop for me and last night I just forgot. (He had a medical procedure done that involved anesthesia. It was sort of fantastic to see him all wobbly and slurring his words. Best of all, he forgot a sock at the doctor’s office. Never mind the fact that he didn’t take his socks off during the procedure.)


Friday: I started my day off with the Moto Hagio spotlight panel. (Horrendously under-attended, might I add.) Before I launch into an explanation of the panel, however, let me explain this: Moto Hagio is pretty much why I was at Comic-Con this year. I am not kidding. I was SO DEVASTATED to hear that she was coming and I wasn’t. And then I realized I could get a professional badge! Oh joyous day! I adore older manga and I was quite looking forward to seeing one of the Magnificent Forty Niners and a great mangaka talk about her career.

That being said, the spotlight panel was everything I could have ever hoped for!

Hagio-sensei launched into a short overview of her career, starting with her short stories and then with The Poe Clan, which was her first longer narrative about boys who are stuck as teenagers after being turned into vampires. The Poe Clan‘s first collected volume sold out on the first day, which allowed her to continue working on Heart of Thomas, which was considered unpopular by editors at the time. After that, she began working on They Were Eleven and Marginal, both scifi manga influenced by her love of Western scifi, a genre she read passionately as a child.

My favorite part of the panel, however, had to be Hagio-sensei’s discussion of the various issues surround her stories. Many of them were very personal, including her mother’s strong dislike of manga and criticism of her career. She also spoke about her interest in psychology and child abuse and how this lead to short stories such as Iguana Girl and Hanshin as well as longer narratives such as A Cruel God Reigns in Heaven. For her to share such personal details about her career takes a lot of courage, but it made everyone in the audience feel ten times closer to her than someone who feels the need to talk only about their stories and not the personal influences behind them. It made the panel much more interesting than any canned answer from a Hollywood exec in Hall H. (I will never venture there as long as I live, I think.)

Hagio-sensei was presented an Inkpot Award at the start of the panel and I believe she more than earned it by the time the panel was over when she generously donated all the manga she spoke about to Comic-Con for posterity. For more about Moto Hagio, check out Shaenon Garrity’s excellent interview.

A little while later, Yen Press had their industry panel, which was the only straight industry panel I was able to attend. (I skipped Bandai and FUNimation because I had heard most of their announcements at Anime Expo. Other panels I missed because I had to attend a wedding in Los Angeles on Saturday.) There, Yen Press announced new licenses including The Betrayal Knows My Name by Hotaru Odagiri, High School of the Dead by Daisuke Sato and Shoji Sato, Aron’s Absurd Armada by MiSun Kim and The Bride’s Stories by Kaoru Mori. They also licensed another arc of Higurashi When They Cry, but I don’t seem to have the exact title in my notes.

I am looking forward to The Bride’s Stories (Otoyome-Gatari) the most because I once pitched it (as a long shot) to TOKYOPOP. I was afraid the title would never come stateside due to the nature of the main couple (she is 18 or 20 and he is about 13, despite the fact that nothing happens between them and the manga is set over 100 years ago.)

Yen Press also gave us more information about the online edition of Yen Plus, their manga magazine that was recently taken out of print circulation. The viewer is not flash-based, which gives readers the ability to view it on their iPhone or iPad, and is region-free, which means readers around the world will be able to legally view the magazine’s contents. The month-to-month paypal payments cost $2.99 and also get you access to the previous month’s copy, in case you missed it. Not a bad deal!

My exhibit hall antics on Friday consisted of me and Gia Manry of Anime News Network storming around the exhibit hall looking for hard-to-find manga publishers after a nice chat with freelance translator William Flanagan. We met up with Ed Chavez of Vertical Inc. and met Felipe Smith, the creator of MBQ and Peepo Choo. Also, to our delight, Viz Kids had announced the licensing of an original Mameshiba graphic novel and there were Mameshiba toys for sale at the Toynami booth. There’s nothing like grown women plotting how to steal all the awesome Mameshiba products Toynami had on display, but not for sale. (Later on in the day, we met up with more grown women excited about the Mameshiba toys and we had a *moment* together. Good times.) I am overjoyed to hear that now I will be able to gorge myself on adorable dog/bean toys that make people uncomfortable with random trivia. Somewhere in there, I also managed to get Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu signed by Junko Mizuno.

In the evening, Jason Thompson held his Future of Manga panel. While there was plenty of interesting factoids about manga magazine circulation and such in Jason’s presentation, I feel like he got a little side-tracked by the past and the present of manga. He failed to speak about the future except for a few rushed minutes of speaking about online manga distribution in Japan, denying panel attendees any really meaty discussion. I feel like Jason could have spoken for hours and hours on end about manga and still not have touched upon the future of it, so I will blame time constraints and the vast depth of his knowledge. Nothing that can’t be fixed by more careful presentation next year. I still enjoyed it because it gave me a lesson on a good chunk of manga history, but I wonder if other attendees might have found it boring.

Saturday: I didn’t attend any panels, so I’m afraid I don’t have many personal experiences that were interesting to recount. I tried to get a robot signed by Tom Siddell of Gunnerkrigg Court (a webcomic with a print version by Archaia) and failed because I had to return to L.A. I succeeded, however, in getting autographs from the creators of Avatar: the Last Airbender and two of the artists who have worked on Vertigo’s Madame Xanadu, Marley Zarcone and Amy Reeder. Then I meandered around the con and wound up having an excited discussion about Oishinbo: A La Carte (amongst other things) with freelance Viz editor Shaenon Garrity at her booth. (She is also the creator of two webcomics, Narbonic and Skin Horse.)

I, sadly, just missed a signing for Felipe Smith (but made up for that one on Monday as he had a signing at my local comic book store), the infamous Hall H stabbing and the TOKYOPOP panel where the company announced the licensing of Mr. Clean: Fully Equipped by Toya Tobina, Pavane for a Dead Girl by Koge Donbo and Sakura no Ichiban by Chibi Vampire creator Yuna Kagesaki. Drawn & Quarterly, fresh from their double Eisner win for Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life, announced that they will be releasing Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths and NonNonBa by Shigeru Mizuki (of GeGeGe no Kitaro fame.)

Sunday: I wasn’t there. I totally just lazed around on my ass all day. (Except for writing my first SDCC 2010 post!)


Filed under manga