The title Book of Human Insects is an insult to insects. Insects are rarely as harmful to their own species as the humans in this book. If one thinks of insects as grotesque and unlovely, then it’s a fitting title, perhaps, as the humans contained within are unlovely at best.
There is a real downside to reading too much of Tezuka Osamu’s manga for adults. He sees very clearly the kind of corruption power, and the drive for power, leads to. He understands too well how the powerful destroy the innocent without even noticing they exist. Read too much of his manga for grownups, and you might be ready to just pack it all in.
In Book of Human Insects we follow a psychopath who has nothing of her own. Instead, she learns from those around her, then steals their identities, their work, their reputation and everything they care about. She wreaks havoc as she moves up in the world, as a world-famous author (with a stolen manuscript) and a award-winning designer (with a stolen design.) She’s even stolen her name, Toshio Tomura.
Death and misery follow in Toshio’s wake. She’s married to a powerful executive in a wager for her own life and wins when he kills himself to avoid the scandal she leaks to the press.
If you’re familiar with Tezuka’s Black Jack series, you know that the most innocent character in the series is the most likely to die and in this book, that holds true here. You also know not to assume that the bad guy gets their comeuppance. Sometimes, when reading Tezuka, you just have to start believing in a righteous afterlife for his characters.
The book is described as a thriller, but I would venture, rather, that it’s a prototype of Dynasty, and other nighttime soaps that glorified the pathologies and lack of principals of the rich and psychopathic.
Obviously if I am reviewing this story, there is at least something of interest to you. Toshio does not hesitate to sleep with men in order to get her way and, when she is married to a man as psychopathic as herself, she seduces his female secretary who is also his lover, in order to gain access to his secrets. There is no love there, although Toshio kindly lies to Jun and tells her she loves her.
There is no moral in this story. In a sense, this is the other bookend to MW, with a beautiful female psychopath in place of the beautiful boy. We never learn anything about Toshio’s past, neither are we ever given a reason for her all-consuming selfish behavior, the way we are in MW. Nonetheless, the protagonist uses sex, smarts and a complete lack of a moral compass to move through the story, just as in MW.
The reason to read Tezuka’s work is always to experience Tezuka’s work. Because this story does not provide cosmic justice, or sense of balance, it’s unlikely to satisfy most manga fans’ desire for kick-ass, or heroism or even sexual thrill. Reading Book of Human Insects is akin to watching an ant farm – fascinating, but utterly alien.
Art – 8
Story – 8
Characters – 3 With two exceptions, they are all loathsome
Yuri – 8
Service – 1 There is nudity and there is sex, but these are adults and there’s no peeking at underwear.
Overall – 8
Translator extraordinaire Mari Morimoto did the translation, which I thought was excellent. Vertical flips the books left to right, but that should pose no problem. I never gave it a second thought. Ultimately, this is a very nice edition of a well-crafted story about vile people. Just like Dynasty.