Story and Art by Osamu Tezuka
Originally Published by Kodansha (1972)
Length: 1 Volume (8 chapters)
For the first time in a long time, I’ve found a Osamu Tezuka piece that I genuinely enjoyed reading, as opposed to viewing it as a “historical artefact”. Despite its erratic start and questionable depictions of gender, Dust 8 proved that when the “God of Manga” can conceptualise substantial characters with a steady pace, he has the ability to tell compelling stories that hold up 46 years later.
This story revolves around the lives of ten characters, all of which survive a plane crash off the coast of Japan. What they don’t realise is that they should all be dead, but fortunately (or unfortunately), while crossing from the human realm to the spirit realm, their plane crashes into a mountain with magical properties. Small chunks of spirit-rock (that’s what I’m calling it) are sprinkled over the ten corpses, bringing them back to life. Eight escape back from the spirit world, though two are captured and killed when their stones are taken from them. The god of death, hoping to attain balance within the universe once more, orders two spirits to possess their bodies and enter the human world in order to recollect the other pieces of stone.
Once again, Osamu Tezuka has provided his audience with an insanely complex, yet intriguing story. Its resemblance to various films and novels, including the cult-classic Final Destination supports my hypothesis that Tezuka has conceptualised almost every interesting story, and every other creator is unintentionally stealing from him. As one of his later works, this piece feels much more refined, and despite its rocky start, mellowed out to depict a deeply moving tale. In particular, Tezuka’s art has improved greatly since his first piece, Lost Planet, which was the lastest piece of his I’d read. It still possesses the loose character design to allow for accurate depictions of movement, but they have been given subtle elements of depth. It feels like the author has figured out how to flesh out his characters (artistically) while retaining their fluid design.
The only major concern I had with this manga was the quality of its protagonists, in particular the consistency of their personalities. For one, they are manifestations of gender stereotypes. Personally, I believe there is nothing wrong with having brave men and empathetic women in a story, but what Tezuka is known for is simplifying. Whether that is dark themes, explanations about the world or mythology, his signature fast pacing leaves everything only half-developed. If his attempt at characterisation is through portraying harmful gender stereotypes, with the hopes that the reader will flesh out characters based on these assumptions, we are left with a bunch of unlikeable stock characters who have no reason to exist other than to fuel ignorance. Even if that was forgivable, the characters constantly contradict themselves. While the female spirit was forced on this journey by the god of death, the male spirit came on his own accord, explaining that he wouldn’t let his wife go alone. However, two chapters later he has fallen in love with a human, and his “wife” one chapter before kisses a boy she thinks is cute. Even if Tezuka had lost track of the multiple stories he was no-doubt creating simultaneously, this piece is only 8 chapters! Surely someone working with him should have picked up on this! (Unless it was a translation error, though I highly doubt it)
As the manga progressed, and adopted an episodic style of storytelling, the pacing slowed down, and the secondary characters really began to shine. While the protagonists were flawed, the relationships they built with the stone-holders were both meaningful and tragic. I enjoyed the almost allegorical aspects of the piece, how unpredictable death is, and how its constant looming existence effects how we live our lives. For example, one character, assuming the stone brings him eternal life, becomes an incredibly famous daredevil, now believing he is immortal. Another, a struggling artist, wants to die, believing it will increase the value of his artwork. Towards the end of the manga, and for the first time ever, I found myself actually attached to Tezuka’s characters. Unfortunately, the actual ending of this piece was frustrating. Not in an unsatisfactory sense, but in a “you just made the entire manga redundant” way. I liked the characters, but not enough to justify Tezuka’s conclusion (I know that sounds cryptic but I guess you’ll need to read it to find out).
Nonetheless, Dust 8 is, in my opinion, Tezuka’s strongest “short” piece. Fighting off the urge to breeze past his characters and focus on a bigger story, Tezuka stops to add unique traits and personalities to a cast of interesting characters. In doing so, this manga is able to appropriately balance the characters, environment, and the interaction between the two (the story). By no means is this manga perfect, and certain “quirks”, indicative of its age do begin to surface quite early on. But on the whole this manga’s depth often transcends the marks of its age, and once again reinforces how adult comics have the capacity to provide meaningful and entertaining experiences.
Art – 8
Story – 8
Wring – 6
Overall – 7.5/10