The Story of Buddha: A Graphic Biography
by Hisashi Ota
Reviewed by Amber Burnham
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The Story of Buddha: A Graphic Biography outlines the life of Buddhism’s founder, the young prince Siddhartha. The story covers Siddhartha’s life from the age of nineteen to his death at the age of eighty. The Story of Buddha: A Graphic Biography is first non-fiction biography of this great religious and historic figure told in manga form. The manga is at once informative, philosophical, and yet entertaining. You can learn much from the informative segments, but the entertainment value of The Story of Buddha is drawn from the dramatic dialogue between Siddhartha and those around him as they attempt to understand his discontentment with life.
Siddhartha was born into a royal family living in what is now India. He was the next in line for the throne, wealthy, handsome, intelligent, skilled in martial arts, and married to the most beautiful woman in the land. The one thing that Siddhartha did not possess was the one thing he wanted most: to understand the meaning of life. He realized no matter a person’s status, they would be subject to suffering and death. Eventually his quest for meaning led him to live the life of an ascetic— one who leaves their home to live in the wilderness, seeking spiritual enlightenment.
The teachings of Buddha, taken from the many sermons he gave during his lifetime, are an inspiration to people worldwide. The Story of Buddha explores how the prince Siddhartha became the religious icon, Buddha. Although the story takes place two thousand, six hundred years ago, the problems Siddhartha addressed are still relevant today. Many people look at their lives and wonder why they are alive at all— the same question that propelled Siddhartha on his journey. In the graphic biography, the concerns and questions are brought to life through real situations and philosophical conflicts. These conflicts occur not only between other characters and Siddhartha, but also within himself.
The Story of Buddha: A Graphic Biography, as a manga, is quite enjoyable. The story is told in an insightful, informative, and entertaining fashion. Along with the biographical information related through narration, the characters are established through their dialogue and interactions with one another. As a reader engaged with these characters, you find yourself torn. On one hand you know that Siddhartha must take the journey to become Buddha, but on the other, you grow fond of his family and friends. You feel compassion for them as they struggle to understand and cope with his decision.
The Story of Buddha: A Graphic Biography is written by Hisashi Ota. Born in Japan, Ota graduated from Nagoya University’s School of Science as well as Yoyogi Animation School. He has also written Manga de Wakaru Bukkyo Nyumon (Understanding Through Comics: An Introduction to Buddhism), which is also due to come out in an English version. Ota demonstrates an exceptional understanding of not only Buddhist philosophy, but also of human nature— in tune with the thoughts that define our relationships. He creates here a text that both offers great insight into the teachings of Buddha and challenges the reader to seek their own answers, whether on their own or through further interactions with the Buddha’s teachings.
Ota’s art too is wonderful in its simplicity. The characters are the primary focus of the panels. The backgrounds are minimalist or completely blank, accentuating the characters and their stories. The characters themselves are drawn in a more realistic fashion than many mainstream manga today, harkening back to the artwork typical of manga in the seventies and eighties. Although he utilizes a number of manga conventions in the artwork, such as movement lines and shading on the cheeks to relate emotion, these are used sparingly. The emotion is predominantly shown through his ability to draw simple yet profoundly emotional faces.
Amber Burnham has a BA in Early Childhood Education from Kendall College. She is also a regular panelist on Kichicast, the all-girl, Chicago-based podcast devoted to anime, manga, and Japanese culture. You can listen to Kichicast at kichigi.com.
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