At itís heart Tezuka's classic series may follow the life of Buddha but the story branches out to much more than that as he follows a series of characters caught up in the greater scheme of things. This volume focuses strongly on Chappa a slave trying desperately to escape the caste system and Tatta a member of the even lower pariah caste who can talk with animals.
The first volume of Buddha focuses strongly on the Indian caste system with the two most prominent characters this volume marked as belonging to the bottom two rungs of society. The catalyst for change is the monk Naradatta who is sent out into the world to find the mysterious man who his master assures him will become a king or a god. The birth of prince Siddhartha doesnít even happen until late in this book. The birth and life of Buddha seem to provide more of a backdrop for a greater story, giving the manga a setting during a time of great turbulence in India. The many threads throughout the volume weave together supremely, creating a surprisingly fast paced story which mixes both real people and those who Tezuka has created.
The characters are all extremely likable though intensely flawed. Many of them rightly or wrongly seem to have high opinions of themselves, Chappa sets his sights on attaining status as a noble, Tatta devotes himself totally to revenge whilst Naradatta assumes that the person he is looking for must already posses great power rather than wisdom.
The tone of the story like Tezuka's artwork is a mix of the serious and the silly. Toiler humour easily gives way to deeper, more philosophical discussion. Where it stands out the most is the composition, the panels are clear dynamic and extremely easy to read easily conveying action and emotion. The title probably isn't suited for younger fans since Tezuka doesn't shy away from depicting nudity.
Despite it's age Buddha is still fresh and interesting. The plot is as complex and as interesting as any modern novel. Even today very little manga like this is available in English, it's a shame . Existing manga fans will no doubt appreciate the masterful way it's put together, in fact any fan wishing to create their own comics owes it to themselves to read at least a volume of Buddha and think deeply about the way it's out together. Since the manga focuses on a more 'respectable' subject than many modern manga released in English today Buddha might also be a perfect title to give to manga sceptics who still cling to the idea it's all tentacles and robots.