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In an out-of-the-way Japanese village, there is an illness known as Monmow disease. Its symptoms are a wide variety of very bad things: The bones begin to atrophy, the patient exhibits an extraordinarily high fever, and eventually even loses the ability to breathe. But the most curious part of Monmow Disease is its visual symptoms: The patient begins to turn into what looks like a humanoid fox. His bones crumble into dog-like shape, even forming a snout; hair starts growing all over the body, and the patient's body starts losing the ability to digest nearly anything except raw meat.
Young aspiring doctor Kirihito volunteers to go into Tokushima village to investigate this disease and, he hopes, come up with an explanation for its origin. But it turns out that he's in for an experience which is most certainly not what he was expecting.
Ode to Kirihito is a work by Osamu Tezuka with a genre bent that's rather difficult to describe. It's psychologically complex, dealing not just with Kirihito's experience with Monmow Disease, but also his friend Doctor Urabe's psychosis and deterioration without Kirihito around to help keep him grounded. It deals heavily with medical politics and intrigue as Tatsagura, their boss, tries to work his way into being elected president of the Japanese Medical Association. There's a deep religous angle as Helen Friese, a nun, is struck with the disease and must come to terms with her identity before God when she appears to the world as a monster. And Rape Tropes? Prepare to be shocked by how many are used here.
Suffice to say, there's a lot of stuff going on here. Ode to Kirihito is one of those "artsy" manga, dealing heavily with substantative issues in a medium where even today this kind of introspection is unusual. Suggest it to friends who dismiss comics as all being something for kids. And don't forget to tell them it was written by the same guy who made Astro Boy.
This work provides example of:
- Beware the Nice Ones: Don't piss Kirihito off.
- Big No
- Break the Cutie: How much pain and humiliation can Kirihito go through before he snaps? It is also implied it happened to child Reika.
- Butt Monkey
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Reika getting deep-fried when her "human tempura" stunt goes horribly wrong.
- Despair Event Horizon: Urabe is finally Driven to Suicide after Tatsugara betrays/disowns him and he realizes his violent impulses are now completely out of control.
- Devolution Device / Evolutionary Levels: Played slightly realistically. Monmow Disease is described as an atavistic disorder that causes the expression of genes left over in the human genome from a dog-like early mammal.
- Diabolus Ex Machina
- Double Standard Rape (Female on Male): Played straight with Tazu, whom Kirihito eventually comes to love despite the circumstances surrounding their wedding. But it's subverted hard with Reika, whom Kirihito eventually forgives. Let's also not forget that he also gets raped by a literal bitch and that the manga makes it very clear that Reika and the she-dog nearly degrade him into a shell of his former self.
- Driven to Suicide: Urabe. Very nearly happens to Kirihito.
- Freudian Excuse: Mahn pursues extremely sadistic and degrading entertainments because he used to be a starving child who watched powerlessly as he parents died. In other words, his motivation is self-hatred, or rather hatred for the pauper he used to be.
- Gambit Pileup: The war for information and manipulation involves Tatsugaura, Kirihito, Urabe, Izumi, Manheim, Mahn and his entourage, the mayor... Phew.
- He Who Fights Monsters
- If You Kill Him You Will Be Just Like Him: Kirihito decides not to kill Tazu's murderer in the end. He does kill in self-defense, but chooses not to kill in retaliation or in despair.
- I Just Want to Be Normal
- I Love Nuclear Power: (The true cause of Monmow Disease is contaminated drinking water drawn from places that contained deposites of a rare radioactive isotope. Played somewhat more realistically than most, considering the gradual, painful & usually fatal nature of the mutations, but the dog face thing is still really pushing it.)
- Karmic Death: A few characters, but Mahn and Tatsugaura in particular.
- Kavorka Man: Possibly Kirihito.
- Love Makes You Evil: A possible interpretation of Urabe.
- Manipulative Bastard: Tatsugaura.
- Messianic Archetype: Helen; Kirihito.
- Oedipus Rex: Kirihito-Tatsugaura and Urabe-Tatsugaura.
- Our Werewolves Are Different: If you look over Tezuka's body of work you'll see he was quite fond of the trope. Kirihito is probably the most "realistic" interpretation out of them all, indeed perhaps, in all of fiction.
- Petting Zoo People: Monmow disease effectively turns people into these.
- Rape as Drama: Oddly enough, the focus is just as much on the deterioration of Urabe's mental faculties as it is on the women he rapes.
- Rape Is Love: In fact, thanks to Urabe not being right in the head and knowing that what he does is hideous and monstrous, it actually works.
- Red Herring: The elements that seem to indicate that Monmow is contagious, especially the scratches Kirihito inflicted on Mahn's neck. Medical RedHerrings, baby!
- Sacrificial Lamb: Tazu and Reika die so that Kirihito can live on and be psychologically reborn. At a more metaphorical level, Kirihito himself.
- Scary Shiny Glasses: Usually indicates Urabe's off his kilter.
- Shadow Archetype: The whole point of the manga.
- Ship Tease: Particularly cruel in the case of Kirihito and Izumi.
- Shout-Out: Some of the hallucination scenes seem to allude to surrealism (more specifically, to Magritte) and to Pink Floyd's The Wall. There are also clear graphic references to Picasso and to film noir --a real potpourri of allusions, really.
- Stripperiffic: Reika
- Sunk Cost Fallacy: Tatsugara spends so much time trying to prove that Monmow is contagious that he will listen to no counterargument.
- There Are No Therapists
- Town with a Dark Secret: Inugamisawa.
- Transformation Trauma: Ohhh boy.
- Trauma Conga Line
- Tragic Hero: Kirihito Osanai. He actually has two tragic flaws, his naivety at the beginning and his (very understandable) anger management issues which nearly turn him into a monster.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Urabe towards his mentor, Tatsugaura.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?
- What the Hell, Townspeople?
- Yandere: A possible interpretation for Urabe. Also, Kirihito makes for a pretty decent Yangire.
- Yank the Dog's Chain