Gandhi: A Manga Biography
Penguin Books, 2011.
Award-winnning animation artist Kazuki Ebine’s Gandhi A Manga Biography appears at first glance to be an ideal meeting of form and content that will appeal greatly to young adult readers. The greyscale-illustrated book provides an easily digested overview of Gandhi’s life, including specific events in South Africa and India that tested and strengthened his resolve to resist all temptation toward violence. Ebine’s project is something of a ground breaker for a genre that is often associated with aggressive action stories.
As the page order is reversed (to left-to-right), the book will be an easy introduction to manga for readers accustomed to western page layout. Ebine’s skill as a draftsman is evident, particularly in his portrayal of Gandhi as he ages. Over the 192 pages of the story, Gandhi is taken from a precocious child through his education as a barrister in England to his appointment in South Africa, where his action on behalf of Indian civil rights inspires his growing conviction that only peaceful resistance has the moral force to overcome injustice, and finally to India, where he works with Nehru but fails to stop the political forces leading to the partition and to the creation of Pakistan.
Compelling as the story is, the execution is somewhat disappointing. Penguin’s second in its manga biography series (an earlier volume featured the Dalai Lama) badly needs an editor. The text is riddled with awkwardness, from the many instances of agreement error (Japanese doesn’t distinguish singular from plural) to amusingly goofy expressions. (My favorite is “When I first heard your speech, I was so inspired as if you boiled my blood.”) The only closing punctuation marks are exclamation points and question marks. The lack of page numbers is an inconvenience. Young readers expecting a deeper understanding of Gandhi’s life and moral development may find that in this case, the manga form is less adroit than usual at conveying story through image.
Despite these hindrances, manga enthusiasts will appreciate getting biographical information in a favored format, and Penguin’s effort to present Gandhi’s life and precepts to a generation of more visually-oriented young adult readers is laudable. Let’s hope the editorial glitches are worked out as the company publishes further inspiring lives in the manga genre.