During World War II, stories begin circulating in the South Pacific about a bewitchingly lovely woman with the power to enthrall, then destroy, every man who sees her. Twenty years pass and the rumors resurface, this time saying that Zephyrus has come to Japan, once again using her wiles to control men. A former soldier, now a successful businessman, is determined to find Zephyrus and he hires dockworker Gohanmatsu to find and follow the mysterious woman.
Gohanmatsu is strong and simple and has only one love: alcohol. Like Popeye had his spinach, Gohanmatsu has his booze, gaining strength and endurance with each bottle consumed. So strong is his focus on finding his next drink that he is the only man alive who has ever resisted the lure of Zephyrus. His indifference to her beauty enables him to see past the glamour to her real goal, to destroy man by destroying his economy and his laws and morality.
Tezuka wrote Swallowing the Earth as a parody, poking fun at the panic that might arise if the world’s dependence on the gold standard were to backfire. And while this is a fun story to read, complete with slapstick humor and cartoony guffaws, it’s the quiet, solemn bits of social commentary that remain with the reader. Mixed in with the larger story, Tezuka also discusses modern sexuality, social issues, and even the racial and political climate of the time, as seen through the filter of the Japanese media. He tells the story of a group of anonymous strangers who bond as a family; of a man whose fortune disappeared after the economic collapse and is forced to sell his daughter to get out of debt; of women so desperate to be beautiful that they’ll wear artificial faces. Many of these issues from the mid-20th century still echo loudly today, and Tezuka’s deft touch holds true.
According to the foreword written by manga expert Frederik L. Schodt, this one-volume story written in 1968 is very much a product of its time. He explains clearly about the Japan of the late 1960s, the influences on Tezuka’s art, and the seeming political incorrectness of some of the images in the book. Once the reader understands Swallowing the Earth’s place in history, and where Tezuka was in his career when the book was written, it is easy to see why so many have been eagerly awaiting the translation of this book into English. This volume, published by DMP, reads from right to left and, due to some nudity, sexual situations, and the sensitivity some readers may have to a few of the images, this book is best reserved for older teens and adults.
Reviewed by Eva Volin on July 24, 2012