As popular as Osamu Tezuka has been in the United States, many of his works have still not been localized for non-Japanese readers. Thanks to Kickstarter, the online crowdsourcing website, American audiences now have the opportunity to read a considerably dark tale from the father of manga.
Barbara is a snapshot of Japan during the 1970s, a period of time that saw social discontent and a burgeoning art and literary movement. Yosuke Mikura, a world renown author who has achieved critical acclaim and success, crosses paths with a beautiful, but shabby, homeless woman named Barbara, who has a taste for alcohol and French poetry. Mikura feels compelled to take the woman home, only to grow frustrated with her sloppy lifestyle and excessive drinking. Mikura continues to encounter Barbara throughout the story, repeatedly taking her in only to kick her out for her behavior. As their tumultuous relationship continues, Mikura falls victim to a series of strange events involving international spies, secret covens, politics, and sadomasochists.
Barbara is a fascinating and disturbing story that toys with the reader. For the first half of the book, Mikura’s encounters with Barbara are self contained stories that follow a straightforward structure: Mikura meets Barbara, they fight, Barbara leaves or is thrown out, and Mikura experiences a strange happenstance before meeting Barbara again. As Mikura becomes more and more obsessed with the woman, seeking her out and trying to be a part of her world, a larger narrative begins to take shape, one that is filled with all sorts of strange twists and turns that are exacerbated by bizarre romantic escapades. As Mikura’s life begins to spiral completely out of control, the reader is left to wonder who really has gone insane, Mikura or Tezuka?
Essay, lectures and psychological profiles can be written about the complex and troubled life of Yosuke Mikura. Tezuka doesn’t offer any sort of explanation regarding the reality of the situations Mikura finds himself in — that is left to the reader’s interpretation. Those who devour Tezuka’s works on a regular basis, or who enjoy psychological dramas and thrillers, will read Barbara and become enchanted by it. On the other hand, readers who prefer the author’s lighter and more straightforward stories might struggle to find sanity within the dark, complex subject matter.