Jesus Christ has been depicted in more varied an absurd ways than any other historical figure. It seems one minute he can be portrayed by a twelve year old in a church skit, next bigots can label him an anti-Semite with whip, and after that pastors can portray him as a jive-talking black man or a down-to-earth Southerner dispensing platitudes of wisdom.
At first glance, the Manga Messiah comic book appears to be just another far-fetched depiction of Christ designed to make Jesus palatable to another segment of society, the Japanese comic book loving segment. For those not in the know, Japan has a distinctive form of artwork called manga. In a practice dating back nearly 500 years, the Japanese elite would dispense wisdom, tell legends, and even share cooking recipes via manga comic books. (On my last trip to Japan, I was able to see some of this artwork on display the Tokyo National Museum.) Today, with the global saturation of Guttenberg’s innovation, everyone in Japan enjoys manga. In Japan you can’t get on a train or walk into a restaurant without spotting someone reading a manga book; there are even commercial, open-all-night manga libraries. Slowly but surely, and with the help of the internet, the appetite for manga is speading to other Asian countries and throughout the world.
Acknowledging this cultural trend, it is my conclusion that the Manga Messiah is not merely some cultural caricature, but a sincere attempt to work within a genre to explain the gospel. In a world where the most revered depictions of Jesus, a Middle Easterner, portray him as a blond haired, blue eyed Italian, the transition to an olive-skinned, brown-eyed Jesus should be a welcome change for the twenty-first century.
Moreover, in a Christian culture where Jesus tends to be presented either in hokey Sunday School terms or elitist seminary language, the Manga Messiah presents the gospel in a way that is relevant to youth. I first learned about the book from a parent who had a son that couldn’t stop reading it. During the same week that I was reading this hefty 288-page volume, I noticed a sixth grade girl also reading it in the school lunch room. I ask her if she liked the book, and her affection for the book was obvious: she revealed to me that she was on her sixth reading.
Despite the appeal to youth, Manga Messiah does have some limitations. Matthew J. Brady, a serious Manga fan and reviewer has criticized the background drawings claiming that they’re plain, un-sophisticated, and computer-generated. The book’s Wikipedia article reveals that some reviewers find depictions of the Pharisees as simplistic and anti-Semitic, a charge that I half agree with. While the depiction of Jesus is quite complex and historically-believable, the secondary characters are hit and miss. The disciples are often presented as quite childish; the women have fair skin and don’t quite fit with their Arab-esque counterparts; the demons and angels, as in most manga, are drawn in truly bizarre fashions; and, yes, the Jewish Pharisees are quite sinister.
Yet anyone that advocates present-day persecution for the actions of Jewish zealots that lived over 2,000 years ago, totally missed the point of Jesus’ message anyway. If you actually believe the Bible, you’ll realize the Pharisees schemes weren’t even successful. Remember, we now supposedly have a risen, living savior that reigns as the Prince of Peace. The Manga Messiah, I believe, is a serious attempt to tell this important story and its unique depictions will make the events in Jesus’ life as well as his parables more memorable in the mind of the reader.
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