Swallowing the Earth (Manga)
Also known as 地球を呑む (Chikyū o Nomu)
Seen by many as Tezuka's response to the more dramatic-style geikga movement of manga in the 1960's, Swallowing the Earth began serialization in Big Comic (ビッグコミック) in April, 1968 and ran until July, 1969. It represents a major turning point in Osamu Tezuka's manga career, and, published on the heels of the first Vampires (1966-67) manga series and alongside works such as the samurai period piece Dororo (1967-68) and the "Yamato" (1968) chapter of Phoenix (1967-88), Swallowing the Earth marks the beginning of Tezuka's deep exploration of the dark side of human psychology. One of Tezuka's most adult series, Swallowing the Earth treats the use of female sexuality as a weapon, and the abuses of women in human history.
What it's about
The story opens in 1942 as the battle for Guadalcanal rages in the South Pacific during World War II. When two Japanese soldiers, Adachigahara Kitaro and Seki Ichimatsu, run across a dying American soldier who is repeating the word "Zephyrus" over and over and clutching a photograph of a strikingly beautiful woman. From that moment on, the two are ensnared by the beauty with whom all men fall in love with at first sight. Twenty years after the end of the war, the two still can't get the lovely Zephyrus out of their minds, and when they discover a woman with an uncanny resemblance and the same name is in Japan they send Seki's son, Gohonmatsu - a Neanderthal-like perpetually-drunken sailor whose only goal is to drink all the liquor in the world - to find out more about her.
When Gohonmatsu rents a room in the same hotel and approaches her, he discovers Zephyrus is a mysterious, icy seductress who uses her power over men to ensnare them and force them into doing her will. However, he soon discovers the truth; Zephyrus is not one woman, but is in fact seven sisters who have sworn their revenge on all men for destroying their mother's life. Using a highly advanced synthetic rubber "skin" to craft life-like masks nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, they all share the same appearance. Bent on destroying civilization, they have spread out across the globe putting their plans into action, and the only male immune to their charms is the young drunkard, Seki Gohonmatsu.
What you should know
As a transitional work, spanning the gap between Tezuka's earlier work aimed at younger audiences to his later adult-oriented material, Swallowing the Earth suffers somewhat from Tezuka trying to find his way in a new direction. In fact, when he began writing Swallowing the Earth, Tezuka had not yet decided whether the work would be a collection of semi-related but independent stories like the rest of the stories serialized in Big Comic, or a long-form story. As such, the story veers off, on occasion, into strange and unpredictable directions as Tezuka begins to explore new possibilities. In fact the protagonist, Seki Gohonmatsu, doesn't even appear in some of the middle chapters. As noted Tezuka scholar, Frederik L. Schodt suggests in his foreword to the DMP Platinum edition published in English by Digital Manga Publishing, "When Tezuka let his imagination run loose, the result could be quite wild, and in Swallowing the Earth we see him developing his story in an almost anarchic fashion" (2009, p. 3).
Yet, despite these rough edges, Swallowing the Earth is an excellent example of how Tezuka is able to exploit his highly stylized, cartoony art style to represent extreme figures – in this case the neo-primitive man contrasted by the woman twisted by civilization. It also treats transformation and disguise, questioning how people would behave if they ware capable of disguising themselves freely, one of Tezuka's favorite themes.
Swallowing the Earth is an excellent representative of Tezuka's adult projects, and unlike later adult works such as Ode to Kirihito (1970-71) and MW (1976-78), it makes use of figures from Tezuka's Star System. By having recurring stars as guests in short adult series, Tezuka could then lend mature and sexual undertones to those same characters' appearances in later series where adult content was not permitted.
Where you can get it