Begun in 1970 as baby boomers were graduating from college and entering the workforce in droves, The Book of Human Insects not only stands as one of comics master Osamu Tezuka’s first satisfying thrillers for a post-teen audience but also as a prescient critique whose actuality only fully registers today.
Still in her early twenties, beautiful Toshiko Tomura (b. 1947) has won the Akutagawa Prize for her story “The Book of Human Insects.” The great honor is not her first: she has previously won the New York Design Academy Award, before which she was the lead actress of an established theatrical troupe. Yet, while the media go abuzz, the woman in the limelight slips away from the metropolis; what the sole paparazzo who manages to trail her to an abandoned country house witnesses is an immobile figure of an old woman and the star herself, naked, in a reverie as bizarre as it is erotic…
Featuring a noir cast of jaded journalists, anarchist hit men, right-wing shadow brokers, cutthroat executives, and spent artists, The Book of Human Insects traces the career of an ingenue who is every bit those men’s match but is far from a feminist role model. In step with a heroine who is equally self-seeking, the usually “humanist” author here achieves with a Wellesian smirk a portrait of a world without heroes.
Flitting like a butterfly from one field to another, never tied to any single one, absorbing influences with rapacity, Toshiko Tomura’s metamorphoses are all the more intriguing set against the ongoing transformation of the author himself, who famously included the character for “insect” in his pen name. Despite being serialized only at the dawn of postmodernity, what The Book of Human Insects captures with bravura conviction—and some visceral fear—is the progressively protean and neotenic nature of man- and womankind.
Titled after French natural historian Fabre’s classic essays on the lives of insects and also known as Human Metamorphosis, this stand-alone volume demonstrates Osamu Tezuka’s ability to remain forever familiar to us, and forever strange.