Following on the heals of other publishers offering Christian material in manga and anime format, One Peace Books has released The Bible: A Japanese Manga Rendition. This version is unique among similar products, as it was created and published in Japan first, before being acquired for stateside distribution.
An entertaining read, the piece covers material from Genesis to Revelation, with the breakdown, lengthwise, reflecting that of scripture. A large portion of the manga is spent illustrating the stories of the patriarchs, Moses, King David, and of course, Jesus.
Highlights of the manga include the Exodus narrative, which is quite lengthy and reads well as a story. The Kings section is also well done, making a complex narrative easy to follow, while painting a cast of characters who stand out as individuals, even to those unfamiliar with the history. It’s interesting, especially, to see Saul’s action, words, and facial expressions as he grows further and further away from God.
The book is genuinely manga in that it was created in Japan. However, perhaps you can get an idea of the art’s middling quality by understanding its original publisher, Variety Art Works, whose other publications include manga versions of classic writings by Robert Louis Stevenson and Karl Marx. The Old Testament portion lacks a lot of detail, particularly in backgrounds, though the unnamed artist does an admirable job of setting apart each of the many characters by distinctive and attractive designs. The New Testament does not fare as well, unfortunately. The art isn’t as sharp and resembles western drawings more than manga. And on a strange note, the mangaka depicts a cut Jesus, complete with six-pack. It’s a little disturbing to see the musclebound Christ hanging on the cross.
Unfortunately, also, the work done by the staff in typesetting and editing is unsatisfactory. The work is larger in length and width than a typical manga release, perhaps to emulate western Bibles, and maybe because of the odd dimensions suiting the size, frames on pages are frequently cut off at the edges. There are also a considerable amount of misspelled words throughout the manga and even one empty voice bubble.
There appear to have been some minor mistakes in the Japanese version, too, that were left uncorrected in the English one (One Peace Books explicitly states such inaccuracies might exist), such as the amount of time Noah is given to build the ark and the incorrect naming of the Apostle James as Jacob.
However, it’s not these errors which are most concerning; rather, it’s the way that Jesus is painted in the New Testament portion of the manga that disturbed me. For instance, the authors frequently point out that Jesus is the Messiah and that He is the Son of God. However, Jesus’ claims of equality with God – that He is indeed the great “I Am,” are never illustrated. Considering just how much of Jesus’ teachings and life were included in the manga, it seems to be a conscious decision to leave this pronouncement out. This may perhaps seem a moot point, but it isn’t – the trinity is an absolutely essential tenet in Christianity. The New Testament presented in the manga, thus, could just as well be a Jehovah’s Witness retelling as a Christian one.
Another point of concern is the interpretation done by the author of the New Testament portion, missing from the largely faithful Old Testament section. Besides some explanations for Revelation and for Judas Iscariot’s actions (which seem out of place in the context of the rest of the manga), rewording of Jesus’ words is commonplace. The worst offense is in the case of Jesus and the adulterous woman. In the Bible, Jesus chooses not to condemn her; in this manga Bible, He tells her that she is not a “sinner,” a very major mistake that compromises understanding of Jesus’ teachings.
These mistakes are strange, considering the devotion that the original publishers seem to have for the work. The Old Testament portion is handled with particular loving care; it is generally more literally translated and more carefully crafted in presentation than the New. Mistakes are also rarer, leading me to the conclusion that each was handled by different authors (neither author nor illustrator names are given).
Because of this juxtaposition, not only in quality but in the varying amounts of context the authors provide from one chapter to the next, it’s hard to determine who this Bible was written for. It’s a fun read for Christian readers, but one they may not want to own because of inaccuracies. It provides a message of hope for non-believers, but contains ideas that are confusing without necessary background.
In short, The Bible: A Japanese Manga Rendition works fully neither as an evangelistic tool nor as a companion to scripture. It instead fits best as an unusual item for collectors, an easy read for Christians who do not consider themselves devout, and perhaps as a source for multimedia presentations.
And that’s a shame, because this work, which hooked me throughout its telling of the Old Testament, lost me in its most important part as it misconstrued the message of Christ.
That said, the manga is worth the price simply for the first 2/3. As for the rest, I think I’ll just follow Jesus’ plea to the Father and forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Review copy provided by One Peace Books