~by Variety Art Works
The Bible: A Japanese Manga Rendition was originally produced by Variety Art Works in Japan in 2010 and was released as two separate volumes, The Old Testament and The New Testament. The books are a part of the East Press series Manga de Dokuha ("Read through manga") which aims to publish accessible manga editions of classic world literature, including novels, philosophical and religious works, and political treatises in the hopes that more people will be willing to read them. One Peace Books published the English edition of Variety Art Works' Bible in 2012. The publisher also plans to release other manga from Manga de Dokuha in the future. Although I have been pleasantly surprised and impressed by some of One Peace Books' previous manga releases, such as Tenken and Breathe Deeply, to be perfectly honest, I wasn't particularly interested in The Bible: A Japanese Manga Rendition. Had I not been sent a review copy, I probably would have skipped over it entirely.
"This is the chronicle of God as he leads the people of Israel through many trials." Thus begins Variety Art Works' manga adaptation of The Bible. Starting with the creation of the Earth and continuing with other select stories from the Old Testament--Noah's Ark, the Tower of Babel, the life of Abraham, the Exodus, the formation of the kingdom of Israel, and more--the manga rendition covers quite a bit of ground although there are plenty of tales which weren't included. The last third or so of Variety Art Works' Bible adaptation turns to the New Testament, focusing on the life of Jesus. Both the Old and New Testaments are central sacred texts of the Christian faiths. As is briefly alluded to at the end of Variety Art Works' manga adaptation, for many the Bible is literally the Word of God. The Bible is an incredibly important work of world and religious literature and is very important to many different people as individuals as well.
I grew up in a small rural village where religious diversity more or less amounted to what kind of Protestant you were, so I was already quite familiar with all of the stories collected in The Bible: A Japanese Manga Rendition. Variety Art Works' adaptation of the Old Testament is very straightforward, often using direct quotes and close paraphrases of the scriptures. The adaptation of the New Testament is slightly more mediated. The stories are what I would call "cleaned up" Sunday School versions, appropriate for all ages but missing some of the more challenging, and I would argue the more interesting, aspects of the narratives. Most of the selections included from the Old Testament are the stories that directly relate to the lineage of Jesus Christ. As I previously mentioned, Variety Art Works' rendition of the New Testament focuses almost exclusively on the life and death of Jesus although the books of Acts and Revelations are also briefly touched upon. It might not be immediately obvious to someone who isn't already familiar with the Bible, but Jesus truely is the unifying theme of the adaptation, which certainly makes sense.
In a lot of ways, The Bible: A Japanese Manga Rendition reminds me of the Great Illustrated Classics that I devoured as a kid. The artwork does leave something to be desired and is somewhat uninspiring, but it does get the point across. As a whole, I greatly preferred the adaptation of the Old Testament to that of the New Testament. The change in art style and creative teams between the two was jarring and the New Testament wasn't nearly as good. There have been many other comic and illustrated editions of the Bible published and this version simply doesn't stand out art-wise. But what I find particularly intriguing about Variety Art Works' adaptation is that it was originally intended for a Japanese audience. Christians are a religious minority in Japan with only around two percent of the population identifying as such. For the most part, I think The Bible: A Japanese Manga Rendition is successful in what it is trying to do--it provides an accessible introduction to the Bible and by extension Christianity. For me personally, it's more of a curiosity than anything else.