All right, friends. We’ve covered a lot of ground since we started this journey into second-tier heroes from lesser known members of the galaxy, spanning Green Lantern Corps to that time Swampy left John Constantine with a tree on his butt to the librarians and smugglers of the far far away (the permanent gift that keeps on giving). We’ve even profiled loyal fire ferrets and long suffering cabbage merchants.
I think it’s time to really stretch and take on some personalities from non-western comics, don’t you?
Good, glad you agree.
One of the first books that caught my eye upon initiation of my manga backlist dive was CLAMP’s RG Veda, a reimagining of the Sanskrit epic Rig Veda. CLAMP’s three omnibus manga is not a retelling; while the group pulled story elements and the Japanese versions of characters from the original work, this is not Hindu scripture. Which is totally cool, but if the scripture is what you’re looking for, you’re going to need to…read or listen to the Rig Veda.
That said, I’m enjoying the hell out of RG Veda. The bones of the epic are there, the “from a certain point of view” spin is fascinating, the attention to detail is incredible, and the art is lush and a little but over the top, which is 100% appropriate for a a story of this scope.
The main characters are interesting, of course, but it’s one who pops in and out when he damn well feels like it who’s really captured my imagination. In the manga, he goes by Kujaku. He’s helpful and develops a close relationship with the child incarnating a reawakened Ashura, happy to deliver helpful advice and a magical assist, especially when Ashura’s safety is compromised. Neither Yasha, the hero of the story, nor Ryu, the Dragon Prince and Yasha’s companion, trust him and, fair enough, he’s pretty shady what with the disappearing every time trouble, especially trouble Kujaku starts, really kicks off.
There’s also the matter of Kujaku’s purple eyes (which we’d only see on a cover or on a colored splash page) which suggest somepony might be a demon (apparently) and that, as a child, he manifested a vertical third eye and a pair of black wings that his parents were…a little more closely related than they should have been (in this case, the deposed king and his younger sister). Which…I mean, those who built the Parthenon should not cast the first stones.
Oh, and it turns out he can change fate. Maybe.
I was curious to see if there was a direct correlation between Kujaku and one of the Vedic deities, so I mobilized ye olde theology degree and did some googles.
The best match I could find is Garuda, a figure in Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist mythologies. Portrayed either as a bird or a winged human figured, Garuda is an ever watchful protector (as Kujaku is for Ashura) and can travel anywhere quickly (AKA pop up with a witty rejoinder as desired). Garuda is sometimes depicted as Vishnu’s mount, but when he is alone he often carries a jar of amrita nectar (Kujaku is not only long-lived in RG Veda but also appears in Tsubasa, another CLAMP work that takes place in a parallel dimension which suggests there are several of him at a given time), and an umbrella, which, in Indian art, suggests the subject is of royal blood (see above).
Though he served Vishnu as a mount, Garuda is also famous for defying the gods in an attempt to free his mother from slavery (though his mother sort of got herself into that mess by losing a bet). Kujaku is very much defying the gods by assisting Yasha and Ashura with their mission, and though he doesn’t seem to age, he can be killed, which means that, like Garuda, he is risking much for the people he cares about. Even if he does feel compelled to be a complete asshole about it along the way.
Kujaku hasn’t eaten any snakes yet, but I still have two omnibuses to go so…that could definitely still happen. Check back with me in a couple of weeks.
I miss doing research sometimes, even if it does take me a little bit longer than the block I’ve give myself to write up the weekly posts. The world is huge. There is a lot of cool stuff in it. The other stuff can wait.