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Osamu Tezuka article published in Animerica Vol. 8, No. 12, December 2000
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.

Osamu Tezuka is called the God of Manga with good reason. No other creator, in Japan or the world, has written a greater amount or more diverse collection of work. Tezuka penned over 150,000 pages, covering every genre and age group. His approach to comics was groundbreaking, and his success unparalleled. Without the pioneering talents of Osamu Tezuka, Japanese comics would not be what they are today.

Before Osamu Tezuka, comics in Japan were primarily gag strips and seldom more than a page or two long. The backgrounds and characters were frequently flat, the panels rectangular, the action confined, the characters entering from the left or right as though on a stage. Osamu Tezuka changed all that. He wrote stories. His settings and characters had depth seldom seen in earlier manga. Influenced by international films, his panels had cinematic scope and complexity which set the course for the future of manga. When there was action, it was visually dynamic, often spanning several panels and unhindered by its framework. Tezuka was an innovator and master of what Scott McCloud refers to as aspect to aspect transitions, where a moment or setting is divided into multiple panels used to impart a mood or sense of place. It's the kind of transition you might see in movies, but seldom in comics outside of Japan. In short, Tezuka was a master and pioneer of visual storytelling, but artistic technique alone does not make you a God.

Some of the best known, best loved anime characters of all time were created by Tezuka. Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy), Jungle Taitei (Kimba the White Lion), Umi no Triton (Triton of the Sea) and Unico are just a few of his characters to find fame both in Japan and abroad. These charming characters and their thoughtful adventures delighted children and adults around the world. With over 150 titles covering 400 volumes, however, there's more to Tezuka than cute, brave heroes who made it into animation.

Tezuka was a pioneer, and he constantly pushed the medium of both comics and animation. No topic was too extreme to be put to pen. The medical and psychological challenges faced in graphic detail by the rogue surgeon Black Jack are just one example of Tezuka's sincere interest in all facets of humanity, from the physical to the spiritual. In Hi no Tori (Phoenix), the timeless collection of stories which revolve around the bird who is always reborn through fire and whose blood can grant immortality, Tezuka examines many universal social issues, complex scientific theories, and aspects of religion. Phoenix is accredited as being Tezuka's life work and understandably so. Despite the complexities of the topics explored, he is able to convey ideas as sophisticated as reincarnation and DNA with a simple grace that makes even the most difficult of concepts accessible to any reader. He does all this and makes the stories profoundly engaging and meaningful at the same time. This is one of the reasons Phoenix, along with Buddha, Black Jack and Adolf, can be found in many high school and public libraries in Japan.

Tezuka was cosmopolitan; he was inspired by the whole world. Dostoevsky's epic Crime and Punishment, Greek mythology, China's legendary Saiyuuki (Journey to the West), and The Arabian Nights are a few of the classic global works which he brought to life in manga. Many historic figures, including Adolf Hitler, Faust, and Cleopatra, found their way into Tezuka's writing. These imported story ideas range from the kid-friendly comic Boku no Son Goku (My Son Goku) to the strictly adult film Cleopatra.

It's almost impossible to write about Tezuka and not mention Ribon no Kishi (Princess Knight), which is generally considered the first modern shojo (long o) manga. The series is about Princess Sapphire who, because girls can't succeed to the thrown, is raised as a boy. This story of adventure and romance would later inspire female artists to enter into the manga field, breaking the earlier tradition of sweet, simplistic shojo (long o) manga. Naturally, Princess Knight is not Tezuka's only shojo comic; others include Niji no Toride (Rainbow Fort), Angel no Oka (Angel's Hill), and the beginning of Phoenix.

Many US fans are aware of Tezuka's interest in science fiction and fantasy, thanks to such titles as Astro Boy and Unico, but few are aware he embraced the genre of horror with equal enthusiasm. Dororo is the tale of Hyakkimaru, whose father promised parts of his unborn son to powerful demons in exchange for worldly power. Worm-like at birth, Hyakkimaru is found and raised by a talented doctor and learns to live with prosthetic limbs. Because his magical past draws demons to him like moths to flame, he eventually leaves his adopted father and learns that if he kills the demons who possess his body parts, he'll gain them back. So, after unintentionally acquiring a sidekick named Dororo, Hyakkimaru sets out to get his body back, one demon at a time. On the lighter side is Mitsume ga Tooru (The Three-Eyed One), the story of Sharaku, a three-eyed, evil genius with supernatural powers who, when his third eye is covered, becomes innocent (and clueless) as a lamb. Wato, Sharaku's tomboy girlfriend, protects Sharaku when he's innocent and uncovers his third eye in times of need. Naturally, she always has a sticky patch handy to recover his third eye. Vampire (despite its name, it's about werewolves), Don Dracula and Onimaru Taisho (long o) (General Demon) are merely a few of Tezuka's other tales of the supernatural.

Born in 1928, Osamu Tezuka grew up in an increasingly nationalistic country, one soon controlled by a zealous military bent on imperialism. Growing up during WWII, Tezuka gained a profound appreciation for the value of life, not just human life but all life, even the insects he'd been fascinated with since boyhood. This respect for life can be seen throughout his stories. Guided by his family's wishes, Tezuka studied to become a medical doctor. By 1951 he had graduated from medical school, but not before being published as a comic artist. In the end, he embraced the creative medium which had captivated him since his youth and became a professional comic artist, later opening the animation studio Mushi Pro. His diverse work in both fields has earned him numerous awards and inspired artists throughout Japan and the world. Osamu Tezuka died in 1989, and the comic world mourned his loss. Since then, The Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum opened in Takarazuka, Osaka, and plans for a Tezuka World theme park have been set into motion. Perhaps in the future, tourists to Japan will be able to choose between Micky Mouse and Astro Boy, two characters of equal fame.

 

NOTES
I don't have the resources to do a complete, meaningful bibliography like I did for the Adachi article (which has yet to be published), but I can scrape together a partial list if you'd like. I can also do a fairly thorough filmography.

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