.Osamu Tezuka article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 5, No. 7, June 2002
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 not merely because he was a prolific artist with an astoundingly diverse collection of work but because without Tezuka's artistic vision, Japanese comics and animation would not be what they are today. What made him so great? More than can be written about in this article, but let's start with his impact on manga, both as an art form and an industry.

Tezuka was born in 1928 to a reasonably wealthy family which enjoyed manga, books and film. As a result, Tezuka grew to be an intelligent, curious, imaginative child. The thriving countryside of his hometown Takarazuka, Osaka, inspired these qualities as well as stimulated his interests in insects*. Along with the amusing comics he shared with classmates, Tezuka also produced many detailed picture books of insects and animals. His talent was such that his art instructor in junior high school often pleaded on his behalf when the military instructor bullied Tezuka for drawing comics. Even during the height of WWII, when Tezuka was sent to work in a factory like many other children, he never stopped drawing, despite the abuse he received from soldiers for making manga. 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 would be seen throughout his stories.

By the end of the war, much of industrial Japan had been bombed into ruins. People were fortunate if they could afford the basics, let alone entertainment for kids. It was in this barren environment Tezuka's first published strip-comic appeared in the Mainichi School Children Newspaper. It was a surprising success, one which encouraged associate Sakai Shichima to insist Tezuka turn Sakai's The New Treasure Island into a comic. The result was unlike anything that had been published in Japan before --a long, exciting story with dynamic layouts and action. Without the aid of advertising, it's reported to have sold over 400,000 copies. A cheap medium to entertain a weary world, The New Treasure Island was a primary catalyst causing the post-war manga market to take off.

Tezuka's pioneering techniques as an artist and a storyteller set the course for the future of manga. Inspired by international film, Tezuka broke free of the stage-like layouts of earlier manga. His work has cinematic scope and complexity. His action spans multiple panels, unhindered by framework. His settings and characters have a depth seldom seen in earlier manga. Tezuka innovated what Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics) refers to as aspect to aspect transitions, in which a moment or setting is divided into multiple panels 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.

Innovations don't always take hold unless you have success to back it up. While still a medical student at Osaka University, Tezuka decided to move to Tokyo to try to become a professional manga artist. It was during this time he and many other now-famous, then-struggling artists lived together in the Tokiwaso (long o) Apartments. Despite his popularity in Osaka, Tokyo publishers initially rejected Tezuka's work, but eventually he was accepted by the pinical of manga achievement at the time --Manga Shonen. Jungle Taitei (Jungle Emperor, a.k.a. Kimba the White Lion), the tale of an orphaned white lion, is filled with all the wild action of the veldts and jungles of Africa. It also has very strong environmental and moral themes inspired by Tezuka's childhood experiences. This engaging, touching, action-packed story achieved tremendous success, influencing more than one generation of manga artists.

This success gave him the clout to publish more stories and the finances to fulfill his dream of animation. After producing several films with Toei, in 1961 --the same year he received his medical degree and his first son was born-- he opened Tezuka Osamu Production, later renamed Mushi Production. Their first piece was the critically acclaimed short film Aru Michi Kado no Monogatari (Tales of the Street Corner). With the blossoming of TV, Mushi Pro turned its attention to a TV version of Tezuka's smash-hit, Tetsuwan Atom (Mighty Atom, a.k.a. Astro Boy). Producing an animated film was one thing, but a weekly TV show? It was almost considered impossible, but Tezuka created new methods still in use today to make it work. If this story of a kind-hearted robot was big as a comic, it was nothing short of phenomenal as a TV show.

Mushi Pro seemed to produce an endless stream of hits, many of which foreign fans should recognize. Umi no Triton (Triton of the Sea), Ribon no Kishi (Princess Knight)*, Unico, and, of course, Kimba the White Lion followed Astro Boy across the globe to entertain untold millions, becoming some of the best-known, best-loved anime of all time. This success and the time-saving animation methods Tezuka innovated created an explosion in the animation industry which echoed that of the manga industry more than a decade earlier.

Even with this success, Tezuka never stopped experimenting, pushing the mediums of both comics and animation. Because everything interested him, there's nary a genre Tezuka didn't try. Dororo, the tale of Hyakkimaru, whose father promised parts of his unborn son to powerful demons in exchange for worldly power, is one of Tezuka's horror titles, filled with monsters and grim, bloody battles. Tezuka's interest in world literature can be seen in his comic adaptation of Dostoevsky's epic Crime and Punishment, and China's legendary Saiyuuki (Journey to the West). His spirituality is demonstrated most acutely in Hi no Tori (Phoenix, read more about it in Animerica Extra 5.4 and Animerica 10.4) and Buddha. Tezuka accommodated adult interests with the sensual films Cleopatra and Chiya Ichiya Monogatari (One Thousand and One Nights). The tales of Chief Detective Kenishi, who can be seen in the recently released film Metropolis, investigate the genre of mysteries. Of course, Tezuka's interest in medicine is examined in the medical and psychological challenges faced by the rogue surgeon Black Jack.

What makes this diversity so remarkable is that no matter the plot --from the amusing adventures of Mitsume ga Tooru (The Three-Eyed One), the story a three-eyed evil genius who becomes innocent as a lamb when his third eye is covered, to the socio-political intrigues of Adolf and the soulful tales of Phoenix Tezuka's work expresses his sincere interest in all facets of humanity whether physical, social or spiritual. It's also remarkable that a man who was usually working on more than half a dozen projects at a time managed to make his stories both profoundly engaging and meaningful. He was a uniquely gifted artist.

His diverse work in fields of animation and manga earned him numerous awards and inspired artists throughout Japan and the world. When he died in 1989, all of Japan and the comic world mourned his loss. But there's so much for U.S. fans to look forward to, for there's so much of his work which has yet to come out in English! Already Black Jack, and Adolf , two of his most acclaimed comic series, have been brought to the U.S. with a third, Astro Boy currently being released. There's also Otomo's (Akira, Memories) recent cinematic interpretation of Tezuka's futuristic Metropolis showing in select theaters. The Black Jack videos and Kimba the White Lion episodes have been released in English; plus three Astro Boy videos from the 1980 TV series are due out soon. Now, VIZ is proud to be translating a volume of Phoenix, regularly touted as Tezuka's life work. Perhaps if this first Phoenix graphic novel is successful enough, more of this remarkable series will be brought out.

 

SIDEBARS:
Osamu Tezuka liked insects so much, when he discovered there was a bug called "osamushi," he created a pen name by adding the character for bug, "mushi," to his name.

Ribon no Kishi (Princess Knight) is generally considered the first modern shojo manga. The lead, Princess Sapphire, is raised as a boy because girls can't succeed to the throne. This story of adventure and romance later inspired female artists to enter into the manga field and break away from the earlier tradition of sweet, simplistic shojo manga.

The stories of Phoenix, Buddha, Black Jack and Adolf are so highly regarded, they can be found in many high school and public libraries in Japan.

For a thoroughly enjoyable and impossibly thorough information resource about Tezuka's work, visit the official website at http://en.tezuka.co.jp. Don't worry, it's bilingual!