Mechademia 8: Tezuka’s Manga Life

Jasper Sharp reviews a book-length collection on the “God of Manga”

Osamu Tezuka

Osamu Tezuka created the first ever TV anime, Tetsuwan Atomu, better known to English-language speakers as Astro Boy, and singlehandedly revolutionised the field of anime production. He was a pioneering figure in the field of natural science too – in 1961 he published his doctoral thesis on the subject of sperm production in the Japanese pond snail. He also sketched the original architectural plans for Tokyo Tower, wrote a number of the jingles that to this day can be heard on the capital’s metro system, and had a highly-profitable sideline importing French berets.

Massive claims have been made for Tezuka’s cultural legacy, so much so that it sometimes seems that the whole fields of anime and manga would never have existed without his input. However, only two of the above assertions are true – Tezuka is most certainly commonly referred to as the “God of Manga”, and he did conduct ground-breaking work on the sperm of cipangopaludina melleata, “a garden-variety snail ubiquitous in the rice fields of the Japanese archipelago”, we learn in Christine L. Marran’s essay ‘The Metamorphic and the Microscopic in Tezuka Osamu’s Graphic Novels’, one of the numerous insightful pieces contained within the Mechademia 8: Tezuka’s Manga Life. The other statements are at best, contestable, or utter nonsense cooked up by myself.

Tezuka’s Manga Life is a scholarly and much-needed attempt to sort out the wheat from the chaff of the Tezuka myth, with its 22 contributors spread over 300+ pages attempting to put the vast output of the prodigious manga artist into context.

Given the towering status of the man in his own country, it is amazing what a relatively small percentage of this vast output has been actually made available in English-language versions. Sure, the manga side of things is pretty well represented, from the flowery shojo stylings of Princess Knight through the altogether darker The Book of Human Insects and Adolf all the way up to his breathtakingly ambitious magnum opus, the Buddha series – there are translated versions of all of these. There’s already two whole books devoted to his creative life too – Natsu Onoda Power’s God of Comics, and Helen McCarthy’s The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga.

In terms of anime, there are DVD releases of the various TV series of Astro Boy and Kimba: The White Lion, and a number of films based on his original manga like Osamu Dezaki’s Blackjack (1996) and Rintaro’s Metropolis (2001). There’s also the Astonishing Work of Tekuza Osamu disk, containing 13 of the experimental short films he put his name too.

However, none of the films he worked on at Toei Animation, which represent his earliest steps into the moving image medium both as a scriptwriter and a (nominal) director, are represented by overseas releases – Journey to the West (1960), Arabian Nights (1961), or Doggy March (1963), this last title being the first film Hayao Miyazaki ever worked on. Nor, equally surprisingly, are his more experimental but ultimately thwarted attempts at breaking the anime mould, with Thousand and One Nights (1969), Cleopatra (1970), and Tragedy of Belladonna (1973). These represent whole dimensions of Tezuka’s creative oeuvre missing from the picture presented outside of Japan.

Tezuka’s Manga Life, as its title suggests, is largely about the manga work, if one were to separate the two aspects of Tezuka’s creative life. There are two essays with a particular focus on his legacy within anime production: Renato Rivera Rusca’s ‘Phoenix 2772: A 1980 Turning Point for Tezuka and Anime’, about another Tezuka adaptation, directed by Taku Sugiyama, that should be far better known than it is; and Jonathan Clements’ ‘Tezuka’s Anime Revolution in Context’, detailing the genesis of the original Astro Boy TV series, whose content will be familiar from the author’s Anime: A History. Marc Steinberg, with ‘Copying Atomu’, and Frederik L. Schodt, with ‘Designing A World’, both focus on the creation and evolution of the Astro Boy character and his associated universe, inevitably taking in discussion of the anime by virtue of their subject.

Nevertheless, the overall content of this volume is fabulous and wide-ranging, although the tone might tend towards the academic for some casual readers. Probably of most interest are the contributions from a number of established Japanese scholars, translated for the very first time, who provide some really interesting insight into where Tezuka sits within the broader history of the graphic novel in Japan.

These include Yorimitsu Hashimoto on ‘Toward a Theory of “Artist Manga”: Manga Self-Consciousness and the Transforming Figure of the Artist’, exploring how artists have depicted themselves in their own work; Hideaki Fujiki’s ‘Implicating Readers: Tezuka’s Early Seinen Manga’, about the historical evolution of separate manga markets for kids, adolescents and adults; and Eiji Otsuka’s provocatively titled ‘An Unholy Alliance of Eisenstein and Disney: The Fascist Origins of Otaku Culture’. Related to this latter, Ryan Holmberg’s ‘Manga Shonen: Kato Ken’ichi and the Manga Boys’, a fascinating account of the kind of manga a generation of boys grew up during wartime and beyond is well-worth a mention too.

The format of Mechademia is also incredibly well-wedded to its subject matter, sharing manga’s satisfyingly hefty telephone-directory dimensions. And in this too lies one of the volume’s many attractions: translated versions of a number of unseen strips, including Tezuka’s very own ‘Diary of an Insect Shojo’s Vagabond Life’, Moyoko Anno’s shojo-esque ‘Unico’ and Fuji Akatsuka’s ‘Tokiwasou Story’.

In fact, the volume as a whole is incredibly well-illustrated, and really makes one want to dive headlong into the artist’s world. Tezuka’s Manga Life is indeed a life well-worth living.

Mechademia 8: Tezuka’s Manga Life is out now from the University of Minnesota Press.

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