By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The time: The immediate aftermath of WWII.
Imagine: the city in rubbles and full of disoriented grown-ups. Kids were starved not only for food, but also for entertainment and maybe a sense of direction. Cheaply printed comic books, hawked on streets and in candy stores, were beginning to fill the need. TV would not enter the picture for another eight years. Enter Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989), a scrawny medical student. In 1946, a daily newspaper began carrying his four-panel strip, "The Diary of Mah-chan." When "Mah-chan" became a surprise hit, he produced a 200-page book, New Treasure Island (story by Sakai Shichima), the following year. New Treasure Island sold 400,000 copies and inspired a legion of would-be artists, including Shotaro Ishinomori (Cyborg 009), Leiji Matsumoto (Galaxy Express 999; Queen Millennia), Fujio Akatsuka (Doraemon).
The result: a comic revolution.
The Japanese call Osamu Tezuka the god of manga. For without Tezuka, comics would not have become the definitive force of postwar Japan -- a hidden goad, read by everyone and influencing everything from literature to architecture. And without his Tetsuwan Atomu ("Mighty Atom" -- renamed Astro Boy here by an embarrassed NBC executive), there probably would have been no anime.
Much of Tezuka's print work is virtually unknown in the West (where manga requires not only translation but paste-up because Japanese is read from right to left, anime needs only dubbing to make the international transition). Which is a pity, because those who think the current crop of bloody anime and boneless manga represent the Soul of Japan are missing 98 percent of it.
It's the 21st century. The robots, though they are indistinguishable from humans, are treated as second-class citizens -- a precursor toBlade Runner without the Yellow Peril undertone. The cute little boy robot with massively spiky hair doesn't just fight villains and their grandiose plans, he also fights for the rights of the robots. He dreams of the day when robots can coexist peacefully with humans.
From Jungle Taitei
by Osamu Tezuka
Tezuka created his boy-robot character after a fateful encounter with an inebriated member of the Allied Occupation Army. When the artist could not answer the GI's question in English quickly enough, the soldier punched him in the face. Tezuka didn't hit back. He thought -- about cultural and racial differences and why people fight each other. Dodging bombs during air raids was still fresh in his memory. It all became Tetsuwan Atomu, serialized in the monthly children's magazine Shonen ("Boys") beginning in 1952. Japan immediately went wild for Astro Boy. Meanwhile, Tezuka was running serials in nine to 10 monthly magazines while continuing to produce shorter works (20 to 50 pages) and books. He and a handful of artists would eventually publish the monthly magazine Com (for comics and communication) for adult manga readers -- among them intellectuals and culturati -- and his studio came to resemble Rubens' workshop, with assistants specializing as fillers, erasers or shaders. Amazingly, he also completed medical school in 1961.
But Tezuka wasn't satisfied. He longed to do animation. Opportunity knocked when, in 1958, Toei Animations adapted Bokuno Songoku ("My Magic Monkey") as Saiyuki ("Journey to India"). After working on the feature, Tezuka poured his earnings from mangainto the founding of Mushi Productions, the first incarnation of his multimedia studio. Tetsuwan Atomu for Fuji TV was Mushi Pro's second project (after a 39-minute short, A Story From a Street Corner). Atomu the anime again shook Japan. No one had even thought of producing an animated film to fill a half-hour slot every week. Tezuka and Co. made it possible by cutting the number of frames from 24 to 8 per second, animating body parts separately and recycling shots (they called it "banking").
Other Mushi animation projects followed, including Princess Knight, an early "girl manga" and proto-feminist masterpiece, scored with a cool theme song by Isao Tomita; several experimental shorts, including Pictures at an Exhibition; and theatrical features, including the R-rated One Thousand and One Nights and Cleopatra.
Tezuka's work also started influencing hollywood. The 1966 film Fantastic Voyagebears an uncanny resemblance to Tezuka's 1953 Monsters on the 38-Degree Line, in which a group of doctors shrink themselves to enter the body of a patient; Stanley Kubrick asked Tezuka to do the art direction for 2001(he declined); and The Lion King is seen by Tezuka fans as an outrageous Kimbarip-off (his estate didn't sue, because it was felt that Sensei, ever the Disney fan, would have been proud).
by Osamu Tezuka
Tezuka's Hi no tori is a firebird, a phoenix, the Ho-O of Chinese legends that lives thousands of years and, after self- immolation, continually resurrects itself -- perhaps like Japan itself. This phoenix -- befitting the nuclear age, in which the meaning of death had expanded -- is an incarnation of a cosmic life force. As Mother Cosmos, an archangel in feathers or just a mysterious bird, the phoenix watches over the foibles of men from the dawn of civilization to the distant future, into the second (or is it third?) life cycle on Earth. In Hinotori's cosmology, even planets and galaxies are subject to reincarnation and other laws that govern all lives.