By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Just as bugs near Osaka became lions in Africa, all lives are equal in Hinotori and their forms interchangeable, from a rose to an elephant to a star. That knowledge is instinctual in these breathtakingly paced and gorgeously composed pages, alive with passion and humor.
Jungle Taitei starred smart, strong and idealistic Leo the white lion (Kimba in the U.S.) -- a superhero on four legs. Born of Tezuka's love of nature -- his favorite childhood pastime was to observe insects in the woods -- the lion stories taught lessons about the laws of the natural kingdom and presented encroaching human civilization as a threat. Possessed of human intellect and morality, Leo himself is a symbol of conflicting duality -- and as such has to sacrifice himself in the end. Atomu, too, was a cherub-faced hero and a monster in one, created by a grieving mad scientist as a substitute for his dead son.
Tezuka, in a 180-degree turn from the black-or-white, ask-no-questions tone of the war years, infused these stories with a sense of ambivalence toward civilization, progress and technology -- all that was quickly becoming the gospel of the postwar Japanese economy. It was as if he had foreseen the industrial-pollution crisis of the '60s and '70s. (I remember the "opto-chemical smog alerts" of my youth each summer when we were forced to quit playing and go indoors.) Never talking down to his young readers, Tezuka used multiple viewpoints in his panels to show how the villains felt inside. He made you ask that important question: Why?
Most Americans know Tezuka as simply the creator of TV's Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. Well, Atomu on TV is one of my earliest childhood memories, too. But growing up in Japan, I was also able to read the books. To me, they were movies on paper.
Tezuka broke the monotony of existing comic strips with cinematic effects and speedy unfolding. You see unusual angles and well-composed frames in Western comics, too, but Tezuka actually changed the way manga readers experienced time. A single panel could represent a fraction of a second -- part of a whole composed of images, words, silence and movement in varying tempos and different rhythmic patterns. A frame of a Western counterpart, often laden with text, was typically 50 times as long. As a movie buff, Disney animation fan and amateur musician, Tezuka applied musical thinking to his manga, and by doing so made it a more visual and temporal, rather than literal, medium. The manga experience became more visceral, more absorbing. Here was someone who fixed on paper a world that not only was beautiful to look at, but also was bursting with running, breathing, living characters who cried, fought and loved. His characters stay with you. Once you enter, you never leave Tezuka's world, not completely.
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