This graphic-format biography of Osamu Tezuka--Japan's "God of Manga"--looks at one of the twentieth century's great creative artists (Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, Black Jack). It is also an anecdotal study of the evolution of Japan's early manga and anime business and its heroes. A never-before-seen popular culture history of postwar Japan, it is sure to fascinate fans and anyone interested in manga, anime, and the potential of the graphic storytelling medium.
Tezuka Osamu Monogatari was published in English as The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime by Stone Bridge Press on July 19, 2016. The English edition was nominated for the 2017 Eisner Award in the "Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia" category. It was also in published in Brazilian Portuguese by Conrad from November 2003 to August 2004.
TEZUKA SAMA AAAAAAAAAAAA. Had to get that out of the way first lol.
Tezuka Osamu monogatari is a biography of the man known to the world as the god of manga and godfather of anime. Released as a weekly of 8-10 pages by Toshio Ban, then sub-chief of Tezuka productions, it ran for nearly 3 years. What better way to show the life of a great but in the medium which he helped grow and popularise. Tezuka was always a believer in the power of manga to transform life and would have been moved by the fact that his biography was presented in this format.
The work, while a one man effort, also had insights from a lot of family, friends, admirers and so on thereby enriching the experience for the reader. The work can be broadly divided into three parts (referring to the English version specifically): his early life, his life in manga and his life in anime. In this review, I will try to elaborate on each part without sacrificing on readability to the best of my abilities.
His early life was set in a time when Japan’s militarism was at its peak. Living in this chaotic time, Osamu was a curious child with a love for stories, thanks to his parents. His mother, in particular would often recite bedtime stories, which would serve to inspire him to try his hand at writing his own tales. Through his father, he was exposed to Disney movies, a love for which would continue till his last days. He was also exposed to manga present in that time. Manga back then wasn’t the story driven version that we are now familiar with. It was more of a picture book which maybe showed one off incidents and had no continuity to it. It did allow the young Osamu an outlet for his creative talents and he would often spend time honing his artistic abilities. Classical music was another significant influence on him, serving him well in his later life, when he had to meet gruelling deadlines of several series. And of course, not mentioning his love for bug collecting would be a gross oversight on my part. Several pages of the biography are dedicated to his love for this pastime. He was a man of many talents and if not for manga, would have been successful in his field of choosing.
The end of the war, saw Japan coming to terms with its new position following the war. This stage of his life shows him being conflicted in what field to pursue, whether as a mangaka or a doctor. His mother played a huge role here, without which the world of manga would have evolved completely differently. Renaissance man that he was, he does end up finishing his medical degree. The manga world, freed from wartime restrictions saw a period of great creative blooming, with his “Shin Takarajima” released in 1948, being one of the works to achieve great commercial success. This and moving to and fro from Osaka to Tokyo, helped him establishing connections and finding friends and rivals who would drive him to improve himself throughout his life. Works such as Mighty Atom, Jungle Emperor and Phoenix to name a few were works which established him in the market as the leading children’s mangaka. He however did not let it get to his head and stayed humble, another quality which he learnt from his younger days.
In the final part of the book, it showed his attempt to develop tv anime from manga and to internationalise them. The Mighty Atom was at the vanguard of this charge which would lead to the worldwide spread and popularity of the anime culture. During this period, he also released highly experimental works which were critically acclaimed and won several prestigious awards throughout the world. This period also saw him adapting to changing trends and releasing more adult works, thus ensuring his readability, relevance and accessibility to people of all ages. And though his output was not what it once was, it was still remarkable and shows that his enthusiasm for the medium never diminished. Phoenix, his life’s work was also released in earnest and displayed his mastery of the craft with aplomb.
As for the Man himself, Osamu was a workaholic of the highest order, with an output that would often leave his assistants and editors flabbergasted. It is incredible and fortunate that he did not suffer medically, given the hours he worked. He would spend time confined for days to meet deadlines of several series he was working on simultaneously. Part of the reason was the fact that he was on a mission to prove the power of manga in transforming lives. His upbringing and experience in the war might have also been a compelling factor in driving him. His internationalism could be best seen in his characters, especially of his sci-fi works, where they belonged to humanity and that was it. His workaholic tendencies did have the unfortunate effect of him rarely being around his family. An incident comes to mind, where his daughter was surprised to learn that he would be staying at the house for that night. And there are several other instances like this which just showed that his work was of the utmost importance to him. And I am glad that the biography did not shy away from showing his flaws, which was a great thing, as it goes to show that ultimately Osamu too was human.
Onto the biography itself, the biggest differentiator was the medium of presentation, i.e. manga, which offered a unique feel to the entire read. The art replicates the style we are so familiar with and fond off, with his evolution of his art and several caricatures interspersed throughout the biography. Toshio Ban donned the role of Higeoyaji, who served as the narrator, guiding us through different stages of his life and did an apt job at it. It was a surreal experience, being told about a creator by one of his characters and was something that made me smile.
Speaking about Dr. Osamu Tezuka, one cannot forget Frederik L Schodt (in the English version at least). His foreword on this work was fun to read as it has always and sets you on what to expect. Furthermore, given the fact that his entire life is covered in under 900 page and given that it is a manga, one might feel as though we don’t learn enough about the man. But despite this, the work offers in terms of enabling us to build up on available information to enhance our knowledge about the great man. The fact that it was published in the way it was, also allows it to serve as an entry point to familiarise oneself with his daunting catalogue.
Last but not least, I would have to talk a bit about his influence on me. Being an avid fan of the man since reading Buddha back in 2014, Tezuka continues to impress me with his sheer mastery and facile portrayal of several genres and themes with aplomb in his works. This work was the necessary motivation, so as to speak, to push myself to read more works of his in the future. To finish, I highly recommend this work for its role in highlighting one of, if not the biggest name in anime and manga.