The God of Manga, Father of Anime
The ‘god of manga’ and ‘father of anime’ titles are quite the feat for a single man. With over 700 manga and 500+ anime episodes of work, Tezuka pumped out genre defining and culturally important works at an insane rate. To go through all his works would require three or four spotlights alone, and covering the career of Osamu Tezuka is best left to dedicated wiki’s like Tezuka in English.
Tezuka is considered equal to both Walt Disney and Jack Kirby at the same time! A designer of industry, a creative wizard, and a prolific work ethic molded his legacy over a 40 year career. Some have lamented the choices Tezuka made in production and style, but his passion for stories was unquestioned. Plus he is a descendant of Hattori Hanzo, a famous ninja and samurai, how awesome is that? So, lets take a look at some highlights of the most important man in anime.
The Golden Age of Manga
In the late 1940’s, America was seeing the surge of comic books they referred to as ‘The Golden Age’. Batman, Superman, and Captain America exploded onto the culture and defined the medium. As this was happening Tezuka, at only 17 years old, produced his first few manga series and began a manga golden age in Japan.
Diary of Ma-Chan was his first release, a short 4 page strip of light comedy.
In 1947, Tezuka would release New Treasure Island that would catapult his name into the fledgling industry. The series built up the epic adventure storylines, with childlike wonder and entertainment that artists like Miyazaki would take on later. Tezuka’s interest in Western stories, adapting them heavily into his own style, gave birth to a lot of the anime norms that exist today. Big eyes, lighter skin, chibi body frames, a lot of this comes from Tezuka’s original designs inspired by the Western industries.
His next release, Angel Gunfighter, would also do well and define the Cowboy Western motif that artists like Kawajiri and Watanabe would make their own. His manga Age of Adventure, features a Japanese envoy to the US that becomes stranded in a town. The local bartender is the character from Angel Gunfighter, and became the first of many examples of Tezuka’s ‘Star System’.
The system involved many of his favorite characters, inserted into various projects throughout his career. Black Jack, Astroboy, and others can be found as side characters in many works, but the hi-light was his villains. He would often re-use characters in the villain role, expanding their lore and drive.
Tezuka produced a horde of manga series that are not all covered, but here are most the notable works:
The Big Series
In 1949, Tezuka would make the Metropolis manga. Following the questions of humanity and extinction, the series took a serious philosophical tone and would inspire future films like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and Serial Experiments Lain. Otomo, director of Akira, would adapt a script from Metropolis along with famed genius Rintaro directing, and make the final film of their career. The 2001 film, Metropolis, had many changes from the original manga but was a fine homage to Tezuka’s ideals.
Princess Knight is largely considered the first Shoujo manga, aimed at the female audience and narratively focused. Tezuka credits his mother for taking him often to the Takarazuka Revue, an all female stage group. It also had a sequel, Twin Star.
Based on Tezuka’s manga of the same name, often called Jungle Emperor. The manga would be adapted into the original 1965 anime, but also:
The series follows a lion on a journey that we are all pretty familiar with. Tezuka enjoyed adapting Western ideas and tuning them to his own style. A lot of his works, but especially Kimba, would have elements of Shakespeare and Euro folk tales spread throughout.
The series would also serve as inspiration for one of Disney’s biggest films. Executives on the film Lion King, denied any knowledge of the series and say similarities are just coincidence. This looks pretty miraculous on comparison, but fun is fun. Kimba’s story has become one recognized around the world in one way or another.
Astroboy is easily the most recognized Japanese character of all time. Tezuka’s original manga, and anime, followed the heroic robot boy through a long and varied story. The series would touch on elements of every genre, spread through short arcs of simple but unique storylines.
Over the years Astroboy would be remade or re-spun into a variety of series that vary on quality.
In January 1965, Tezuka received a letter from American film director Stanley Kubrick; Kubrick had watched Astroboy (1963) and wanted to invite Tezuka to be the art director of his next movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Tezuka could not afford to leave his studio for a year to live in England, so he refused. 2001 would have an impact on Tezuka. He often said that it would play loudly as he wrote his manga, and the scifi elements in the works would drift to a similar introspection.
Animation for Adults
In 1970, Japan was in mirror with America and the culture clash of generations. A perfect storm of the rise of student protests, civil disobedience, and sexual freedom was happening. Tezuka had always been interested in showing that animation could be for adults, and he used this uprising in culture to change his direction.
Tezuka’s short stories were collected at various times in his career. During the 60’s, this came out as Son of Godfather and Rainbow Prelude, and the 70’s featured Suspicion and The Thief. Showing the change in tone from decade to decade. He would also release a spread of experimental films during the late 60’s.
The highlight of this era is Tezuka’s ‘Animerama Trilogy’ that features the films 1001 Arabian Nights, Cleopatra, and Belladonna of Sadness. The films would eventually lead to the end of Mushi Productions, Tezuka’s studio, but was a bright and beautiful way to end an era.
1001 Arabian Nights was the first of the three films. Aladdin, Alibaba, and the story of the sands is told in many ways but never quite like Tezuka. The story featured open nudity, mature themes, and overt sexual imagery.
It was a critical success in Japan as an imaginative and experimental film, featuring an intelligent adult story with psychedelic rock music. The often stylized and abstract animation was combined with occasional brief live-action footage..
Directed by Yamamoto, a long trusted director of Tezuka, maintained a lot of the adventure dynamic from Tezuka’s earlier series. Osamu Dezaki, one of the industry’s best ever, would come to prominence as the film’s Art Director as well.
Cleopatra would add the dynamic of political and manipulative use of sex, as well as featuring a constantly nude female lead. Unlike A Thousand and One Nights, Cleopatra was a critical and commercial bomb though. The film seemed highly influenced by Kubrick’s film and was disjointed avant-garde gibberish at times.
Tezuka’s obvious loss of interest in Mushi’s main specialty, children’s animation for TV, and his obsession with adult animation led to his studio into severe funding problems. He would leave the studio before production of the third film began.
The legendary Rintaro would direct the film, with Dezaki and Spotlight Director Kawajiri on animation. The three of them would work on Tezuka’s Phoenix series afterwards, then go on to form MadHouse studio.
Belladonna of Sadness would be the final ‘Animerama Trilogy’, and without Tezuka. The film was artistic, extreme, and experimental. A lot of this is credited to the film being the ‘final goodbye’ before Mushi Productions went bankrupt. Everyone knew it was their last hurrah, and they delivered.
Belladonna took the sexual theme to the extreme, with a violent and auteur delivery of sexual destruction. After being raped, a girl discovers a sexual identity that gives birth to magic powers and witchcraft. The story shifts into a Joan of Arc style story, but it is an interesting dive into the psyche of a Japanese culture breaking apart as well. A unique and fantastic film.
Marvelous Melmo would be the first series from Tezuka Studios, a secret production that he set up as things were going sour at Mushi Productions. The series would come out to mixed results and parental backlash, credited as the inventor of the ‘panty shot’ so famous in anime. It wasn’t a sexual series, but the undercurrent of sexual identity and acceptance likely bled over from Tezuka’s Animerama Trilogy.
Big X was a superhero story, similar to Captain America, but with much less patriotism and a lot more Nazi’s. The manga came out in 1963 and is a prototype of one of Tezuka’s final works based on a rather famous Nazi.
Tezuka’s final completed manga, Message to Adolf, hasn’t had an adaptation yet. The story follows three Adolfs, one being Hitler, and is a spy thriller set before World War 2. The series is fantastic, deep, intricate, and has spurred the Nazi memorabilia in Japan that low effort Blogs love to show off.
The Spiritual and Healing Tezuka
While he listed as agnostic in general, Tezuka has earned a reputation of being a Buddhist, and was eventually buried in a temple grave site. A lot of this comes from his later series that follow a life affirming and spiritual nature.
Blue Triton would be a return to Astroboy shoujo style, but kept a more light hearted nature. The talk of nature, balance in life, and sense of community would make the series quite popular. It would be adapted into an anime by Tomino during one of his lighter moods.
Tezuka series Buddha would gain nationwide recognition and reignite the Shinto and Buddhist traditions. The manga would be made into 2 films, Red Desert and Endless Trip, in 2011 and 2014 respectively. The manga and the films, would win many award nominations, decades after Tezuka’s Death.
The Phoenix Manga would be Tezuka’s life work. Beginning in 1967 and new chapters coming out right until weeks before his death in 89. The series would have multiple adaptations:
Phoenix followed the stories of the eternal bird, reincarnation, and the humanistic ideas of nature. Jumping from old samurai action to the end of human civilization in 3300 AD, the series allowed Tezuka the room to make any story he wanted.
One famous arc included 4 Astronauts who are ejected into space. He depicted each line as a single characters view, showing each moving and trying to survive in a disconnected story frame. When one of the characters died, his frames were left as black to impose the lonely nature of their journey.
He often experiments in the manga with odd or unique visual layout, but the stories would be small arcs of simple philosophy.
Tezuka had graduated university to become a doctor. This was important to many of his earlier works, such as Astro Boy’s anatomy and the use of surgery in a lot of his series. He also explored the goal of healing, the meaning to derive from the act, and the issues that brought about the need for doctors.
Ode to Kirihito is about a heroic young doctor named Kirihito Osanai and his efforts to cure a strange disease that deforms its victims so that they look like dog-people. He becomes infected with the disease himself and is led on a wild odyssey around the world as he is kidnapped and mistreated by the ignorant and the curious, meeting strange allies and stranger foes. . The series gained quite a following, but like Big X it would lead to another massive story by Tezuka.
Black Jack remains one of the most popular manga of all time in Japan.
“I have never met a Japanese person who wasn’t familiar with Black Jack, even those who don’t usually read manga, If Astro Boy is the Japanese Superman, Black Jack is the Japanese Batman. Everyone knows him, even far outside the comics world, and when people think of him people think of his fierce critique of the medical world.”
The series followed our titular doctor as he charged criminals small fortunes for surgery. He refused to join the medical community and acted on his own morals. The story would weave moral, ethical, and situational events designed to use Tezuka’s medical history to full effect. Black Jack was seen as a scathing remark on the Japanese medical community, and is often credited with the wide reforms made in the 80’s.
The series has over 15 adaptations, sequels, prequels, spin offs, and crossovers. An enduring story that moved beyond the medium into a cultural identity.
Osamu Tezuka is beyond comparison to any other person in the anime industry. With an average of 18 manga released per year, Tezuka made over 700 manga and developed an industry from its infancy. To compare him to Jack Kirby seems quite fitting, and his title of God of Manga is certainly deserved.
Tezuka also surpassed 40 anime adaptations based on only 3 series; Astroboy, Kimba the White Lion, and Black Jack. To add to that, his Mushi Productions and Tezuka Studio produced well into the hundreds of anime, many based on the manga Tezuka created. Include Astroboy as the first anime series, Animerama introducing the ‘adult 80’s’ era of OVA and film that led to the expansion in the West, and you have a true Father of Anime.
WIth his death in 89, certain people have tried to tear down the godlike status that Tezuka holds. This may come from a good intention but a legend lived among us, and he dreamt of fantastical adventure, futuristic utopia, and classical literature. Tezuka earned every stone in his mountain of praise, he will be missed for generations to come.