McCarthy, Helen. The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga. Fwd. Katsuhiro Otomo. Ill. Osamu Tezuka. New York: Abrams Books, 2009. 272 pp. $40.00. Hardback. ISBN 978-0-8109-8249-9.
Any discussion on the cultural and historical significance of post-World War II anime and manga would not and could not be complete without bringing up the “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989) and one would most likely be remiss if they did not mention him first. The problem among most younger anime and manga fans in the West is that they have never heard of Tezuka, nor his works, despite the fact that they have influenced everyone from Shotaro Ishinomori (Cyborg 009, Kamen Rider) and Go Nagai (Cutey Honey, Mazinger Z), to Chiho Saito (Revolutionary Girl Utena), Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), and Tite Kubo (Bleach). The few places a younger fan can go to find out more about Tezuka are scholarly works, and making his body of work more accessible is precisely why The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga was written. As McCarthy makes a point of emphasizing throughout the book, Osamu Tezuka is a pop cultural icon and as such should not only be studied from a scholarly approach, but also as a storyteller who compares with the greatest writers and film makers of the twentieth century (10).
The book starts out with a brief overview of Tezuka’s early life, and discusses just a few of the factors that would develop his outlook on the world, his flair for art and comics, and even a few of the running gags that would stay throughout the entirety of his career. Born in 1928, he was old enough to remember all of World War II and the American occupation of Japan, both of which would have a major influence on Tezuka and the rest of his peers in terms of the sanctity of and a love for life, and an aversion to war. From an early age, Tezuka was an avid artist, and he had an interest in medicine, both of which would serve him well during his career. On New Year’s Day, 1946, his first comic, a yon-koma (four panel) comic titled Ma-chan’s Diary, was published, but it would not be until 1947 that a certain akahon (literally “red book”, for the red ink used on the cover to make an extremely inexpensive manga in post-war Japan) called New Treasure Island was published, marking the beginning of a career that would span over 40 years and entail over 170,000 pages in roughly 700 volumes of manga, perhaps the most prolific of any manga author to date.
The second chapter is about many of the characters Tezuka would use over and over again, part of what came to be known as the Star System. Essentially, Tezuka would reuse certain characters like actors, placing them in whatever role he needed. Tezuka was a fan of theater and film, and this transferred over to his usage of characters in this fashion. It was so important that when Katsuhiro Otomo and Rintaro wrote and directed, respectively, the film Metropolis, based on Tezuka’s work by the same name, they used several characters that did not appear in the original work, such as Rock Holmes, Acetylene Lamp, and Ham Egg. Characters such as Higeoyaji, Kenichi Shikishima, Duke Red, Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, and especially Tezuka himself, would be reused time and again. Tezuka enjoyed placing himself in his own works as a way of being able to interact with his stars, even if they were on paper. Even in works that did not regularly use characters from his Star System, one can often catch a cameo or two, such as Higeoyaji in MW or Tezuka in a gag role in Swallowing the Earth. This is played with in the work Vampires, starring Rock Holmes, when his character Rokuro attempts to kill Tezuka.
The chapters after this explore Tezuka’s work in depth, separating the most important pieces by decade and focusing on the factors that would shape each story. Works like Astro Boy, Princess Knight, Buddha, Phoenix, Black Jack, and Dororo take center stage, with a short synopsis of each series and what makes each of them great in their own right. Astro Boy easily has the most coverage, with its continued popularity throughout the world. Series like Black Jack and Dororo exhibit Tezuka’s knowledge of medicine and ability to write darker, more moody stories for older audiences, with the character Black Jack as Tezuka’s fantasy of the doctor he wanted to be (199).
Princess Knight, while not the first shojo manga released, did pave the way for many other shojo artists to express themselves through manga, and was instrumental for showing that there was a market for these kinds of stories. Astro Boy was not only the pinnacle of Tezuka’s work, but also the first television anime series to be created, as well as the first anime released in the United States in 1963. American children would sit down in front of the television on Saturday mornings watching the amazing adventures of Astro Boy, with his “father” Dr. Elefun (Dr. Ochanomizu), brother Jetto (Cobalt), and sister Astro Girl (Uran) as they tried to thwart the particular brand of evil for that day. Tezuka was pleased with its American release, even with the massive editing done by NBC, because his work was finally going international; children and adults the world over were being amused by his stories and they still are to this day. If Astro Boy is the pinnacle, then Phoenix is Tezuka’s unfinished magnum opus. A story of life, death, and rebirth, Tezuka worked on it throughout his life, and it truly was one of his favorite stories. With his death, it remains unfinished, but it is still a magnificent work; “perhaps a work about the cycle of death and rebirth could never be finished” (102).
The Art of Osamu Tezuka is a testament to the impact the God of Manga has had on the comic and animation worlds, and just as his Phoenix kept dying just to be reborn, so too have Tezuka’s works died to Western audiences, only to be brought back by those who remember them and their author fondly. The back of the book contains a partial bibliography of scholarly sources on Tezuka, as well as a list of his works available in English as of the book’s release, and there are more volumes published each year. Also included with this volume is a DVD with a documentary produced by NHK on Tezuka called The Secret of Creation, featuring an elder Tezuka and the magic behind the scenes of Tezuka Production. If you want an introduction to the God of Manga and his contribution to the world of manga and anime, look no further. This simple, easy to read survey is guaranteed to pique your interest.
– Thorsten Wexler