Osamu Tezuka (Japanese: 手塚 治虫, born 手塚 治 Hepburn: Tezuka Osamu, 3 November 1928 – 9 February 1989) was a Japanese manga artist, cartoonist, animator, and film producer. Born in Osaka Prefecture, his prolific output, pioneering techniques, and innovative redefinitions of genres earned him such titles as “the father of manga”, “the godfather of manga” and “the god of manga”. Additionally, he is often considered the Japanese equivalent to Walt Disney, who served as a major inspiration during Tezuka’s formative years. Though this phrase praises the quality of his early manga works for children and animations, it also blurs the significant influence of his later, more literary, gekiga works.
Tezuka began what was known as the manga revolution in Japan with his New Treasure Island published in 1947. His legendary output would spawn some of the most influential, successful, and well-received manga series including the children mangas Astro Boy, Princess Knight, and Kimba the White Lion, and the adult-oriented series Black Jack, Phoenix, and Buddha, all of which won several awards.
Tezuka died of stomach cancer in 1989. His death had an immediate impact on the Japanese public and other cartoonists. A museum was constructed in Takarazuka dedicated to his memory and life works, and Tezuka received many posthumous awards. Several animations were in production at the time of his death along with the final chapters of Phoenix, which were never released.
Early life (1928–1945)
Tezuka was the eldest of three children in Toyonaka, Osaka. The Tezuka family were prosperous and well-educated; his father Yutaka worked in management at Sumitomo Metals, his grandfather Taro was a lawyer, and his great-grandfather Ryoan and great-great-grandfather Ryosen were doctors. His mother’s family had a long military history. Tezuka’s nickname was gashagasha-atama (gashagasha is slang for messy, atama means head). Later in life, he gave his mother credit for inspiring confidence and creativity through her stories. She frequently took him to the Takarazuka Grand Theater, which often headlined the Takarazuka Revue, an all-female musical theater troupe. Their romantic musicals aimed at a female audience had a large influence on Tezuka’s later works, including his costume designs. Not only that, but the large, sparkling eyes also had an influence on Tezuka’s art style. He has said that he has a profound “spirit of nostalgia” for Takarazuka. When Tezuka was young, his father showed him Disney films; he became obsessed with the films and began to replicate them. He also became a Disney movie buff, seeing the films multiple times in a row, most famously seeing Bambi more than 80 times. Tezuka started to draw comics around his second year of elementary school, drawing so much that his mother would have to erase pages in his notebook in order to keep up with his output. Tezuka was also inspired by works by Suihō Tagawa and Unno Juza. Around his fifth year, he found a bug named “Osamushi”. It so resembled his name that he adopted “Osamushi” as his pen name. He continued to develop his manga skills throughout his school career. During this period he created his first adept amateur works. During high school in 1944, Tezuka was drafted to work for a factory, supporting the Japanese war effort during World War II; he simultaneously continued writing manga. In 1945, Tezuka was accepted into Osaka University and began studying medicine. During this time, he also began publishing his first professional works.
Publishing career and early success (1946–1952)
Tezuka came to the realization that he could use manga as a means of helping to convince people to care for the world. After World War II, at age 17, he published his first piece of work: Diary of Ma-chan. Tezuka began talks with fellow manga artist Shichima Sakai, who had pitched Tezuka a manga based around the famous story Treasure Island. Sakai promised Tezuka a publishing spot from Ikuei Shuppan if he would work on the manga. Tezuka finished the manga, only loosely basing it on the original work. Shin Takarajima (New Treasure Island) was published and became an overnight success that began the golden age of manga, a craze comparable to American comic books at the time. In 1951, Tezuka joined a group known as the Tokyo Children Manga Association consisting of other manga artists such as Baba Noboru, Ota Jiro, Furusawa Hideo, Fukui Eiichi, Irie Shigeru, and Negishi Komichi. With the success of New Treasure Island, Tezuka traveled to Tokyo in search of a publisher for more of his work. After visiting Kobunsha Tezuka was turned down. However, publisher Shinseikaku agreed to purchase The Strange Voyage of Dr. Tiger and Domei Shuppansha would purchase The Mysterious Dr. Koronko. Whilst continuing his study in medical school Tezuka published his first masterpieces: a trilogy of science fiction epics called Lost World, Metropolis and Next World. Soon after Tezuka published his first major success Jungle Emperor Leo, it was serialized in Manga Shonen from 1950 to 1954. In 1951 Tezuka graduated from the Osaka School of Medicine and published Ambassador Atom, the first appearance of the Astro Boy character.
Astro Boy, national fame and early animation (1952–1960)
By 1952, Ambassador Atom proved to be an only mild success in Japan; however, one particular character became extremely popular with young boys: a humanoid robot named Atom. Tezuka received several letters from many young boys. Expecting success with a series based around Atom, Tezuka’s producer suggested that he be given human emotions. One day while working at a hospital Tezuka was punched in the face by a frustrated American G.I. This encounter gave Tezuka the idea to create an Atom. On February 4, 1952, Tetsuwan Atom began serialization in Weekly Shonen Magazine. The character Atom and his adventures became an instant phenomenon in Japan. Due to the success of Tetsuwan Atom, in 1953 Tezuka published shōjo manga Ribon no Kishi (Princess Knight), serialized in Shojo Club from 1953 to 1956. In 1954 Tezuka first published what he would consider his life’s work, Phoenix, which originally appeared in Mushi Production Commercial Firm. In 1958 Tezuka was asked by Toei Animation if his manga Son-Goku The Monkey could be adapted into an animation. It was widely reported that Tezuka worked as a director on the film, though Tezuka himself denied working on it. He was only involved in its promotion, which later sparked his interest in the animation industry. The film was released as Alakazam the Great in 1960.
Production Career (1961-1989)
In 1961, Tezuka entered the animation industry in Japan by founding the production company Mushi Productions as a rivalry with Toei Animation. He first began innovating the industry with the broadcast of the animated version of Astro Boy in 1963; this series would create the first successful model for animation production in Japan and would also be the first Japanese animation dubbed into English for an American audience. Other series were subsequently translated to animation, including Jungle Emperor, the first Japanese animated series produced in full color. Tezuka stepped down as acting director in 1968 to found a new animation studio, Tezuka Productions and continued experimenting with animation late into his life. In 1973, Mushi Productions collapsed financially and the fallout would produce several influential animation production studios including Sunrise.
His gekika graphic novels (1967-1989)
In 1967, in response to the magazine Garo and the gekiga movement, Tezuka created the magazine COM. Together with this, he radically changed his style as a comic book artist from the cartoony Disney-esque slapstick towards a more realistic drawing style as well as the themes of these books became focused on an adult audience. Besides the well known series Phoenix, Black Jack and Buddha that are drawn in this style he also produced a vast amount of one-shots or shorter series like Ayako, Ode to Kirihito, Message to Adolf, Swallowing the Earth, Alabaster, Apollo’s Song, Barbara, MW, Dororo, I.L., Ludwig B, The Book of Human Insects and a large amount of short stories that were later on collectively published in books as Under the Air, Clockwork Apple, The Crater, Melody of Iron and other short stories, Record of the Glass Castle. The change of his manga from children to more ‘literary’ gekiga manga started with the yokai manga Dororo in 1967. This yokai-manga was influenced by the success of and response to Shigeru Mizuki’s GeGeGe no Kitarō. Simultaneously he also produces Vampires that, like Dororo also introduces a stronger, more coherent storyline and a shift in the drawing style. After these two he starts his really first gekiga attempt with Swallowing the Earth. Dissatisfied with the result he soon after produces I.L. (not published in English yet). Also his masterpiece Phoenix starts in 1967. A vast amount of one-shots and short series follows in the years after Ode to Kirihito, Alabaster, Apollo’s Song, Barbara, Ayako, the Book of Human Insects are all gekiga graphic novels from this area. Under the Air, The Crater, Clockwork Apple, Melody of Iron and Record of the Glass Castle are collections of short gekiga stories that were drawn in those same years. A common element in all these books and short stories is the very dark immoral nature of the main characters. Also, the stories are filled with explicit violence, erotic scenes, and crimes. Probably the most depraved story of this area is MW (1976). Tezuka would become a bit milder in narrative tone in the 80s with his follow up works such as Message to Adolf, Midnight and (the unfinished) Ludwig B and Neo Faust.
Tezuka is a descendant of Hattori Hanzō, a famous ninja and samurai who faithfully served Tokugawa Ieyasu during the Sengoku period in Japan. His son Makoto Tezuka became a film and anime director. Tezuka guided many well-known manga artists such as Shotaro Ishinomori and Go, Nagai. Tezuka enjoyed bug-collecting, entomology, Walt Disney, baseball, and licensed the “grown-up” version of his character Kimba the White Lion as the logo for the Seibu Lions of the Nippon Professional Baseball League. Tezuka met Walt Disney in person at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. In a 1986 entry in his personal diary, Tezuka stated that Disney wanted to hire him for a potential science fiction project. Tezuka was a fan of Superman and was made the honorary chairman of the Superman Fan Club in Japan. In 1959 Tezuka married Etsuko Okada at a Takarazuka Hotel. As a child, Tezuka’s arms swelled up and he became ill. He was treated and cured by a doctor, which made him want to be a doctor. At a crossing point, he asked his mother whether he should look into doing manga full-time or whether he should become a doctor. At the time, being a manga author was not a particularly rewarding job. The answer his mother gave was: “You should work doing the thing you like most of all.” Tezuka decided to devote himself to manga creation on a full-time basis. He graduated from Osaka University and obtained his medical degree, but he would later use his medical and scientific knowledge to enrich his sci-fi manga, such as Black Jack. Tezuka was agnostic and was buried in a Buddhist cemetery in Tokyo.
His complete oeuvre includes over 700 volumes with more than 150,000 pages. A complete list of his works can be found on the Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum website. Tezuka’s creations include Astro Boy (Mighty Atom in Japan), Black Jack, Princess Knight, Phoenix (Hi no Tori in Japan), Kimba the White Lion (Jungle Emperor in Japan), Unico, Message to Adolf, The Amazing 3 and Buddha. His “life’s work” was Phoenix—a story of life and death that he began in the 1950s and continued until his death. In January 1965, Tezuka received a letter from American film director Stanley Kubrick, who had watched Astro Boy and wanted to invite Tezuka to be the art director of his next movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Although flattered by Kubrick’s invitation, Tezuka could not afford to leave his studio for a year to live in England, so he had to turn it down. Although he could not work on it, he loved the film and would play its soundtrack at maximum volume in his studio to keep him awake during long nights of work.
Tezuka is known for his imaginative stories and stylized Japanese adaptations of western literature. Tezuka’s “cinematic” page layouts were influenced by Milt Gross’ early graphic novel He Done Her Wrong. He read this book as a child, and its style characterized many manga artists who followed in Tezuka’s footsteps. His work, like that of other manga creators, was sometimes gritty and violent. Tezuka headed the animation production studio Mushi Production (“Bug Production”), which pioneered TV animation in Japan. He invented the distinctive “large eyes” style of Japanese animation, drawing inspiration from Western cartoons and animated films of the time such as Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse, and other Disney movies.
Death and legacy
Tezuka died of stomach cancer on 9 February 1989 in Tokyo. His last words were: “I’m begging you, let me work!”, speaking to a nurse who had tried to take away his drawing equipment. The city of Takarazuka, Hyōgo, where Tezuka grew up, opened a museum in his memory. Stamps were issued in his honor in 1997. Also, beginning in 2003, the Japanese toy company Kaiyodo began manufacturing a series of figurines of Tezuka’s creations, including Princess Knight, Unico, the Phoenix, Dororo, Marvelous Melmo, Ambassador Magma, and many others. To date, three series of the figurines have been released. His legacy has continued to be honored among manga artists and animators. Artists such as Akira Toriyama (Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball) have cited Tezuka as inspiration for their works. From 2003 to 2009, Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki adapted an arc of Astro Boy into the murder mystery series Pluto. Tezuka was a personal friend (and apparent artistic influence) of Brazilian comic book artist Mauricio de Sousa. In 2012, Maurício published a two-issue story arc in the Monica Teen comic book featuring some of Tezuka’s main characters, such as Astro Boy, Black Jack, Sapphire, and Kimba, joining Monica and her friends in an adventure in the Amazon rainforest against a smuggling organization chopping down hundreds of trees. This was the first time that Tezuka Productions has allowed overseas artists to use Tezuka’s characters.
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