All Hail the God of Manga: Osamu Tezuka’s Enduring Legacy

An individual artist who is able to dominate his field is truly exceptional. There have been few artists in history who have been able to achieve that, but then again there haven’t been that many who were qualified or able to do so anyway. Only those who were truly phenomenal creative forces were able to lay claim to such an achievement.

If an artist is able to achieve dominance in several fields throughout his lifetime, however, then that is something else entirely. It would be a feat that can’t just be considered impressive, but something that happens so rarely that it is at first incomprehensible. It approaches genius – which is what many consider Osamu Tezuka to be.

The God of Manga

The God of Manga, the Godfather of Anime, the Walt Disney of Japan – those are just some of the accolades that were heaped upon Osamu Tezuka during his lifetime and beyond. And it is not undeserved hyperbole from his loyal fans and admirers, but rather an apt description of the man who did so much – his legendary creative output alone is enough to earn him his iconic status.

Osamu Tezuka was actually a manga artist and writer, animator, cartoonist, and was even a medical doctor, although he did not actually practice that profession. The incredible body of work that he was able to accomplish during his career that spanned over four decades continues to entertain fans and supporters as well as influence and inspire those who want to follow in Tezuka’s footsteps.

Even if Osamu Tezuka was only able to produce some of the works for which he was best known for – such as Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion – he is still guaranteed to be looked upon as an iconic figure in his field. But given the fact that he was responsible for producing over 700 manga that’s comprised of about 150,000 pages in total, he was not only a creative force but also a giant when it came to productivity.

It is also of tremendous interest to note that he practically invented the way that Japanese animation or anime is drawn. Of course, he drew inspiration from the early cartoons of Walt Disney as well as the animation that was produced by the Max Fleischer Studios. But he practically invented the look of Japanese animation – especially the signature “big eyes”, which has become one of its most famous characteristics.

For those who are non Japanese, it is probably a little difficult to fully appreciate the magnitude of Osamu Tezuka’s influence. That is, without delving into a little bit of research and background of the man and his incredible body of work. The extent of his influence would surely surprise anyone who was not aware of it before, and would also enable them to finally have the right kind of appreciation for the man who is so revered by artists and creative people the world over.

His Beginnings

Osamu Tezuka (November 3, 1928 – February 9, 1989) was born Shigeru Tezuka in Toyonaka City, Osaka Prefecture. He was the eldest of the three children that were born to the Tezuka family. Ozamu Tezuka grew up in Takarazuka City, in Hyogo prefecture. Even early on, he already displayed a great interest in the arts as well as science. It is notable that he was drawn to both, and even though he would take both paths early on, it is in the arts where he would truly find his calling and ultimately make his mark. It was in drawing where he would first focus his creative energies, and from there he just kept on building his legacy.

When Osamu Tezuka was in his second year of his elementary school, he started drawing comics. About three years later, he found an insect that was known as “Osamushi”. Since the bug’s name sounded just like his real name, he arrived at the decision that he should use Osamushi as his pen name. Osamushi is actually the Japanese name of a genus of beetle or carabus. Tezuka decided that it is through manga that he could help people alter their views and opinions of the world. He started his career in manga after World War II.

Osamu’s Choice: Medicine or Manga?

As mentioned earlier, Osamu Tezuka studied to become a doctor, and he eventually became one. His desire to practice the medical profession started when he was but a child, during the time when he was sick and his arms were swelling. He was eventually cured by a doctor, which inspired him to also become one. Because of his dream to become a doctor, Tezuka attended Osaka University’s medical school. However, it was also while studying to be a doctor when his first work in manga was published.

The first published work by Tezuka was a four page children’s story titled, The Diary of Ma-Chan. He followed that up the very next year with New Treasure Island (Shin Takarajima in Japanese), which was able to sell around 400,000 copies. That figure was an incredibly high number of sales, especially since the manga was meant for kids and the war had just recently ended. It is not a stretch to say that it signaled the start of a golden age for Japanese comics. At the forefront of it all was the young Osamu Tezuka.

In the wake of that initial success, even more followed – titles such as Lost World and Next World. The major turning point in Tezuka’s life came when he was left to decide whether to pursue his career as an artist or as a doctor. He eventually decided to devote his whole life to his art and so even though he was able to complete his medical studies, he never did practice that profession. Or was there ever any need for him to do so, since his success in his chosen field was becoming bigger and better with each passing year. His biggest success was his creation known as Tetsuwan Atomo (or Astro boy in English speaking countries), which literally meant “Iron-armed Atom”.

Tetsuwan Atom aka Astro Boy

Tetsuwan Atom or Astro Boy was Osamu Tezuka’s most famous creation. Originally created in 1951, Astro Boy was actually a minor character in a different story by Tezuka, titled “Captain Atom”. Much positive feedback about the character, however, convinced Tezuka that he should star in his own series, which debuted in 1952 and ran until 1968. After that, there was a newspaper serialization that ran for a couple of years, from 1967 to 1969. A couple of series followed (in 1972-73 and in 1980-81).

In anime, Astro Boy became the very first locally produced animated program in Japan in 1963. It was produced by Osamu Tezuma’s own animation studio, Mushi Productions, which he formed shortly after leaving Toei Animation. It was a huge hit right from the start, and paved the way for the anime craze in Japan. A total of 193 episodes of the 30-minute weekly television program were made. There were also other anime series based on the character produced later, and a CGI-animated feature film was also made in 2009.

Other Notable Works by Tezuka

Tezuka’s entire body of work is massive, as has been described earlier. To give a detailed description of each one would no doubt take a very substantial amount of time. The following lists down some of the more notable of his works from both manga and anime.

Metropolis

Metropolis was created by Tezuka in 1949, which was one of his early efforts, especially in science fiction. The story is about Higeoyaji, a private detective, who is trying to take care of a gender switching robot named Mitchy, after the robot’s creator got killed.

The Jungle Emperor aka Kimba, the White Lion

The Jungle Emperor, or known as Kimba, the White Lion in English speaking countries, ran from 1950 to 1954, and was one of Tezuka’s greatest creations. The Jungle Emperor is the story of Leo the white lion and how he is trying to succeed as the king of the jungle. Leo’s father was killed by a hunter.

Buddha

Buddha ran from 1972 to 1983 and was Tezuka’s attempt to tell or at least recreate in manga the life of Gautama Buddha, the “enlightened one”. It was a critically acclaimed series that was also a very gritty portrayal of the life of the founder of Buddhism. It began in September 1972 and ran until December 1983. It is significant for being one of the last great manga epics that Tezuka ever worked on. In 2011, an anime adaptation was released.

Black Jack

Black Jack (1973-83) was the story of a talented surgeon who does his work illegally. He employs the use of supernatural and different techniques in order to cure rare afflictions and diseases. In 1975, it received the Special Award from the Japan Cartoonists’ Association and in 1977, the Koudansha Manga Award. Several anime series and TV movies have been produced about the series over the years.