Osamu Tezuka: Big Eyes and Big Ideas

Nowadays, anime and manga are two forms of media that have quickly spread in the Western world and gained much popularity. It is almost amazing to think of how quickly it has spread over the years, considering its humble beginnings in the late ’50s and early ’60s with programs like Speed Racer and Gigantor. However, among this initial wave, there was a creator who helped to pave the path of manga and anime. That man was Osamu Tezuka, a manga writer and artist whose creations made the world take notice.  His style and influence are still being felt in the worlds of manga and anime, enough so that he has earned the nickname of “God of Manga”. So, just what made Osamu Tezuka earn such a nickname?

Born on November 3rd of 1926, Osamu Tezuka was the oldest of three children. Though he was mocked with the nickname of gashagasha-atama (which roughly means “messy head”), his mother helped to keep his confidence up in the face of teasing. She would also tell him stories which would capture his imagination. It was during his elementary school years that he began drawing his own little comics, finding a passion in his arts. However, there came a point when his arms swelled up from a terrible illness. Cured by a doctor, this sparked a desire in Tezuka to pursue work in the medical field. This led to two halves in Tezuka’s life, one spent as a manga artist and the other spent studying in medical school. Eventually, he faced the moment where he had to decide: become a manga artist and face a none-too-monetarily-rewarding life, or follow the safe and lucrative path of becoming a doctor? His mother’s advice was to work doing the thing he liked most of all. Taking that advice to heart, Tezuka set down the path of being a manga creator. From that point on, he continued to work throughout his life, tackling a wide variety of works. He continued until his death from stomach cancer on February 9th, 1989. In fact, his final words were, “I’m begging you, let me work!”.

The sound of his life may be simple, but it is his work that has left such influence. When it comes to the manga of his time, most artists had a somewhat stilted format for drawings and panels. They tended to show moments before or after action, not really capturing a full feel for the moment. Tezuka, on the other hand,  showcased a cinematic influence in his work.  He could showcase a succession of action, capturing a moment with each essential beat on display. That choice added a greater dynamic energy to his narratives that some of his contemporaries lacked. He also offered a strong knack at presentation of a scene, working with color and scope in each panel to best capture the mood needed. His character designs are another major part of his legacy. His character designs put an emphasis on big and expressive eyes, something influenced by his own appreciation of Disney animated shorts and films. The result is a visual style that has become almost synonymous with anime, with his methods effectively revolutionizing the field of manga.

Another stand out element in Tezuka’s work was the sheer variety of stories that he could handle. He worked in numerous genres and styles, able to bring his particular skills and sensibilities to great use. For example, he dabbled in science fiction with his most iconic creation, Astro Boy. Telling the tale of a robot initially created to replace a scientist’s dead son, it wowed with thrills as Astro Boy would fight to defend the rights of both humans and robots. With fantasy, he struck a major chord with a manga aimed for girls known as Princess Knight. Armed with a rambunctious spirit and skill with a sword, it followed Princess Sapphire as she dealt with not only foiling the schemes of Duke Duralumin, but also living a double life as a masked swordswoman. He also worked in plenty of stories for a more mature audience, with Black Jack being the most well-known of such works. That series follows the exploits of Black Jack, a freelance doctor with a cold and callous facade that hides a desire to help those in need. Of course, these are only a few stories from his impressive catalogue. No matter the genre, no matter the audience, Tezuka was ready and willing to throw himself into whatever was called for with his work.

So, where would be a good place to start if you want to check out Osamu Tezuka’s work? Astro Boy and Black Jack are both two excellent starting points, showcasing some of the range in his storytelling and serving as two of his most iconic creations. However, another manga that may be worth looking into is Phoenix. Considered by Tezuka to be his life’s work, Phoenix is an ambitious series that he began developing in 1954 and continued up until his death. This series covers an incredible range of time, from the Prehistoric Age to the far, far future. No matter what the time period, however, each part concerns the pursuit of immortality and the terrible price that must be paid for it. Within these stories, Tezuka put a lens upon the cruelty that mankind could unleash and how people can be plagued by horrible circumstances. However, he also offered a simple promise: that life went on and was ultimately worth living, with glimmers of hope and love shining through the darkness. It may seem like a simple or quaint message, but it is one that Tezuka offers with grace and skill. It is no wonder that he is remembered as the “God of Manga”.

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