A Kyoto Station marker with a Tezuka touch
Tezuka Osamu was a relatively young 60 years old when he died, but his pop-cultural influence seems immortal in Japan. At Kyoto Station, in a city where the modern is usually kept at bay, Osamu’s futuristic legacy can be seen in spades.
This mural is much larger than it looks!
On this wall in Takaranobaba, there is a vast mural depicting Osamu’s beloved cadre of characters. They are literally and figuratively part of the landscape in Japan.
I haven’t been to this museum yet, for shame!
And in Takarazuka, there is even a museum dedicated to his work–I can think of only a few comic artists in the West (Such as Charles Shultz of Peanuts) who have been so recognized for their contributions to society. Let’s go over some of his most popular characters and themes and see what makes him tick.
Astro Boy (Tetsuan no Atomu)
“Wall-E” is an Astro Boy ripoff, too
Let’s start with arguably his most famous creation, Astro Boy. Known as Tetsuan no Atomu in Japan, this character does a reverse pinnochio. He starts off as a real boy, but is remade as an android after an accident. The American movie played nice with the human characters and made Astro largely oblivious to his own weird plight, but the actual story is nowhere near so soft. Atomu is rejected by the “father” who made him and forced to make his own way in the world, with no ending kum-ba-ya. Tetsuan no Atomu is a stirring commentary about what it is to be human or otherwise, drawn as a cute cartoon. The juxtaposition is deceptive but always interesting.
Cyborgs rocked way before Terminator
“Metropolis” is a perhaps lesser-known but no less stirring commentary about a cyborg girl in search of her parents, of whom she has memories but may not actually exist. Heady stuff, again drawn in an appealing style that almost counters the gravity of the subject matter. I can’t help but feel that Osamu’s focus on (non)human thoughts, feelings and basic rights in his series’ might have been an appeal to accept diversity wherever one finds it, but I’m no expert.
Why does popular manga spawn so many unrelated products?
Osamu’s uber-popular Black Jack, a doctor with scars of the body and heart, may be one of the first comic anti-heroes. What he does is not always ethical, even if the end does justify the means. Osamu got a medical degree but never practiced medicine–I guess this was his way of “playing doctor” while creating another complex character. Move over, Dr. House.
Phoenix (Hi no Tori)
The original Phoenix cover
And back at Kyoto Station, immortalized
Osamu always tackled big ideas, but I’ve read that he considered Phoenix his most important work. It’s one of those tomes that everybody hears about but that nobody I know (including myself!) has yet read, but now that it’s finally been translated into English, I think it’s about time. The story apparently spans hundreds of years and deals with death and rebirth over several cycles, no surprise given the title. His other epic work is “Buddha,” a serialized history of the Awakened One with some magic and mystery thrown in. Osamu wrote/drew so much and on so many topics that it’s impossible to recount them all here, but I do know one thing: I’ve been enriched by his work. Why don’t you see what all the fuss is about?