Japan's greatest and most influential cultural export to the world, without any doubt, is anime and manga, but it wouldn't exist without one particular man - Osamu Tezuka, the legendary modern artist known throughout Japan. Tezuka is nicknamed the "God of Manga" and it is a title befitting of a man on equal standing with the world's other great illustrators and animators. He died of stomach cancer on February 9, 1989, in Toyko. His last words were: "I'm begging you, let me work!", speaking to a nurse who had tried to take away his drawing equipment.
An Introduction to his life
Osamu Tezuka was born the eldest son of three children on November 3, 1928, in Toyonaka City, Osaka. He was exposed to the world of animation and manga at a young age. He created more than 700 manga titles, and drew more than 150,000 pages of manga in his lifetime, and touched on every single style and genre. He wrote for every age-group, from young children to mature audience, and single-handedly created the majority of the genres and character-types we see in manga and anime today. Around his fifth year of schooling, he found a ground beetle, known as "Osamushi" in Japanese. It so resembled his own name that he adopted "Osamushi" as his pen name.
Tezuka amazed all with his attention to detail and drawing abilities, and some teachers were so impressed that they nurtured his talents through the difficult years of World War II. In 1944, when all students were required to leave school and join the war effort by working in factories, Tezuka would draw manga and leave it in the toilets for other workers to read.
Tezuka continued to develop his manga skills throughout his school career. He aimed to become a physician after he developed an intense understanding of the preciousness of life from his experience during World War II. He earned his licence as a physician but ultimately chose the profession he loved best: manga artist and animated film writer.
The Tezuka Award, which is named after him, awards new manga artist in the Story Manga category.
Career as a Manga Artist
During the war, he realized that he could use manga as a means to help convince the world to care for the world. After the war, at the age of 17, he published his first professional work, Diary of Ma-chan, which was serialized in the elementary school children's newspaper Shokokumin Shinbun in early 1946.
He then went on to create the manga, Shin Takarajima (New Treasure Island) which became an overnight success, which brought about the golden age of manga.
Tezuka was instrumental in developing (if not downright creating) almost every genre of manga possible. Although he is probably best-known for his shōnen (young boys) manga works such as Astro Boy (1952-68), and Jungle Emperor (1950-54), he was equally comfortable in working on shōjo (young girls) manga stories such as Princess Knight (1953-56) and Queen Eggplant (1954-55). Never one to rest on the laurels of his past success, Tezuka was constantly seeking to reinvent himself and find new ways to entertain his audience. This meant branching out into new areas, such as the cutting-edge and avant-garde series Phoenix (1967-88), and his seinen (young men) social commentaries such as Swallowing the Earth (1968-69), and Ayako (1972-73).
Tezuka also explored social issues such as sexual education for young people through manga series such as Apollo’s Song (1970), Yakeppachi’s Maria (1970) and Marvelous Melmo (1970-72). He crafted, out of nothing, the sub-genre of “medical thriller” with manga series such as Black Jack (1973-83). He also added significantly to that of “historical super-natural thriller” with the samurai period piece Dororo (1967-69).
In 1961, Tezuka entered the animation industry in Japan by founding the production company Mushi Productions as a rival of 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(1965-66), the first Japanese animated series produced in full colour. His other works include Princess Knight(1967-68), Undersea Super-train: Marine Express (1979), Bagi, the Monster of Mighty Nature (1984), and numerous original animation videos and animated pilots. Tezuka stepped down as acting director of Mushi Productions in 1968 and founded a new animation studio, Tezuka Productions, and continued experimenting with animation late into his life.
Over the course of his career, Tezuka also delved into animation for more adult audiences with his animated films, such as A Thousand and One Nights (1969) as well as award-winning experimental animated shorts, such as Jumping (1984). In fact, he was still working on animated projects, such as the unfinished The Legend of the Forest (1987) right up to his death, and re-imaginings of his works, such as the popular Metropolis (2001) have survived him and continue to this very day.
Although Osamu Tezuka got his beginnings as a manga artist, in some ways it can be seen as a means to an end – and that being animation. Tezuka himself has been famously quoted as saying that while the manga was his “wife”, the animation was his “mistress”, and one that he simply could not stop himself from returning to.
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. His style of cinematic action translated into his unprecedented use of action in his manga illustrations, a technique that became a fundamental part of manga storytelling.
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.
Tezuka's enduring theme that of the preciousness of life formed the core of all of his work. He pioneered a great cultural asset with enduring passion in his work and consistent view of the future and lived out his entire life tirelessly pursuing his efforts. He was pivotal and a huge inspiration for all manga artists that came after him.