Osamu Tezuka, the God of Manga

  • Anime and manga have been around since the beginning of the early 20th century. Around Japan, titles such as Astro Boy and Black Jack are quite famous and are what some would consider to be the some of the pioneering anime and manga. These two also have a lot in common; the art style, the animation style, and the same author. Meet Osamu Tezuka, the God of Manga and Japan’s very own Walt Disney.

    Who is Osamu Tezuka?

    Osamu Tezuka was born amongst the three eldest children of Yutaka and Fumiko Tezuka. He was born on November 3, 1928 in Toyonaka (near Osaka) but soon moved to Takarazuka City in Hyogo, which was home to the famous Takarazuka Revue. This theatre later on had quite an impact when he was young since his mother used to take him to see their latest productions before he was old enough to go to school. Known for having an all-female cast, the costumes and set designs had a lasting impression on the future mangaka, thus some of his later works were aimed at young girls (shoujo genre). At a young age, Tezuka showed his passion for drawing and was so creative that his mother had to erase his older notebooks and re-use them just so that he would use them. As he was not an athletic child, he found solace in the arts and gained encouragement from his parents and teachers alike during a time when manga seemed to be just a waste of time.

    World War II in Japan

    When Osamu Tazuka was only 16 years old and still in high school, he was drafted into full-time military service as the war effort in Japan became frantic. While in service, he used every spare time he had to draw which was something that sparked the attention of his supervisors. He used to hide and draw in the washroom, drawing his manga on toilet paper. Nonetheless, the war had an impact on him as he never forgot the horrors of the firebombing of Osaka or the price of human suffering that war demands. Despite the war, Osamu Tezuka graduated from high school in March of 1945 and entered the Faculty of Medicine in July 1945 at Osaka University.

    The Beginning of his career
    A young Osamu Tezuka working

    Despite being in the medical field, it was during his days as a student when Osamu Tezuka started his manga career. During that time, a manga artist wasn’t a very rewarding job. It wasn’t long after entering university that Osamu Tezuka would slowly get his big breaks. Shortly after beginning his studies, a neighbour had introduced Tezuka to an Osaka-based newspaper, Mainichi Shinbun. An editor from that newspaper was impressed by Tezuka and had offered him to start trying to do 4-panel gag manga. This lead to his first published work, “The Diary of Ma-chan” in 1946.

    Later that year, Osamu Tezuka received an offer to work on a story concept developed by another artist established in Osaka by the name of Shichima Sakai. This was Tezuka’s first attempt at long-form story manga however among the 250 pages he originally drafted, only 190 made the cut and much of the storyline had to be changed since the lines were too complex for young readers to understand. Despite that, Tezuka kept working on his manga and in April 1947, “New Treasure Island” was published and quickly sold over 400,000 copies. This was the start of his manga career. Despite his love for manga, Osamu Tezuka graduated with his medical degree from Osaka University; the knowledge which he used to his advantage by using it in his sci-fi manga, Black Jack.

    The Birth of Mighty Atom (Astro Boy)

    It was in 1958 that his career in animation was starting to take flight. He was approached by the staff of Toei Animation, who had taken an interest in his manga, “Son-Goku the Monkey” and wanted to create an animated film. The film was later on released as “Saiyuki” in 1960 and was one of his first works to be animated. This started to let Tezuka focus in animation.

    In August of 1960, Osamu Tezuka constructed a small home/studio in the outskirts of Tokyo; and this was the birth of Mushi Productions. Slowly he began gathering young artists interested in animation and the first production that they began on was “Tales of the Street Corner” in 1962; wherein Osamu Tezuka paid for all the equipment and salaries with his own money. Later on, it became evident that Mushi Productions would not be able to survive without a target market and they had to compete with the likes of Walt Disney and Toei Animation. This gave Tezuka an idea to try and do something that has never been done for in Japan; a weekly television anime series. Hence, Astro Boy (known as Mighty Atom in Japan) was born which ran from 1963 to 1966.

    Later on, Osamu Tezuka had started on new animated television series like “Kimba, the White Lion” (known as Jungle Emperor in Japan). This new series debuted in 1965 and was his first work to be produced in colour and had a total of 52 episodes. His next major animation hit would be “Princess Knight” which ran from 1967 to 1968. “Princess Knight” had some setbacks since it was unsure whether the idea of a girl dressing as a boy would be well received. Despite this, Mushi Productions went ahead with the production and “Princess Knight” successfully made its debut on Fuji TV on April 1967 and had a total of 52 episodes. His other famous work, “Black Jack” would not come into production until 1973 and what was supposedly only a 5-week commission turned into a 5-year run of the series.

    “I’m begging you, please let me work!”
    Mauricio de Sousa and Osamu Tezuka


    On February 9, 1989, Osamu Tezuka passed away from stomach cancer in Tokyo, a few months shy of his 60th birthday. Surrounded by his close family and friends, his last words were “I’m begging you, please let me work!”. Despite his death, his works were still inspiring people like Hayao Miyazaki and Akira Toyama. Osamu Tezuka was a personal friend of Brazilian comic book artist, Mauricio de Sousa, who he met during a trip to Brazil. In the city where he grew up of Takarazuka, Hyogo, they opened a museum and was inaugurated on April 25, 1994. With this, it is definite that his legacy and works will be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

    Osamu Tezuka Website

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    *Featured Image: jp.fotolia.com/