Dr. Osamu Tezuka: Legend.
by Brian Cirulnick
"Walt Disney of Japan", "God of Comics", "A Legend in his Own Time". Many of these phrases will forever be used to describe Dr. Tezuka, but mere words cannot even begin to describe his work, or how it changed an industry, or even the incredible wealth of material produced by this one man. As I began to research this article, friends sent me copies of magazines that attempted to detail his works, and among them, I discovered that the more I learned about him, the more I realized how little I knew. This single person output more Manga than can be detailed in these pages. The sheer volume of his works could fill several warehouses. There are those much more qualified to explain his Manga history, and I will leave that task to them, and instead, I will concentrate on his animation career.
Osamu Tezuka was born 1926 in Osaka, Japan, the son of a doctor. According to Tezuka: "My career as an animator began when at the age of 4 I copied a picture of Popeye. My house was full of comics when I was a schoolboy. Because we were able to obtain a projector and several films, I was able to see Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, Chaplin, and Oswald Rabbit at home. When in the third grade in primary school, I drew comics in my notebook, which was immediately taken away by the teacher. Later, however, he encouraged me with praise....." The then still young Tezuka was heavily influenced by Disney and especially the Max Fleischer cartoons of the period. The early 1930's character designs coming out of the New York based Max Fleischer studio featured round heads, and large round expressive eyes. ________________________________________
While studying to enter the medical practice, following in the footsteps of his father, he also conceptualized and then published several Manga, most notably Tetsuwan Atom (Mighty Atom), the story about a robot boy invented by a man who lost his own son. Like Pinnochio, the robot wishes he were human. His art style was fully formed, the characters were appealingly designed, the story well written, and rife with subplots, intrigue, and danger for the little robot. Tetsuwan Atom was an instant hit, and made Osamu Tezuka's name a household word. Suddenly the manga industry was reborn. Before, comics were not widely read, but Tetsuwan Atom spread far and wide, engulfing all walks of life in Japan.
In 1957 Toei Animation was formed as a subpart of Toei Productions, currently the largest film company in Japan, with the goal of producing animated feature films. Tezuka, currently the country's most popular cartoonist, was contracted to direct one of their first feature length productions, Monkey King (seen in the U.S. as Alakazam the Great). Though a large success within Japan, the film was panned by critics in the U.S., although many admit that it was the poor quality of the translation that ruined it. The year after Toei Animation opened it's doors, Osamu Tezuka became Dr. Tezuka, when he received a doctorate in human anatomy in 1958.
In 1962, his contract with Toei expired, and he set out to form his own company, Mushi Productions, which at first, seemed like a move to put him in direct competetion with his former employer. This was not so. Dr. Tezuka saw the rapidly expanding technology of television as his future. He predicted that the best way to reach a larger auidence than the movies was through the black and white box that sat in any and every home that could afford one. He also decided that his first made for T.V. animation would be based on his number one best selling Manga, Tetsuwan Atom.
This was a rapid departure from the norm, and in effect, changed almost all Japanese animation from that point on. Dr. Tezuka's drive, vision, and determination brought about a new concept to the then young Japanese television industry. The...