Originally published in The Phoenix papers (2017), hosted by Fandom and Neomedia Studies in conjunction with A-kon Dallas.
Walt Disney’s famous motion picture cartoons, that bounced around to jovial tunes and sang and danced their way across the television screen into the hearts of millions of Americans, did not just cater to the Western market. Disney’s early films were seen and loved by well-off individuals in Europe and Asia as well, including Japan. A boy, who grew up to become just as famous a man as Disney in his own cinematic history, was one such privileged individual. Tezuka Osamu (1928-1989), influenced by his own cultural heritage in Japanese art, was moved by what he saw in Walt Disney, Charlie Chaplin, and other movie stars of the early years preceding World War II. Through these media sources, he was motivated to develop his own media of choice. By these actions, Tezuka Osamu was able to influence the development of the Japanese cartooning methodology, anime and manga, to what it is today.
Manga was not a new invention of the twentieth century. Hokusai Katsushika (1760-1849), most famously known for his works in ukiyo-e woodblock prints, created a series of works, volumes, that he titled Manga or “sketches” in Japanese1. These works showed body movement and the daily life of common individuals such as bathers, sumo wrestlers, and working men. Even at that, Hokusai’s manga was not necessarily a new phenomenon. There are several emakimono, ink on hand scrolls, from the twelfth and thirteenth century that depict movement and action of creatures in simplified forms. A rather famously cited emakimono that shows animated, even cartoonish, movement is the Choju Jinbutsi Giga2. This scroll depicts the Buddha, Buddhist priests and practitioners, and other individuals as animals in energetic poses and interactions.
Ukiyo-e prints and kusazoshi, quite popular from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, depicted a variety of scenes of daily life, folklore, explicit shunga, landscapes and portraits. The ukiyo-e images could be bought separately or in “books” and were often pieces to stories3. They were used almost like magazines today. They also worked, to some degree as an equalizer between classes. The Yoshiwara district of the floating world or ukiyo, was primarily designed as a pleasure district for those who could afford it. Typically merchants, the lowest class, had the most money and spent quite a bit of it there. Other classes could go and see it, if they could pay the fees or if they were even allowed to travel. The ukiyo-e prints provided those who wanted mementos of their visit with a small decorative token, and even acted as a souvenir or a daydream to those who could not visit.
Kusazoshi were also illustrated, published, and distributed in the same manner as the ukiyo-e prints, but were typically stories targeted towards children and those who could not read extensive amounts of kanji. They were often written extensively in hiragana. There were a few different variations of kusazoshi: kibyoshi4, ao-hon5, kuro-hon6, and aka-hon7. These illustrated children’s books, kabuki-play based stories, ghost stories, and some adult content were usable for many levels of society, with a high literacy rate amongst Japan’s population. They were cheaply made and cheaply distributed8. However, to think about it, these were children’s books created in the seventeenth century onward. Most of Europe at that time had not develop extensive enjoyment based children’s literature, instead keeping their texts to moral development with a thin spattering of woodblock illustrations9.
At first ukiyo-e sheets were used as collectible items. It became a booming niche market for decorations though after Edo burned during the Furisode Fire in the mid seventeenth century10. People recreated their houses after the fire and needed a cheap way of decorating. These woodblock prints met that need.
The ukiyo-e sheets, in the later part of the nineteenth century lost their value as decorative and collectable art though and were used as wrapping paper for shipment of goods. With the advent of Commodore Perry and the opening of Japan to Western trade, many goods entered the West shortly after into the Japonisme fad-market that sprang up. Often, Western artists would collect the discarded scraps and utilize the pieces as either art for themselves, or as models for new styles. Van Gogh, Dega, Matis, even Monet and Toulouse-Lautrec, all quite famous for the development of new art styles, specifically Impressionism, were all greatly influenced by the Japanese woodblock prints11. Hokusai’s Manga were also quite popular amongst the Impressionist artists. This was the first true introduction of Japanese art to Europe.
The prints faded out with the deaths of the most prominent ukiyo-e contributing artists. Hokusai Katsushika(1760-1849), Utamaro Kitagawa(1753-1806), Hiroshige Utagawa(1795-1858), and Kyosai Kawanabe (1831-1889) were just a few of the last such artists. The images of these stories were being replaced through poster design, political cartooning, and improved printing techniques that made the woodblock prints into an old style art form that took too much time and money to create for the worth that it was valued at for public distribution12.
The story lines were changing. It became popular for individuals to create beautiful images in storyboard form to sell to people who would then go out to the cities and tell stories to the people who would gather. A predecessor in Japan to the development of animé – the French word for animation that was adapted by the Japanese, was manga kamishibai. Anime is the animated and televised version of manga. “Kamishibai were picture stories enacted by itinerant storytellers with illustrated boards set in a Punch-and-Judy-like state.13” Kamishibai is thought to have shown up in and around Tokyo in the early 1930s14. Storytellers and their art helped to set up the prominent anime and manga dialogues and genres of the twentieth century, such as action and adventure, superheroes, the supernatural, war, and science fiction stories. Kamishibai storytellers kept audiences entertained throughout the depression era and during World War II. There are several manga artists and figures that became prominent due to initial works in the kamishibai field, such as Takeo Nagamatsu, Sanpei Shirato, Shigeru Mizuki, and Kazuo Koike15. These artists and storytellers may or may not have been seen by Tezuka Osamu in his early childhood years, but the artistic impact of their works helped the field in which Tezuka would participate. He was in his late childhood to mid teenage years during the depression and World War II, the same time period that kamishibai was in vogue. The reason he may not have seen these were two-fold, he did not live directly in Tokyo and the Japanese government set up a policy to take down the kamishibai artists and storytellers due to their determination that “amusements for the masses are debasing themselves to the lowest common denominator…16”as the Home Ministry stated in 1937. The Ministry did not end up taking kamishibai entirely out of the picture so to speak, but instead revamped it. They had the artwork and the storytellers portray stories of courage and valor on the home front and created propaganda that hid the war crime atrocities and provided morally boosting stories of people’s self-sacrifice during that trying time17.
Tezuka Osamu was born in Toyonaka, Osaka to Tezuka Fumiko and Yutaka. He had a younger sister, Minako, and a younger brother, Hiroshi. He had an extensive, prodigious family line, with several doctors, a lawyer, and many military individuals – all to become later inspirations in Tezuka’s manga and anime18.
Tezuka’s parents were rather well-off individuals. His father enjoyed photography, and his mother loved the theater. They both also found comic books and movies to be fascinating, accumulating quite a collection for their time. They purchased a foreign film projector and movies to show to family and friends. They went out to see the acting theater and the movie theater, where Tezuka grew to enjoy Disney films. His mother was an ardent storyteller and musician, again influencing Tezuka’s life and career.
They moved to Takarazuka during his childhood, where his mother often took them to see plays performed at the Takarazuka Grand Theater19. The Takarazuka Revue was renowned for being a full female acting cast, in comparison to Kabuki theaters of the same time period that were full male acting casts. Kabuki initially was a mixed cast, but was banned from using female actresses to keep moral order less than thirty years after the initial development of its known theatrical form in the seventeenth century, the same time frame that Ukiyo-e started to become popular. The Revue and Grand Theater were established in 1913 by the Hankyu Railway as a way to draw tourism into the Takarazuka area. The Takarazuka Revue often portrayed lavish Western style plays, such as Pinocchio which Tezuka is said to have seen multiple times and influenced the storyline of Mighty Atom.
Tezuka, with his family’s penchant for movie theaters and film, was introduced to many early animations and live action films. Animé saw its beginning with very short animated illustrations in the beginning of the 20th centuries with Humorous Phases of Funny Faces by Stuart Blackton in 1906, Fantasmagorie by Émile Cohl in 1908, and Little Nemo by Winsor McCay in 1911. Tezuka though was born during the same time frame that Walt Disney produced Steamboat Willie. By that point animation had been able to develop longer stretches of film time. Japan kept up with these new innovations, producing their own animations in the early 20th century too. Namakura Gatana of 1917, Kobu-tori of 1929, and Oira no Yaku of 1931 are all good examples of early Japanese animation prior to Tezuka’s involvement in the industry20. Animated films that Tezuka is known to to have seen in the early animation years produced in Japan include Norakuro of 1933 and Tako no Hone of 192721. Due to the firebombings during World War II, many Japanese animations and films were lost. Some movies can only be assumed to have been seen by Tezuka, but there is little proof of all that he had seen or read in his lifetime.
His life took him on two different paths. His family insisted on a progressive education for his siblings and himself. The children were all enrolled in co-ed schooling22. They all were provided accommodations and encouragement for their many interests in an effort to develop themselves as not just contributing members of society but as intellectual, upright individuals that could think outside of an antiquated, rigid, crumbling political and social structure. His parents encouraged the children to read challenging books, Tezuka read Crime and Punishment multiple times as a child and enjoyed Russian literature immensely23.
As children, he and his siblings drew and doodled quite often. They drew inspirations they received from their father and mother, and their surroundings. Some of these drawings, preserved with the family, depicted military and war material that they may have seen or heard about. Tezuka is renowned for his artistic documentation of insects and bugs as a child24. Many of his early drawings, though, were based off of comic strips, Disney animations and comics, and proto-graphic novels. Some of these proto-graphic novels were European and American cartoon books, such as Milt Gross’s He Done Her Wrong (1930). That particular cartoon was a “parody” on Lynd Ward’s Gods’ Man (1929)25, who was influenced by an early woodblock print novelist, Frans Marsereel and his work on Passionate Journey (1919).
The other congruent path that Tezuka took began when he became horribly ill working in a school factory in Osaka producing asbestos panels. His arms swelled up like balloons from a bad infection. He spent a long time in the hospital. Due to the difficulties he faced during this time, he took a great interest in the doctors, the staff, and the proceedings that took place during his hospital stay. He would later attend medical school and gain his degree in medicine to be a practicing physician. He became proficient at detailed depictions of medical dissections, cells, and instrumentation, as seen in his manga Black Jack. He never really did much in his field of study, though he did publish a paper on Spermatogenesis in Animals as Revealed by Electron Microscopy26, also translated as A Microscopic Study of the Membrane Structure of Heterotypic Spermtids27.
Tezuka, during his lifetime, drew “over one hundred and fifty thousand pages of comics and created five hundred different works, populated by over one thousand highly individualistic characters.28” He made his debut in 1946 with Ma-chan no Nikkicho(The Diary of Ma-Chan) which was a small comic strip of four panels seen in Mainichi Shogakusei Shinbun29. Quite a few of his early published manga were distributed in aka-hon as one shot stories. He continued to produce works until his death in 1989 shortly after the Showa Emperor died. He left many stories unfinished, some of which his staff has taken on to produce, but most have been left as is30.
In Tezuka’s early published cartoons, during the occupation years, he had to adhere to the occupying force’s strict guidelines on what he could and could not publish. This was to keep art that reached the masses from possibly inciting riots, protest, and other potential violent acts towards the American occupying troops. These images included most forms of war, violence, and some cultural aspects, such as martial arts, swordplay, and the samurai class display. When the occupation ended, these would all become very popular topics for many manga artists.
New Treasure Island, A Man from Mars, and Lost World were all popular long story early creations of Tezuka. These special manga by Tezuka diverged from the usual path of early 20th century manga – which used to typically be a stylized version of American comic books before the war and during the occupation. These new and different manga bring the action into focus and manipulation through cinematic frame shots similar to scenes in movies where pan, close-ups, splices, fades, and rotations help with the movement and dynamic portrayals in the story. These styles of film depiction were actually unprecedented in Japan right before these novels hit market.
During the war, Japan had banned the import of European or American films and comic books which were advancing in their imagery and camera action frames. Japan created their own movies and propaganda with early film styles that kept to the stage acting from Europe and America. This pre-war methodology restricted special effects obtained from camera movement. Society within Japan became used to the type of cinematic methodology they were allowed to participate with. When provided with the new stylizations coming in from Europe and America, people became entranced with the dynamic styles. They wanted more and Tezuka filled that niche with his manga style. This thrilled the reader as the story came to life and they were thrown into the midst of the action, rather than watching objectively from the sidelines31.
Working the manga venue helped in Tezuka’s funding for his medical school degree. He would draw for several different companies to receive small payments during his school career. The irony here is two-fold. Firstly, he spent most of his time creating manga to go to medical school, which overlapped his study time, creating for a very busy, stressed Tezuka. The second part to the ironic situation was that when he was in class, though taking notes, he was often working on creating new characters and more manga. He was working to work. A professor once informed Tezuka, after seeing his work, that he should “become a cartoonist, so as not to end up killing his patients from malpractice.32”
His most famous work, starting as a manga, and his introduction to mass production televised series anime, was Tetsuwan Atomu – Astro Boy, Mighty Atom, Captain Atom, Ambassador Atom – it was given many different translated titles. This was one of the first serialized animations from Japan that worked with Tezuka’s eight rules of animation. It was also the first serialized Japanese animation by Tezuka to be dubbed into English and shown to an American audience in the 1960s. The manga of Tetsuwan Atomu took on various lives with diverging paths and story arcs. Astro Boy was not even referred to as Tetsuwan Atomu initially. It was first called Atomu Taishi (General Atom)33.
Mighty Atom was not his first animation though. He had several shorts prior to Mighty Atom. Mighty Atom was just his first, and Japan’s first, televised, serialized animation. A remarkable piece that Tezuka brought out prior to the production of the serialized Mighty Atom was Aru Machikado no Monogatari (Story of a Certain Street Corner, 1962) to showcase what his newly founded Tezuka Osamu Production, established in 1961, later renamed Mushi Productions in 1962, could create. The style is reminiscent of early Hanna Barbera or even Leon Schlesinger Productions – later to be sold and renamed Warner Brothers Cartoons. Within the film during a scene with internationally influenced animated posters, between seconds 8:19 and 8:20 is a reference to ukiyo-e by Tezuka. The poster featured is the famous print by Tōshūsai Sharaku: A Samurai’s Manservant produced in 1794. This shows that Tezuka was at least aware of the historical Japanese art form Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, even though his fixation was more towards modern cartoons and modern film media.
It also reflects of the social and cultural influence of war on him during the span of 28:18 to almost the end of the film. Posters are torn down and replaced with a scheming blue man and mustache presenting something reminiscent of the Nazi salute. Posters that were not torn down had items exchanged for military paraphernalia that exhibited death heads. It is possible to assume this section of the movie reflects World War II, though the Korean War had just ended in 1953, the Vietnam war in 1961 had just started not too many months before the production of this movie, and the Sino-Indian War in was just beginning in 1962. The recent wars could have potentially, subconsciously prompted Tezuka to take the story in the direction he did in Story of a Certain Street Corner.
To diverge from Tezuka’s experimental art animation Story of a Certain Street Corner, one must look to the man’s revolutionary work in establishing the televised serialization of anime based on his prior manga work with his big hit, Mighty Atom. The story line of Atomu Taishi reflects influences of World War II on Tezuka like Story of a Certain Street Corner. The context of the storyline was such: space people and Earth people, living on a planet similar to Earth, approached a time of war when food and resources were scarce and the two peoples were blaming each other. The scientist, who designed and built Atom in the manga, lost his son during the feuds. He decided to create a replacement robotic son, but was infuriated when he discovered that his mechanical son could not grow up, there by selling him to the circus. Tenma, the scientist, also created a weapon to be used against the space people. Atom, who later on learns of his father’s contemptuous ways, goes about trying to moderate and negotiate between the two warring factions in an effort to kept the world from being destroyed34.
The initial set up on Tetsuwan Atomu, design, and story line exhibit the deep influence that war had on Tezuka during his childhood. It also reveals Tezuka’s moralistic side that tends to bleed through most if not all of his manga and anime. He looks for ways in his animations and manga to show a soft side, to provide hope and amusement to his reader, whether the topic is serious or humorous. The use of Tezuka’s eight rules of animation and his almost factory-like production team, helped to create Tetsuwan Atomu cheaply and quickly, which helped the series run for as long as it did. The cost of production was made palatable by virtue of contracting with a local, large candy company to help sponsor the production company and create merchandise. He made it acceptable practice for companies to sponsor animation studios, and to establish a merchandising routine with those companies. This made it necessary to standardize characters – to keep a character’s features relatively the same throughout the course of a series
He was also able to sell the series to an American company who named the series Astro Boy and dubbed it into English. The American company was then able to edit material and text within the episodes to better cater to their own audiences who came to love Astro Boy just as much as Speed Racer, Josie and the Pussy Cats and Johnny Quest.
In his development of mass production anime, Tezuka had to create a fast, cheap way to publish his works. Tezuka’s eight rules of animation revolutionized the production of animation and made the process much more affordable, exactly what he and many other artists were looking for. This method is described by Frederick Schodt35 in The Astro Boy Essays. Schodt is also cited by both Natsu Power and Helen McCarthy in their respective books on Tezuka Osamu, which indicates just how famous this concept is:
- Shooting three frames of film for every drawing instead of one or two to create the illusion of fluid movement.
- Using only one drawing in a tome, or “still” shot, when shooting close-ups of a character’s face.
- Zooming in or out on face shots or physically sliding a single drawing under the camera to create the illusion of movement with a single drawing.
- Shooting a single short sequence of animated drawings and then repeating it again and again while sliding the background image. This was particularly useful for repetitive movements like walking or running. Six or twelve drawings could thus be used to show a movement as long as necessary.
- When a character moves an arm or leg, animating only that portion and shooting the rest from one drawing.
- Animating the mouth alone (rather than using full animation synchronized to the sound) and abbreviating the drawings used, showing only a fully open mouth, a shut mouth, and a partially open mouth to represent characters speaking.
- Creating a “bank system” of images to save on the total number of drawings, allowing reuse of the same drawings in different situations.
- Using more short takes in place of single long takes that usually required more movement.
As mentioned before, Tezuka was able to revolutionize the process of both animation and manga production. His factory system, using the “banking system” and “star system” helped to coordinate with apprentices and other artists to create vast amounts of pages for the mangas. He would write down on his pages what type of background was needed, who and what should be in the shot, the text for wording, and such other items. The “factory artists” working on the page would then be able to find the correct frame, background, imagery, and personnel to fill in the scenes. Tezuka was known to fill in the images with his main characters and to ink the eyes before handing the pages off to be finished by the other individuals working for him. This is what is meant by the factory system.
Tezuka’s works reached out to multiple generations, some grew up with Tezuka, some only learned about his works after he passed away. His moral overtones and anti-war friendly sentiments portrayed throughout his stories reflected his learning from World War II and Walt Disney’s influences36. His artistic style derived from his passion for movies and theatrical performances he, as a child, enjoyed with his family. His knowledge of medicine, law, and other such facts that he gained from both his relatives and his own education pop up again and again in his works. His imagination for stories that wrap a reader up in fantastic adventures was all his own. Though some say that he was just a man who helped to create the “factory anime/factory manga” he is truly a man to be revered. The amount of his works and contributions to the world of anime and manga contribute to his title, The God of Comics.
Tezuka was regarded as the Disney of Japan. He had seen, by the time Japan shut down importation of Western media during World War II, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Bambi. Tezuka had also been privileged to see many of the early Mickey Mouse shorts. All of these movies and shorts created by Walt Disney exhibited flat black and white round or oval eyes, geometrically based features, and an overly detailed background. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) was a revolutionary full length animation for its time, being executed in full color, with a special artistic manner of moving through frames and scenes as though it existed in a three dimensional world that a camera could zoom in and out of and pan around in at will.
Disney also consistently portrayed his three most famous stars, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy in different roles throughout their careers, staring them as detectives and traveling performers, children and teenagers, etc. They were more obvious than Tezuka Osamu’s star system usage by far, but they were anamorphic creatures, not characters designed to resemble humans. Tezuka actually took characters, outfitted them in new trappings and presented them with a new name and entity in his films, often later citing an “actor” or “actress” of his staring in his films. He treated his cartoon characters as that of Hollywood actors and actresses, keying into payments and personality types, even keeping resume like lists of his characters to show what they had played in and their typical moral role that they were suited for in possible other films. This can be seen with his actors such as Ken’ichi from Mighty atom and Monster on the 38th Parallel and Rock Holmes from Detective Boy Rock Holmes and Buddha who both played parts in Metropolis.
A famous debate in the cartoon world is whether Disney Production Company, after the death of Disney, outright stole Tezuka Osamu’s idea of Kimba the Jungle Emperor to utilize in its own film The Lion King. Both characters lost their fathers early on in life. Simba runs away and grows up in the forest, afraid because he is convinced that his actions led to the death of his father. Kimba and his mother are attacked by poachers and he escapes to grow up in the forest alone. Both Simba and Kimba’s throne is taken over by an evil adult lion, in Kimba the Jungle Emperor the role is played by Claw who is missing an eye, whereas the character in The Lion King is played by Scar who has a scar across one of his eyes. The evil adult lions are normally helped out by hyenas. Simba and Kimba are both helped out by a monkey and a bird. Kimba was featured in America during the 1960s as a Saturday cartoon favorite for many children. Though there are similarities seen throughout both films, Disney Production Company claims originality, and Tezuka Osamu’s company backs up that claim, stating that “If Disney took hints from the Jungle Emperor, our founder, the late Osamu Tezuka, would be very pleased by it.37”
Thanks to the influence of Disney animation, Tezuka Osamu was able to learn and observe at an early age how to develop character appeal and story lines that, though relatively generic now days, were able to captivate and hold audiences’ attention. He utilized Disney’s simplistic geometric base system that all of his hand drawn characters were established on – rectangles, circles, squares, ellipses.
He utilized his knowledge, historic and artistic influences, the social and cultural influences of war and the Occupation. Tezuka managed to make his characters, his “star system,” and his eight rules of animation his own development and concept outside of Western influence by incorporating themes and ideas that were taking place in Japan and during his lifetime. He took the best of both worlds and developed an accessible art form that still spans social, economic, and cultural lines. It reflects his history and his wishes for the future.
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I am a writer and artist working through the Kavordian Library series. I write sci-fi, fantasy, lgbt romance.