The “god of manga” gets an epic biographical treatment in manga form in this historical look at his life by one of his former assistants.
Known for titles such as Astro Boy, Princess Knight, and Black Jack, Osamu Tezuka stands as one of the towering figures of the manga world. After his death in 1989, Tezuka-sensei’s life was chronicled in this intimate yet extensively researched manga portrayal by one of his former assistants, Toshio Ban. Chronicling his humble beginnings as a voracious drawer during his youth in the lead up to World War II all the way up to his career as a professional mangaka and animator with Tezuka Productions, this tome tells the essential story of the man who forever shaped the direction of manga.
How Was It?
I haven’t had the chance to read many of Tezuka’s works, but as a fan of the history of the manga industry, I’d certainly heard about his influence in shaping how the forms of storytelling developed in the medium. Despite being a little apprehensive I would be getting into a relatively dry historical treatment of the early manga industry, I jumped at the chance to read about Tezuka’s life regardless hoping to gain a further appreciation for a famous icon. I’m so glad I did - I was absolutely blown away by this tome (and make no mistake, at 900 pages, this is definitely a tome) for the way that managed to make a methodically researched retelling of Tezuka-sensei’s life so readable and genuinely entertaining. This is a lovingly told story that pays clear attention to the presenting the bigger moments in Tezuka-sensei’s life in context to the changing landscape of Japan, but this story also captivated me because of the way it portrays the littler moments which had an influence on shaping Tezuka’s stories. This is an incredibly lengthy telling of Tezuka's story that may wear down some, but anyone who has a love for history will definitely appreciate the sheer amount of detail included within and the whimsy with which it is conveyed.
The Osamu Tezuka Story is depicted quite appropriately in a style the mirrors Tezuka-sensei’s manga in design and in its eminent readability, and this is one of the strongest aspects of the book. The narration is handled by one of Tezuka-sensei’s earliest characters, Shunsaku Ban, or Mustachio, who is a stand-in for Ban-sensei to provide a throughline of information and interesting little asides as this biography proceeds. The book is split into three parts: the first shows Tezuka’s formative years in school in pre-WWII Japan before showcasing his wartime experience, the second depicting his breakthrough in the manga industry, and the third illustrating him later in life as he broke into the world of animation. The tone is undoubtedly one of reverence for Tezuka-sensei, but this never becomes a problem and even feels somewhat appropriate due to the way that the art and story help to make this story larger than life in taking it beyond a dry historical treatment. The translation is smooth and fluid, and it definitely bears mentioning that it is provided by Frederik L. Schodt, who was an interpreter for Tezuka-sensei during his lifetime.
One of the strongest aspects of this story is the way that it carefully explores the factors and interests that influenced Tezuka’s work in a comprehensive but accessible manner. This begins with the depiction of Tezuka-sensei’s childhood as he goes through school, showing his early fascination with bugs, space, and creating manga in general. This could have felt more abstract in another depiction, but what makes Ban-sensei’s telling of this story so strong is the way that he puts all of these events in context by interspersing quotes from Tezuka-sensei’s later works to explain what we are seeing, as well as actually showing panels of Tezuka-sensei’s manga to help illustrate. This was incredibly helpful, and I felt that made it extremely easy to follow the impact that smaller events would have on Tezuka-sensei’s development. An example of the many interesting explorations of Tezuka-sensei’s influences is the depiction of childhood fascination with theatre and Takarazuka musicals, and this is one among many of the formative experiences detailed as Tezuka grows up, establishes himself as a manga artist with responsibilities such as managing his assistants before later breaking into annimation. I absolutely loved how in this example it is immediately detailed how this would later inspire him in his create of famous manga series Princess Knight, and this was typical of the way that his experiences are placed in context. Watching these littler moments play out is one of the most gratifying parts of this story, and I was definitely impressed by how fluid this telling was because of this reliance on the art and dialogue to do the storytelling.
The historical context of Tezuka-sensei’s story is not lost either, and I was particularly fascinated by the way Tezuka-sensei’s life is shown with the backdrop of World War II as well as other historical events as the story proceeds, and again this is given further context using quotes from his manga. For example, we see a young Tezuka witnessing the aftermath of a the firebombing of civilians hiding under a bridge during World War II before having the effect of this moment powerfully explicated by quotations from his later works. As you would expect, we also see the development of the larger manga and anime industry through Tezuka’s perspective - for example, we see how Tezuka somewhat inadvertently popularized the long form “story manga” in book form with the publication of The New Treasure Island. This continues onward all throughout the book, and I definitely enjoyed getting a bit of a history lesson about the context surrounding Tezuka-sensei's work. There are also copious footnotes which are incredibly helpful in explaining events further, and these are all meticulously detailed in an appendix at the back of the book.
The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime is essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the history of these mediums or of Tezuka’s works. More than that, this book is a genuinely fascinating and entertaining read because of the way that constructs a lively historical narrative of Tezuka’s life while never forgetting to show the context of each and every event in shaping his manga. I also enjoyed that this story embraces both the highs of Tezuka’s successes as well as some of his low moments both personally (especially with his experiences during the War) and professionally (such as the bankruptcy of Mushi Productions) while maintaining a charmingly light-hearted and humourous approach. Making history fun isn't always easy, but The Osamu Tezuka Story makes reading about one of the towering figures of manga a delight.
The Osamu Tezuka Story - A Life in Manga and Anime was translated by Frederik L. Schodt and published by Stone Bridge Press on July 12th, 2016. Authored by Toshio Ban and Tezuka Productions, and was serialized in magazine from 1989-1992.
Date of Publication: July 12th, 2016
Translator: Frederik L. Schodt
Author: Toshio Ban
Publisher: Stone Bridge Press