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Mumbling Kitsune: Tezuka's Greatest Manga, Part One
Tezuka's grand library of manga will soon be available online for free. What should you read?
By Nadia Oxford
November 10, 2008
© Viz Media
The anime and manga community is always receiving interesting news, because anime and manga is just that fun and exciting. And on November 4th 2008, the Anime News Network reported a bit of news that is, to quote Homer, better than ten Superbowls: Osamu Tezuka's enormous anime and manga library will be made available on the Internet by Tezuka Productions—for free.
The massive project will span three years and will be available in Japanese, Korean and (hooray) English. Japan has launched their tribute: the Korean and English counterparts will follow at an undisclosed date.
The creation of the digital library is meant to celebrate the 80th birthday of Tezuka. Even manga non-fans are familiar with some of Tezuka's work; everyone has watched the Astro Boy anime at some pivotal point in their childhoods. Every comic and animation enthusiast should take advantage of this fantastic opportunity once it arrives. Then your children, then your children's children.
Of course, that might be easier said than done. Tezuka produced a mountain of manga and anime in his wake and the vast majority of it is worth a thorough read. Cutting anything from a list of Tezuka must-reads is like paring down a list of the bare essentials a man needs to survive.
Tezuka was driven by an unearthly passion to deliver a message badly needed by Japan, which was recovering from the devastation of World War II. But because Tezuka's creativity gestated during one of the country's darkest eras, his endings were rarely happy.
That said, here are ten of Tezuka's best works that must be tackled once the English project is live. Ten to six will be listed this week, and next week will count down the rest. Your mission is clear.
10) Unico – Tezuka's adorable Disney-inspired art style might fool readers into thinking they're in for sunshine and candy, but even adorable little Unico has a dark backdrop. Unico likes to spread happiness to others, but the gods aren't happy about people being able to achieve joy through anything but sacrifice and hard work (gods can be real kill-joys). Unico is essentially a bright-eyed fugitive, running from the wrath of the gods and having his memory wiped clean every time he's forced to relocate. Unico isn't as familiar to twenty-somethings as Astro Boy, but a significant portion of '80s children still cherish the dubs of Unico's animated movies: The Fantastic Adventures of Unico and Unico in the Island of Magic.
9) Jungle Emperor Leo (Kimba the White Lion) – You're probably not old enough to remember a certain theme song about a white lion who lives down in deep-est dark-est Af-ri-ca, but Kimba the White Lion was a huge hit with our parents (yes, the same parents who tend to be a bit frightened and confused by the likes of Pikachu...but who can blame them). Kimba, called Leo in his native Japan, the King of the Jungle begins life born in captivity and escapes to find and rule his homeland. The manga and anime carry themes about the importance of the environment and peaceful co-existence. By now the whole world knows about certain similarities between Kimba and a certain Disney lion cub, so there's no need to bring up the controversy all over again. That said, if Disney really was inspired by Tezuka's work, the company could certainly have done a lot worse.
8) Apollo's Song – Japan has a special talent for applying the cuddliest and goofiest of aesthetics to movies and books about bodily functions and desires. Love is a head-flipping emotion that would drive us to tear our own hearts out and eat them if not for our rib cages. Tezuka's attempt at explaining love and sex is far, far stranger than that bit of imagery. <a href=”http://joglikescomics.blogspot.com/2007/07/gods-learned-burlesque.html”>Jog The Blog</a> has written a beautiful review of this manga, which stars a sexually confused boy named Shogo who needs a dire lesson about the power of love. Shogo is not “sexually confused” as in he's unsure about his orientation; rather, he walks in on his mother doing the deed and receives a major beating for it. Inevitably, sex becomes violence for Shogo and vice-versa; his downward spiral and subsequent shock treatments send his mind on a journey where he's doomed to love and lose over and over again. What follows is nearly indescribably bizarre: Nazi soldiers experiencing erections while loading Jewish prisoners into freight cars and “top secret sex pastures” filled with animals in a state of bliss.
Of course, Tezuka means absolutely no offence to Jews or coupling animals by his examples. Apollo's Song is in fact desperate about delivering its message about the importance of love, so it chooses some strong examples. Granted, there are themes in Apollo's Song that no writer today wants to get tangled up in—it's implied that some of Shogo's mental issues stem from the fact his mother didn't breastfeed him and therefore never formed a bond—but it needs to be experienced for its energy alone. “If Phoenix is at-heart comfort,” says Jog, “this one's a laugh toward the gallows.”
7) Buddha – Tezuka always had a very strong interest in religion. His works were just as likely to explore the dark side of a faith as keenly as the light side. Buddha is of special interest to readers in countries where Judeo-Christianity is the norm and the trials of Gautama Buddha don't work their way into songs about Moses on the Nile River.
6) Adolf – Adolf is the story of three men named Adolf Hitler. It sounds like the setup for a joke (“Three Adolfs walk into a bar”), but Tezuka's manga is quite serious, even opting for a more realistic art style than what the manga-ka is known for. The story is centered around highly secret documents that throw the lineage of Adolf Hitler into question. A rumour still persists that Hitler was in fact the illegitimate grandson of a Jewish man. Some sources claim the rumour has been debunked, but it still has life.
Join us next week for Tezuka's specialty: robot children.