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Mumbling Kitsune: Tezuka's Greatest Manga, Part Two
Each Tezuka manga is a good manga, of course...but which titles are truly special?
By Nadia Oxford
November 19, 2008
© Tezuka Productions
Last week we counted down five of Osamu Tezukas's top ten manga, and today we''ll count down the very best. This is necessary preparation for a very exciting project by Tezuka Productions that will publish most of the manga god's works online. If you haven't hugged your mother, your dog or your robot friend in celebration, it's not too late.
It's not hyperbole to say that Tezuka was a workaholic. It's unusual, even in the industrious nation of Japan, to find someone so dedicated to their craft. Tezuka was an unusual human being to begin with: trained in medicine, he threw himself into manga instead. Such a decision would be regarded as unusual today, but in post-War Japan, it was unheard of. Manga was strictly children's fare, something Tezuka resolved to change—and did. Though most adults will never admit it, we're more receptive to visual messages than blocks of text. Tezuka's works still entertain our inner child, but his lessons still manage to reason with our grown-up natures. Not every artist can successfully mould the thoughts and feelings of an older audience. Once adults take root and solidify their thoughts, they're hard to budge.
Tezuka is successful at making us second-guess the world around us because he's able to come at us from so many directions at once. He speaks through robots, religion, Nature, outcasts and even an unlicensed doctor. His work ranges from deadly serious to mind-bogglingly bizarre.
The only way to wholly experience Osamu Tezuka is by taking a year away from work and plowing through everything he's ever created. Not possible, so we'll try to narrow things down a bit.
5) Metropolis (1949) -- “Metropolis,” a German 1929 silent film directed by Fritz Lang, still continues to inspire science fiction writers with sprawling cityscapes that were decades ahead of their time. Tezuka hadn't seen the film when he put together his story about an artificial boy named Michi, but he was inspired by the stone-faced girl on Metropolis advertising poster.
Metropolis is one of Tezuka's shorter works: Dark Horse collected and translated the story into one tankobon. Though it shares themes with Astro Boy, it's not quite as expansive and is a bit on the preachy side. Regardless, as it's a foundation block in Tezuka's career, it's a must-read.
4) Pluto (2003-Ongoing) – Pluto is not actually written by Tezuka (would be difficult, considering it began serialisation after his death), but the title is heavily inspired by the Tezuka universe. In fact, it expands upon a story arc presented in Astro Boy called The World's Strongest Robot. Gesicht, a robotic member of Europol, is called upon to find the murderer who's cutting down the world's strongest and most beloved robots. Though not put together by Tezuka, Pluto needs to be experienced by fans of the father of manga—though the title works extremely well for people who are new to anime and manga. The seinen art style presents an adult twist on familiar characters, including a certain robot boy and his stubborn sister.
3) Astro Boy (1963) – Well, obviously. Astro Boy is timeless: he guided our parents through their childhoods, just as he showed us the way and has endured for our children. What makes Astro so appealing in a world not lacking for super heroes? Simply put, Astro is a kid. Sure, he's a robot, but he's still a child. In between saving the world and paving diplomacy between robots and humans, he has to deal with school and family. As powerful as he is, Astro can't blow off the small problems in life. He's also a cheerful, plump-cheeked figure who is made further innocent by his preference to rocket around half-naked. He will do whatever it takes to save your life and he can shoot machine guns out of his behind, but somehow you wouldn't be as terrified to invite him to your birthday party as you would Superman or Batman.
2) Black Jack (1973) – Tezuka put his medical training to use with his episodic stories about this wayward doctor. Black Jack, though huge in Japan, is lesser-known in America. Hopefully Tezuka Productions' project will breed some familiarity, because Black Jack contains some pretty unique subject matter. It's a shonen series at heart, which means it stretches the boundaries of reality: Like many of his series, Tezuka focused more on a sweeping big picture than scientific plausibility. There's also a medical Robin Hood theme running through Black Jack's works. He scorns the rich and operates on the poor. The combination of science, shonen heroism and conflicting morals makes Black Jack a doctor like no other. The patchwork face and bi-coloured hair help him stand out from the crowd, too.
1) Phoenix (1967) – Pretty much guaranteed to be the figurehead of any list of Tezuka's best works. Tezuka worked on Phoenix through literally his whole career: he scribbled down the earliest ideas in the '50s and still wasn't done with the multi-volume epic by his death in 1989. Another series that's under-recognised in America, Phoenix deserves to be given a place of honour on the bookshelf. Reading through the series gives you the impression that it's what Tezuka wanted to say all along: humanity is simultaneously the most important and unimportant species on Earth and through the universe. Everything, from the tiniest atom to the largest dinosaur that lumbered across the planet, is vital. Tezuka's essays on existence and non-existence are wrapped up in stories that begin with mankind's dawn and bridge to his death, exploring various points of history in between. Also at the fore of Phoenix is the exploration of religion, particularly Shinto and Buddhism. Again, the science is loose at best, but it's secondary to the overall message on the importance of life and balance.