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A Look At Osamu Tezuka, The “Godfather of Anime”

Every artistic subculture has its greats: those men and women whose talents will echo for generations to come. These are the artists who influence peers and successors alike, the “greats” to whom all those in the future will compare their work.

Will I ever be as good as the old masters?

I think this comic about sums it up. Image Credit: Sephko

Today, we’re going to be examining one such great: Osamu Tezuka, known to many as the Godfather of Anime. Many of you have probably already read some of his work, particularly Astro Boy – to date one of the most famous mangas ever created.

Now, at this point it’s worth noting that we could write an entire book on Tezuka’s massive sphere of influence – how Astro Boy made way for later works like Rockman and Casshern, or how he became public enemy number one for the Japanese medical industry. In the interest of saving time and space, let’s focus exclusively on Tezuka’s artistic quirks. More specifically, let’s examine how they’re still present in the industry today.

Astro Boy

Image Credit: TNS Sofres

Art Beyond Borders: Tezuka’s Influences


Image Credit: Walt Disney

There isn’t a single artist in the world who learns their craft in a vacuum – and Tezuka was certainly no exception to that rule. Born in Takarazuka City, Japan in 1928, he was the eldest of three children. His father, an engineer, had a passion for cartoons, and maintained a decent-sized collection of manga. While that manga can certainly be said to have had some impact on Tezuka’s later works, his two greatest influencers were artists that people in the Western world already know fairly well: Walt Disney and Max Fleischer.

To say Tezuka was obsessed with the two would be an understatement: he reportedly watched the movie Bambi approximately eighty times.

Not surprisingly, Tezuma’s first early success was an adaptation of a Western work: New Treasure Island – establishing a trend that would continue for some time before he began creating more of his own works.

“Since most of his early influences were Western, he really enjoyed taking these tales and putting his own unique spin on them,” reads a biographical piece on Tezuka. “The success of The New Treasure Island brought him national fame and served as a tipping point in his career.”

Takarazuka Revue

A modern play by the Takarakuza Revue. Image Credit: Charles Alan Ratliff

Though the West undoubtedly had the largest impact on the development of Tezuka’s trademark style, there were other factors that came into play as well. Tezuka’s mother often took him to the Takarazuka Theatre, best-known for the Takarazuka Revue – a theatre troupe made up entirely of women. By Tezuka’s own admission, he drew heavy inspiration from this troupe in his works, particularly where costume design was concerned.

Artwork and theatre weren’t the only thing that inspired Tezuka, either. As a teenager, he nearly lost both his arms to an infection. It was only thanks to his doctor that he pulled through – a fact which inspired the young Tezuka to pursue a career in medicine, a choice which spurred the later creation of Black Jack, Ode to Kirihito, and Dr. Ryoan – the former of which remains one of the most popular mangas ever in Japan.

The Things That Make Manga Manga: Osamu Tezuka’s Lasting Legacy

From Kimba The White Lion

From Kimba The White Lion

To say that Tezuka moved on to become a prolific artist would be putting it lightly. Over the course of his life, he worked on over 500 anime episodes, and wrote and inked more than 700 volumes of manga. Although Astro Boy inarguably remains his most iconic work, Kimba the White Lion and Phoenix are both noteworthy alongside his medical works – the former primarily because it served as the inspiration for Disney’s The Lion King.  

I must admit to some curiosity about how Tezuka felt, knowing that his own works changed a company that originally spurred his love for his craft. And if you wish to know the breadth of his legacy, just look at some other famous mangakas who cite him as an influence, such as Hayao Miyazaki and Akira Toriyama. Both are legends in their own right, both brought their own unique artistic styles to the industry, and both cite Tezuka as one of their core influences.

And if you want to see some of the stylistic and artistic elements that Tezuka established, you need only pick up your nearest manga volume.

“When it comes to manga, Tezuka invented the whole bag of tricks,” writes Comics Cube’s Duy Tano. “He took big eyes from Walt Disney, but everything else was his. Everyone knows of the expressive, cartoony style – of the same philosophy that Will Eisner utilized – that the Japanese artists are famous for using, but he also used a realistic style for backgrounds, introducing a very strong sense of place and utilizing the masking effect that people like Winsor McCay did long since it had stopped being used in American comics. He also utilized subjective motion, in which backgrounds are distorted to show motion [and emotion].”

From Tairiki Tarou no Mucha Shuugyou

Anime before Tezuka. From Tairiki Tarou no Mucha Shuugyou

In other words, the style of eyes anime is so known for? Tezuka. Overly-expressive, cartoonish freakouts in most comedy series? Again, Tezuka. The popularization of robot-centric, action anime? Tezuka.

Tetsujin 28 Go

Manga after Tezuka, from Tetsujin 28-go. Image Credit: Mitsuteru Yokoyama / Kobunsha

But Tezuka’s impact on the manga world extends far beyond a few artistic tropes. Some historians have maintained that manga and anime would not even exist as they do today without Tezuka’s influence. It’s hard to argue with them.

“The question of whether we’d have manga without Tezuka is rather like asking if we would have French-language comics without Hergé, or American comic books without Jack Kirby,” explains comic book historian Paul Gravett. “Tezuka was pivotal.”

In the same way that anyone with an interest in superhero comics needs to study Jack Kirby, every aspiring mangaka must make themselves aware of Osamu Tezuka. The impact he’s had on our craft cannot be understated – nor can the importance of his many works.

This post first appeared on The Seismic Art Blog: Tutorials, Interviews, Culture Fandom Artists, please read the originial post: here

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A Look At Osamu Tezuka, The “Godfather of Anime”


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