A few weeks ago on Twitter, there was a discussion about Osamu Tezuka’s manga and whether he deserves the title “God of Manga”, and it got me thinking. I have to admit, back before I started writing about manga, I was kind of in agreement with animealmanac. I’d never read any of Tezuka’s manga before. I was familiar with Osamu Tezuka, mostly by reputation, and by the cartoon Kimba the White Lion. I have very found memories of Kimba, but never took Tezuka too seriously because of that. I knew he was called the “God of Manga”, but never understood why. And then I started writing reviews and receiving review copies.
Again, I was familiar with some of Tezuka’s works available in English. Astro Boy, another kids title and Phoenix and Buddha, more mature titles, but because of the art and my memories of Kimba, I didn’t think they could be too serious. Then I received my first review copy of a Tezuka work: MW. Now there’s a wake up call if ever I’ve got one! I got this huge hardback book and had no idea what to think of it. I took it to work to read at lunch. I walked into Farmer Boys, the closest fast food place, ordered my hamburger, plain, combo and then sat down to read. I was in shock within the first 20 pages! The art still had that “kiddy Tezuka” feel, but the content was anything but! The main character Yuki kills a kid he’s kidnapped after he got the ransom, confessed to his friend/priest who can do nothing about it, and then makes out/snuffs the daughter of his boss and makes her disappearance appear to be a kidnapping. I kept stopping as I read this book, shocked by the content, but not repulsed. I just couldn’t believe this was from the same person who created Kimba! Slowly, I became engrossed by the story, and the art became secondary to the story. The characters were rendered more realistically, as was befitting the story, but the story itself was so intense that it didn’t matter that it looked old. It was just right.
That convinced me that Tezuka was a master story teller. The next series of his that I read was Dororo. It was older than MW, so I didn’t think I’d like it as much. Again, I was wrong. The breaking of the fourth wall in the first volume was annoying to me, but once it got into Hyakkimaru and Dororo’s journey, I was just sucked in. Again, the art wasn’t an issue as the story and characters were outstanding. I happily read all three volumes and was disappointed that it ended so abruptly, which was the only other problem I had with the series. I was used to Tezuka’s style now, and it didn’t seem as “old school” or “kiddy” anymore. It was Tezuka and I enjoyed it.
The third and only other title I’ve read of Tezuka’s is Black Jack. This is the series that just clinched it for me that Tezuka deserves his title. Black Jack sucked me in just like Dororo, only faster. Once again, it’s the stories that show through as the strength, but the art isn’t a handicap in any way. Black Jack tells so many good stories that to pass it up based on the art alone should be a crime. You just can’t judge a book by it’s cover. That saying has survived for so long because it’s so true.
Tezuka didn’t get his title of “God of Manga” just because of his art or because of his extensive library of works. He got it because he knew how to tell a story in practically any genre, to any audience. He created iconic characters like Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atomu), Princess Knight (Ribon no Kishi) and Kimba (Jungle Taitei) for kids. He wrote stories for adults as well, touching on social, political and theological issues. But most importantly, he helped to create modern manga as we know it today, and has influenced practically ever creator since.
So you can chose not to read Tezuka’s works because his art is too “kiddy”, “cartoony”, or “old/old school”, but you will be missing out not just on something historical, but also something really great.