The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution

Author: Frederik L. Schodt
Publisher: Stone Bridge Press
ISBN: 9781933330549
Released: July 2007

The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution written by Frederik L. Schodt is one of the few full-length publications available in English devoted to the life and work of Osamu Tezuka. Published by Stone Bridge Press in 2007, it is also one of the first. Although there now exist several more resources, the only other book about Tezuka that I’ve had the opportunity to read was Helen McCarthy’s The Art of Osamu Tezuka. Because Tezuka was such an influential creator, it’s somewhat surprising that there hasn’t been more written. (Granted, I’m hard pressed to name many other mangaka who have had entire books devoted solely to them.) Schodt is in a unique position to write about Tezuka and Astro Boy. He was a friend of Tezuka’s who not only personally knew the creator, but who also worked with him. Schodt was also the translator for Dark Horse’s English-language release of the Astro Boy manga, so he is quite familiar with the material.

Osamu Tezuka was an instrumental pioneer in the realms of manga and Japanese animation. One of his most iconic and well-loved creations wast Tetsuwan Atomu (Mighty Atom), better known in the United States as Astro Boy. Around the world there are many fans who, although they may not  recognize Tezuka’s name, know and adore Astro Boy, the cute boy robot who fought for peace. Astro Boy was first introduced as a character in the story “Ambassador Atom” in 1951 before becoming the star in his own manga series in 1952. Tezuka would continue to work on and revisit the Astro Boy manga well into the eighties. In 1963, Astro Boy become Japan’s first animated weekly television series and was subsequently exported to the United States. Tezuka would later create a color version of this black and white series in 1980. In addition to successful manga and anime series, Astro Boy also had a strong merchandising line.

The Astro Boy Essays consists of an introduction, eight chapters or essays, an afterword, notes, bibliography, and index. Two appendices are also included which list the Japanese and English titles of the Astro Boy manga stories and the 1963 anime episodes as well as the order of their release. Scattered throughout the book are a few informational sidebars (including a fascinating comparison of the replies that Tezuka and Yukio Mishima gave in response to a literary magazine’s survey), plenty of black-and-white illustrations and photographs, and sixteen pages of full-color artwork. Each of the essays are written in such a way that they can be read separately, but read together they provide a comprehensive look at Astro Boy and its importance as a work. Schodt covers many different aspects of Astro Boy: it’s place as a national icon, it’s creation and evolution, it’s influence on Japanese and American markets, its impact on the field of robotics, it’s many messages, Tezuka’s complicated relationship with the work, and so on.

The Astro Boy Essays is an excellent work and a valuable resource. Schodt has done his research and it shows, but the book has been written with a more casual, general audience in mind rather than a strictly academic one. I like Schodt’s approach of focusing on a specific creation, in this case Astro Boy in all of its incarnations, as a way to explore Tezuka’s innovations and influence. By tracing the evolution of Astro Boy, Schodt is also able to trace the evolution of Tezuka’s work in general while still limiting the scope of the book’s subject to something manageable. The Astro Boy Essays may be a slim volume, but it’s an accessible, engaging, enlightening, and highly informative one. Schodt covers a wide range of fascinating material quickly and effectively. The Astro Boy Essays are a fantastic introduction to Astro Boy, Osamu Tezuka, and their lasting influence on manga and anime.

My Week in Manga: October 25-October 31, 2010

My News and Reviews

Yeah, so I had great plans for this weekend, and hardly accomplished any of them. I was going to update the Resources page, write up a review of Yumiko Shirai’s Tenken, work on my podcast post… Instead I ended up cleaning out my car before taking it to the shop, playing hours upon hours of boardgames, and reading a bunch of manga and graphic novels that were due back at the library. (Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira is really good, by the way.) So, yeah. I’ll try to catch up this week and do everything I’ve been promising to do for a while now.

My Gay for You? post from a couple weeks back is still getting quite a number of hits which makes me happy. Thank you to Brigid Alverson from MangaBlog and Alex Woolfson of Yaoi 911 (and also one of the original panelists) for helping to spread the link. I also announced the results of my second manga giveaway—Mushishi Madness Winner (congratulations again Brent!)—and posted Library Love, Part 4 which features manga that I’ve been reading from my local library.

Quick Takes

Astro Boy, Volume 3 by Osamu Tezuka. Although by now I am quite familiar with Astro Boy and Osamu Tezuka, I have actually read very little of the original manga series. I specifically picked up the third volume because it contains the story “The Greatest Robot on Earth,” which was the basis for Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto manga. Pluto is a very interesting character and antagonist; it’s hard to really call him a villain. I’m always impressed by how Tezuka, even in a manga primarily aimed at kids, creates many layers to his stories. There’s a reason “The Greatest Robot on Earth” is one of the most beloved and influential Astro Boy story arcs.

Embracing Love, Volumes 4-5 by Youka Nitta. Although there are a few annoying translation problems with this series, it is still one of the best yaoi manga that I’ve read. I adore reversible couples, and Embracing Love is one of the few series that I know of available in English that feature one. Iwaki and Katou have settled into their relationship and are now living in a house together. Their careers are also going well—both have moved on from adult films and have been accepted by the more mainstream media. Of course, some people are more interested in how they might be able to cause strife and scandals between the two men whether for personal gain or revenge.

Futaba-kun Change, Volume 1: A Whole New You! by Hiroshi Aro. I have not laughed so hard from reading manga in a long time. The premise isn’t particularly unique—Futaba changes genders at inopportune moments—but Aro’s manga is hilarious. From the wrestling team captain who’s constantly overcome by emotion, to the absurdly epic nosebleeds, to serious “What the hell?” moments, there’s plenty here to love or hate. There’s also plenty that people might take offense to—incestuous overtones, pornography, less than flattering representations of people and stereotypes. So far though, the manga doesn’t take itself too seriously which is what makes it work. I know that I want to read the rest.

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Volumes 1-8 by Naoki Urasawa. This was actually a reread for me—Pluto is one of my absolute favorite manga and is one of the reasons I’m so obsessed with the medium now. Urasawa, who is also one of my favorite mangaka, has taken “The Greatest Robot on Earth” and made the story and characters his own. Urasawa also makes references to many of Tezuka’s other works as well (Black Jack gets a cameo for one). Like Tezuka, Urasawa has created a tremendously layered, approachable, and emotionally authentic work. The result is fantastic and it’s not surprising that the series has won several awards and has been nominated for even more. 

Right Here, Right Now, Volume 1 by Souya Himawari. After hiding out in an abandoned temple, Mizuo finds himself whisked away to the Sengoku or Warring States period of Japan. There he is honored as the Living Buddha of the Yamako army. Takakage, one of the leaders of the army and the clan’s heir, has become quite fond of Mizuo. Mizuo also admires Takakage and misses him terribly once he returns to the present day. When he is finally able to return to the past, he finds Takakage changed and a very different person than he remembered. I quite enjoyed this first volume and appreciate that Himawari’s Feudal Japan and characters have some real conflict to deal with.