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.

J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965

Author: Shogo Oketani
Translator: Avery Fischer Udagawa
Publisher: Stone Bridge Press
ISBN: 9781933330921
Released: July 2011

When Shogo Oketani’s book J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 was offered by Stone Bridge Press for review through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, I immediately requested a copy. I was very happy when I was matched with the book. Stone Bridge Press published J-Boys in 2011 with a translation by Avery Fischer Udagawa. Some of the individual chapters and stories had previously been published in various journals and anthologies, but as far as I can tell this is the first time they’ve been released as a collection. I also believe this is Oketani’s first full-length work of fiction. Oketani has previously written a collection of poetry called Cold River and frequently works with his wife Leza Lowitz as a co-author and co-translator. I have never read any of Oketani’s previous works, but because of my interest in Japan and because I’ve enjoyed other books released by Stone Bridge Press, I was glad to have the opportunity to read J-Boys.

J-Boys is told in a sequence of fourteen stories organized chronologically by month. The individual stories could easily be read separately but are tied together by the same characters. Kazuo Nakamoto is a nine-year-old boy growing up in the city of Tokyo in the 1960s. He lives with his mother and father and his younger brother Yasuo in a small home in the Shinagawa Ward. Kazuo leads a fairly typical life, going to school, hanging out with friends, and helping out at home. But he’s old enough now that he’s starting to notice that life in Tokyo and in Japan is changing. The nation still lives with memories of World War II while at the same time it is becoming more and more Westernized. In particular is the influence of American pop culture. While Japan is busy reestablishing itself as a world power, Kazuo is busy growing up.

I am not particularly familiar with 1960s Japan, so J-Boys was a treat to read for that reason. J-Boys is semi-autobiographical; Oketani has based the stories off of his own memories of growing up in Japan in the 1960s and some stories were inspired by other kids that he knew. In some ways, Kazuo almost seems to be a stand-in for the author himself. There’s certainly a sense of nostalgia that shines through. One of my favorite things about J-Boys was the inclusion of photographs of Japanese schoolchildren from the 1950s and 1960s, many of which depict scenes described in J-Boys. Oketani also includes brief side bars that explain in more detail specific concepts mentioned in J-Boys, everything from tofu, to Japanese terminology, to pop culture references.

While I found J-Boys to be interesting and informative, as an adult reader I didn’t find it to be particularly engaging as a collection of short stories. However, I could easily see the book being incorporated into an educational unit for middle grade social studies. It almost seems that J-Boys was written with that very purpose in mind and the reading level is appropriate for younger readers. The individual chapters are very straightforward and there is very little narrative tension or embellishment. Although the stories feature recurring characters, there isn’t really any overarching plot. Oketani is simply relating what it was like to be a kid in 1960s Tokyo. So, while J-Boys may not have readers hurriedly turning pages to discover what happens next, I still think that the book is valuable if approached within an appropriate context. I know that I learned some interesting things about what it was like to live in Japan in the 1960s, which is something I knew very little about before.

Thank you to Stone Bridge Press for providing a copy of J-Boys for review.