David Wybenga, a JCMU English Language instructor in Hikone, has been drawn to Japanese comics, or manga, ever since he was a child. He will be writing a series of articles on the topic of manga and how it affects him as an American teacher in Japan. For #2 in this series, David discusses Tezuka Osamu, the oft-described godfather of modern manga, and the vast impact the artist had on him.
When I was preparing to go to Japan for the first time, I picked up a large Japan travel guide to start getting acquainted with the essentials. At that time, I had little knowledge and experience about Japan or Japanese things, but I had traveled a lot and I had chances to meet Japanese people around the world. In the travel guide, I flipped ahead to the culture section and started to read about Japanese food, local festivals, religion, customs and of course, manga! I was soon heading to a country full of new things to explore, not the least of which was a new world of comics.
The section about comics (manga) was much more than a passing sentence or two. There was a rich and lengthy description of a particular comic artist who was being described as a national hero – a person of considerable intelligence and skill, who had studied to be a doctor but who, with the blessing of his mother, instead decided to follow his talent in art and storytelling. That man was Tezuka Osamu. At the time of his death in 1989 he was a genuine national celebrity, known by name and face to nearly every person in Japan. Any comparison to American legends; Walt Disney, Dr. Seuss or even Charles Shultz, would still fall far short.
He strove for the greatest possible diversity in the comics he produced (and later on in animation), and attempted to rise to the top of every genre of comic storytelling; comics for boys, comics for girls, educational comics, biographical stories, fantasy and science fiction, serious dramatic works, romance, adventure sagas, detective stories and mysteries.
He was relentless in his pursuit of achieving absolute greatness in comics.
There are many things to love about the work of Tezuka Osamu. Let me tell you about one of my favorite things. Mr. Tezuka had a way of treating the characters he created as real people who were actors. And these “actors” were available to him to act throughout different stories. When you become familiar with his stable of “actors”; referred to as a “star system”, you will begin to see them appear and reappear throughout his works. Some of these “actors” tend to play good guys, some “actors” become well known as bad guys. Tezuka fans appreciate that when a certain character appears in a story, they will know a lot before that character even opens his or her mouth. But be careful. Characters will sometimes play against type to create an unexpected effect.
When I arrived in Japan, there was only 1 full volume of his work that had been published in English. Now there are over 100 volumes in English, and amazingly, that is still a fraction of his total work. AND (fan-boy alert) If you have an interest, and I have the chance to meet you in Japan, ask me about my Tezuka collection of shitajiki art.
Besides the pleasure of reading his comics, it has been a special joy for me to have had many conversations about Tezuka Osamu with my students, fellow teachers, neighbors and passing acquaintances in Japan. To have something like this in common has constantly given me something to talk about, it has nurtured friendships and created many special moments in my English classes. Perhaps every foreigner in Japan has something about the culture that especially draws them. The knowledge about a favorite cultural aspect, whatever it is, shows a respect and investment in the culture that we live in. To me, that special thing is manga, and the heart of my love of manga is Tezuka Osamu.
JCMU English Language Instructor