I wanted to contribute to the Osamu Tezuka Manga Moveable Feast, but I wasn’t sure what to talk about. Since my experience with his work available in English has been patchy — his skill is amazing, but the attitudes of many of his books, especially the more “adult”-targeted ones, are very much products of their times from when they were created decades ago — I was searching for something I hoped to enjoy a little more. Reading some of his books feels to me at times like critic homework, familiarizing myself with something I should know about, instead of enjoying the story.
Ed came to the rescue by loaning me three of Tezuka’s pulp science fiction works. Unfortunately, they’re out of print now, which means your best bet to find them is your local library (or its inter-library loan service). They were all published by Dark Horse, to build off of their success reprinting his Astro Boy series.
The first is Metropolis, originally published in 1949 and released in English in 2003. I was interested in trying this particularly because I’d recently seen the classic silent film, although it turns out that Tezuka was merely inspired by seeing a still from the movie, nothing more.
Metropolis has many of the characteristics I associated with Tezuka, for better or worse, including a strong animation influence, rapid-fire nonsensical plot twists, and cute/cartoony design. The book dates from an era when translated manga was flipped, so that was my first adjustment to reading it. The other was the immature approach to the material, leading the reader by the nose. Here are the jokes. Here is the goofy-looking old scientist laying out the the risks “when humans also become too advanced and, as a result of their science, wipe themselves out”. Here is the plot as one character explains it to another.
There’s an increase in radioactivity from the sun, throwing scientists into panic, while at the same time, the search is on for the huge-nosed leader of a group of assassins come to kill the scientists. One of them is forced by the criminal to create artificial life based on a statue the bad guy is toting around. Frankly, at this point, 40 pages in, I gave up. Events come too quickly to make sense. The characters are too flat and stereotyped for me to care about them. Everyone over-reacts to be sure the reader gets the point. It’s typical early Tezuka, in other words, pumped out as light entertainment.
Fans of Astro Boy might want to seek this out to compare the similar storylines, about the creation of a robot child, but most people won’t find it a great read today. Given that I found the pacing and animation-influenced flow the most interesting part of the book, I probably should have watched the anime instead.
The one new discovery for me was how I was surprised to encounter a number of over-crowded two-page spreads, full of random characters and their word balloons. They’re the kind of design I associate more with old Mad magazine, jamming more gags in, not Tezuka. I wonder if he moved away from them because of how time-consuming they were?
Dark Horse also put out Next World in two volumes. I don’t really believe the Tezuka of this era was capable of “wry satire of the Cold War” at the level I would want to see, especially when it involves trying to take all the living creatures of Earth to another planet, so I skipped that as well. It may be naive of me, in a business sense, to draw too much of a conclusion from this, but potential customers may want to note that demand was apparently insufficient to keep these books in print. I tend to think that works people really enjoy stay available.