Osamu Tezuka has an almost inexhaustable library of genius work to his name but I want to share with you some of my own personal favourites, either created or inspired by the godfather of Japanese comics and animation.
I can’t honestly say I’ve even managed to scratch the surface of what he has to offer but I hope this list (in no particular order) gives you some idea of what’s available and if you’ve never seen his work before, I would strongly encourage you to pick up any one of these if you’re even remotely interested. If you do, you’re almost guaranteed to become as big a fan as I am.
This long running manga series stars Black Jack aka Kuroo Kazama, described on wikipedia as a “medical mercenary”, an exceptional surgeon of superhuman skill who sells his services to whoever can afford them. The stories are usually dark in tone and feature Black Jack as a kind of dark avenger, operating (pun intended) outside the law, often saving the downtrodden whilst punishing those he considers immoral or corrupt. Tezuka was trained in medicine and uses his expertise in the depiction of the medical scenes, lending a sense of reality to the largely fantastical scenarios. Vertical Press has published English versions of the first few volumes with really nice minimalist cover designs worth looking out for.
Available as a single volume with a Chip Kidd designed cover, this thriller deals with the relationship between a respectable banker who lives a double life as an insane murderer/kidnapper and the priest to whom he confesses his crimes. The two men are lovers linked by a mysterious past which may eventually lead to the destruction of all life on earth.
The film adaptation of Tezuka’s 1949 sci-fi manga, said to have been originally inspired by seeing the poster for Fritz Lang’s classic film of the same name. Directed by long time Tezuka collaborator Rintaro, I believe this to among the best anime films ever made. Visually stunning with great use of combined CG and traditional animation, it tells a tale of class warfare and discrimination between coexisting humans and robots in the future. Bursting with well-realised characters and relationships, the above trailer doesn’t quite do it justice.
Astro Boy: Omega Factor
I absolutely loved this Game Boy Advance title when I got my hands on it. From legendary developer Treasure (Ikaruga, Gunstar Heroes, Freak Out) comes a supremely polished shooting game starring Tezuka’s most famous creation. Featuring loads of Tezuka’s other characters too, this game is great fun and ultra challenging (in a good way) on any difficulty setting above easiest. The Gamespot guys do a good job of summing it up in the video.
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka
This recent manga series created with the cooperation of Tezuka’s estate, is a reinterpretation of a classic Astro Boy arc – The Greatest Robot on Earth. Retold by Naoki Urasawa (Monster, 20th Century Boys) as a murder mystery tale for mature readers, it adds new dimensions to previously familiar characters and unites one of my favourite manga creators of modern times with his spiritual ancestor.
Unfinished at the time of his death, Phoenix was considered by Tezuka to be his life’s work. The series of comics move from prehistoric times into the distant future and stretching out into deep space, all held together by themes of death, eternal life and reincarnation. The volumes Resurrection and Nostalgia have probably stayed with me the most but they are all worth seeking out.
A 1984 animated short by Tezuka and his animation studio. Fun, innovative and full of cool little touches.
Ode to Kirihito
A young doctor contracts the disfiguring and deadly disease he is investigating and ends up resembling a dog-like creature. Following his transformation he embarks on a journey of vengeance and redemption, trying to maintain his dignity as a human being despite his affliction.
Ravex in Tezuka World
I’m including this because it involves one of my favourite musicians, Shinichi Osawa. Alongside fellow producers Taku Takahashi and Tomoyuki Tanaki they form the electronic music group Ravex. Their album Trax, made to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the label Avex, is an excellent dance-pop record featuring loads of J-pop stars, and includes artwork and animation by Tezuka Productions. I had the pleasure of seeing the group DJ live in Fukuoka and it was indeed a treat.