9 Must-read/play/watch/listen Examples of Tezuka Magic

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.

Black Jack

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.

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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.

Metropolis


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.

Phoenix

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.

Jumping


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.

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Contemporary dance with the God of Manga

For this post I have a brief look at Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s TeZukA which had its première performances at Sadler’s Wells in London a few weeks ago. Stirred back into recollection by the performance, in the next few days I’ll also be listing a few of my favourite Tezuka or Tezuka derived/inspired works and explaining why I think they’re worth checking out.

TeZukA is a show which combines dance, martial arts, calligraphy, video projection effects, science lectures, and Japanese history into a celebration of Osamu Tezuka, Japan’s legendary cartoonist and animator. It features interpretations of his famous characters such Astro Boy, Black Jack, Buddha, Hyakkimaru as well as Tezuka himself, with trademark beret and glasses. The mostly traditional themed music is by Nitin Sawhney (whom I remember from his excellent soundtrack to the game Enslaved – Odyssey to the West), played live by musicians on one side of the stage.

As a love letter to Tezuka’s work and influence it works really well and you can clearly see that choreographer Cherkaoui cares deeply about the stories and characters he’s putting on stage, and as a viewer you get to appreciate the style and technique in Tezuka’s artwork as panels and pages from his comics are projected and animated onto the background and on giant scrolls which roll down from the ceiling. However, I can’t help but feel that for those unfamiliar with Tezuka, the performance would lose a lot of its impact as a lot of the piece is celebration without that much explanation as to why these things need celebrating.

With my extremely limited knowledge of dance I can’t comment too much on the choreography but to say there were some interesting scenes but largely I was more interested in what was going on around the dancers, with the exception of Astro Boy’s entertaining robotic moves. Discussing the performance afterwards, one of my more dance savvy companions shared their opinion that “often the themes and ideas behind contemporary dance are more interesting the dancing itself”. I also have to criticise the length of the piece which seemed to loose steam soon after the mid-point intermission, despite a vigorous drum & bass breakdown towards the end.

If you are already a Tezuka fan, it’s definitely worth seeing for an interesting take on his life and characters, plus the nostalgic feelings it’s bound to arouse. If you don’t know his work then go read some of his books and take a peek at The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga by Helen McCarthy. And read my next post about my personal Tezuka highlights…

It’s over nine THOUSAAAANNDD!!

Digging through some old memory cards and files I thought I might as well post up a few older bits and pieces in the next few weeks and so I’ll start with this one-off Dragonball Z inspired t-shirt I made for a friend’s birthday last year. A gift for Cable from the Saiyans – early pioneers and current torchbearers of the UK Parkour scene who, as you can tell from their name alone, are massively influenced by Akira Toriyama‘s famous manga and anime series.

I only have this one photo taken with my phone before I gave the shirt, so sorry for the slight blurriness.

I got to Dragonball-ize Cable for this design, including the trademark (natural) silver highlights in his hair which inspired his moniker. I also put their group name in the Dragonball lettering style and wrote Cable’s name in Japanese katakana on the back.

The drawing was done with Posca markers (yes, again, great on fabric too, they are awesome) over outlines made with tailors chalk. The shirt was finest Primark quality, cotton/polyester mix. This was the first and only t-shirt I’ve made, but I’m mulling over the idea of making a few new ones for myself.

Kamehameha!

The Sentinel of Liberty and I.

After watching Captain America: The First Avenger at the cinema last night – a film I found to be great fun – I thought it would be interesting to look back at my own personal experience with the character, starting as a young British comics fan. I’ll also explain why my fondness for the character has grown, and share five of my favourite moments featuring the Star-Spangled Avenger. Continue reading