The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga

The creator of Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion and… er… Cleopatra: Queen of Sex comes to life in this superb showcase and biography. Helen McCarthy pushes beyond the odious “Walt Disney of anime” label used by lazier writers, boldly stating that if we really must draw condescending cultural comparisons, Osamu Tezuka was also the Stan Lee, Tim Burton and Carl Sagan of his day. Similar challenging argument enlivens her in-depth account of Tezuka’s youth, his fascinating “star system” of recurring characters, and his transformation of the Japanese animation business with Astro Boy.

McCarthy artfully synthesises the work of earlier researchers who lack her populist splash and dash. Natsu Onoda Power might have more scandal, and Ada Palmer might have more rigour, but McCarthy has true passion for her subject, and is backed by a design team working with the full cooperation of the Tezuka estate. The result is a joy to behold – a large format, coffee table book with a glossy cover, a bound-in DVD, and pages that couldn’t be more lovingly engineered if they were pop-up. When discussing a creator whom everybody has heard of, but few really know, such illustration is crucial to appreciating just how important Tezuka was in the history of comics and cartoons. McCarthy keeps it up all the way to her provocative conclusion, in which she acknowledges Tezuka’s place in history, but also that the brightness of his achievement has exiled many other manga artists to the shadows.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade (now also available on Kindle). This review first appeared in SFX Total Anime #3, 2010.

4 thoughts on “The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga

  1. Thanks for the nice review. Apart from the books you’ve written, do you recommend any others?

    I’m trying to educate myself a bit about the stuff I spend so much time watching but amazon seems to be overflowing with books about anime these days and of course funds are limited.

  2. I make no apologies for still recommending the Clements and McCarthy Anime Encyclopedia (2006), which remains the largest, most comprehensive book in English on Japanese animation. It doesn’t much matter if you are one of those people who hate it because it’s unkind to Tenchi Muyo; there is still plenty to recommend it, not the least a bunch of thematic entries that are enough to be a book in themselves.

    Beyond that, it rather depends on your speciality. My estimation of the other books available really depends on the purpose for which they are used.

    In terms of recent publications, I will be writing my “2010 Year in Anime Books” blog entry in December, and I intend to be singing the praises of Hu’s Frames of Anime: Culture and Image Building (Hong Kong University Press), which is really good on the subject of Hakujaden and Toei Doga. I am also particularly interested in the potential use of Andrew Osmond’s new 100 Animated Feature Films (BFI), as I think it likely to set a lot of anime films inthe context of the international animation world, which is not something that is done very often.

    For now, you can read my 2009 Year in Anime Books here:

  3. First of all thank you for the quick reply. I suppose that came out wrong, I am planning on grabbing both Anime Encylopedia and Schoolgirl Milky Crisis since I enjoy your writing on this blog and have indeed read the 2009 recommendations list.

    I’ve already ordered Starting Point also partially based on your review and own Osmond’s Illusionist book, thanks for mentioning his new 100 Animated Feature Films. I will also purchase the Tezuka book featured here.

    As for what interests me I found I have broad interests as long as the writing is good. However in a way I feel there’s a surge of new anime books cropping up and I’m not sure how many reviewers know enough to judge how good the books are, so I turned to you for advice.

    Oh since it’s going out of print is “ga-netchu! The Manga Anime Syndrome” worth grabbing at the german film institute since it’s in english?

  4. No, Vito, I don’t think it came out wrong — I just wanted to get some idea of why you might *want* anime books. Animators, Japanologists, film buffs all want different things.

    Ga-Netchu has some great essays in it, and it is quite an obscure book, worth grabbing now before it’s £80 a copy second-hand. I must confess I haven’t read all the way through my copy yet.

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