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.