• remind me tomorrow
  • remind me next week
  • never remind me
Subscribe to the ANN Newsletter • Wake up every Sunday to a curated list of ANN's most interesting posts of the week. read more

Anime Aunties Visit Japan
Day 11: Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum Stirs Emotions

by Jacki Jing,

The Father of Anime. The God of Manga. Articles about Osamu Tezuka have given the iconic artist, cartoonist, and animator numerous, glorious titles, but how many Americans know his name or works?

The Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum in Toyonaka, Osaka
Photo by Jacki Jing

I have no idea. I've been an anime fan since the age of 7, loved anime for nearly 30 years. Before I went to the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum, I just knew him as the creator of Astro Boy and had heard others say he revolutionized manga and anime — making it what it is today. That's it.

I don't say that without reverence. The modern-day billion-dollar industry of manga and anime probably wouldn't exist today if it wasn't for his efforts. I may not have known much about the man, but I knew deep down — One Piece, Naruto, Jujutsu Kaisen, My Hero Academia — Tezuka walked so many mangaka could run. And he walked alright, through hell and back, enduring so many hardships and struggles. Many that would make your heartbreak.

I am ashamed that I did not know more about Osamu Tezuka before this museum visit. I hope other otaku stumble across this piece and learn about this man's arduous journey to allow anime to thrive and survive.

He just worked so hard. I can't stop thinking about these haunting allegations I found online that claim on Tezuka's death bed, a nurse tried to take away his drawing tools and his last words: “I'm begging you, let me work!" May his soul rest in peace.

I have tried writing this for two hours now and am struggling because I am embarrassed. My limited knowledge of the “Japanese equivalent to Walt Disney” is unsettling. How did I know so little about this genius and his immense properties? Perhaps time — it's sad how quickly humanity forgets. Also, lack of exposure; I had no idea where to read or watch his stories, and, frankly, the animation looked a little kiddie (oof, was I mistaken).

I genuinely thought I would go into this museum, take some videos and photos and peel out of there. Instead, I spent hours inside, completely enthralled.

You walk in, and it's strange. There are hand and footprints of all his favorite characters in the cement leading up to the door, and when you get in there — it is beautiful — but also kind of creepy. These archaic animated creatures smiling eerily at you.

Then you see his classic beret, big cartoonish glasses, and beat-up, turnip-shaped pens, and you remember, yes, this was a legend, but he was also just a man with a dream.

Recreation of Tezuka's workspace.
Photo by Jacki Jing

You learn that he was a small boy with messy hair who loved reading manga with his mom and sister — and bugs (you get to see his notes and drawings of insects, which are precious). He was bullied, and, on top of that, his childhood was in the middle of wartime. So, yeah, rough. If that didn't sound hard enough, he received a vaccine in unsanitary conditions during the war and nearly lost his arms, but he was saved thanks to an excellent doctor who inspired him to study medicine. Yup, the dude was not only a mangaka but a doctor, as well (If you know anything about Tezuka's character, Black Jack, the mysterious, avant-garde, adventurous doctor, you're probably connecting some dots here). His mom was the one who encouraged him to follow his dreams of creating manga, though, which he did (reading that tugged at my heartstrings).

Of course, the exhibits dive into Astro Boy, a supporting character in Ambassador Atom who rocketed to popularity and got his own comic and then anime. Apparently, Tezuka's company Mushi Production struggled to produce 30-minute animations weekly, but they made 193 episodes in four years. Astro Boy became the precedent model for character merchandising because, despite production deficits, they were covered by royalties from the merchandise. They also dealt with copycat products, but official Astro Boy products got certification seals, and Tezuka got a Japan Merchandising Rights Award for handling all that. So you could say he started the obsession with anime merch, too. Thanks for that, Mr. Tezuka; you truly have milked me dry of thousands of dollars.

Photo by Jacki Jing

Tezuka churned out a bunch of shojo manga, most notably Princess Knight, but also made school dramas, fantasies, samurai, and historical dramas. He also experimented with adult manga and took creative liberties during this time with some shocking work, developing gekiga. He also implemented an assistance system, getting help with spot filling, drawing lines, diagonal strokes, and backgrounds. I didn't know any of this and was just floored. The creative range and experimentation astonished me. He was trying everything — molding the industry we know today without any guidance or blueprint. That had repercussions.

They don't go into detail, but Mushi Production declared bankruptcy in 1973, and Tezuka stepped away from animation for a while. All the video interviews and write-ups about him in the museum talked about his insane work ethic, so for him to be so downtrodden for years — one can only imagine what he was going through during that period.

He gets back into it again and has some really twisted and dark projects, definitely trying to shake that cute and cuddly kiddie image. I will let you go down that rabbit hole, but you're like Astro Boy to this? My God (of Manga).

Again, embarrassment. How did I not know more about Osamu Tezuka and everything he's done for manga and anime? Truly a phenomenon.

The videos playing while you looked at the displays were with co-workers, and they all spoke about Osamu Tezuka's unparalleled drive and determination to be the best. They said he watched movies and fellow animators' work dozens of times. He constantly was working and pushing himself and those around him to do more, to do better.

He could have written happy, mainstream stories but was unafraid to address life, love, and death. One of the interviewees said that (in his opinion) Tezuka often killed off characters too early, and the tales were just so dark. Tezuka knew darkness, though. He survived air raids and wartime struggles. He went to medical school and was well-acquainted with death. His production company went under. He fought to stay relevant and to succeed.

I left the museum feeling sad. Tezuka was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1988. He worked on three series regardless though one monthly, one bimonthly, and one weekly — all simultaneously. Neo Faust, Ludwig B, and Gringo all remain incomplete since his passing.

When you enter the museum, there's a framed picture that says: “The museum has been constructed around the principle themes of ‘love for nature’ and ‘respect for life’ — and you undoubtedly see that in his creations.

But his achievements and his life are such an enigma to me. Was he trying to live his lost youth in these child stories? Was he trying to warn others about the horrors of humanity and death? What was he working so hard for? What did he want to come out of all this madness and beauty?

The last part of the museum is this area where you learn the manga-creating process. There are light-up tables, and an attendant gives you some paper and pencils. I almost skipped this part. This whole experience seemed so strange. Me, this mid-thirties woman in this essentially vacant, empty museum, voraciously absorbing knowledge about a man who did so much — but for what?

The quietness and silence in the museum made me more uncomfortable, and I felt a chill, and the hairs on the back of my neck prick up. I sat down and started to sketch. Then my partner and I started laughing at our drawings, then we drew more and laughed more and then saw it animated for us by the staff. I got lost. I got lost in the joy of creating in art — something I haven't done for decades.

Suddenly, an animatronic Osamu Tezuka perked up in the distance with music, and its robotic body awkwardly turned towards my partner and me, peppily speaking in Japanese.

I have no idea what it said, but I realized at that moment that Osamu Tezuka lived his life his way. Perhaps he worked himself to the bone, and maybe his works are getting older, lost — maybe, forgotten, but he essentially breathed life into anime, and now that affects millions upon millions of people — and his story, his museum touched my heart that day, and isn't that enough? Lighting up one soul — and he's genuinely done that for so many. Maybe it wasn't all for naught. Even if people forget Astro Boy, Unico, Kimba — anime will be here for a long, long time. So, I guess, thank you. Thank you so much for being you, Osamu Tezuka.

discuss this in the forum (48 posts) |
bookmark/share with: short url

back to Anime Aunties Visit Japan
Feature homepage / archives