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the complete review - biography / manga
The Osamu Tezuka Story
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- Japanese title: 手塚治虫物語
- A Life in Manga and Anime
- With an introduction and Translated by Frederik L. Schodt
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B+ : good -- if somewhat long-winded -- life-overview
See our review for fuller assessment.
From the Reviews:
- "(T)his comprehensive biography shows the complexity of the artistís life and times." - Kris Kosaka, The Japan Times
- "The artist, Tezukaís longtime assistant Ban, draws in an accurate recreation of Tezukaís style, although not quite able to match the easy fluidity of the master. Legendary manga scholar Schodt provides a first-rate translation." - Publishers Weekly
- "Banís book provides an interesting detailed look into Tezukaís own life story, and many episodes in this story go a long way in explaining why he was attracted to Jewish history and culture." - Raz Greenberg, Tablet
- "This is a big book. Massive. Shockingly so. (...) Cartoonist Toshio Ban pulls off this manga biography beautifully. (...) Fred Schodtís translation was wonderful: fluent, smooth, and with natural language." - Zack Davisson, World Literature Today
Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers.
Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.
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The complete review's Review:
It seems only fitting that a biography of prolific manga-author Tezuka Osamu (1928-1989) would be presented in manga (i.e. comic-book) form -- and that a life such as his would require a volume as fat as this one.
Tezuka's output was astonishing -- as the small-print Appendix of 'Works by Osamu Tezuka', running to forty pages, shows -- and while many fat volumes of it have been translated, much is still unavailable in English.
(Early on Ban says: "he drew about 150,000 manga pages"; that's a lot to get to.)
This biography was serialized starting in 1989, soon after Tezuka's death, his "'sub-chief' assistant" Ban taking on the task.
With a full writing credit for 'Tezuka Productions', this is, for good and bad, very much an inside job; in any case, it is certainly very much in Tezuka's spirit (and style).
Despite the proximity to the subject -- in time, and person -- the whiff of hagiography isn't too overpowering.
The approach Ban takes reinforces (or exacerbates) the sense that this is an inside job, as the biography is presented as narrated by "Shunsaku Ban, also known as 'Mustachio'" -- Tezuka's recurring character, ヒゲオヤジ -- who guides readers along (and appears in many of the panels as he leads the way).
It's a quite charming way of presenting Tezuka's life, with the personal guide -- part of Tezuka's entourage, as it were, yet also clearly just a 'character' -- making for a more easy-going and intimate feel than a simple omniscient narrator would have allowed for.
(Tezuka's other creations appear throughout the book, too, though usually in the context of their creation and development -- but occasionally Ban shows some playful wit as when he has the character Black Jack pop up in an early panel, set during Tezuka's school-days, asking: "You called for a doctor ?" ("Not yet", Mustachio hastily pushes him away).)
Otherwise, this is a fairly traditional biography, proceeding chronologically (after a very brief introductory section).
The fact that it was serialized -- first published (short) bit by bit, rather than conceived of from the start as a whole -- is evident at times, but it still proceeds and reads fairly well.
Family-life gets short shrift in the biography -- particularly Tezuka's married life -- but Ban does describe an interest-nurturing childhood environment, as the Tezuka household had many books to inspire the young boy and Osamu's father was a film enthusiast with his own projector who: "often showed his children movies -- including cartoons by Disney and other foreign creators, and even Japanese animation".
Early passions, such as for stargazing ("With his pals, he made a pretend planetarium in his bedroom closet") and insects ("bug-crazy" Osamu collecting and drawing the creatures), are also covered, as is, to some extent, Tezuka's unusual dual-career path, as he studied medicine even as he became an incredibly successful manga artist, and eventually became a licensed doctor.
(There is, however, entirely too little about how he juggled this, despite the fact that he moved back and forth between these worlds for a very long time.
There's also entirely too little about what his medical studies and training entailed -- to the extent that it comes almost as a shock when he is later quoted, in an entirely different context, saying: "When training in hospitals, I often witnessed patients take their last breath ...".)
Unsurprisingly, The Osamu Tezuka Story is at its best when it focuses on manga (and then anime), covering the evolution of the manga-publishing and -reading scene (including the differing Osaka and Tokyo scenes) as well as Tezuka's own path in this world.
With examples of his work -- finished as well as everything from sketches to notes -- this is a very well- (and relevantly) illustrated biography, and gives a good sense of how Tezuka worked and what he was able to do artistically.
Obviously, the illustrations also allow readers to see the changes in some characters over time, such as the long-serialized 'Astro Boy'.
Ban is particularly focused on Tezuka's incredible productivity and his working methods -- and the way he was hounded by his editors, as he often wrote for a variety of publications, and each had to deal with strict deadlines.
Deadlines, and Tezuka rushing to meet them, are a constant problem -- and remain so also when he gets involved in anime -- and readers probably get the point very early on; the fact that it's a continuing feature of his working life perhaps does not need such constant repetition -- though admittedly Ban manages to present endless variations of how exactly all this was juggled, and where Tezuka wrote (occasionally almost on the run, and certainly pretty much whenever he had any bit of space and time (though one wonders how he is supposed to have managed to draw in (shaky) moving vehicles)), and there is some amusement to be found in the scenes of desperate editors trying to chase or track Tezuka down.
(The concept of 'editors' seems a rather loose one in the manga world, as many of these guys (and apparently they were always guys) seem to spend their time -- days on end -- sitting around simply waiting for their pages, or hounding Tezuka for them, or bargaining with each other who gets to the head of the line.)
For all his busy-ness, Tezuka was also a passionate moviegoer, resolving -- and apparently more or less managing, in many years -- to watch 365 movies a year.
Eventually, with the quick spread of television, once it was introduced, Tezuka also turned to anime -- without ever abandoning his manga-work -- and even set up his own animation studio.
Here Ban does a decent job of presenting how Tezuka gained a foothold in this new industry -- along with many of the difficulties involved in churning out TV-ready animation.
Here as elsewhere, Tezuka is also presented as an admirable mentor of young talent.
Many technical details are nicely (and visually-helpfully) presented, from how Tezuka mapped out his manga (including reproductions of some script pages, along with many sketches) to the fascinating key system of abbreviations he used "to tell his assistants what decorative elements, such as shading, that he wanted them use in his manga" [sic; yes, the translation has some ... comically rough spots ...].
While not enough to give a full picture of the manga- (much less the anime-) making-process, Ban covers a great deal in good detail (not always entirely effectively, such as in debating the size of the pages/books manga was presented in, something he often addresses), and the book does offer at least an introductory overview of the (changing) processes.
This is very much a biography focused on the author's life, even as there are odd and extensive lacunae, from his medical studies to his family life to his health-issues.
Disappointingly, however, Ban does not tie life and work together particularly well -- or, indeed, in sufficient depth.
Partially this is no doubt because Ban's audience at the time was intimately familiar with most of Tezuka's work.
Still, from a foreign point of view, and a quarter of a century later, the connection is missed.
While Ban mentions many of Tezuka's famous works, and the familiar characters appear, often there's more attention paid to prizes won, or the initial idea behind them than any description of the work or its evolution.
This goes even for the most basic, like 'Astro Boy', whose disturbing creation-story (in the manga and TV-series themselves) alone surely deserves a bit of discussion.
Similarly, there's rarely more than mention of how long a particular series, character, or project took, or lasted, Ban at best more interested in what helped inspire a particular story than in how Tezuka then handled the story.
Indeed, there's almost nothing text-critical in the entire volume -- nor much about the reception of the various works (beyond the most basic, of whether it was successful or not).
So The Osamu Tezuka Story is very much a documentary text.
As such, it is very nicely and well done, the comic book form the appropriate -- even ideal -- approach, and one that Ban handles very well.
Like a movie-documentary, or anything that's largely pictorial, the ultimate impression -- even after almost 900 pages -- remains largely superficial, as we only get to know Tezuka so far: he's a workaholic ! he's enthusiastic !
Ban leaves a great deal for the reader to infer -- and leaves even more out, making any sort of complete judgement impossible.
Still, this is an impressive and in many ways appealing work -- not everything one might want in a biography, but a superior volume of manga (which is saying something, given my low tolerance-/interest-level in the form).
Note: that this volume is presented in Japanese manga-form, i.e. it is read 'back-to-front' (as Western readers see it) and the panels are read from the top right to the bottom left; this shouldn't be too confusing, even for those who aren't practiced in reading this way.
However, the book is published in a single, slightly oversize (seven by nine inches) volume and, with the soft covers and cheap paper used, flaps quite uncomfortably in the hands: it feels a bit like reading a telephone book (for those of you who remember those ...) -- back to front, no less.
The advantage of having it all in one volume (the French and Italian translation divide the book into four separate ones) arguably outweighs these difficulties, but even I have to say it is a close call; this is not a comfortable book to read.
- M.A.Orthofer, 23 November 2016
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The Osamu Tezuka Story:
Books by Tezuka Osamu under review:
Other books of interest under review:
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About the Author:
Japanese cartoonist Ban Toshio (伴俊男) was born in 1953.
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© 2016-2017 the complete review
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