Contemporary (modern) Japanese manga, fathered by Osamu Tezuka post-World War II, is a product with roots from both Japanese and American culture. After approximately two centuries of isolation from 1639 to 1853, Japan finally gain exposure to cultures outside of its own. Slowly but surely, the exposure to animations of Walt Disney Productions and American comic books brought by U.S. soldiers during the U.S. occupation of Japan (1945-1952) served as the leading influence behind the development of contemporary manga.
Let’s take a look at the series of major historical events and one particular mangaka (manga artists) namely, Osamu Tezuka whose presence and works deeply influence the development of contemporary manga.
End of Sakoku Policy and the Convention of Kanagawa
From 1639 to 1853 during Japan’s Tokugawa period, a foreign relations policy placed severe restrictions on the entry of foreigners and forbidden the Japanese people from leaving Japan. This was the Sakoku policy of Japan which lasted for nearly 214 years under a series of edicts enacted under Tokugawa Lemitsu. It would not be until 1853 when Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, a U.S naval officer, sailed into Yokohama Bay, forcing Japan to engage in trade and diplomatic relations with the West. Under the threat of force, the Tokugawa Shogunate and the United States signed a treaty called Convention of Kanagawa (日米和親条約) on March 31, 1854 which effectively brought an end to the Sakoku policy and thus ending the 214 years of seclusion in Japan.
With trade enabled between the West and Japan, Japanese art flowed into Europe for the first time in two centuries. As Europe experienced a surge in Japanese art, many notable European artists (Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, etc.) were in awe of the striking characteristics presented in Japanese arts, such as bold lines, flat perspectives, asymmetrical compositions, etc. Moreover, the fascination with Japanese art saw a huge impact on the art and design of Western society, even influencing the 19th-century art movement, called Impressionism, an art form which sought to record daily life through the effects of light and color.
Although the Convention of Kanagawa was a treaty signed through force, it opened up an abundance of opportunities for Japan from modernization to innovations with roots from cultural influences. Furthermore, even though the Convention of Kanagawa itself did not directly influence the style of contemporary manga, it is a historical event that allowed contemporary manga to happen. Had the Sakoku policy still remain in full effect, the possibility of importing Western animation and comic books to Japan would be slim, much less the possibility of producing the contemporary manga that is known to us today.
Post World War II and Comic Books
World War II which began in Europe on September 1st, 1939 officially ended on September 2nd, 1945 following the defeat of the Empire of Japan. Representing the U.S., General Douglas A. MacArthur and the U.S. occupying force led the Allied occupation of Japan (1945-1952) and enacted social, economic, political, and military reforms.
The seven years of occupation and reform was also a part of a period in which historians have credited as the “Golden Age” of comic books. This period began on 1938 with the debut of Superman and ended in the mid-1950’s. In a time when comic books were on the rise, U.S. soldiers in the occupying force often brought comics during the occupation period for enjoyment purposes, which furthered the exposure of comic books to the Japanese people. Around the same period, Walt Disney Productions released its first film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), along with other noteworthy films including, Dumbo (1941), and Bambi (1942) that heavily influenced the works of contemporary manga pioneer, Osamu Tezuka.
Osamu Tezuka and His Influence on Modern Manga
Osamu Tezuka, widely regarded as the God and Father of Manga was given such a title due to his extensive influence over modern manga. Born on November 3rd, 1928 in Toyonaka City, Osaka, Osamu Tezuka was from a family with medical, government, and military background. During his childhood, Tezuka’s father, Yutaka Tezuka who was a huge fan of comics himself, introduced young Tezuka to his collection of Disney films and comics which Tezuka quickly fell in love with. Tezuka’s enthusiasm towards Disney can be shown through his fascination with the 1942 film, Bambi, which he reportedly watched around 80 times in the same year of its release.
As well said by Japan Times, “Laid bare are many of the roots of Tezuka’s artistic obsessions: birth, death and reincarnation, the brutality of war, the power of mythology and philosophy, literature, medicine and the world of insects”. Furthering this statement, the artistic obsessions of Tezuka played a significant role in supplying him with a diverse amount of ideas for content, which thus supported the extensive range of genres and sub-genres included within his creations. For instance, Tezuka was engrossed with insect collections at an early age and spent an inordinate amount of time observing the life and struggle of insects. Later on, Tezuka’s interest and study of insects was reflected through two of his works, The Book of Human Insects (1970) and one of his most celebrated yet unfinished manga series, Phoenix. Tezuka was not afraid to explore and integrate more mature, dark, and tragic themes within his works, and this devoid of the stereotype that manga was created solely for young audiences, but rather opened to audiences of all ages.
In 1945, Tezuka was admitted to the medical department of Osaka University at the age of 17 where he continued to refine his artistic style in hopes of pursuing his passion in manga. In the following year, Tezuka made his professional debut with the manga Diary of Ma-chan. Although the Diary of Ma-chan was the official debut of Tezuka’s manga career, New Treasure Island (1947) is more widely considered by fans as Tezuka’s debut work because it is Tezuka’s first widely popular long-form “story manga”, which sold a whopping 400,000 copies.
In the November of 1950, Tezuka started writing Jungle Emperor (Kimba the White Lion) which was serialized in the Manga Shounen magazine up until April of 1954. When Disney heavily influenced the beginning of Tezuka’s career, Tezuka’s Jungle Emperor heavily influenced the 1994 Disney film, The Lion King. Sharing many similarities in terms of broad elements, story-line, characters, the alleged appropriation of Jungle Emperor clearly shows the boundless influence of Tezuka’s works and techniques which stretches to the works of the western animation industry.
The iconic manga, Astro Boy or Tetsuwan Atomu (1952-1968), was one of Tezuka’s most famous creations that popularized manga and anime in America, while also performing successfully well domestically. It was around the creation of “Astro Boy” when Tezuka struggled to balance between medical studies and his passion for manga. Faced with a dilemma he consulted with his mother, Fumiko Tezuka, and was given the advice, “choose the path you love”. With encouraging words from a supporting mother, Tezuka then decided to devote himself full-time to manga.
The commitment to manga, however, did not prevent Tezuka from using his medical knowledge. His medical manga series, Black Jack which was serialized from 1973 to 1983, is drawn with great anatomical accuracy and remains one of the most popular medical manga in the present day.
In Tezuka’s early career, Tezuka managed to emulate some elements of Disney through observation and the study of Disney cartoons and comics. In the end, Tezuka fused the distinctive characteristics of Disney with traditional Japanese art with the addition of his innovative techniques and styles. As a reflection, characters in Tezuka’s works had large expressive eyes and bold line-work which was also a technique adopted from Carl Bark’s (American cartoonist), Uncle Scrooge. As Tezuka advanced in his manga career, so does his style, which drastically changed in the 1960s in response to the growing popularity of gekija style manga. Despite this, many manga artists still seek to learn and imitate the manga styles and techniques of Tezuka from his diverse and wide-ranging creations.
When American comics used motion lines to emphasize movement, Tezuka utilized subjective motion in his works, which is a technique used to show motion through blurring or distorting the background as shown on the top right section of the second picture.
Tezuka also used a realistic style for backgrounds amid his cartoon-style characters and distorted backgrounds to show emotion.
It was also Tezuka that introduced decompressed storytelling which is a technique used to strongly emphasize the visuals or character interaction within a scene. This results in exploring a scene in full details with intense emotions, and a slower-moving plot. Furthermore, the traditional method of storytelling in Japan mainly utilize texts with the addition of illustrations. Through decompressed storytelling, Tezuka introduced cinematic techniques into manga, which mainly uses the linkage between pictures to tell a story rather than fully relying on text.
In his 40 year career as a manga creator, Osamu Tezuka worked ruthlessly even in the days of his last breath, with his last words being, “I’m begging you, let me work!” when a nurse tried to take away his drawing equipment. Tezuka passed away on February 9th, 1989 and his legacy continued through an estimate of 700 manga series to his credit which compromised of 150,000 pages. A prolific figure in the manga industry indeed, Osamu Tezuka’s exhausting work ethic and his devotion to manga led him to pioneer and innovate the many techniques that can be found in the works of every manga artist. No modern manga can be seen without Tezuka’s influence as he was responsible for developing nearly every genre in Japanese manga today due to his astounding number of creations. Tezuka was the man that changed the concept of Japanese cartoons and redefined the standards of modern manga through his innovative techniques and styles. The creations of the God of Manga will continue to cross cultural boundaries and aspire upcoming generations of manga artists.
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