Why You Should Read The Adult Works of ‘Astroboy’ Creator Osamu Tezuka

by Tito W. James

Osamu Tezuka is best known for being the creator of Astroboy however, he also created many adult stories that deserve more attention. Tezuka broke new ground in manga, pioneering works of science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, horror, drama, and stories that defy description. Additionally, Tezuka’s anime studio, Mushi Production, developed an erotic trilogy of films ending in Belladonna of Sadness.

Tezuka’s mature manga works of the 60s and 70s explored ideas that were decades ahead of American comics produced at that time. Many instances of androgyny and queer sexuality present in Tezuka’s stories should be recognized in the wider discussion about queer representation in the medium of comics. Tezuka’s use of creative paneling, attention to atmosphere, and well-choreographed action, dwarf many contemporary comics. It’s hard to overstate how avant guard Tezuka was and how his work is of critical importance to comics culture.

Black Jack

A back-alley surgeon who plays by his own rules and fixes supernatural ailments, Black Jack reads like a Noir medical drama with a hint of Dr. Frankenstein. The manga follows its title character through a series of self -contained adventures, each revolving around a bizarre medical case. In the story, “Confluence,” Black Jack reconnects with his first love who has become trans-male since they last met.

Dororo

Hyakkimaru is a boy whose body is sacrificed to 48 demons. With an artificial body rebuilt by a cobbler, Hyakkimaru uses blades hidden in his prosthetic arms to slay demons. For every demon he slays, he regenerates one body part. Hyakkimaru is accompanied by the child thief, Dororo on his journey. The lengthy manga is a visceral epic about regaining one’s humanity.

Tezuka uses the historical backdrop of the Sengoku period and incorporates creatures from Japanese folklore to deliver a literary adventure. The only downside is that the title-character of Dororo can border on annoying and the series was canceled before it could deliver a satisfying ending. Even so, Dororo’s strengths have held up over time and have garnered new anime adaptations and manga reinterpretations.

Alabaster

Alabaster is a radical reinterpretation of The Invisible Man, in which a man uses an invisibility gun to commit crimes. It was a pivotal shift for Tezuka into darker material and explores racism and the ugliness of the human soul. Tezuka himself feels like he went too far, but in hindsight there are some incredible horror illustrations that are sure to chill readers to the bone.

The Book of Human Insects

A psychological thriller, a vampire story, and a personification of the feminist movement, The Book of Human Insects defies traditional categorization. The story follows Toshiko Tomura, a woman with the ability to leach talent from people through sex. Tomura becomes a successful actress, designer and author by mimicking her colleagues and plagiarizing their work. Toshiko Tomura serves as a metaphor for women entering the workforce in Japan during the 1970s. Tomura emulates powerful men to survive in a man’s world and eventually her actions go beyond survival and she becomes an apex predator.

Ayako

Ayako is another social thriller where a family represents the nation of Japan after its defeat in WWII. Tezuka manages to juxtapose a sexual abuse drama with a political thriller. The title character of Ayako is a child of dubious origin who’s kept locked away to maintain her family’s prestige. Ayako then grows in isolation gaining the physique of an adult but maintaining the mind of a child.

Ode to Kirihito

Ode to Kirihito is best described as a radical reinterpretation of a werewolf story. A doctor is sent to investigate a town where a mysterious illness is morphing victims’ faces with doglike features. As you might guess, the doctor uncovers more than he bargained for. What follows is a surreal odyssey worthy of a Clockwork Orange and Lawrence of Arabia combined. Despite its bizarre elements, Ode to Kirihito explores what it means to be human in a world beset by politics and prejudice.

MW

In MW , a priest’s past comes back to haunt him when he is reunited with a boy he molested who has grown into a serial killer. The killer, Yuki, has a homosexual affair with the priest and threatens to “out” him if the priest turns Yuki in to the police. Yuki is a character as fascinating as he is threatening. Every time I thought I’d seen the depth of this character’s evil, Yuki took it one step further. To this day, MW is a riveting thriller that explores every taboo most authors won’t dare touch.

Apollo’s Song

Apollo’s Song is simultaneously a celebration of and a rebellion against genre. In the story, a man is cursed to die whenever he falls in love only to be reborn in another time. With each reincarnation, Tezuka is able to play within a different genre while using the recurring theme of forbidden love. From war story, to sports drama, and future dystopia, Apollo’s Song shows that no matter how the world changes some stories stay the same.

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