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Fantasy, reality and and terminal identity in Japan anime by Susan J. Napier*



In 1909 the British writer E. M. Forster published the short story “The Machine Stops,” a bleak vision of the far future in which what is left of humanity lives below the earth, connected through a worldwide communications system that allows them never to leave their rooms or engage in direct contact with anyone else. All human life is organized by an entity known simply as the “Machine.” At the story’s end the Machine malfunctions and finally stops. Abandoned and helpless, the humans begin

to die in a scene that interlaces apocalyptic imagery with an extremely tenuous note of hope—the assertion by Kuno, the narrative’s single rebel character, that the Machine will never be restarted because “humanity has learned its lesson.” As he speaks, however, The whole city was broken like a honeycomb. An airship had sailed in through the vomitory into a ruined wharf. It crashed downwards, exploding as it went, rending gallery after gallery with its wings of steel.
For a moment they saw the nations of the dead, and, before they joined them, scraps of the untainted sky.1
Forster’s dystopian vision may remind readers of other Western science fiction and dystopian works of the period, in particular Aldous Huxley’s somewhat later Brave New World (1932). Like Huxley, Forster critiques the growing reliance of his contemporaries on technology. But he differs from Huxley in two ways that make “The Machine Stops” a work particularly relevant to contemporary science fiction. The first is in his vision of a world in which technology has rendered direct interpersonal contact
unnecessary and, in fact, slightly obscene;2 the second is the explicitly apocalyptic dimension that he brings to this state of affairs. The Machine destroys not only human relationships but also, ultimately, the material world, although it does leave a tantalizing glimpse of “untainted sky.”
Forster’s work is classic science fiction, serving, as Fredric Jameson puts it, to “defamiliarize and restructure our experience of our own present”— in this case, that of 1909.3 It is also a remarkably prescient view of a future that we in the twenty-first century are increasingly able to imagine.
In Forster’s view, however, when the machines stop, reality—the
untainted sky—emerges. In the two Japanese anime TV series that I examine in this chapter, this is not the case. In Shinseiki evangerion (1995–96, Neon Genesis Evangelion) and Serial Experiments: Lain (1998), reality itself becomes part of the apocalyptic discourse, problematized as a condition that can no longer be counted on to continue to exist, thanks to the advances of technology and its increasing capabilities for both material and spiritual destruction.4

The two works also pose an insistent question: What happens
to human identity in the virtual world? Does it become what Scott
Bukatman calls “terminal identity,” a new state in which we find “both the end of the subject and a new subjectivity constructed at the computer screen or television screen?” And does it then go on to become part of what Bukatman refers to as “terminal culture,” a world in which reality and fantasy fuse into techno-surrealism and nothing is ultimately “knowable”?5  The answer to these last two questions seems to be “yes,” at least in terms of the two anime I examine, although the originality and imaginativeness of their approaches might tend to obscure what, to my mind, are their deeply pessimistic visions. The narratives, the characters, and the mise-en-scène of these works evoke the disturbing postmodern fantasy that Jeffrey Sconce has described in Haunted Media. Sconce suggests that, “where there were once whole human subjects, there are now only fragmented and decentered subjectivities, metaphors of ‘simulation’ and ‘schizophrenia,’” and he finds that, “in postmodernism’s fascination with the evacuation of the referent and an ungrounded play of signification and surface, we can see another vision of beings who, like ghosts and psychotics, are no longer anchored in reality but instead wander through a hallucinatory world where the material real is forever lost.”6

Although Sconce’s point is that we may be exaggerating the uniqueness of this postmodern condition—and indeed Forster’s 1909 text suggests that the interface between self and machine has been a modernist preoccupation as well—it is certainly the case that the two anime I examine call into question the material world in ways that seem peculiarly specificto this period yet show strong traces of Japanese cultural tradition. This chapter explores how each anime evokes its particular “hallucinatory world,” but first it is necessary to situate the two texts within both anime and Japanese culture.
Undoubtedly related to the experience of atomic bombing in World
War II, but also combined with a centuries-old cultural preoccupation with the transience of life, the apocalyptic critique of technology is one that has grown increasingly frequent in recent Japanese science fiction anime.
The trend probably began to develop at least as far back as the 1970s with the immensely popular animated Yamato television and film series about the adventures of the spaceship incarnation of the World War II battleship Yamato (chapter 2, Figure 2.1). (The series was best known in America in its 1979 television incarnation Star Blazers.) This provided the template for an ever-growing mass-culture obsession with apocalyptic motifs.
In the Yamato series, however, technology, as long as it was aligned with the power of the human spirit—in this case, the Japanese spirit of yamato damashii—could still have salvific aspects. This combination reaches its apotheosis (literally) at the end of the film Saraba uchu¯ senkan Yamato: Ai no senshitachi (1978, Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato: In the Name of Love) when the stalwart young captain of the Yamato, accompanied by the fetching
corpse of his beloved girlfriend and the shades of former Yamato captains, realizes that the only way to save earth is to conduct a suicide mission into the heart of the White Comet. The film ends with a single long-held shot of a spreading white radiance, a surprisingly ambiguous finale for a film aimed largely at children and adolescents.7
This ambiguous vision of humans, technology, and the end of the
world has appeared in more complex forms in the years since Yamato. Most spectacularly, the 1988 film masterpiece Akira, directed by O¯ tomo Katsuhiro, inaugurated an infinitely darker vision of technology in relation to human identity. Structured around a series of scientific experiments on telepathic children gone horribly wrong, Akira presented an unforgettable vision of a world in which the innocent were grotesquely sacrificed to the vicious machinations of what might be called the military–industrial
complex. Far from the cozy mix of genders and generations that the
Yamato series presented, the protagonists in Akira were largely alienated male adolescents typified by Tetsuo, its psychokinetically transmogrified antihero who, in the film’s penultimate scene, lays waste to Tokyo in one of the most memorable and grotesque scenes of destruction ever filmed.
Akira’s highlighting of telekinesis also brought a note of hallucinatory unreality to some of the film’s most significant scenes, a feature that would be expanded in later anime and was perhaps already presaged in the spectral presences aboard the final voyage of the Yamato.8
In anime released in the years since Akira’s debut, its dark vision of
hapless humanity in the throes of technology has not only been echoed but intensified. At first this may seem surprising. Japan, along with the United States, is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. Unlike the United States, however, Japan endured over ten years of recession starting in the nineties, and it has left a deep mark on contemporary attitudes toward both technology and the future. Although the country continues to produce important technological advances, the dominant attitude toward technology displayed in both its mass-cultural and high-cultural works seems to be ambivalent at best. This is in significant contrast to Western culture, which, as can be seen in American magazines such as Wired or in Canadian Pierre Levy’s Cyberculture,9 still contains strong elements of techno-celebration, especially in relation to the potential of virtual reality as promised by computers and other new media.


Besides the recession, another reason behind Japan’s often problematic attitude toward technology is undoubtedly the 1995 Aum Shinrikyo¯ incident in which followers of a charismatic guru named Asahara Shoko released deadly sarin gas into the Tokyo subway system, killing twelve people and injuring many more. Both the incident and the cult surrounding it seem to have stepped from the pages of a science fiction thriller.
Many of Asahara’s young followers were, at least potentially, part of the Japanese elite, graduates of top schools in science and engineering. Often shy and insecure, they were reported in the press to be devotees of science fiction anime. Lured into the cult by its potent mix of supernatural imagery—Asahara was said to be capable of levitation, for example—its increasingly strident rejection of the material and materialist world, and its apocalyptic teachings, believers not only manufactured sarin gas but also reportedly worked on developing nuclear weapons.

The shadow of the Aum Shinrikyo¯ incident still looms over contemporary Japanese society on a variety of fronts, contributing to a society-wide sense of malaise. The incident itself can be seen as embodying many of the characteristic elements of contemporary Japanese society’s complex vision of technology, one that recognizes the dangers of technology but remains awestruck by its potential powers. Aum’s mixture of New Age occult elements and traditional Buddhist and Hindu teachings is also relevant,
underlining the fact that technology does not exist in a vacuum but
interacts with all facets of human existence, including the spiritual.
Consequently, the Japanese ambivalence toward technology goes
beyond a simple binary split between technology and its other(s) to encompass a problematic contemporary vision of human identity vis-à-vis not only technology but also the nature of reality itself. Increasingly in Japanese culture, the real has become something to be played with, questioned, and ultimately mistrusted. In some works, such as Murakami Haruki’s best-selling novel Sekai no owari to haadoboirudo wandaarando (1985, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World) and Anno Hideaki’s Neon Genesis Evangelion, characters make conscious decisions to retreat into their own fantasy worlds. In other works such as Serial Experiments:
Lain or Murakami Ryu¯ ’s novel Koin rokkaa beibiizu (1984, Coin Locker Babies), characters attempt to impose their own, perhaps insane, visions on the outer worlds of reality. Often these explorations of the real contain an explicitly spiritual, even messianic, dimension.10
Although I include literary examples, the most significant medium in
which these explorations of technology, identity, and reality versus unreality are being played out is the animated one, a medium often denigrated by Westerners as fit only for children. Unlike Western popular culture, where expressions of technological ambivalence tend to be mediated through live-action films such as Blade Runner (1982), The Matrix (1999), and Minority Report (2002), Japanese society has welcomed explorations of these complex issues in animated form. The reasons behind this positive reception are varied, but they include the fact that Japan has long had a tradition, through scroll painting and woodblock printing, in which narrative is as much pictorial as literary. This has culminated, in the view of some scholars, in the ubiquitousness of manga, or comic books, as a staple of twentieth-century Japanese mass culture. Anime and manga are
strongly linked, since many, if not most, anime are based on manga, and both media appeal to adults as well as children.
There are other, perhaps more intriguing, reasons, however, for the
synergy between animation and explorations of reality. As I have argued elsewhere, animation is a medium in itself, not simply a genre of live-actioncinema.11

Death Note Live action cinema

As such, it develops and plays by its own generic restrictions and capabilities, the latter of which are uniquely suited for dealing with
issues of the real and the simulated. The animation critic Paul Wells calls these the “deep structures” of animation that “integrate and counterpoint form and meaning, and, further, reconcile approach and application as the essence of the art. The generic outcomes of the animated film are imbued in its technical execution.”12 By this I take Wells to mean that the act of animation—a medium that he compares with the fine arts rather than the cinema—foregrounds and affects the characteristics of the text being animated in ways conducive to a form of art that is both peculiarly selfreflexive
and particularly creative. The “deep structures” that inspire animated visions link with the uncanny and the fantastic to create a unique aesthetic world.
Thus Japanese animation tends to show particular strength in the
genres of fantasy and science fiction. Unlike manga, which cover an enormously wide terrain, from action fare to self-help books and even economic treatises, the fluid instrumentalities of animation delight in highlighting the unreal or the unlikely. The free space of the animated medium—a medium not bound by a perceived obligation to represent the real—is ideal for depicting the free spaces of science fiction and fantasy, genres that have traditionally existed parallel to representations of the real. The overt technology of the animation medium itself highlights in a selfreflexive
way the technological basis of the science fiction genre and the
artificiality of fantasy.
Elements of twentieth-century Japanese culture also seem to have made its citizens particularly receptive to the idea of problematizing the real. In Topographies of Japanese Modernity, Seiji M. Lippit analyzes the twentiethcentury Japanese critic Kobayashi Hideo’s argument that a fundamental feature of Japanese prewar culture was a “pervasive spirit of homelessness and loss.” This sense of loss is especially embodied in Kobayashi’s vision of the city of Tokyo, which serves “not as a repository for memories . . . but only as an ever shifting marker of disassociation from the past.”
It makes modern Japan into a society in which both urban and natural landscapes are considered “different versions of phantasmagoria, as spectral images without substances.”13

The notion of “phantasmagoria” is one
that functions particularly well in relation to the nonrepresentational world of anime, whose fast pace and constantly transforming imagery continually construct a world that is inherently “without substances.” It should also not be surprising that Tokyo is the favored location for most apocalyptic anime. As the center of contemporary Japan’s trends and currents,
it remains in many anime, such as Akira, Lain, and Evangelion, the
“unreal city” both of T. S. Eliot’s anomic vision in The Waste Land (1922) and of the virtual reality visions of postmodernism.


As the uncanny relevance of Eliot’s work suggests, Kobayashi’s and
Lippit’s arguments, while apparently concerning early-twentieth-century modernity and its links to the modernist movement, are still strikingly appropriate to our contemporary, supposedly “postmodern,” world. Japan is still a society in which what Marilyn Ivy terms “discourses of the vanishing,” echoes of the past, are remarkably prominent. Even though the anime I am examining are set in a future that seems to have lost all traces of Japanese tradition, both works privilege memory—not only its loss
but its stubborn ability to remain important in a fluctuating world. But in both Lain and Evangelion memory itself ultimately becomes uncertain, a force to be manipulated and even, perhaps, abused.
Lippit goes on to argue that, in many prewar Japanese texts, “modernity is marked by fragmentation and dissolution,”14 elements that commentators find in abundance in our own period. In fact, the speed of fragmentation and loss may be the most distinctive aspect of the postmodern situation leading to a pervasive sense of helplessness and fear. For example, in Terminal Identity, Bukatman traces the increasing disembodiment of the subject in the electronic era and analyzes it in terms of social and psychological trauma. “In both spatial and temporal terms, then, the bodily experience of the human is absented from the new reality, precipitating a
legitimate cultural crisis.”15
In Japan this “cultural crisis” can be seen not only in terms of ambivalent attitudes toward the interface between humans and technology but also in a deeper questioning of what it is to be human in relation to the machine, a machine that increasingly seems to dominate, to construct, and ultimately to interfere with the reality of human nature. This problematization of human identity in the context of technology seems to be leading in increasingly apocalyptic directions, concretely manifested in the Aum incident and made an object of aesthetic and ideological interest in the many anime and manga dealing with world-ending scenarios. These apocalyptic visions are not limited to the destruction of the material world. Rather, viewers and readers are confronted with stories whose narrative impetus appears to be a growing sense of hopelessness in relation to overwhelming forces that are both exterior and interior. Not surprisingly, a sense of claustrophobia and paranoia pervades these works, ultimately leading to memorable visions not simply of cultural crisis but also of cultural

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion and Serial Experiments: Lain have much in
common. They can readily be described as postmodern in terms of their concern with a notion of identity as fluctuating, their rapid and sometimes incoherent narrative pace, and their refusal of conventional forms of closure. But the two stories have theoretical issues in common as well: an explicit obsession with apocalypse and the question of salvation; an ambivalent celebration of the spectacle; a notion of time in flux; and a shared vision of what Janet Staiger calls “future noir,”16 in which dimly lit, labyrinthine cityscapes dominate the mise-en-scène. Most important, they share a complex and problematic attitude toward the real. The two stories also deal with issues that are perhaps culturally specific to Japan:
the increasing distrust and alienation between the generations, the complicated role of childhood, and, most significant, a privileging of the feminine, often in the form of the young girl, or sho¯ jo. Typical of more sophisticated anime, they also offer a striking visual style, largely architectonic, in which space, shape, and color play off each other to produce in the viewer a sensation that is disorienting and exhilarating at the same time. This contributes to a pervasive sense of the uncanny that imbues both narratives, linking them with the genres of horror and fantasy. Finally, both anime appeared as television series (although Evangelion also became two feature
films). Unlike most American series where each episode usually stands by itself, Japanese television and OVA (original video animation, i.e., videos produced for direct sale, bypassing broadcasting and theatrical release) series develop over time, allowing, at their best, for far more intricate plots and an infinitely richer understanding of the psychologies of the major characters.


1. E. M. Forster, “The Machine Stops,” in The Eternal Moment and Other Stories (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1956), 37.
2. Consider the following exchange between Kuno and his mother in
Forster’s text: “But I can see you!” she exclaimed. “What more do you want?” “I want to see you not through the Machine,” said Kuno. “I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine.” “Oh hush!” said his mother, vaguely shocked. “You mustn’t say anything against the Machine” (4).
3. Fredric Jameson, “Progress versus Utopia or, Can We Imagine the Future?” Science Fiction Studies 9, no. 2 (1982): 152.
4. Shinseiki evangerion, dir. Anno Hideaki, TV series, 26 episodes (1995–96); translated as Neon Genesis Evangelion: Perfect Collection, 8-DVD box set (ADV Films, 2002); Serial Experiments: Lain, dir. Nakamura Ryu¯ taro¯ , TV series, 13 episodes
(1998); translated on 3 DVDs (Pioneer, 1999–2001).
5. Scott Bukatman, Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Post-Modern Science Fiction (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993), 9. Jean Baudrillard’s description of the contemporary condition as “no more subject, no more focal point, no
more center or periphery: pure flexion or circular inflexion” is also particularly appropriate here. Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), 29.
6. Jeffrey Sconce, Haunted Media: Electronic Presence from Telegraphy to Television (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000), 18.
7. Uchu¯ senkan Yamato, TV series, 26 episodes (1977); translated as Star Blazers Series 1: The Quest for Iscandar, 6 DVDs (Voyager, 2001); this was the first of several Yamato series broadcast on American television; Saraba uchu¯ senkan Yamato: Ai no
senshitachi, dir. Masuda Toshio (1978); translated as Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato: In the Name of Love, DVD (Voyager, 1995). A strong awareness of the transience and unpredictability of life has been rooted in Japanese culture for centuries and is exemplified in its lyric tradition. See Susan J. Napier, Anime from
Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation, rev. ed. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 249–53.
8. Akira, dir. O¯ tomo Katsuhiro (1988); translated as Akira, DVD (Pioneer, 2001).
9. Pierre Levy, Cyberculture, trans. Robert Bononno (Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 2001).
10. Murakami Haruki, Sekai no owari to haadoboirudo wandaarando (Tokyo: Shincho¯ sha, 1985); translated by Alfred Birnbaum as Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1991); Murakami Ryu¯ , Koin
rokkaa beibiizu, 2 vols. (Tokyo: Ko¯dansha, 1984); translated by Stephen Snyder as Coin Locker Babies (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1995).
11. Napier, Anime, 292.
12. Paul Wells, Animation: Genre and Authorship (London: Wallflower, 2002), 66.
13. Seiji M. Lippit, Topographies of Japanese Modernism (New York: Columbia
University Press, 2000), 4.
14. Ibid., 7.
15. Bukatman, Terminal Identity, 106.
16. Janet Staiger, “Future Noir: Contemporary Representations of Visionary Cities,” in Alien Zone II, ed. Annette Kuhn (London: Verso, 1999), 100.

*Courtesy from “Robot Ghost Wired Dreams. Japanese sciencie fiction from origins to anime.” USA, Regents of the University of MIneapolis Press, MInnesota and London,  2007. Pages. 101 to 108.


From 1947 to the Mid-Sixties: Tezuka’s Classical Period by Susanne Phillips[*]

The legendary manga artist and anime producer Osamu Tezuka (1928–1989), known in Japan as the manga no kamisama or “god of Japanese comics,” played a crucial role in the development of postwar manga. Active artistically for more than forty years, he left
behind approximately 150,000 manuscript pages after his death. As a pioneer, he tested the narrative possibilities that word-picture combinations offer. Thus, the development of the so-called story manga (sutorii manga) is associated with his name.1 In his search for new forms of storytelling, Tezuka hearkened back to the Japanese
tradition of word-picture combinations and, at the same time, introduced new pictorial elements from U.S. and European cinema. Like novelists and movie directors, Tezuka gathered his themes and characters from all sources: Asian and European history, the world’s
fairy tales and myths, American science fiction films, and English detective stories. In the treasure trove of Tezuka’s manga, one can find all possible genres with the idiosyncratic narrative patterns and the characters associated with them. Tezuka’s manga are populated
not only by samurai and ghosts, and robots and extraterrestrials, but also by actresses like Marilyn Monroe and comic book heroes like Dick Tracy. Through his manga, many motifs and characters from western popular culture found their way to Japan.
At the beginning of his career, Tezuka was able to strike the right chord for the children who were his readers with his adventure and science fiction stories. In the 1950s, he dominated the manga industry, monopolizing it to a degree that would be impossible for any one artist to accomplish today. Like all who are involved in
popular culture, he was sensitive to the dictates of his readers: works that did not appeal to their tastes were quickly abandoned for projects that would sell. However, he was also at the mercy of his readership’s changing preferences. By the 1960s, Tezuka was no longer considered a trendsetter. His predominance was challenged
when new kinds of stories gained popularity. Called gekiga (dramatic pictures), these comics were new in several respects. First, they came from a new generation of artists located in Osaka, not Tokyo, where the established artists lived. Second, they were new because they were realistically drawn and featured graphic scenes of violence.
Tezuka found himself fending off journalists who declared that he was all washed up. Envious of gekiga’s success, Tezuka fiercely attacked his new artist-competitors, but he also responded by adapting gekiga’s stylistic innovations to his own work. Gekiga spurred Tezuka to abandon old formulas that he had favored for new themes, plots, and character concepts. Finally, after this phase of experimentation, Tezuka hit on a winning synthesis that used the gekiga format to embellish his dramatic manga epics about key moments in world history.
In terms of narrative style, we can distinguish three periods in Tezuka’s career: (1) his early “classical” period from 1947 to the mid-sixties, (2) his horror-gothic period in the seventies, and (3) his historical-realistic period from approximately the midseventies
to his death in 1989.

From 1947 to the Mid-Sixties: Tezuka’s Classical Period
Tezuka’s first manga, Shin-takarajima (New Treasure Island, 1947), is an adventure story combining elements of Tarzan, Treasure Island, and Robinson Crusoe. It became a best-seller with about 400,000 copies sold. Shin-takarajima marked a turning point in the history of manga: for the first time, children could read an exciting story not as a serialized newspaper column, but as a manga book of nearly 200 pages from beginning to end.
After the success of Shin-takarajima, Tezuka drew other manga that were published as “red-book manga” (akahon manga), so named because they were printed on cheap paper and bound in a red cover. They were sold by sweets merchants in the Matsuyamachi district of Osaka. His ideas came from a supply of approximately 3,000pages that he had drawn and bound into books as a youngster during the war. Here, one can find a major reason for the great success of Tezuka’s early publications; most of the adventure and science fiction stories of this early phase are revised versions of those that came from the pen of a boy who was not much older than his readership, rather than an adult who saw manga as a didactic tool to educate children.
In this early phase, Tezuka wrote three kinds of tales: adventure stories, science fiction stories, and period romances. In contrast to Shin-takarajima, these manga were not originally published as books but appeared in magazines running over many, many years, with a form and content that always responded to readers’ changing tastes. For each type he drew manga from dozens to hundreds of pages long. In the early fifties, when he developed his cartoon stars, these stories became long-running bestsellers.
All were hits, such as the adventure story Janguru taitei (Kimba the White Lion, 1950–1954, literally, “Ruler of the jungle”), the science fiction story Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy, 1951–1968, literally, “Ironarm Atom”), and the period romance Ribon no kishi (Princess Knight, 1953–1956, literally, “Knight with Ribbons”). The publication of these three serialized manga marked the first triumph of Tezuka’s career. They were so successful financially—all three even gained popularity abroad—that Tezuka was able to establish his own anime studio.

Adventure Stories
Adventure stories contain all the exotic locales and extraordinary situations that one
can imagine: The heroes struggle to survive in a tropical jungle, either because they
had to make an emergency landing or because they are on an unusual expedition to
solve some mystery. En route, they find strange old towers, ruins of Inca towns, springs
of immortality, and so on. The adventurers are attacked by eagles, crocodiles, black
panthers, and gigantic poisonous spiders, as happens in Sharigawa no himitsu kichi
(The Secret Base of Shari-River, 1948). The plot of these wilderness adventure stories
is always structured upon the opposition between civilization and nature: “civilization,”
personified by the heroes, is characterized by advanced scientific thinking,
whereas “nature,” personified by the ignorant savages they encounter in the jungle,
means silly superstition.
Science Fiction Stories
Tezuka’s science fiction manga are radically different from his exotic adventure stories.
Examples of this type include Chiteikoku no kaijin (The Mysterious Men Down in the
Earth, 1948), Metoroporisu (Metropolis,1949), Kitarubeki sekai (Next World, 1951),
38 doseij÷o no kaibutsu (The Monster on the 38th Parallel, 1953), Taiheiy÷o x-pointo


(Point X in the South Pacific, 1953), and Daik÷ozui jidai (The Age of the Great Flood,
1955). Rather than being escapist fantasies, these manga directly reflect Japan’s war
experiences and the privations of the postwar period. The stark realities of the time are
made clear in Tezuka’s sharply detailed portrayals of life, down to the small details
of its cruelties. The young Ken’ichi, for example, who appears in almost all of these
early manga, is a character with whom many Japanese could closely identify. He has
lost his parents in the war, and now his uncle, Hige Oyaji, has to take care of him.
In Tezuka’s science fiction stories, the conflict that structures the narrative is based
upon the opposition between democracy and dictatorship. While “democracy” stands
for sincerity and responsibility, “dictatorship” stands for unscrupulousness and callow,
self-serving egotism. Tezuka penned many stories about how the policies of an irresponsible
government run by a dictator end in disaster. The characters who are part of
the totalitarian regime ruthlessly oppress their subordinates and torture any dissenters.
The people, lacking will and incapable of action, have no influence on the decisions
of the selfish rulers. While the officers and governmental officials prosecute the war
from a safe distance, the populace—a mob whipped into a frenzy—is exposed to a
hail of bombs. Panicked, they try to flee, while others—buried alive and shouting for
help—are abandoned to their miserable fate. Reading these manga, Tezuka’s readers
could not only reexperience the horrors of war, but also feel fear about the possibility

of new ones. As such, these stories are a reaction to contemporary history, and, above
all, to the outbreak of the Korean War.
Tezuka’s story lines, therefore, are generally deeply pessimistic. The world has
become a slaughterhouse; there is no corner left to withdraw to and be safe from
violence. He repeatedly portrays the destruction of the world as a flood that buries
everything under it, as in Daikozui jidai (The Age of Great Flood,1955). He expresses
his hope for a rescue using the biblical image of Noah’s Ark. People try to escape on
rafts or leave the earth in spaceships. If enough time remains, pairs of animals are
entered on inventory lists to be taken along on board. These stories often have heroes,
too—young adventurers who rescue Earth and humanity. Here the opposition, narratively,
is between children and adults. The adults are selfish, uncompromising. and
incapable of handling the awesome powers of new technologies responsibly. Great
rulers end up being egotistical maniacs who cut ridiculous figures. By contrast, the
young are reasonable, self-sacrificing, and fight valiantly against the corrupt evil
adults to save the world.
As in all good science fiction stories, things do not occur by happenstance but can
be explained (pseudo)scientifically. For example, the apocalyptic flood is caused by
global warming after nuclear test explosions. Many stories end happily after the evil
knowledge that has wreaked havoc has been destroyed, but it is also clear that scientific
progress is unstoppable; the danger remains that some mad ruler will get his hands on
this new technology once again and use it for nefarious purposes. Tezuka’s ambivalence
toward science is personified by different scientists who appear as characters.
He repeatedly uses scenes of conferences and congresses where scientific experts
gather from all over the world. Among them, there is always a mix of personalities.
Invariably, along with the few modest and far-sighted researchers who warn of the
consequences of new discoveries, there are also arrogant braggarts who announce
smugly that “1+1 = 2,” and greedy scientists hungry for money and ready to sell their
inventions to the highest bidder, as in Meturoporisu (1949, 18–19).

Romantic Fantasies
In Tezuka’s romantic fantasies one can see influences from three main sources: German
fairy tales, from which he borrows plots; Disney characters, from which he takes
stylistic features; and the Takarazuka women’s revue, from which he takes scenes that
he incorporates into his manga tableau.
Tezuka’s stories are full of fairy-tale motifs. For example, Akai yuki (Red Snow,
1955) tells the story of an outcast orphan girl who later marries the son of the czar, a
version of the Cinderella tale that, in this manga, is set in old Russia. Extremely implausible
plot twists lead finally to a happy ending. The girl’s key talent, which allows
her to rise socially, is her singing. Thus, notes dance across the manga’s pages with
little birds, which flit around twittering the melody. Replete with romantic moments,
Tezuka won over girls as manga readers with these pieces.
Animal figures, which play an important role in all early manga of Tezuka, appear

Red Snow

in these stories in great numbers. Their resemblance to Disney deer, squirrels, bunnies,
and so on is obvious, and one can even encounter famous Disney versions of characters
from Western popular culture, such as Snow White or Peter Pan. Many of these
manga are set in czarist Russia. In sharp contrast to the ultramodern skyscrapers and
high-tech factories that form the backdrop of his science fiction stories, the scenes in
Tezuka’s romances are reminiscent of postcards of Russian Orthodox churches, filled
with round onion turrets covered with snow.
Many also call to mind the Takarazuka all-women revue’s costume plays, which
still remain popular today with sold-out performances at their Osaka and Tokyo theaters
(Robertson 1998). As a boy, Tezuka went to many of their performances with
his mother, and he liberally imported themes, plots, scenery, scene sequences, and
characters from the stage into his manga. Thus, these had enormous influence on
Tezuka’s girls’ manga.
Tezuka’s most famous costume drama is Princess Knight. It is the story of Princess
Sapphire, a medieval European princess who has to disguise herself as a prince to
succeed to the throne. The basic plot device in the story is that the princess must play
a double role, constantly changing her dress, and thus her identity, to fool everyone.
This gives Tezuka a wide latitude for thinking about gender roles and female identity.

As girls’ manga (shojo manga) developed, it is this exploration of what it means to
be a girl, fathoming the inside world of the heroines, that became a central element
of the genre.
Influences from Abroad
The adventure and science fiction manga of Tezuka’s early phase reveal his thorough
knowledge of American and European adventure tales like Tarzan, Treasure Island,
or Robinson Crusoe, Hollywood, and the UFA (the former German film production
industry) films. Over and over again, one finds famous film scenes reappearing in
Tezuka’s stories. For example, the being that is brought to life by scientists and slowly
rises from the operating table in Tezuka’s Metoroporisu (1949, 29) is inspired by Fritz
Lang’s robot woman in Metropolis, and the automatic food dispenser for factory workers
in Shinsekai Rur÷u (literally, New World Lurue, 1951, 192) comes originally from
Charles Chaplin’s Modern Times. Tezuka altered the scenes for his young Japanese
audience, gave them an entirely new context, and enriched them with the biological
knowledge he had acquired while studying medicine.
Tezuka had mixed feelings about the United States, a love-hate relationship that
alternated between rejecting and borrowing from American popular culture. On the
one hand, the United States was Japan’s former enemy. In one of Tezuka’s science fiction
stories, Sekai o horobosu otoko (The Destroyer of the World, 1954), for example,
American generals discuss dropping another newly developed bomb on Japan. On
the other hand, America positively symbolized adventure, progress, and the future.
Tezuka’s manga often featured idealized utopian American cityscapes depicting a way
of life that was still foreign to Japanese children. Popular culture scholar Mitsutoshi
Ishigami describes his ambiguous feelings as a boy toward Tezuka’s manga by saying
that he felt a sense of strangeness (iwakan) and curiosity when looking at Tezuka’s
cityscapes filled with their skyscrapers and foreign letters on the roadsigns because
English was the language of the enemy. Japanese children did not learn English before
1945 (Ishigami 1977, 36). More and more American English crept into the titles of
Tezuka’s manga. At first, Tezuka ornamented his title pages with transcriptions in the
Roman alphabet, which added an exotic flavor to them. Later, he added English subtitles
that were more or less correct translations of the Japanese originals, and finally,
he used English titles, as in Metropolis written in Latin script and in the Japanese
katakana (Ishigami 1977, 28–37).

In addition, Tezuka added American cinematic features to his manga. In particular,
he adapted the technique of cinematic montage by making sequences of panels to
mimic movement or scene changes. For example, he might use a sequence of several
panels that depicted a figure moving closer to the “camera” (viewer) of a scene.
A typical Tezuka narrative illustrates his special talent as an innovative borrower,
an artist who could seamlessly fold western plots into Japanese stories. Tezuka alternated
his basic five-part plot structure in various manga, such as Astro Boy, Mitsume
ga t÷oru, and Dororo. His five-part structure consisted of the following:

1. An imperfect child is born or created. In one version, the father promises
the body of his child to demons to enlist their help so he can stay in power
(Hyakkimaru in Dororo). In the other, more frequently used version, a mad
or obsessed scientist creates a son, as in the case of Astro Boy; this son starts
life as a child rather than a fully grown adult like the western Frankenstein
or the Terminator. In any case, the child has physical problems that were
caused by his father. Angry about the child’s imperfections, the bad father
abandons him against the wishes of the weak mother.
2. The child is found by a man who lovingly takes care of him. Here, we see
a central motif of Japanese fairy tales at work. This is the motif of the child
sent by the gods (m÷oshigo), as in the tale of the peach boy, Momotar÷o. Every
Japanese child knows this story, which exists in countless variations.2
3. The stepfather, who is a brilliant scientist or doctor, provides the boy with
special augmentations (e.g., Astro Boy’s special equipment, radar, rocket
drive, Hyakkimaru’s artificial organs that allow him to live).
4. Through these special enhancements, the boy gains new powers, but also
suffers a split in his personality. While living like an average schoolboy, an
experience he shares with children his same age (and also the readers), he
uses his unusual abilities for good. Because he is largely artificial, the boy
wonders about his identity: Is he a human being or a robot?
5. The child rewards his stepfather by fighting criminals or ghosts. This plot
becomes a kind of hero myth that also has the character of a detective story,
like Batman in American comics. Tezuka’s most famous crime fighter is
Astro Boy.

The Cast of Characters
Tezuka authored several instructional books on drawing manga that provide insights
into his understanding of style, character development, and narrativity. In
Manga no kakikata (How to Draw Comics, 1977), he compares manga to children’s
drawings. In his eyes, children draw innocently, not in the sense of a realistic
portrait, like a photo, but expressively, directly putting down their impressions of
their surroundings. Similarly, Tezuka argues that drawing good comics involves
omission (sh÷oryaku), exaggeration (koch÷o), and variation (henkei). Correct proportion
for a realistic sketch is unnecessary. On the contrary, to express an emotion,
abrupt alterations in figuration are appropriate. Thus, his characters may look like
rubber dolls whose heads can reach the ground when submissively bowing and
whose arms become elastic, unnaturally extending far out to grab a beer bottle
they desire. During a fight, the head, arms, or legs can even fly away temporarily
from the body. Strictly speaking, Tezuka’s ideal is to make manga with a childlike
innocence, but also in a way that takes its cue from early American animation,
which is like a stack of images that simulate movement when flipped at high speed.
The only component absent in Tezuka’s manga is the musical background that
accompanies the animated film.
It is in his treatment of his characters that Tezuka comes closest to the role of a
modern film director or stage manager. The science fiction and adventure stories of
Tezuka’s early period are not serials. Content-wise they stand as independent works.
Nevertheless, all his stories from 1947 to 1955 have the same characters in them. They
may get a little older or have slightly different names, but they look the same and have
the same personalities, jobs, and, therefore, the same social status. Like Hollywood
studios with their stables of stars, Tezuka gradually built up a cast of dozens of characters

that was like an actual theater troupe. Just like real actors who are typecast to
fit particular roles, these characters appear in different manga playing their assigned
bits. Tezuka called this his “star system.”
For example, Hige Oyaji is the most pleasant, most engaging character in Tezuka’s
oeuvre. He acts as the protective (step)father or uncle of the orphan boy Ken’ichi, a
figure for whom many Japanese children of the postwar period certainly yearned. A
dear old man with a moustache, Hige Oyaji is a traditionalist who is dependable and

intelligent, although sometimes a little bit clumsy and irritable. Having lived through
the horrific defeat in the war, he is an ardent opponent of nuclear weapons and atomic
bomb tests. In Tezuka’s stories, like Mah÷o yashiki (Satan’s House, 1948), Metropolis
(1949), and Janguru taitei (Kimba, 1950–54), Hige Oyaji plays either a responsible
doctor or a good-hearted detective.
In almost all of Tezuka’s early manga, Ken’ichi plays the youthful hero with whom
Tezuka’s young readers could identify. Ken’ichi has a strongly developed sense of
justice and responsibility, and does his utmost not only for his friends, but also for
world peace. His uncompromising idealism is astonishing, because Ken’ichi repeatedly
faces situations that show how naive he really is.
A third key character in Tezuka’s star system is Acetylene Lamp, or “Lamp”
for short, a character who is the embodiment of evil, the mirror opposite of Hige
Oyaji. He plays various roles, such as the sadistic criminal and the unscrupulous
saboteur. He murders people without showing the slightest touch of remorse.
While Lamp is always meticulously dressed, he almost always is a fiercelooking
man. His peculiar name comes from a candle’s flame that flickers on
Lamp’s head when he is surprised or annoyed. Lamp had his debut as the mean
newspaper journalist in Rosuto w÷arudo (Lost World, 1948) (Ishigami 1977, 111).
Acetylene Lamp is one of the few of Tezuka’s characters who also appears in his
later manga as well. Even after Tezuka had abandoned the star system, he still
cast Lamp in sadistic roles.
These and many other characters inhabit Tezuka’s early manga, even if most of
them never became the main characters in any of Tezuka serialized works.3 Tezuka
used this ensemble, giving his “actors” roles that would fit the specific genres in which
they appeared (e.g., the gunslinger hero in the western, the brilliant scientist-inventor
in the science fiction story, etc.).
An unpublished manuscript of Tezuka’s, on exhibit at the Tezuka Memorial Museum
(Tezuka Kinenkan) in Takarazuka, hints that he actually imagined his characters
to be actors that he had hired (Tezuka Productions 1994). He had drawn a lineup of
their faces, provided a short description of them, a curriculum vitae of their acting
careers (who worked when for which studio), and a salary chart of the fees they should
receive for appearing in a manga. Since his readers understand that Tezuka’s manga
are “cinematic,” most Japanese critics rarely mention this idiosyncratic way in which
Tezuka conceived his characters as real actors.
Having stock characters who are unambiguously either good or evil does not allow
much flexibility in terms of a story’s development. But it does allow for the possibility
of humor. For example, Tezuka frequently drew himself, first as a doctor or manga artist,
then as the head of his anime studio, Mushi Production. Sometimes, his characters
quarrel with each other, intrigue against each other, or argue with Osamu Tezuka as
the studio head about their “roles,” “salary,” and so on.
Tezuka also invented characters who have nothing to do with the plot per se, but
appear in cameo roles for comedic effect. The most famous of these is a strange being
called “Hyotantsugi.” It is shaped like a gourd bottle and covered with patches.

Ordinary characters can suddenly mutate into Hyotantsugi when they get angry,
excited, or are ashamed, only to be restored to their original form in the next panel
again. When Tezuka wants to stress strong emotions, the Hyotantsugi bursts straight
out of the panel. When something stupid happens in a story, it rains Hy÷otantsugi.
Occasionally, the gags are more interesting than the events at the center of the
story since they are inside jokes that only true Tezuka fans would comprehend. For
example, characters often step out of the proper story (and even the actual panels) to
remark upon the storyline and the cast of characters. They take on a life outside the
stories as if they were famous film stars. In Kitaru beki sekai (Next World, 1951), a
foreigner meeting Hige Oyaji remarks, “You say you are private detective Hige Oyaji!
I am familiar with your name from several manga” (Kitaru beki sekai, quoted from
a reprint of 1995, 87). Or, in another, when Hige Oyaji makes his first appearance
in Atomu taishi (later, Tetsuwan Atomu or Astro Boy), he asks the other characters
if they know him. They reply, “Of course, you are Hige Oyaji, the private detective
in Tezuka’s other manga.” Hige Oyaji then tells them, “Yes, now I am teacher, but
in former manga, as a private detective, I was an indispensible character of Tezuka’s
manga” (Tetsuwan Atomu 1995, vol. 1, 53). On this secondary comedic level, the close
bond between Osamu Tezuka and his contemporary readers becomes clear.

The Hero—Astro Boy, Leo, and Princess Sapphire
The three serialized manga that made Tezuka’s career all have good, strong heroes
who fight against despicable villains. Indeed, the stories of these three heroes mark
the zenith of popularity of Tezuka’s adventure, science fiction, and romantic fantasies.
The answer as to why Tezuka’s work became so popular lies perhaps in the new ways
he frames his heroes as characters. These stories are not a simple battle between good
and evil—something that we see, for example, in the American Superman comics
where the man of steel (aka Clark Kent) battles against the likes of Lex Luther and
other unrecalcitrant criminals. Tezuka’s heroes are also struggling against a corrupt
society filled with prejudice of which they are a part.
For example, the small robot Astro Boy lives in the Tokyo of 2003, a world of skyscrapers
and aircars that very much resembles today: the children are bored at school, the
police provide law and order, and the ministry of science charts a course for society’s
technological future. On the one hand, these stories are conventional myths of the hero
who protects society from evil outsiders. Like the American heroes in Batman, Superman,
or Spiderman comics, Astro Boy works on society’s behalf to hunt for dangerous criminals
who threaten the public order. With the extraordinary powers that the boy received
from his stepfather, he is often the only one able to fight the villains and save Tokyo, or
even the whole of Japan, from their attacks or from environmental disasters.
On the other hand, these stories do not portray a simple “us versus them” in which
society is good, and evil comes from outside dualism. In fact, the stories raise disturbing
questions about modern society. Unlike today, robots live among humans. Thanks

to scientific advances, in fact, the latest robot models are indistinguishable from humans.
Thus, the underlying theme of Astro Boy is that tension arises when robots and
humans live together. Using this fictional device, Tezuka is exploring real problems
in contemporary Japanese society. Astro Boy repeatedly confronts the problems that
minorities typically face today, particularly the evils of racism.
While Astro Boy faces down the evils of human prejudice, other manga heroes engage
in different battles. In Kimba the White Lion, the white lion Leo desperately fights for the
harmonious co-existence between humans and animals, and in Princess Knight, Princess
Sapphire has to deal with gender discrimination by disguising herself as a young man,
her only means of succeeding to her rightful place on the throne. By overcoming their
difficulties, all three heroes become more than stick figures. They attain an unusual psychological
depth because they are liminal figures. They stand between different groups
and thus have difficulty finding their place in society. Astro Boy stands between humans
and machines, the lion Leo stands between humans and animals, and Princess Sapphire
stands between men and women. Their identity issues open up worlds that they would
never have known if there were simply a machine, a wild animal, or a woman who fits
conventional gender-role expectations. Their new insights make them long for another
life and, at the same time, complicate any possibility of fitting into the status quo.

[*] “Characters, terms and narrative patterns in the manga of Ozamu Tezuca” in Japanese Visual Culture. Explorations in the World of
Manga and Anime. USA, Edited by Mark W. MacWilliams M.E. Sharpe, Inc. 2008. Pages. 68 – 81.