My first press cutting of the New Year is an article from Israel’s Haaretz Daily News, where Nirit Anderman wrote a feature on The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga. I don’t read Hebrew but apparently Nirit liked the book, and has produced a substantial, well-illustrated piece.
It’s good to see positive reactions from all over the world to this book, especially since I spent so much of 2009 promoting it in the UK and USA. I’ve believed for a long time that Tezuka’s work, so firmly rooted in 20th-century Japan, is broad and direct enough to travel across cultures and speak to our common humanity. It appears from the reactions to my book that I was right, but the final proof will be a growing knowledge and appreciation of the depth and range of Tezuka’s work. If we stop thinking of him simply as the man who made Astro Boy and Kimba, we can give him his due as one of the twentieth century’s authentic genii and broaden our own horizons.
My hope for 2010 is that this will happen, not just for Tezuka, but for many other anime and manga creators. Despite the huge growth of interest in anime and manga, we still know relatively little about either field. A few big names are widely bandied about, but their work is not necessarily known or studied in any depth. The Internet teems with references to individuals, but – as I found a few weeks ago when searching for a comprehensive list of the works of Yukinobu Hoshino – there are huge gaps in the available information, not just in English, but across many European languages.
This has become even more apparent as I work on a piece about Tezuka’s first manga. There’s a danger of making too much fuss about an artist’s origins, as if genius were a kind of cake-mix that could be made to rise in anyone given the right ingredients and conditions, but the circumstances of Tezuka’s life were too influential to be ignored. He shared the defining circumstance of war with many Japanese comic artists and writers: with Leiji Matsumoto, ten years his junior and living in the same region; with Machiko Hasegawa, ten years his senior and living on the smaller island of Kyushu; with Shigeru Mizuki, also his senior and unluckily old enough to be drafted to the front lines; with Mitsuteru Yokoyama and Keiji Nakazawa, children escaping the grim devastation of postnuclear Japan through his comics; with Hayao Miyazaki, a war baby educated in the new, Americanised system.
These are all influential artists, and their backgrounds and experiences shaped their works. Yet there is little non-Japanese writing, either popular or scholarly, that explores their works in any depth.
Instead, as English-speaking writers and scholars engage with anime and manga, there is a growing tendency to focus on elements which can be entirely encompassed within English language and American culture: our own reactions to and reflections on anime and manga, and the myriad byways of “otaku culture” in the USA. This may be partly due to ease of access, and partly to the enormous influence of Henry Jenkins, whose groundbreaking studies of “textual poaching” and fan interaction with media products opened up a range of exciting, sexy, accessible new possibilities for research.
Examining our own reactions is fine, but we also need to examine the source material. There is so much still to learn, share and explore. If 2010 sees an increase in our knowledge of anime and manga, and not simply how the Western world feels and thinks about it, I’ll be delighted.