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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
The Astro Boy Essays by Frederik L. Schodt 
5th-May-2008 11:04 pm
Schodt, Frederik L. The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution. Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 2007.
          Summary: In this incisive little volume, Frederik L. Schodt uses the Tetsuwan Atom manga and anime (history and textual analysis) as a way into the biography of creator Osamu Tezuka himself and his larger cultural impact.
          Comments: Those who have read Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics and Dreamland Japan will notice significant overlap between those two excellent books and this one, for Tezuka has been an important facet of all the stories Schodt weaves. Nevertheless, The Astro Boy Essays felt fresh and provided far more in-depth socio-historical analysis of Tezuka's work than ever before. Of course, we know that Schodt is a devoted fanboy, so I wasn't surprised that he elided discussion of the misogyny that appears in Tezuka's gekiga-influenced works and prefers to focus upon messages of non-violence and non-discrimination that appear elsewhere in his oeuvre. I was especially intrigued by the way in which he shows that popular reception in Japan of Atom and conflation with modern notions of scientific progress explicitly conflict with Tezuka's authorial intentions.
          Most interesting of all, though, is the sort of elaboration that happens in this book about Tezuka's creative relationship with Disney and the West. If Tetsuwan Atom is, for all intents and purposes, Japan's first animated TV series, it is by no means insignificant that it was, from the very beginning, explicitly created with an American audience in mind--and, sure enough, debuted in the States shortly thereafter. Anime isn't really my forte, and I did not previously know these things. Obviously, globalization is not a new phenomenon, but given Schodt's assertions, it would also be disingenuous to say, as some commentators do, that anime's current popularity here is a solely the end result of grassroots fan-driven interventions. And let's not get into questions of cultural specificity and uniqueness. How authentically "Japanese" are anime and manga really? Does it even matter? In my opinion, no. (But did you know that Iwabuchi was not the first to use "smell" to talk about Japanese pop culture? Turns out that some Japanese accused Tezuka of creations that "smelled like butter" a.k.a. too Western. Interesting isn't it, how half a century later "smelled like butter" becomes "culturally odorless"? Not sure what to make of this yet, but I'm just sayin'...)
          Notes: trade paperback, 1st edition
          Rating: 7/10 - A thorough, smart treatment of its subject by an author who ought to be known as a "God of Manga Criticism."
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