Manga Studies #5: Takeuchi Osamu and Manga Expression pt. 1: Tezuka Osamu as Manga Locus by Nicholas Theisen

08 Oct

Takeuchi Osamu, a professor of media studies at Doshisha University, is likely not the best manga studies critic to use as an introduction to problems surrounding the relatively recent turn in Japanese manga studies discourse to formalism or, more specifically, to the study of manga expression (manga hyōgen), since his work is something of a too easy target.  It is parochial—his examples, despite pretensions toward general principles, are exclusively Japanese—and has changed surprisingly little since the late 1980s, despite the fact that his contemporaries, such as Natsume Fusanosuke and Yomota Inuhiko, and the manga expression discourse in toto have changed considerably in the intervening years. Yomota’s Manga genron (Principles of Manga) makes reference to at least some non-Japanese comics artists, notably Windsor McCay, and in the introduction to a recent translation of two chapters of his Tezuka Osamu wa doko ni iru (Where is Tezuka Osamu?), Natsume reflects on how limited this early formalist work was and, if reproduced today, would have to be understood within the context of a global comics studies discourse:

At the time I wrote this book, my interests generally centered on postwar Japanese manga, and the scope of my inquiry was almost entirely limited to Japan.  If we were to consider European and American influences on manga from the Meiji period [1868-1912], the discussion in this book on transformations related to time and panel articulation would link to world-historical questions of modernity (changes in the expression of time and space in modern times)… Future research will surely depend on sharing knowledge and intellectual exchanges between scholars in different countries.[1]

While a turn away from more parochial concerns is admirable, a broadening of perspective on manga-as-comic expression is not guaranteed to overcome or even make apparent a number of assumptions underlying the study of manga expression as it emerged historically and in direct response to the currents of nearly two decades of manga criticism that preceded it.  In order to make those assumptions more apparent, my use of Takeuchi’s critical oeuvre here is directed more toward discourse analytical ends than toward a detailed explication of what his theory of manga expression entails.

In part one, I will focus on how the manga of Tezuka Osamu function as a primary site, a manga locus, wherein Takeuchi and others readily find the base text upon which their formal theories are founded.  Additionally, I will show how he situates his own work in the discourse surrounding Tezuka’s corpus and how, in doing so, he subsumes even those critics who might try to go beyond it into a broadly based Tezuka centrism firmly rooted within manga studies discourse.  In part two, I will focus on Takeuchi’s historiographic work so as to examine a certain overlap between where manga might be located historically and what subsequently manga is presumed to be in formal terms.  I will show how Takeuchi’s emphasis on print media for children explains a number of inclusions and oversights with regard to what manga might be in the postwar era.

Within Japanese formalist manga criticism, no artist’s work has been more consistently taken as emblematic than that of Tezuka Osamu. As Jaqueline Berndt notes in her “Considering Manga Discourse” essay,

[Tezuka] influenced generations of manga creators and readers, including such critics and researchers as Osamu Takeuchi [sic], originally a professor of children’s literature, and “manga columnist” Fusanosuke Natsume [sic]… In their analysis, Tezuka’s comics for children appeared revolutionary because of their shift from didactics to entertainment, their establishment of long and exciting narratives, the efficient and complementary intertwining of verbal and pictorial elements, and—most importantly—their use of allegedly cinematic techniques such as montage and varying shots and angles.[2]

“Cinematism” (eiga-teki shuhō) becomes the watchword for an entire critical discourse that plays out with Tezuka’s manga as the primary locus of analysis but extends well beyond him.[3] As Berndt goes on to note, this cinematic frame forces manga to be understood primarily in temporal terms, and so graphic elements are always subordinate to narrative.  The Tezuka mythos is, of course, not universally accepted, even by those who valorize him, and extends well beyond Takeuchi’s scholarship and even manga studies in Japan.

Thierry Groensteen too, in one of the earliest works on manga in French, L’Univers des mangas: Une introduction à la bande dessinée japonaise (The Universe of Manga: An Introduction to Japanese Comics), regards Tezuka as le fondateur (the founder):

Osamu Tezuka [sic]… is not the pioneer of Japanese comics, a title which rightly belongs to Rakuten Kitazawa [sic], but is one whose innovations, immediately after the war, gave manga new foundations, is one in whom an entire generation of artists recognized their master.[4]

Additionally, the introduction to Frederik Schodt’s Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics was written by the “master” himself and treats Tezuka’s manga at great length.  For Scott McCloud Tezuka’s work is a primary exemplum for how his method of charting panel transitions demonstrates an essential difference between Japanese and Anglo-American comics.  Tezuka-centrism, then, is well-inscribed in the manga studies discourse, both Japanese and non-Japanese alike.  However, because McCloud and Groensteen have arguably limited access to Japanese comics scholarship, due to the language barrier, it should be noted that their Tezuka centrism functions as a corrective gesture, rather than an attempt to ground one’s critical work in that of a widely recognized master.  In fact, Helen McCarthy, as late as 2009, laments in the preface to her The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga, “the man who was largely responsible for the Japanese boom in comics after World War II [i.e. Tezuka]… remains almost unknown in the English-speaking world.”[5]

Though Takeuchi was originally, as Berndt says, a professor of children’s literature, his engagement with Tezuka’s manga corpus goes back at least as far as his graduate thesis, “Tetsuwan Atomu ni okeru Atomu-zō no hensen” (“The Changing Figure of Astro in Astro Boy”).  Moreover, his first book devoted solely to manga was a collection of essays titled Tezuka Osamu-ron (On Tezuka Osamu).  Tezuka is for Takeuchi both a personal and professional object of interest.  What is more, what “Tezuka” means within that professional framework is far more than a particular artist or a body of work that artist signifies.[6]  While Takeuchi may not explicitly make this claim himself, nevertheless, his criticism can be used to show that within Japanese language manga studies “Tezuka” is not merely an artist or body of work but a discourse unto himself, a site upon which a number of larger critical concerns play out with the somewhat ironic effect of subsuming even recent critiques of the Tezuka mythos into a broadly based Tezuka-centrism, which Thomas Lamarre has referred to as the “long, unending Tezuka.”[7]

Though not exclusively devoted to questions of form, On Tezuka does quite consistently raise them.  Yet, because the specifics of Takeuchi’s formal analysis do not necessarily lead to an understanding of how they are situated discursively, it is worthwhile examining the premises he works from, and in this he is quite explicit: “Tezuka Osamu is the manga artist [most] indicative of the postwar.”[8]  He goes on to note that, when he was young, many children just like him were reading Tezuka’s manga, indicating the personal/professional overlap in Takeuchi’s engagement with manga.  He also continues by taking a meta-critical jab at the generations of manga critics to precede him, one that might look harmless enough to an uninformed reader:

From the ‘60s onward, gekiga and a new type of shōjo manga were in fashion, and for a moment the times seemed far off from that world [of my childhood], but there was one manga artist at the heart of things throughout. That artist was, of course, Tezuka Osamu.[9]

This casual reference to the “detached” ‘60s and ‘70s concerns not merely the changing trends of what kinds of manga were popular when but also how the earliest generations of manga critics, according to a particular history,[10] tended to valorize gekiga artists in accordance with a more, though not exclusively, socio-culturally oriented mode of manga criticism.  As CJ Suzuki has noted, Ishiko Junzō and the other contributors to Mangashugi gravitated toward artists such as Shirato Sanpei, Tsuge Yoshiharu, Mizuki Shigeru, and Tatsumi Yoshihiro.  Similarly, Tsurumi Shunsuke, in both his English and Japanese language criticism generally had far more to say about Shirato and Mizuki than Tezuka.  Not that Tsurumi ignored Tezuka’s manga entirely, but he regarded them as no more or less important than any other’s.  For Takeuchi to claim that Tezuka lay at the heart of it all is to meta-critically reassert the artist’s dominance over against those who in the earlier history of manga studies placed him on a level playing field.

With this in mind, I would like to closely examine the final On Tezuka essay, “Eiga-teki shuhō · saikō” (“Cinematism, Reconsidered”).  The essay takes as its primary text Tezuka’s 1947 collaboration with Sakai Shichima, Shintakarajima (New Treasure Island), which, while not Tezuka’s first manga, has historically been the locus for a number of arguments regarding Tezuka’s innovations as well as what manga became in the postwar era.  The essay begins by recounting and deconstructing the myths surrounding this text, in particular how these myths were used by critics to build up an unnecessary pre-eminence for Tezuka as the originator of story manga.  This deconstruction is achieved not by simply lodging counter arguments against elements of this mythos but by referencing and reconstructing a critical discourse in which the objections to the myths play out.  With regard to layout, Takeuchi invokes Kure Tomofusa’s critique of the notion that New Treasure Island was the first to use a three tiered panel layout by showing how Shishido Sakō’s Supīdo tarō (Speed Boy) had done so in the 1930s.[11]  For Takeuchi, the important question is not whether Tezuka was the first or a major practitioner of manga cinematism but rather what the nature of that cinematic expression is.  He then turns to the meat of his own argument, wherein he demonstrates the similarities between page layouts in New Treasure Island to the film technique of montage.[12]

Of course, all scholarship is, to a certain extent, meta-critical, the literature review in particular being regarded as key to situating one’s research, but how Takeuchi places others within the discourse on Tezuka and within manga studies in general is slightly different from what one sees in the main with academic research.  In the years since Takeuchi’s collection of essays, the Tezuka mythos has taken a number of additional hits.  Nakano Haruyuki’s critical biography of Sakai Shichima, Nazo no mangaka Sakai Shichima: “Shintakarajima” densetsu no hikari to kage (Mysterious Manga Artist Sakai Shichima: The Light and Shadow of the New Treasure Island Legend), asserts the likelihood that Sakai had far more to do with the production of the comic than simply a story outline.  He claims Sakai’s background as a storyboard artist for animated films is a far better explanation for the “cinematic” qualities of New Treasure Island’s layout and artwork than the assertion that Tezuka derived a manga cinematism simply from observing films as projected.  Ryan Holmberg has also shown how Tezuka and Sakai likely worked directly from a 1942 Disney comic, Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold!

The most concerted and important deconstruction of the Tezuka mythos—and the most relevant to Takeuchi’s own work—in recent years is Itō Gō’s provocatively titled Tezuka izu deddo: hirakareta manga hyōgen-ron e (Tezuka is Dead: Toward an Enlightened Theory of Manga Expression).  Itō’s critique of Takeuchi in Tezuka is Dead as well as Takeuchi’s reading of Itō in his independent journal (dōjinshi) Biranji are worth treating in detail, but my concern here is what happens to critical work, especially that which attempts to “get over” what precedes it, when read into the ordinary scholarly practice of situating one’s own work with regard to that of others.  Perhaps, then, it is better to return to Natsume’s retrospective on Where is Tezuka Osamu?:

A mythologizing discourse characterizing Tezuka’s manga as a sort of postwar “god” had already [begun] to take shape in the early 1960s, and this book was in part an attempt to assess the truth of such claims at the level of concrete manga expression.  Tezuka’s 1946 book Shin takarajima (New Treasure Island), based on a story by Sakai Shichima, is often characterized as the work that introduced “cinematic techniques” to manga, reforming postwar manga.  Was this actually true?  If so, how was it possible?[13]

What Natsume makes clear is how even a polemical critique of the “mythologizing discourse” of Tezuka as the manga no kami-sama, “god of manga,” must engage in assessing the truth value of that discourse, must become part of the history of a discourse that, even if one manages to strip a particular object (for instance, Tezuka and his body of work) of its absolute importance, one may have done little to strip the discourse surrounding it of its pride of place within manga studies.  In fact, as Takeuchi’s own appropriation of critiques of the Tezuka mythos shows, any concerted engagement with Tezuka as manga locus, be it polemical or not, runs the risk of becoming another precursor, another literature review, to the same old arguments.


Berndt, Jaqueline, 2008. “Considering Manga Discourse: Location, Ambiguity, Historicity,” in MacWilliams, Mark W. ed., Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, pp. 295-334.

Gravett, Paul, 2004. Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics. New York: Collins Design.

Groensteen, Thierry, 1991. L’univers des mangas: Une introduction à la bande dessinée japonaise (The Universe of Manga: An Introduction to Japanese Comics). Tournai: Casterman.

Holmberg, Ryan.

— 2012. “The Bottom of a Bottomless Barrel: Introducing Akahon Manga” in The Comics Journal, January 5, 2012. Accessed August 10, 2014,

— 2012. “Manga Finds Pirate Gold: The case of New Treasure Island” in The Comics Journal, October 1, 2012.  Accessed August 10, 2014,

Itō, Gō, 2005. Tezuka izu deddo: hirakareta manga hyōgenron e (Tezuka is Dead: Toward an Enlightened Theory of Manga Expression). Tokyo: NTT Shuppan.

Kinsella, Sharon, 2000. Adult Manga: Culture and Power in Contemporary Japanese Society. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Lamarre, Thomas, 2010. “Speciesism, Part II: Tezuka Osamu and the Multispecies Ideal” in Mechademia vol. 5: Fanthropologies. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 51-85.

McCarthy, Helen, 2009. The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga. New York: Abrams ComicArts.

McCloud, Scott, 1993. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink Press.

Miyamoto, Hirohito, 2009. “Rekishi kenkyū” in Natsume, Fusanosuke and Takeuchi Osamu, eds., 2009. Manga-gaku nyūmon (Introduction to Manga Studies). Tokyo: Minerva Shobō, pp. 96-101.

Nakano, Haruyuki, 2007. Nazo no mangaka Sakai Shichima: “Shintakarajima” densetsu no hikari to kage (The Mysterious Manga Artist Sakai Shichima: The Light and Shadow of the Legend of “New Treasure Island”). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

Natsume, Fusanosuke.

— 1992. Tezuka Osamu wa doko ni iru (Where is Tezuka Osamu?). Tokyo: Chikuma Library.

— 2013. “Where is Tezuka?: A Theory of Manga Expression” trans. Matthew Young in Mechademia 8: Tezuka’s Manga Life, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 155-171.

Natsume, Fusanosuke and Takeuchi Osamu, eds., 2009. Manga-gaku nyūmon (Introduction to Manga Studies). Tokyo: Minerva Shobō.

Ōtsuka, Eiji, 2013. Mikkī no shoshiki: sengo manga no senjika kigen (The Form of Mickey: The Wartime Origins of Postwar Manga). Tokyo: Kadokawa Sōsho.

Schodt, Frederik L., 1983. Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics. New York: Kondansha International.

Suzuki, CJ. “Manga Studies #4: Traversing Art and Manga: Ishiko Junzō’s Writings on Manga/Gekiga” in Comics Forum, August 11, 2014. Accessed August 17, 2014,

Takeuchi, Osamu.

— 1989. Manga to jidō bungaku no “aida” (“Between” Manga and Children’s Literature). Tokyo: Dai Nippon Tosho.

— 1992. Tezuka Osamu-ron (On Tezuka Osamu). Tokyo: Heibonsha.

— 1995. Sengo manga 50nen-shi (Fifty Year History of Postwar Manga). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

— 1995. Kodomo manga no kyojin-tachi: Rakuten kara Tezuka made (Giants of Children’s Manga: From Rakuten to Tezuka). Tokyo: San’ichi Shobō.

— 2005. Manga hyōgen-gaku nyūmon (Introduction to the Study of Manga Expression). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

— 2009. “Manga kenkyū no ayumi” (“A Walk Through Manga Studies”) in Natsume, Fusanosuke and Takeuchi Osamu, eds., 2009. Manga-gaku nyūmon (Introduction to Manga Studies). Tokyo: Minerva Shobō, pp. 248-257.

Takeuchi, Osamu and Koyama Masahiro, eds., 2006. Anime e no hen’yō: gensaku to anime to no bimyō na kankei (Adaptation to Anime: The Subtle Relationship Between Anime and Original). Tokyo: Gendai Shokan.

Takeuchi, Osamu, Yonezawa Yoshihiro, and Yamada Tomoko, eds., 2006. Gendai manga hakubutsukan 1945-2005 (The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Manga 1945-2005). Tokyo: Shōgakkan.

Theisen, Nicholas, 2013. “13a. The Problematic Gendering of Shōnen Manga” in What is Manga?, May 27, 2013. Accessed August 10, 2014,

Tsurumi, Shunsuke, 1991. Manga no dokusha to shite (As a Manga Reader…). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

Yomota, Inuhiko, 1994. Manga genron (Principles of Manga). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

Nicholas Theisen is a research fellow with the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Iowa. His research is interested broadly with textual and formalist issues in poetry, popular music, and comics, and he has written articles on the comics of Dave Sim, Tezuka Osamu, and Miyazaki Hayao. He is currently at work completing a book project which reconfigures comics as a hermeneutic practice rather than as a visual form. He is also the creator of the blog What is Manga?

[1] Natsume, “Where is Tezuka? A Theory of Manga Expression,” 91-2.

[2] Berndt, 302.

[3] In the context of manga, “cinematism” seems to refer to a reflection of certain cinematographic techniques (e.g. montage, close-ups, panning shots, etc.) as adapted to the visual milieu of comics.  However, this more limited sense is often complicated by reference to any number of narrative modes that are not specific to film—and, in fact, ignore how film borrows narratologically from literature—but are, nevertheless, discussed in cinematic terms.

[4] Groensteen, 64.  Translations are, unless otherwise noted, my own.

[5] McCarthy, 8.

[6] It should be kept in mind that Tezuka was very much an auteur in the sense that word is used in film studies: a large number of manga and anime fall under his “authorship” but are, in reality, the product of many more or less invisible hands.

[7] Lamarre, 50.

[8] Takeuchi, Tezuka Osamu-ron, 7.

[9] ibid.

[10] The most common story of the history of manga studies discourse, beginning with Tsurumi Shunsuke, tends to overlook the programmatic and occasionally theoretical claims of pre-war manga artists such as Kitazawa Rakuten and Okamoto Ippei.  For a description of the “four generations” of manga studies, c.f. Berndt, 2008, 303-304.

[11] On Tezuka, 225.

[12] ibid., 234.

[13] Natsume, “Where is Tezuka? A Theory of Manga Expression,” 90.

To read more from Comics Forum’s Manga Studies column, click here.

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Posted by on 2014/10/08 in Guest Writers, Manga Studies


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