Osamu Tezuka: Walt Disney on the Other Side of the World

While reading through Scott Mcloud’s second chapter, “The Vocabulary of Comics” in his work, Understanding Comics, I came across an interesting parallel Scott made between early Disney cartoons and Japanese “cartoons” from the same time period. Mcloud tells us that while we got Mickey Mouse here in the western world, the eastern world experienced the birth of a popular modern genre: manga. He mentions specifically that one man, named Osamu Tezuka, was responsible for the development of this immensely popular style and he is to manga what Walt Disney is to the Mickey Mouse comics. For someone who’s read a decent amount of manga in their life, I was quite ashamed I’d never even heard of this man before now, seeing as he’s accredited almost exclusively with inventing manga to start with. Since I knew nothing about Tezuka, I decided to do a little bit of digging and share what I found.

Nicknamed “the God of Manga”, Osamu Tezuka was born on November 3, 1928 in Toyonaka City, Osaka, Japan. He was the oldest of three siblings and had two supportive parents, though his mother would turn out to be one of the greatest influences in his life. Growing up, Tezuka’s mother introduced him to an all-female theatre company called the  Takarazuka Revue, where he and his mother would habitually go to see performances. It was this venue which inspired him to start drawing comics in the second grade of elementary school. Looking at this event in retrospect, this could possibly be where the strong “feminine” aspects of both male and female characters drawn in a “typical” manga/anime style find their roots. It’s important to note that while Tezuka was still in grade school, he became seriously ill with a condition that caused his arms to swell. During this time, his work suffered greatly and he wasn’t sure he could continue drawing. Tezuka was successfully treated for his illness by a doctor that he came to admire so much that eventually Osamu went to medical school to become a doctor too. While at the university level, Tezuka encountered a tough decision that students the world over have been exposed to for centuries. Just what exactly did he want to do with his life? He respected medicine, but still had a tremendous passion for drawing comics. It was his mother who gave him direction. She told him to go where the greatest part of his heart lay. In the years following World War 2, Tezuka gave up on his pursuit of medicine and instead turned to becoming a full-time comic artist. He published his first work, the Diary of Ma-Chan at the age of 17 shortly before leaving college.

One of Tezuka’s noted contributions to the world of manga that became one of its characteristic “trademarks” were the stylized eyes. Typically in anime and manga, the eyes of the characters are disproportionately large. This brings to my mind that “eyes are the window to the soul” and a case could be argued that this cliche somehow either consciously or subconsciously reflected some part of Tezuka’s intent when he was drawing. The eyes have become highly “cartoonish”, which according to Mcloud’s comparison between the cartoony and the identifiable, suggests that because of this, we as readers can put “more of ourselves” into these characters. To clarify for those of you reading this that may have not read Scott Mcloud’s work, Mcloud makes the point that the more abstract, the more distant from realism that a drawing is, the more it becomes open to interpretation and we as humans tend to fill that open space with our own image. Thus, we “become” the character. However, this concept presents a different point altogether than the one I’d like to exhibit here. Since this piece is entitled to suggest a comparison between the comics of Walt Disney and Osamu Tezuka, I present you with this:

A DVD cover for Kimba the White Lion by Osamu Tezuka.
A DVD cover for Kimba the White Lion by Osamu Tezuka.                    Mufasa-Simba-the-lion-king-13191792-500-744


It’s easy to see the correlation between the two pieces. The two adult lions share the same nose, square jaw, and fang placement. Similarly, the two cubs mirror each other in almost every way except color. Down to tuft the fur between the ears and even the black tips on the ears themselves, these could be the same character if not for the age difference between them. Kimba the White Lion was first drawn in the early 1960’s, whereas Disney’s Lion King didn’t surface until the 1990’s. The influences on style are clear.  In the time after World War 2, it seems that Japan and the United States underwent something of a cultural exchange. What was popular in the United States, such as Levi-brand blue jeans and Disney became all the rage in Japan, and at the same time, items like the Japanese car brand Mitsubishi (although it was already introduced to the US much earlier in 1917) and manga/ animation such as Osamu’s own Astro Boy, became a fad in the United States. I find this fascinating because Disney, born more than twenty years before Tezuka, was Tezuka’s main inspiration and yet, more than thirty years after Disney’s death, the work of Tezuka (Kimba the White Lion) became the primary influence for Disney Corporation’s The Lion King. So the main focus here becomes a paradox. Just who exactly are we seeing in today’s modern American Disney/ Japanese Manga? If Tezuka was influenced by Disney and Disney’s successors are influenced by Tezuka, now we have an interplay of East and West, and indeed one of artistic identity. Our popular Disney comics (albeit the ones that were printed in later years after his death) may not be distinctly “Disney” and at the same time it is astounding to think that Japanese Manga really might not be purely “Japanese” at all, but rather our American Disney “stylized”. These are just questions of style and actual drawings on paper that the American public (or even the Japanese public) might not have been aware of.

Credits: Several sources were used in obtaining and passing on the information in this blog. The overview of Tezuka’s life I presented came primarily from wikipedia.org  and IMDb.com, a subsidiary of the Amazon.com corporation.

The photo of Kimba the White Lion used is copyrighted to Osamu Tezuka for the original art and the publisher of this particular image, Tezuka Osamu Animation World. It was retrieved from Toonpro.com, a blog authored by Ed Gauthier, and it can be found here.

The photo of Disney’s Lion King is copyright Walt Disney Corporation and its original creator. It was retrieved from fanpop.com from the user Okami_Amaterasu and can be found here.



  5 comments for “Osamu Tezuka: Walt Disney on the Other Side of the World

  1. jrandal2
    February 6, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    This is really cool! I didn’t know that “Kimba the White Lion” existed, and as a lover of The Lion King, I will now be trying my hardest to obtain a copy of it. I think that the interplay between East and Western styles is fascinating, especially the details that McCloud focused on, the panel transition of “Aspect to aspect” being primarily used in manga and other Eastern art. I think that you did a great job in pointing out that the origins of style, while traditionally separated between East and West, have become mixed in this scenario, which makes us wonder who inspired who. While it’s cool to study origins, it’s even more fascinating to see how styles are bounced back and forth with more intense media sharing, and especially with the rise of the internet. I think that we will be seeing (and already have noticed) a lot more mixture of styles now that other cultures art is introduced and easily accessible to people. I also think that its important to see that artists create their own style through a mixture of other styles that they might like, so that they are no longer just identifiable as “East” or “West”, but rather have elements of both.

  2. teh_manis
    February 7, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    I have heard of Osamu Tezuka and I was very excited to see that someone wrote about him. Tezuka does needs to get the credit he deserves. I am very glad that the comparison of American style and Japanese style was made in this post. It’s usually not address and many people would defend one side or the other for its originality and unique when really both styles share many elements. Tezuka style of the enlarged cartoony eyes and small mouths are a basic of Japanese manga style. Looking at Disney animated movies before the Disney renaissance, the cartoon style was not as close to Japanese manga style. That change when the Disney renaissance happened during the early 90’s. It can be said that Ariel in ‘The little Mermaid’ started to look more like the Japanese style with the elements of big eyes and small mouth, but ‘The little Mermaid’ is more of the training bra of the Disney Renaissance. ‘The Lion King’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, Aladdin’ and others follow that basic of Tezuka’s style, but where did Tezuka get this style. Tezuka has confirmed that he was very much influenced by Carl Barks’ Scrooge McDuck. So it can be said that Disney cartoons of the early 90’s were influenced by Osamu Tezuka’s art style of manga who was influence by a Disney character for the 40’s. It’s a little funny to think Scrooge created the Japanese manga style.

  3. phantommiria6
    February 7, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Yeah another thing I didn’t exactly realize was significant until after writing this blog was the fact that Disney became the publishing agency for some of Mizaki’s (he was also heavily influenced by Tezuka) work here in the United States. Princess Mononoke is the primary one I’m thinking of and I couldn’t believe that it was considered “Disney” until I found the stamp in the credits. I remember thinking to myself two things when I found this out. 1. I didn’t know Disney did anime and 2. This Disney movie is rated R! There obviously was more of a connection than I realized.

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