The Tezuka Controversy [part 2]

Those sentiments are echoed by the major publishing houses still printing those manga, as well as by the Japan Cartoonists Association, whose members include some of Tezuka’s peers and protégés. Such supporters say that the Black characters are basically taken out of context from Tezuka’s overall positive themes, an action further complicated by the Japanese-English language barrier. But most importantly, Tezuka’s images of Black people are defended as the natural art of exaggeration in comics.

“Deformation and exaggeration are the basis of [Tezuka’s] work,” said Matsutani. “He portrayed his own nose in some cartoons as being several times larger than its actual size. Even his Japanese characters are drawn satirically as good guys or bad guys.”

Defenders of Tezuka’s manga as a kind of “Japanese cultural heritage” believe that such images are allowable under the freedom of artistic expression. They feel that banning or revising a comic because of its objectionable images sets chilling precedents against the whole industry, not the least being excessive self-restraint among all manga cartoonists.

Nishio Hidekazu, a manager at the Kodansha publishing company, stands by Tezuka’s work on the whole as “representing love and humanitarianism,” not bigotry and intolerance. Officials at Kodansha, Tezuka Productions and the Japan Cartoonists Association all agree that the creativity and high moral standards seen in Tezuka’s lifetime of manga far outweigh any imperfections involving Blacks in his drawings.

At the same time, it does appear that the protests have been heeded at the corporate level. Manga fans will notice that the offending Black characters prevalent throughout the classic comic book edition of Jungle Taitei have been completely edited out of the brand-new video version. The White characters remain intact.

In addition, city officials in Tezuka’s former hometown of Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, are planning to build by early 1994 a ¥1 billion museum devoted to Tezuka’s cartoons. The massive, multi-media “Tezuka Osamu Memorial Hall” was originally intended to feature without exception the estimated 150,000-plus pages of manga from Tezuka’s career. But in view of the continuing protests, museum organizers recently decided to exclude from exhibition the cartoons now under fire for racism, according to a Takarazuka city planning director.

Matsutani and the other publishers have decided to deal with the protests with a Japanese-language disclaimer, printed on a slip of paper and inserted into Tezuka’s comics. It begins:

To the Readers: Some of Tezuka’s works contain many illustrations of foreigners, including Black Africans and Asians. Some of these illustrations depict countries at a very undeveloped stage or exaggerate the bygone era. There is a great difference between these drawings and the present situation. Recently, such methods of illustration have been pointed out as discriminatory toward Blacks and certain foreigners. As long as some people find these drawings offensive and insulting, we must listen to their voices seriously.

The disclaimer goes on to point out that parody, or exaggerating people’s features, is one the most important methods of humor in manga. It states that since Tezuka is deceased, it would infringe on his personal rights to have a third party alter his works, and that they felt a responsibility to protect what is considered part of Japan’s cultural heritage. Finally, it asks the readers to become more aware of the existence of various types of discrimination and to deepen their understanding of this problem through their contact with Tezuka’s works.

Matsutani and other publishers are confident this measure is the best solution for the time being. But equally confident are the U.S. and Japanese protesters, including the newly opened Stateside chapters of Osaka’s ASRAB, who say they will continue putting the heat on Tezuka Productions as long as those images of Blacks are marketed to consumers in Japan.

So for now, the debate continues: Is Tezuka Osama an artistic deity of saintly stature or a mere mortal who never realized the depths of his own prejudice — or both? The ongoing controversy does not lend itself to an easy solution, and no one can say what Tezuka himself might make of this problem if he were still alive.

No matter which way the issue is considered, one thing is clear: the “God of Manga” is far from fading into oblivion.
Brian Covert is an Osaka-based freelance journalist.

[Cartoon captions:]
Happy-go-lucky, Disney-type images of Blacks are found in J
ungle Taitei (“Kimba the White Lion”), the famous 1950 story of an animal kingdom in Africa. The Tarzan images of the day can be detected in such manga by Tezuka and other cartoonists. Here, the African characters accompany European hunters on a safari expedition.

Caricatures of Blacks as killers or rapists appear in
Chojin Taikei (“History of the Birdmen,” 1971), the tale of a flock of morally righteous “superbirds” out to rid the world of evil. In one chapter, The Birds focus on southern Africa, where an all-out race war between Blacks and Whites is underway in former British-governed Rhodesia (now independent Zimbabwe). At the chapter’s end, a white female and the Black male who rapes her are put to death by The Birds.

Violent images are also depicted in
Jungle Taitei, where an African tribe prepares to put to death a captured White woman. She eventually escapes by tricking the tribesmen into believing she has magical powers.

Tezuka as himself: In
Kami no Toride (“Paper Fortress,” 1977), an autobiographical sketch of his rise to fame, Tezuka portrays himself in the plush New York offices of American TV network executives, a scene said to be based on an actual event. Critics point to this manga as an indication of Tezuka’s personal bias in drawing Blacks.

Sore mo zehi misete kudasai. Tokoro de sore ni Kokujin wa demasu ka?
“By all means, please show us that (your story about Africa), too. By the way, are there any Blacks in it?”

Demasu yo, genjumin ga.
“Yes, there are some tribesmen.”

Nani shiro, ima Amerika kokunai wa Kokujin mondai ga urusakute ne.
“At any rate, the ‘Black problem’ is very troublesome in America now.”

Kokujin wa sumaato-na bidanshi ni hakujin wa minikui akunin ni kaite kudasai.
“Please draw the Blacks as handsome men, and the Whites as ugly villains.”

Sama ni narane na.
“It just won’t look right.”

Stereotypes abound in
Kami no Toride (“Paper Fortress”), set in postwar occupied Japan. Tezuka included caricatures of a dim-witted African-American soldier, White American racist [soldier] lechers and Japanese “bimbos” who cater to the occupation forces.