Stigmata in Tezuka Osamu’s Works
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Stigmata in Tezuka Osamu’s Works

Translator’s Introduction

A prominent and prolific scholar, Yomota Inuhiko is the author of more than a dozen books of cultural criticism. Best known for his nuanced and theoretically ambitious writings on film history and criticism, Yomota is also the author of a number of books and essays devoted to manga, including Manga genron (1994, The principles of manga), a seminal study of the semiotic structures of the medium that brought manga studies to a new level of critical awareness.1 This now-classic study deftly weaves rigorous analysis of semiotic structures with close attention to the texture and nuance of individual works. The same combination of theoretical rigor and sensitivity to detail is already evident in the translated essay, one of the first to apply methods of literary criticism to the analysis of manga.

Tezuka Osamu, the central subject of the essay, is considered by many the father of postwar manga and one of the most influential cultural figures in postwar Japan. While a certain amount of hyperbole and retrospective myth making inevitably enters such glorification of a single author, it is fair to say that Tezuka single-handedly defined the parameters of what we [End Page 97] now consider manga and, moreover, was largely responsible—both as author and as spokesman—for lending this popular medium the visibility and cultural cachet it now enjoys in Japan. Because of this privileged position in postwar manga, Tezuka’s oeuvre is often regarded as the touchstone of manga criticism and theory. Indeed many of the landmark studies of manga in recent years have focused on Tezuka, including Natsume Fusanosuke and Ōtsuka Eiji’s important monographs. (A translation of a chapter from Ōtsuka’s volume appears in this volume.)

Tezuka’s life-long preoccupation with the fraught relationship between humanity and its others (robots, cyborgs, animals, monsters)—discussed here with impressive clarity and insight—has since grown into something akin to the medium’s obsession, epitomized in some of the landmark works of postwar manga history (e.g. Ōtomo Katsuhiro’s Akira and Iwaaki Hitoshi’s Parasyte among the more recent examples). Originally derived from Disney animations and science fiction literature, both major sources of Tezuka’s inspiration, the theme was given a distinctive twist by Tezuka and later manga authors who have intensified the underlying ambiguity and precariousness of the human–other divide with increasing sophistication and poignancy. The formative period of this distinctive thematic complex is the subject of the following essay.


You, speaker who are about to seize the word—how will you prove that you are human? As you have probably noticed, there are some nonhumans among us. At first sight, everyone may appear to be human. But if all around you are indeed human, it automatically falls on you to assume the role of the nonhuman against whom others can assert their own humanity. Whether you are human or not unfortunately remains unknown even to yourself. If you nonetheless wish to be human, it is incumbent on you to actively place yourself amid those others and to recognize them as human. Now, you are probably not the only one who’s preoccupied with all this. All those others you consider human are in fact thinking the same thing. That’s why there is no other way than for all to stick together and to recognize each other, for only thus can you proclaim yourself to be human. You do so, however, not as a plain statement of conviction but as a gamble, one taken against the lethal [End Page 98] threat that those very others you recognized as human may come back to claim that you are the nonhuman one.

You cannot construct your truth in complete isolation. Insofar as you are human, you will be able to achieve the truth only through a nonhuman other. It is only by excluding this other that you can achieve your own humanity.

Simulacrum of the Human

Tezuka Osamu’s Ambassador Atom (Atomu taishi), published in the magazine Shōnen in 1951, featured the first appearance of a robot named Atom, thereby inaugurating the famous Astro...