Disarming Atom: Tezuka Osamu’s Manga at War and Peace
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Disarming Atom:
Tezuka Osamu’s Manga at War and Peace

Ambassador Atom: A Parable of the Japan–U.S. Peace Treaty

Nearly all readers of manga are familiar with Tezuka Osamu’s most representative series Mighty Atom (Tetsuwan Atomu),1 but casual readers may not be familiar with the earliest version of this series, Ambassador Atom, which began serialization in the April issue of Shōnen in 1951. This was also the year the Japan–U.S. Peace Treaty was signed.2 Because the American government had sent a draft of the peace treaty to the Japanese government earlier in the year, on March 27, the topic of the treaty was already in the air when Ambassador Atom (Atomu Taishi) appeared. Because Ambassador Atom ran in serialization until March 1952, in the course of its serialization Japan signed both the Treaty of Peace with Japan3 and the Japan–U.S. Mutual Security Treaty,4 and saw its “special envoys” and members of the “plenary committee” return to Japan. The very title, Ambassador Atom, imparts to its hero a set of attributes completely different from those of the later “Mighty Atom,” and as I will discuss below, the presentation of Atom as an ambassador for the nation in a time of conflict reflects the concerns of the era. Nonetheless, the image of the [End Page 111] hero as an ambassador, appearing at the time of the Japan–U.S. Peace Treaty should not be read only in negative terms, merely as a sort of diplomatic gesture.

In the issue of Shōnen prior to the one in which Ambassador Atom began serialization, a preview notice appears. Yet, as historians of manga know, the preview does not contain any images of Atom but only the title that Tezuka gave to the editors in advance: Atom Continent (Atomu tairiku). While there is no way to know to what extent the transformation of Atom Continent into Ambassador Atom betrays an awareness of events surrounding the Japan–U.S. Peace Treaty, the storyline of Ambassador Atom certainly reads very much like a parable of the Treaty.5

Ambassador Atom tells of an unexpected invasion of Earth by aliens. Oddly enough, for each and every alien there is a human who resembles him or her, like two peas in a pod. To give an example, for the youth named Tamachan, there appears among the aliens a youth with exactly the same face and features, and this set-up extends to all the other characters. There is but one exception: the robot boy Atom, built by Dr. Tenma. The robot Atom is a sort of death effigy, as Dr. Tenma constructs Atom as an exact likeness of his beloved son Tobio after the boy’s death in a traffic accident. While it is never explained logically in the story, it would seem that, insofar as Earth now lacks a Tobio, no Tobio appears among the aliens, and, consequently, only the robot Atom has no corresponding match. Such neutrality6 is the condition for Atom to play the role of ambassador, and, in fact, Atom receives permission from the aliens to call on them, and he enters into peace talks and succeeds. What is striking is that Atom also suffers under the burden of the lot cast upon him by his father Dr. Tenma, that of “the child who can’t grow up.”

Dr. Tenma constructs the robot as an exact likeness of his son and yet, exasperated by the robot’s inability to grow, winds up selling the robot Tobio to a circus. Thus Atom’s first appearance as a character presents an odd variation on the narrative pattern of the “exile of the noble.”7 Naturally, to any adult with common sense it seems unlikely that a scientist could fail to comprehend that a robot cannot grow, but we must not forget that this story operates as a “parable.” As a “child who can’t grow up,” Atom aspires to peace talks with the “invaders,” and in that capacity, Atom offers them his own [End Page 112] “way” as a robot, all of which reflects the diplomacy of...


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