- "Becoming-Insect Woman":Tezuka's Feminist Species
Ah yes, love for mushi.Tezuka Osamu:
Mushi. I have a real affinity for them, I think. I may be pretty free and easy about most things I write, but when it comes to mushi, I write faithfully. Because I care about them. That's why when I write about mushi, it has to be, well, biologically accurate.—Dialogue between Kita Mono and Tezuka Osamu, September1978
All his life, Tezuka Osamu was bug crazy. As a boy, he collected them in Osaka Prefecture's Minoo Park and later in Takarazuka City, where he grew up. When schoolmates nicknamed him "Osamushi" (carabid beetle) in a pun on his first name, Tezuka added the kanji character for "bug" (mushi) to it.1 He soon dropped the final "shi" sound, but the lasting visual mark speaks to the role of insects in Tezuka's life: we see in it the boy's dream of becoming an entomologist, his start as an artist drawing realistic insects together with his first manga in the dōjinshi he "published" in school, and his persistent return to insects as characters and motifs in his manga as an adult.2 The stylized [End Page 3] kanji for mushi animated into a bookworm standing on its tail, with two dots for eyes behind large round glasses (Figure 1), likewise animated Tezuka the man, as his signature and in the logo for Mushi Productions. Of the more than 700 manga he produced in his lifetime, as many as 180 had insects in them.3 It is no exaggeration to say that insects inspired Tezuka Osamu's own "Manga Life," and that his manga literally swarms with mushi.
Tezuka was hunting, identifying, and illustrating insects (konchū) in his earliest manga at elementary and middle school in the 1930s. Governmental and social institutions had already popularized insect collecting as scientific learning for boys, and such youths were called konchū shōnen. Jean-Henri Fabre's (1823-1915) ten-volume Souvenirs Entomologiques (1879-1907), translated as Konchūki, began to appear in the Taishō era and never went out of print. Fabre's entertaining and educational stories of insect life made them popular with adults and children alike. Fabre's books were not banned during the war, unlike most foreign books; allegedly, kamikaze pilots could carry the imperial poetry anthology the Man'yōshū (circa 785, Collection of myriad leaves) and Konchūki.4 Any rush to presume nativism in talk of a unique Japanese love of insects is complicated by the fact that socialist anarchist Osugi Sakae (1885-1923)5 first translated Fabre in 1922. He read Fabre in English during his years of incarceration before being murdered by police in 1923.6 Japanese nationalists and insurrectionists alike praised Fabre's Konchūki.
In the short manga, Faaburu sensei no mushi monogatari (1958, Dr. Fabre's bug story), Tezuka retells Fabre's story of the dung beetle, loved by Osugi Sakae and many other readers.7 Tezuka plays up the scatological humor of Dr. Fabre urging boys to look more closely at a pile of cow dung (Figure 2). In it lives a bug who enjoys eating smelly dung before making a ball out of it two or three times its size (called amusingly a dango, after the round Japanese sweet), which it then comically has to push, pull, and determinedly roll all the way home. A slapstick show to observe, the dung beetle chases after its runaway dango, retrieves it, then does a handstand with its hind legs in the air, kicking the ball backwards along a crazy zigzag path.8 By the manga's end, we learn the female bug has brought the dungball home as both shelter and food for her larvae that will be born just as she dies. For Tezuka, this was a moving story of humor and pathos. The humor of shitballs rolled by an acrobatic beetle is inexhaustible; the pathos comes from observing the beetle make its arduous journey only to die soon after arrival in her underground home. [End Page 4] But that death is overcome phoenix-like by new beetles...