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  • Designing a World
  • Frederik L. Schodt (bio)

Although most Japanese know the core story of the Mighty Atom series, they often have very different mental images of it and of Atom's character. The impressions depend largely on what point in history they were exposed to the work, how old they were at the time, and whether they saw it in magazines, newspapers, paperback compilations or, later, in television animation.

Tezuka created his Mighty Atom character in a somewhat haphazard fashion as part of a story in Shōnen in 1951, but he did not make Atom the star of his own series until 1952. Tezuka continued to draw the Mighty Atom series in the same monthly magazine until it went out of business in 1968, but he also later serialized other Atom stories in the Sankei newspaper, in the Tetsuwan Atomu Fan Club magazine, and, as late as November 1981, in a publication for second graders. Over the years he was naturally able to rethink some of his original ideas, and for each publication and readership he tended to alter his drawing style and story lines slightly. As if that were not enough, unlike American comic book artists at the time (who were usually just one member of a larger production system established by a publisher), Tezuka had complete control over his work and often revised it by himself.

Like a movie editor who loves to cut and splice film, Tezuka seemed to get [End Page 228] a real thrill out of revising. Sometimes the revisions were necessary because episodes initially serialized in magazines would not fit properly into the number of pages allotted in later paperback compilations, or onto different page sizes. But for Tezuka these revisions involved more than simply resizing images or cutting and pasting. In many cases he would redraw individual panels to make them fit better into a new layout or rework entire sections, adding or subtracting pages and changing things around to suit his evolving tastes. At times he even seemed to regard the original magazine versions as a type of rough draft and every subsequent paperback collection as an opportunity to further polish his stories. Since Mighty Atom appeared in more than ten different editions of paperback collections while Tezuka was alive, it can now be hard to know what some episodes were really like in their original format.

On top of this, when Tezuka animated his manga series for a weekly television show in 1963, he had to tailor his work to a less sophisticated mass audience, in essence to make his stories simpler. Inevitably, these styles developed for animation began to affect the styles that he used for his manga story. Furthermore, since the television series required fifty-two episodes per year, it soon outpaced the original manga production. Tezuka had to create new stories exclusive to the TV series, and he often had to farm out the writing to other people. Thus, not all the manga stories were animated, and not all the animation episodes have manga counterparts. To complicate matters further, in 1980 Tezuka created a new color version of his originally black-and-white 1963 TV series. And, in 2003, fourteen years after his death, his company and Sony Pictures created yet another version with very different stories and computer-enhanced designs. Despite the different versions of Mighty Atom in existence, there is a core story line that was developed in the original manga series, and it is quite simple.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Dr. Tenma, the brilliant director of the Ministry of Science's Department of Precision Machinery, tragically loses his beloved only son, Tobio, in a car crash. Using the "cream of Japanese technology," he creates an advanced robot to replace his son. This robot is truly state of the art with unprecedented functionality, but Tenma has been slightly unhinged by his real son's death, and when he discovers that his surrogate robot-son does not grow, he becomes enraged and sells him to the circus. Thereafter he loses his job at the Ministry of Science and becomes [End Page 229] a mysterious hermit-like figure, only appearing in his...


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pp. 228-242
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