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  • From Postwar to Media MixInterpreting Mimio as a Liminal Character Toy in Tezuka Osamu's Abanchūru 21 (1970)
  • Ziyi Lin (bio)

Life is poor in monsters. The fantastic is a world.

—Georges Canguilhem, Knowledge of Life

Between 1970 and 1971, the "father of manga" Tezuka Osamu (1928–1989) serialized the manga Adventure 21 (1970, Abanchūru 21) in the weekly manga magazine Boys and Girls' News (Shonen shōjo shinbun). It holds a special standing in the history of Japanese manga for being a remake of Tezuka's earlier manga The Mysterious Underground Men (1948, Chiteikoku no kaijin), the latter acknowledged to be a milestone in marking the beginning of Japanese postwar manga and animation culture.1 Abanchūru 21 was also special due to the fact that it was created after Tezuka attained international recognition after the global broadcast of the animated television show, Astro Boy (1963, Tetsuwan Atomu), from 1963 to 1966.

Scholars have already studied The Mysterious Underground Men, including Thomas Lamarre who analyzed the work from frameworks of speciesism. Departing from Lamarre's "multispeciesism" reading of the 1948 manga, I discuss how motifs of liminality and death in Abanchūru 21 generate alternative implications from its original by exploring its formal details and intertextual relationship to Tezuka's other works. Although Tezuka's works are often associated with a postwar development of Japanese manga, this paper interprets the protagonist Mimio in Abanchūru 21 as a postmodern media creation, a character toy. When compared with The Mysterious Underground Men, the 1970 remake manifests this major thematic shift, from postwar narratives to a self-reflexive renegotiation of Japan's media and cultural production. This perspective highlights fan consumption of the character through not only the narrative but also material goods. The talking rabbit protagonist Mimio in Abanchūru 21 emerges as an empowered character toy coming to life, problematizing the boundaries between reality and fiction. The ontological stance of manga characters implied by the manga echoes Étienne Souriau's theory on [End Page 167] modes of existence, which posits that imaginary beings have the potential to become real existences through repeated visiting. Framing Mimio as what Étienne Souriau calls a being of fiction in the manga world, I apply what Souriau calls instauration of an existential entity to inquire how the fictional being turns into a substantive one, as demonstrated by the emergent character-based fan culture in the 1960s Japan.2 Through this talking rabbit character, the artist Tezuka consciously reflects on the media mix merchandise associated with his own career, which gave rise to the unprecedented mobility and physicality of commodified manga characters in late twentieth-century Japan.

This article consists of three parts. I begin with introducing Abanchūru 21 and examining its visual aspects in depth, in order to explain my interpretation that the manga serves as a self-reflexive work on the fictional worlds of manga. This discussion lays the groundwork to discuss the protagonist Mimio as alternatively existing in the fictional and the real worlds, whose identity as a liminal monster represents a manga character. Moving into the second section, I argue that Mimio stands for a character toy through both expressions within the manga and its intertextual connection to Tezuka's other characters, including the widely beloved animated protagonist Atomu. In the final section, I delineate the mobility and physicality of the character in the emergent Japanese media mix culture in the 1960s. Achieving unusual mobility as a liminal creature, manga characters like Mimio gain corporality and mobility as merchandise goods in real life, transcending beyond their death in the original work. Overall, the manga reveals Tezuka's conflicted stance toward the dawn of postmodern cultural consumption and fan activities in the 1960s Japan, of which he acted both as an initiator and participant. The self-reflexive work of Abanchūru 21 sheds light on the formative period of the postmodern cultural consumption in Japan, an era where the dedication and obsession with manga characters engendered a new mode of existence for these beings of fictions.

From Speciesism to Self-Reflexivity

As a remake of an earlier Tezuka manga, Abanchūru 21 inherits its plot from the 1948...