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Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum

TOMM the 8th Exhibition: The Tezuka Osamu Metamorphosis Exhibition


Tezuka Osamu had loved Walt Disney films since his boyhood, and he watched “Bambi” 80 times and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” 120 times to study animation techniques and viewer response.

When “Astro Boy,” the first serialized animated cartoon in Japan, was first broadcast in 1963, the technique for the animated cartoon was called “limited animation.” “Astro Boy” was not an animated cartoon produced with emphasis on movement as in Walt Disney films, but instead limited movement and focused on stories. At that time, a 30-minute Walt Disney-style animated cartoon would have required about 15,000 moving frames.

Tezuka Osamu’s “Astro Boy,” however, was produced using only 2,000 moving frames. This limitation enabled the broadcasting of one episode per week. TV Animated cartoons in Japan, which Tezuka Osamu thus initiated, having been inspired by Disney animated cartoons, took its first step in a direction different from that of the Walt Disney style, with restrictions placed on the number of moving frames. While he was alive, however, Tezuka Osamu stated, “”Metamorphosis” is everything to animation. Without it, animation is not attractive at all.” Metamorphosis is a process of transformation in which something continues to change its shape, and when they produce limited animation films that focus on stories, animated cartoon writers usually sidestep this technique because it requires a large number of moving frames. Why did Tezuka Osamu stick to the technique of metamorphosis that requires movement, though he himself had developed animated cartoons that focused on stories and used a limited number of moving frames?

This exhibition classifies a large number of metamorphoses used in Tezuka Osamu’s 500 animated cartoons and Manga manuscripts into six patterns, and presents their distinctive features in visual form and on panels to clarify the meaning of metamorphosis in Tezuka Osamu’s works.




A. Metamorphosis as stress on movement

This means a type of metamorphosis in which a large number of cuts depicting simple repeated movements are used to produce something different from the results previously obtained.


An introduction to metamorphosis


“Metamorphosis” means transformation. “Transformation” means that the appearance of something undergoes a complete change. Asked in movies magazines or other media what the pleasure of acting is, actors and actresses often answer this way: “Ordinary people can live their lives only once, but we can live the lives of more than a hundred people. This is the most delightful part of our job.” What a wonderful life actors and actresses must live, as they enjoy the experience of transformation on a daily basis! If this is analyzed in the context of the world of animated cartoons, it means that cartoonists can enjoy creating living creatures with perfect freedom because can employ metamorphosis every time they draw. In addition, unlike the world of movies, cartoon characters can be transformed freely and unrestrictedly. They can sometimes turn into completely different objects. Tezuka Osamu was interested in this point, continued to pursue it, and realized a whole world of diverse metamorphoses. This is the distinctive feature of his animated cartoons that cannot be duplicated by any other cartoonist. Animation easily achieves that which corresponds to the pleasure of actors and actresses-living the lives of countless people-and even greater creative license. Of course, animated cartoon writers are always dogged by troubles and hardships that accompany production.




B. Metamorphosis as smooth movement


The essence of metamorphosis is that something changes its shape from “A” to “B.” Metamorphosis as smooth movement focuses not only on the process in which something changes its shape, but also on how smoothly and vibrantly it does so. Tezuka Osamu sensed a sort of eroticism in this type of metamorphosis.



Technical aspects of metamorphosis


When animated cartoons are actually drawn on sheets of paper, they can technically be classified into two major types of metamorphoses. For example, if character A turns into character B, apart from timing and size, metamorphosis is achieved by simply drawing a series of intermediate pictures to fill the gap between the two. This is the most basic method for moving pictures. The other way of achieving metamorphosis is to make character A change into character B before the viewers can expect what shape character A will take on next by putting a completely different figure between characters A and B. This type of metamorphosis accentuates the movements of characters and is far more interesting to the viewer. However, it is not really a matter of which is better, and the question of how to move characters varies according to how to direct animated cartoons. Of course, both types of metamorphosis may be used together, and intermediate pictures may be drawn in different ways depending on the duration of action. Metamorphosis enables a very interesting effect. Formerly, Japanese animated cartoons were an exquisite combination of dramatic interest, attractive characters, and metamorphosis techniques. Recent ones, however, have almost ceased to incorporate metamorphosis techniques. This is probably not attributable to animated cartoon writers but to the fact that the number of pictures produced has commercial limitations. Walt Disney works, some of which are based on serious themes, make effective use of remarkable metamorphosis techniques by incorporating scenes typical of animated cartoons in their drama, and these cannot be disregarded. Meaningless metamorphosis should be avoided, but if metamorphosis techniques are effectively used, they still represent a skillful means of expressing images cartoonists wish to depict in a more heartwarming and lively manner than computer graphics. We would like to emphasize the need for metamorphosis to be reinstated to its former status.




C. Metamorphosis as exaggerated movement

Methodologically, this is close to the “metamorphosis as smooth movement” described in Section B, but due to changes in graphic patterns, it imbues the work with a sense of splendor to make heroes and scenes more exciting, rather than imparting sensuality.


Tezuka Osamu and metamorphosis


Tezuka Osamu once talked about animation and metamorphosis this way: “Animation is an art of giving life to lifeless things. The pictures I myself drew are painted, move, and speak, giving me a sense of pride of a creator. I feel quite happy that I have given life to lifeless things. Especially when I am drawing scenes of metamorphosis to produce an animated cartoon, I cannot help feeling happy. To me, animated cartoons without metamorphosis are not attractive at all.” (From “Jumping”) Metamorphosis is a process by which something changes into a similar or completely different thing, and in some cases, human beings transform themselves into animals while in other cases, machines (or inanimate objects) turn into different ones. Giving a person a completely different personality so that they can act differently can be classified as metamorphosis in a broad sense. This technique was often used by Tezuka Osamu for Sapphire in “Princess Knight,” as well as that of “spiritual and psychological metamorphosis” as exemplified by the flaxen-haired maiden who impersonates both a man and a woman.




D. Metamorphosis as sudden movement

This is very common technique, often used for gags, by which character A suddenly changes into character B.


The present status of the technique of metamorphosis


The technique of metamorphosis that Tezuka Osamu loved was one form of expression he used as a creator of TV (commercial) animated cartoons, on which various restrictions are placed, and was also an essential element in production. The fact that he even made characters just for metamorphosis appear in the story in order to achieve meaningful metamorphosis indicates how important this technique was for him. The hand-drawn animated cartoon for connecting different characters in an active and interesting manner is a technique (art) that enables cartoonists to give full play to their imaginative power. Why is this technique hardly used by productions other than Walt Disney and a few others now? In particular, metamorphosis is rarely found in Japanese animated cartoons that place emphasis on their stories. Rather, it seems that this legendary technique has been taken over by large-scale Hollywood movies that use special filming methods and SFX. The partial and total metamorphosis used in “Terminator 2,” Timecop” directed by Peter Hyams and other movies remind one of old animated cartoons produced by Tezuka Osamu. The transformation of living creatures into metal and other objects, this time done with computer graphics, represents the spirit of metamorphosis in animated cartoons perfectly.




E. Metamorphosis as frightening movement

The technique of metamorphosis is easy to use when one creates unknown creatures or indefinable monsters. The transformation of smoke into ghosts and rocks into monsters is a technique that only animated cartoon writers can use.


The distinctive feature of Tezuka Osamu’s animated cartoons is –after all– metamorphosis.


In preparation for the current exhibition, we, the organizers, watched almost all of Tezuka Osamu’s animated cartoons. As we watched nearly 500 animated cartoons, we understood that the technique of metamorphosis was effectively used for a number of animated cartoons in which Tezuka Osamu himself was involved. Nobody has ever watched Tezuka Osamu’s animated cartoons so intensively (it would have taken more than one year if we had watched them taking breaks from time to time; for the current exhibition, we were actually able to finish watching them in about 50 days). We clearly understood what we had only guessed, and this may be one discovery in research on Tezuka Osamu’s animated cartoons. Let’s take “Astro Boy” for an example. The first half of the early black-and-white episodes of “Astro Boy” often employed metamorphosis, while the second half did not use it so often. The new color versions of “Astro Boy” produced in the 1980s rarely used metamorphosis. Due to increases in workload for magazines, Tezuka Osamu sometimes left it to other staff to write scenarios and storyboards for, and direct the production of, the new version of “Astro Boy”. Strangely enough, we found that animated cartoons directed by staff members other than Tezuka Osamu did not often use metamorphosis. It can be said either that, as expected, other staff did not attach as much importance to metamorphosis as Tezuka Osamu did or that they failed to develop creative ideas for utilizing metamorphosis. Tezuka Osamu was described as an “erotic animated cartoon writer” in Europe and other regions. In this context, the word “erotic” of course does not have the same meaning as the term “erotic” used in the phrase “erotic and grotesque.” In “A Thousand and One Nights,” a snake turns into a woman while twisting its body, and in “Bander Book,” a “plant woman” transforms herself into a verdant tree after burying her body under the ground. When such movements are depicted using fully animated cartoons, the viewers feel that the characters are mysteriously vibrant, fresh, and lively. Such vibrant movements can be perceived by people worldwide, not through language but through the senses. This sensuality is probably why Tezuka Osamu was called an “erotic animated cartoon writer.”




F. Metamorphosis in the spiritual sense

A typical example of this is the transformation of Sapphire into the flaxen-haired maiden in “Princess Knight.” This represents a complete transformation of the two into the other’s gender, rather than simple disguise, and was a motif that only Tezuka Osamu employed. Metamorphosis in the spiritual sense is probably a very special case among all the different expressions of metamorphosis.


The Complete Manga Works of Tezuka Osamu: “Metamorphosis”


“I like stories of transformation very much. The reason I like such stories is that I like things that are constantly moving. Things change their shape when they move. When I am looking at things that permanently remain quiet or do not move at all, I get irritated. When things are moving and changing their shape, I recognize that they are alive and feel a certain comfort. When I was a little boy, I often dreamed that a shapeless flabby thing was my pet. I was walking around in the town accompanied by this pet. The flabby thing took on a human-like shape, turned into a rabbit, dog, or bird, and a strange monster. I took good care of it and went along well with it like a friend. The reason I became engrossed in animation was that it enabled free and unrestricted transformation or metamorphosis. This is why metamorphosis is one of the major elements in my animated cartoons. A close study of my animated cartoons will show that the theme of metamorphosis is found somewhere in each of them. “Princess Knight,” “Astro Boy,” “Zero Man,” “Ambassador Magma,” “The Big X,” “The Amazing Three,” “The Three-eyed One,” “Hsi Yu Chi,” and other works are the epitome of metamorphosis-based stories. Therefore, I started to publish this “Metamorphosis Series,” a theme that is easiest to publish, in serial form. As these remarks indicate, he was particularly predisposed to the idea of transformation or metamorphosis. Of course, elements of metamorphosis may have arisen by chance as stories advanced, but it is inferred that in many cases, Tezuka Osamu must have developed stories with metamorphosis as a major theme. It is natural to think that he discovered the attraction of metamorphosis (or animism, an ancient concept in which people believe that everything has life) in animated cartoons, rather than printed cartoons that consist of a series of scenes, and introduced the technique into his works. And the fact that he had been an insect maniac since his childhood also cannot be disregarded as one of the reasons behind his love of metamorphosis. Some insects achieve a mysterious total metamorphosis that people who have no knowledge of it can fathom. Particularly, in the process of change from larvae to chrysalises, the creature changes shape in a short period of time (one can see with the naked eye the changes occurring almost every 60 minutes and thereby better understand the process of metamorphosis). Little Tezuka Osamu must have observed such scenes many times, and he may have unconsciously felt that it would be delightful indeed if he could express such a process in his own pictures. This early influence began to have concrete results when he started to produce Manga and animated cartoons as an adult.