Osamu Tezuka's Star System
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Over the course of his career, Osamu Tezuka reused the same characters in different roles in different stories. The way that Tezuka used the characters in his "star system" can be seen as somewhat analogous to a film director frequently casting members of a regular "stable" of actors in different roles. For instance, the "actor" Shunsaku Ban or Shunsuke Ban, who played the detective in Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis, as well as played Astro Boy's teacher in Astro Boy. Tezuka jokingly made a list of how much they were paid and based them on famous western actors in his time.
Because numerous kanji all have the same pronunciations in Japanese, characters' names are usually phonetically identical but written with different kanji from story to story.
A partial list of Osamu Tezuka's most commonly used Star System characters follows (If a character has their own series named after them, such as Atom, a.k.a. Astro Boy, then the link will point to the series' wiki page):
- Acetylene, Lamp: Also known as Drake (or Torch in the second series). A tall middle-aged man with a thin nose, large forehead, wide frowny eyes and often a small mustache with big glasses. He has a "notch" on the back of his head, and there is a running gag throughout Tezuka's work about how a lit candle will stand upright if placed in the notch (Tezuka even describes this in one of the manga, saying that he based the character on a classmate), and shows Lamp indeed holding a lit candle in some panels. Made regular appearances in Astro Boy. Also appeared in Tezuka's Adolf, Black Jack (manga) and in Phoenix. He also was the president's secretary in Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis in which the candle appears on his head the moment he is shot. The candle is a plot point in the game Astro Boy: Omega Factor. He also appeared in Bagi, The Monster of Mighty Nature, and makes cameo appearances in Jungle Emperor Leo.
- Ambassador Magma: A giant humanoid who can transform into a rocketship. With this series, Tezuka pioneered the transformers archetype.
- Atom (Astro Boy): One of the principal "actors" in the Tezuka works. Idealized in the famous manga and assorted versions of the anime as a child robot, usually wearing shorts, with identified by his trademark, two pointy "cowlicks" on the front and back of his head. In the manga, his good nature and incorruptible heart, combined with an array of powers, put him on a quest to protect robots and humans from villainous conquerors and alien invaders. He made other appearances in other manga including Black Jack, in which he plays a major role in at least one story ("You did it!" in volume 22 of the English manga release by Dark Horse of Astroboy) and in the anime Undersea Super Train: Marine Express in which he is called "Adam". Astro resembles wooden boy Pinocchio.
- Ban, Shunsaku or Shunsuke Ban: A bald, portly, middle-aged man with a big moustache. Often comical and grumpy yet good-natured. 42 years old, as mentioned in one of the manga His facial hair earns him the nickname Higeoyaji ("moustache old man"). In the 60's English version of the animated Astro Boy, his name was private detective Victor Pompous, then Percival Pompous. Perhaps because his character was appearing in another animated series based on Tezuka's manga at the time, in the 1980s English animated Astro Boy changed his name to Albert Duncan, aka Daddy Walrus. His typical role is that of a detective in other Tezuka materials, with sometimes a nephew/assistant named Ken'ichi (Ken or Kennedy in English versions of the Astro Boy TV series). He the 80's color remake (as well as the original manga) had him appear as Astro Boy's teacher, then as a detective. In the 2003 Astro Boy redeux, he is called Wally Kisaragi, and in the English-language manga, his "Higeoyaji" nickname is translated as "Mustachio". He is featured as either a regular character or a guest star in any of a number of Tezuka manga/anime. Shunsaku Ban routinely is cast as some sort of adventurer, usually an amateur or professional private investigator. His trademark characteristic is to confront danger with a comical wild-eyed panic, then after a moment recapture his composure and vigorously attack the threat, exhibiting stamina and a surprising battle awareness.
- Biwimaru: A tall, thin bald man; he is completely blind and his eyes are whited over. His left eye is larger than his right. In Dororo he is a travelling monk who crosses paths with Hyakkimaru from time to time. In Black Jack, he is a wandering acupuncturist and something of a rival to Black Jack.
- Black Jack- Black Jack, a cold-natured, eerie, yet nevertheless kindhearted and ingenious surgeon is one of Tezuka's dearest creations, despite the fact that in the present day he receives very little credit compared to his somewhat rival Astro boy. Black Jack is, according to Tezuka, his alter ego. Black Jack refuses to get a medical licence, due to the corruption within medicine practices, and may run into the legal forces while doing operations. (In the 2006 TV anime he finally gets his licence) In spite of his outlaw status, he is considered a miracle worker with his incomparable surgical technique and power of diagnostic analysis. Black Jack is a very important principal "actor" in Tezuka's work and his operations are generally over 10 million yen, but he more frequently helps the unfortunate for free or a token payment. Black Jack is sometimes accompanied by his short-tempered adopted daughter/assistant, Pinoko. Black Jack can be recognized by a large cape, loose trench coat, and blue, black or red string tie (depending on the media) with black and white hair, dark eyes, and a graft of dark skin across the upper left of his face. Black Jack, from learning extreme accuracy with darts as a child, is a skilled marksman as well as well-trained in martial arts. Today, a statue of Black Jack stands in the Osamu Tezuka Museum beneath a skylight.
- Duke Red: A tall man with a large, hooked nose and spiky hair on the back of his head. First appeared as "Duke Red" in Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis (a name he took back in the game Astro Boy: Omega Factor). Also played the title role in Osamu Tezuka's rendition of Cyrano de Bergerac. He also "played" Prince Siddartha's doctor in Buddha. He made a few appearances in the Astro Boy manga (such as a mad scientist or a murdered priest) and other Tezuka productions, sometimes under the name Akai ("Red" in Japanese). He also appeared in the Astro Boy series, where he started a war against robots when he thought his robot servant hurt his daughter.
- Ham Egg: Also known as Cachatore, Hammond Eggs, Hamegg, or Simon Sakely (in Leo) he is a villain with a round head, a thin moustache, a wide grin, curly hair and sometimes wearing a top hat. Primarily known for being a cruel circus manager in Astro Boy. He also was a hotel manager and an organ smuggler in Phoenix. Made several other appearances in Astro Boy (such as a gangster or a murderous surgeon).
- Holmes, Rock: A young "bad boy" with shiny dark hair, sometimes wearing sunglasses. He mostly plays villains, after having played juvenile heroes. He was first in Rock Home, as a child detective. He appeared with Astro Boy several times. He was in Phoenix. He also starred in animated Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis as Duke Red's brutal son. In the Astro Boy: Omega Factor video game he is initially the real identity of the villain Deadcross, but eventually falls in love with - and is reformed by - Princess Sapphire, and remains with her in the distant past to help her try to avert the demise of the continent of Mu.
- Hyoutan-Tsugi: Also known as Gourdski, it is a gag character, a small pig-faced patchworked gourd creature that puffs out smoke. Osamu Tezuka draws him a bit everywhere as a joke, sometimes even making a character's face looking like it. Appears in almost all of his works, even in the 2009 CGI animated movie where he appears on a billboard. Some fans affectionately call it the real star of Tezuka's series.
- Kin, Sankaku: Translated as Golden triangle is the leader of the fictitious Chinese criminal organization based on the Triads. He has an ovoid head, extremely fat lips, sunglasses, and one long hair. In an Astroboy compilation, Tezuka explains that Kin was based on the local watchmaker's son from his childhood.
- Leo: A courageous, vegetarian white lion with black tips on his ears. In both his manga and anime series, known as Jungle Emperor Leo in Japan, he acts as an ambassador toward the human world for animals. In Astro Boy: Omega Factor an android boy known as Pook disguises himself as Leo to steal jewels.
- Melmo: Most frequently seen as various characters in the Black Jack manga of the 1970s. Melmo has two human appearances, one of which is nine years old, while the other is 19 years old. Although in her own series both versions of Melmo are the same person, she has also sometimes appeared as a mother and a daughter.
- Mitchy: A young, beautiful woman who portrayed the tragic android of the same name in Metropolis, she was later reincarnated as 'Tima' in the 2001 film adaptation of the manga. She was also recognized among fans as Astro's android mother in the original 1950's-60's run of the Astro Boy manga.
- Tima: A young, beautiful woman who tragically died,and was remade with human organs into android, she seem to be the daughter of Duke Red.Tima appears in the 2001 animation film Metropolis.
- Notaarin: Also known as Notarlin. An older, portly character with a round head, sometimes depicted with a moustache and a single hair on the back of his head. Appears as the Superintendent of Police in Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis, also as the Atomic Energy Chairman in the manga version of Nextworld.
- Ochanomizu, Professor: Mentor of Mighty Atom; often seen in Black Jack in positions of authority (councilman, company president, etcetera).
- Omotanium: Not a character per se, but a fictional "substance" à la kryptonite. It has different properties and performs different functions from story to story (such as destroying the brain system of a robot).
- Prime Rose: A girl with bushy red hair. She originally appeared as a warrior in black in Prime Rose, comic series in Weekly Shōnen Champion, which was later adapted into an animated movie in 1983. In Astro Boy: Omega Factor, she is Lamp's daughter.
- Rainbow Parakeet: A tall young man with bobbed dark hair, red-tinted sunglasses, a white coat and ascot, and dark pants and gloves. He stars as the title character in his own manga as a thief (à la Lupin III), and even star as the English cyborg private detective Sherlock Homespun (sometimes written Sherlock Holmespan) in the 1980 Astro Boy Anime and in the Game Boy Advance game Astro Boy: Omega Factor. In the 2003 Astro Boy series he appears as a terrorist named Kato, who has no real goal, but regards his terrorism as art.
- Saboten, Sam: A young man who replaced Rock in a series known as Saboten-Kun. A tradition that happens in Hollywood cinema where some actors are replaced by others during a trilogy or film series.
- Sapphire: A young woman with slightly curly dark hair, who first starred in Princess Knight. She was the queen of the Mu civilization in the animated movie Marine Express (and in the Omega Factor game).
- Saruta: A stocky man with a huge roundish nose. He appeared as all the Saruta descendants (including Gao) in the Phoenix saga and made some appearances in Buddha. In anime Black Jack TV, he appears like Jontaro Honma, the man who reconstructed the body of Black Jack after his accident when he was a kid. He looks somewhat similar to Professor Ochanomizu because he typically has a large, bulbous nose, but he is not the same character.
- Saturn: A massive brutal man with a big chin and a pointy moustache, he appeared as the King of Evil in Magic House and he fought Astro Boy as "Satan."
- Sharaku, Hosuke: A baby-faced young boy with a slightly large head, often sporting a bandage. His main role was in The Three-Eyed One where he is a three-eyed child with evil powers. Osamu Tezuka took back this character as the main villain in the game Astro Boy: Omega Factor. He was also used in the PlayStation 2 game Astro Boy in a sidequest. He was Assaji the apprentice monk in Buddha, still with his bandage. He appeared in the Black Jack anime, also with his bandage. Sharaku's third eye is hidden by the bandage, and it suppresses both his power and evil nature.
- Shikishima, Kenichi: Also called 'Ken' or 'Kennedy'.Is the nephew/assistant of Ban, Shunsaku. He seems to have a crush on Tima.
- Skunk, Kusai: A pale, blonde smirking man with a short brown nose, sleepy eyes, and sometimes a gray complexion (which is made clear in the 1980 Astro Boy anime.) He almost always plays a villain. His full name is often displayed as Skunk Kusai (Kusai means "stinky", "fishy" in Japanese). Primarily known for being a gangster enemy to Astro Boy, though he also appears in Metropolis as an overly ambitious military officer.
- Spider: A gag character who only appears for comic relief, he is a very cartoonish and very short man in a black robe, long nose, one hair, stretching an arm and often bouncing. His catchphrase is "Here ta meet ya!" and he ends almost every sentence by "Ayup!" He vaguely resembles Kilroy.
- Doctor Tenma: A man whose face and hair resemble that of a rooster. He played the role of Astro's father and creator. He later appeared in a number of other manga including Black Jack.
- Tezuka Osamu: Osamu Tezuka himself makes frequent appearances – usually just as an in-joke – in almost all of his manga, anime and other works. He can be recognized by his round spotted nose, round glasses and sometimes wearing a beret. In the collected Astro Boy volumes, he often introduces stories, and gives trivia. In the Vampire manga he is a major character throughout the series, and went so far as to play himself in the 1968 TV adaptation of the series. He makes frequent appearances in anime Black Jack TV, where he's a doctor who was a classmate of Black Jack
- Part of the Osamu Tezuka Star System with other Tezuka characters is listed and described in the Astro Boy: Omega Factor game, as the "Omega Factor": it is a memory data which raises Astro Boy's power as it levels up. To increase it, Astro has to make full acquaintance of characters throughout the game. This also unlocks biographies of the characters.