Under the Air by Osamu Tezuka, a collection of fourteen manga stories, was published from 1968 to 1970 and translated in 2017 by Grady Martin and published by Digital Manga, Inc. This collection is the place to start if you have never read any Tezuka. That this is a five-star collection would not be debated by any who read it; even Tezuka thought highly of it, and he was very critical of his own work. The afterword to this collection is the first one I have read that did not include Tezuka’s humble apologies for a less-than-perfect work. The manga collection is fully mature in its themes, and for the new reader interested in Tezuka, it introduces most of the topics that preoccupied him throughout his long career.
“Joe’s Visitor” opens the collection and is about Joe Robbins, a black man from Harlem who was killed in Vietnam, and his Lieutenant, a racist white man from Atlanta, Georgia named Wiley O’Hara. O’Hara’s racism is the focus of this story when he goes to seek out Joe’s family in Harlem.
“The Cliff of Death” takes place in Western France and is about an escaped prisoner who takes three hostages. Can a hardened criminal be reformed? The ending has quite a twist.
“The Duel at Grand Mesa” critiques big business through a Western revenge genre story. The Union Pacific Rail Line takes advantage of poor farming communities on the frontier. In this story, we even get several traditional Western shoot-out scenes.
“Cape Uroko” features Tezuka as a character and seems to be a real-life story about his visit to an Island village. He critiques the media attention that focuses lots of publicity on a minor incident and ignores mass pollution going on around the island. A critique of big business is again a focus of this story.
“The Voice of Night” is about a rich company president who likes to dress up secretly as a panhandler once a week and escape the everyday pressures of his life. Through the course of his adventures, he falls in love with a woman who lives on the streets.
“The Hole” is about a man who kills two men from a clan and gets his due. There’s a great twist to this story.
“Chameleon” stars a man who works for the research and development section of the Morioka Chemical company, but he is secretly a corporate spy. This story is a great one about revenge and the extent to which companies will go in their experimentation on animals and human beings.
“Cat’s Blood” is set in the country in a small town of people who worship the White Cat God. They all show tendencies toward cat-like behavior, which causes problems for Mr. Sudo, from outside the town, when he visits and falls in love with a young woman and proposes to her, eventually taking her to Tokyo to live. Her inability to adapt to the urban environment becomes a major problem for the couple.
“Valley of Bliss” is a love story about a man who enters a valley — the “stranger comes to town” theme — and in this valley only a father and his son and daughter live there. Conflict quickly escalates. This is a story of punishment and survival.
“Illicit Love” is a strange story about incestuous passion. Surprisingly, this topic is not an unusual one for Tezuka.
“Catastrophe in the Dark” features a popular radio DJ whose fans adore him. The twist at the end shows that the story is stranger than it first appears and is psychological in a way that cannot be anticipated.
“Telephone” is a critique of the student protest movements in Japan’s colleges and of how violent and ultimately pointless they were.
“Rovanna” is one of the strangest stories in this collection. It is another one featuring Tezuka. It starts out seemingly realistic, but it gets stranger and stranger as the story progresses. It is also, in some ways, a retelling of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” which Tezuka explicitly references in the story.
“Lovers Under Air” concludes the volume and has a hard-heading environmental theme. It is also a love story that features Tezuka’s interest in rebirth and lost lovers finding each other again. It thematically fits with his epic Phoenix saga.
It is difficult to do justice to the volume as a whole. It simply must be read. Digital Inc. offers it both as a physical and digital copy. I like it enough that, even though I have read the digital version, I will purchase a physical copy to add to my Tezuka library collection. Again, I encourage those who have never read Tezuka to start here. It captures all the various moods and genres of which Tezuka was capable, as well as giving a good overview of the themes that mattered to him throughout his lifetime as a manga creator.