Thursday, September 11, 2014

Kamisama no Beret

Networks, in general, have been known to produce television specials to commemorate a historical event or an illustrious figure, at times, even an iconic artist and his work. In celebration of 40 years since the manga Black Jack hit the stands, Kamisama no Beret shines the spotlight on its creator, Tezuka Osamu and the circumstances that led to his comeback in the 1970s.

Tracing the inception of this popular manga would have obviously been the more interesting feature, but the special itself seems to be more than satisfied with merely extolling the virtue of hard work. It disputes the commonly accepted notion of the said artist's God-given genius and instead offers a portrait of a man who perseveres amidst times of failure.

Set in a period when emerging young comic artists exhibit their own style and readers are on the hunt for something new and interesting, Black Jack is acknowledged as a product of Tezuka's tenacity and one chief editor's unwavering confidence in the former's ability to craft a story.

Designed for the appreciation of kids and young adults, Kamisama no Beret is an inspirational but fantastical account of Tezuka's inquisitive nature and relentless energy. Detractors can argue the same to be a sanitized depiction of a revered personality's troublesome work ethic and questionable management skills, but his talent, his quirks, and whatever shortcomings as depicted comprise two sides of the same coin. Those who want more insight on the man and his work habits are better off watching the 1985 NHK Tokushu Tezuka Osamu: Sosaku no Himitsu documentary, but as a primer, the special does well in keeping things light and palatable.

Using unexplained time travel as a narrative device (just like in Superbook), the special is told through the point of view of new hiree, Odamachi Sakura (Oshima Yuko) of Akita Publishing, who is transported back to 1973. 
A crucial time for Tezuka (Kusanagi Tsuyoshi), the renowned mangaka hasn't had a hit in years and is saddled by debt with a company that's on the verge of bankruptcy. Through the help of Chief Editor Kabemura Taizo (Sato Koichi) of Weekly Shōnen Champion, he is given a break and commissioned to create an original 4-volume manga.

From hereon, Tezuka is shown to diligently work on conceptualizing Black Jack on his own. He gathers materials for his background research and spends hours contemplating on how to make his stories interesting and current. Despite having a team of artists working for him, his most productive hours appear to be spent working alone. And it's in his private workroom that the so-called magic happens, where he relentlessly and personally drafts each installment of his manga to his satisfaction.

Ever conscious of feedback, he strives to keep his work fresh; not thinking twice about delaying the submission of his work should he find it unfit for publication to the utter consternation of his colleagues and editors. He is said to be famous for missing deadlines and is often criticized for accepting more work than he is capable to deliver at any given time, but all misgivings about frazzled editors and over fatigued subordinates are brushed aside, seemingly justified by the magnitude of his body of work.

As an editorial assistant, Odamachi bears witness to the amount of time and work that goes into putting out a volume of manga. She is also made to realize---by having observed Tezuka's indefatigable spirit---the virtue of dedicating one's self to one's work. The primary tenet of this special argues in favor of "talent" and "perfection" acquired through persistent practice and revision as opposed to it being an inborn trait.  It's just a shame that for a special that recounts how a famous manga is made, Kamisama no Beret  provides absolutely nothing about the thought process and inspiration behind the composition of Black Jack as a character and a serial.

With thick black frames and the signature beret (not to mention a lumpy pillow for a belly), Kusanagi Tsuyoshi is able to replicate the familiar and amiable aura of Tezuka to moderate effect. Together with Tanaka Kei, Okada Yoshinori, Kohinata Fumiyo and Asari Yosuke, all playing bit parts but with equal reverence, this is one drama special that curiously pays tribute to a man who's been dubbed as "the god of manga" by making him appear ordinary when clearly, he's anything but. 


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