I'd like to think that the geek discourse has reached a point in its familiarity with Japanese pop media where Osamu Tezuka's (1928-1989) name is not only recognized, but bears more significance than simply the answer to the trivia question "who created Astro Boy?" With works like his black mooded sex-ed piece Apollo's Song and powerful religious dialogue Ode to Kirihito available in English, there's ample opportunity to see Tezuka as a creator whose ambitions extended beyond thoughtful children's works like Kimba the White lion. Personally, I've been a Tezuka fan since being deeply effected by his manga Adolf: A Tale of the Twentieth Century when I discovered it on a shelf at The Million Year Picnic a dozen years ago. After reading a large majority of the Tezuka manga available in English in the intervening years, I still found the Astonishing Work of Tezuka Osamu surprising. It's a stunning product of the forces that apparently drove Tezuka as a masterful artist and innovator. There's his experimentation; the drive to test a medium and stretch the limits of its ability to relate his stories. There's his social conscience; his willingness to address a matter like Vietnam in a work like Astro Boy, or dedicate a series like Black Jack to exploring his beliefs in medical ethics. And, because he was not the simple, idealized figure rendered in the caricatured artist in a beret, there's his competitiveness; his push to animate like Disney, to see that gekiga alterative, older audience work was drawing attention and jump onto the movement himself. Throughout the experimental animated shorts collected in the Astonishing Work of Tezuka Osamu, Tezuka is never at a loss for a social or artistic message. The artistic elements are as diverse as might be expected from almost three decades of test cases devised by a mind like Tezuka's. Each short is distinct from all others, and all are distinct from his manga. Other than a cameo by Astro Boy and rare appearances by his short-hand for breaking tension, the gassy, pig nosed gourd Hyoutan-Tsugi, the re-used templates found throughout his manga are absent from these animated works. Rarely do Tezuka's shorts look like an animated version of his manga the way that an Astro Boy or Kimba adaptation might. Instead, Tezuka displays a versatility that testifies to the fact that he was not stuck drawing the Disney/Fleischer-esqie cartoonishly stylized figures with which he is associated. North American manga discussion has often returned to the debate of whether that look is appropriate for Tezuka's more serious work. On one hand, it is criticized as being distractingly non-modern. From another perspective, the design is excused as being less important than the message, significance and other artistic merits of the work. Though the distinct look of Tezuka's short serve the purpose of that animation, I'd suggest that they argue for the success of his approach to manga. These experimental pieces demonstrate that Tezuka was neither dogmatically stuck on nor limited to the stylization he employed. As an artist who spent a career exploring and tailoring his work to media, his manga consistently worked with an approach to rendering people that he felt effectively conveyed their emotions and humanity. The experiments also possess a distilled quality that is unlike most Tezuka manga. While an image or page in a work of Tezuka manga rarely looked sloppy, stories often twist into overly complex convolutions due to what looks like a rush between the idea and the pen. In contrast, the effort to fit the experimental shorts into their intended structures give these works a sense of poetic order. Given the artistic demands and departure from comfortably familiar territory, the degree to which the shorts are narratively satisfying is a bit surprising. As is the vehemence of their social aspect. These works aren't simply Tezuka building and testing credibility as an animator. Nor, in most cases, are they Tezuka sharpening an odd corner into the edge of social critique as an afterthought. Tezuka's blunt assessment of the human species is pervasive and proves to be undulled over the decades span in which the shorts were produced. Watch them all across an afternoon, and they're liable to push a mood into "hide the sharp objects" territory. Tezuka's body of manga work often embraced both sides of a dichotomy. There was compassion for humanity and its perseverance, and at the same time, exasperation with crimes that the species committed against itself, and ways in which it hindered that push to survive. Where that manga tended towards a dialectic view of human nature, the shorts tend to be critical parables. In the lighter cases, he teases the point rather than jab it in, but, repeatedly, Tezuka highlights the disastrous leanings of humanity. This isn't so much an observation of inherent thanatos as it is pointing out the species' unthinking disregard for consequence. In The Astro Boy Essays, Frederik Schodt says "the first word usually associated with Tezuka and all of his work is hyumanizumu or 'humanism.' Most Japanese writers immediately seize upon this term and use it in either a positive sense (referring to Tezuka's love for humanity) or a derogatory sense (implying that he has an overly simple or naive view of human nature). Yet, in Japanese, as in English, humanism is an extremely vague term, and it is doubtful that most of those using it are aware of its sub-meanings." Tezuka was evidently keenly aware of the faults of humanity when producing his shorts. In their lighter moments, this results in bemused exasperation. In the darker ones, the observations are devastating. In their visual tinkering and in their philosophy, there is a wealth to consider and interpret throughout these experimental shorts.