In the 1970s when the Vietnam War was descending into a quagmire, a young American student in Japan who was contemplating the meaning of life came across “Phoenix,” a manga about reincarnation and bioethics.
“The story really struck a chord with me because I was in the midst of rejecting conventional thinking and searching for something new,” Frederik L. Schodt (68) said. “The moment I read it, my life changed completely,” he said with a smile.
Schodt was so inspired by the manga that he immediately visited the office of Tezuka Productions in Tokyo’s Takadanobaba district to ask for permission to translate it. This was his first encounter with Osamu Tezuka, the author of “Phoenix.” But he was so nervous that he doesn’t even remember if the legendary manga artist was wearing his trademark beret.
Tezuka’s first impression of Schodt was that he was a “scary foreigner” because he was 190 cm tall, but he soon grew fond of him. Whenever he travelled to the U.S., he asked Schodt to interpret for him. They discussed all sorts of topics, such as science, religion and history. These conversations later helped Tezuka to come up with various ideas and incorporate them into his stories.
Schodt introduced Japan’s manga culture to the U.S. though his book “Manga! Manga!” which was published in 1983. It has since been referred to as a “manga bible.” In addition to Tezuka’s works, such as “Phoenix” and “Mighty Atom,” Schodt also translated Keiji Nakazawa’s “Barefoot Gen” and Masamune Shiro’s “Ghost in the Shell.” In 2016, he published “The Osamu Tezuka Story,” the English version of a manga-style biography of the man he looked up to like a father.
In 2017, he received an award from the Japan Foundation in recognition of his many years of achievement. “Tezuka-san worked like a demon, whereas I’m a lazy man. But I think he might have spared a few words of praise for me.”