Project “may give birth to a new way of creating content,” says Osamu Tezuka’s son.

Osamu Tezuka is known as the God of Manga, and with good reason. No other single artist did as much to advance the artform of comics in Japan, and nearly 35 years after his death, he remains a figure of reverence among anime/manga fans and professionals alike.

So it’s a big development that there’s a new chapter of Black Jack, Tezuka’s story about an unlicensed but brilliant surgeon who wanders the globe performing seemingly impossible procedures, scheduled to be published. This isn’t a case of recently discovered work from Tezuka being published posthumously, though, but a brand-new Black Jack story that’s being created with the help of AI.

The new Black Jack manga is a joint effort between Tezuka Productions, Osamu Tezuka’s ongoing production studio, and Satoshi Kurihara, a professor at Keio University. The AI Black Jack manga will appear in publisher Akita Shoten’s Weekly Shonen Champion, the same anthology Black Jack was serialized in during Tezuka’s lifetime, from 1973 to 1983.

The project is described as a collaborative effort between an AI program and human “creators” at Tezuka Productions. The exact division of labor isn’t currently publicized, but in talking about the project, Kurihara credits recent advancements in “generative AI programs such as ChatGTP,” which suggests that the A.I. is extensively involved writing the script/dialogue. Makoto Tezuka, Osamu Tezuka’s oldest son and director of Tezuka Productions, commented that the Black Jack manga is “Actually being jointly created by various [human] creators and A.I., and may give birth to a new way of creating content.”

▼ Black Jack, with his distinctive two-tone black-and-white hair and high-collared cape, seen on a mural of Tezuka characters

The announcement comes not long after Japanese publisher Shueisha put an end to its A.I. generated swimsuit model, Ai Satsuki, for reasons likely related to ethical/legal issues related to ownership of the original inputs from which generative A.I. programs learn. In the case of the A.I. Black Jack, though, it appears that the program leaned exclusively from the Black Jack manga written/drawn by Osaumu Tezuka. Between that and the publisher of both the original and A.I. Black Jack, the input and output for the project is essentially entirely in-house, which would ostensibly eliminate the possibility of ownership hurdles for Tezuka Productions and Akita Shoten.

Kurihara was also involved in the production of Paidon, an A.I,-created manga in the style of Osamu Tezuka that was published in 2020, but this is the first official A.I.-created manga content for one of Osamu Tezuka’s preexisting series. Black Jack was chosen, according to Makoto Tezuka, because its large number of episodes and diverse thematic elements make it “a series that’s a concentrated collection of the essence of Osamu Tezuka.”

As to what Osamu Tezuka himself would have to say about all this, it’s hard to speculate. On the one hand, there’s an undeniable human quality to his storytelling style, and his character designs have a soft, cartoony look for which hand-drawn art feels most appropriate. At the same time, he was a prolific science fiction creator, and his best-loved character of all is a sentient machine: Mighty Atom/Astro Boy (pictured below).

It’s currently unclear whether the A.I. Black Jack manga will be a one-shot story or a series of chapters, but it’s set to appear in Weekly Shonen Champion this fall.

Source: Comic Natalie via Anime News Network/Alex Mateo, PR Times
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