Metafiction in Astro Boy

I’ve just read Astro Boy #14, which contains some of the most remarkable and untrammelled breaking of the traditional boundaries, not just of the comic artform but of any narrative form, that I’ve encountered. First we get a story from 1960, starting (I suspect this introductory segment may be a later preface) with Astro’s sister Uran visiting the strip’s creator, Osamu Tezuka, and his confession that he can’t recall how or why she first appeared. She is indignant, and he phones the other characters, getting a different origin account from each – one admitting that he can’t remember, but offering the version from the TV show. Uran gets furious and smashes up Tezuka’s apartment.

Even better is an incident in the 1958 story ‘Fortress Of The Centaurs’. The noble alien centaurs have escaped the gangsters trying to use them, and the story seems concluded, as no one knows where they are – then the gangsters find out. How? “Easy! We just turned the screws on Osamu Tezuka…” says the boss, and they go off to attack the aliens, one bystander remarking that “Only in a manga would a gang like this fire rockets!”

This is astonishingly uninhibited playfulness, which reminds me of the Greeks’ deus ex machina theatrical device and of some of Tristram Shandy (both surely more apt references than any self-conscious PoMo), but it’s also an instinctive move on Tezuka’s part to break the fourth wall, an anti-realism move he employs (always in formally different ways) in even his most serious and profound works (i’m thinking of his great masterpiece, Phoenix). It’s one of the reasons I love his work so much.