AI manga project aims to continue Astro Boy creator's work

A generative artificial intelligence project aims to continue the work of the late manga artist behind the Astro Boy series.

Tezuka Osamu also developed the Black Jack series, which centers on a genius surgeon who practices medicine without a license.

Modern-day creators will use AI to come up with new Black Jack stories, in a project dubbed TEZUKA2023. They plan to publish the episodes in a weekly cartoon magazine later this year.

Project TEZUKA2023

Tezuka's eldest son Macoto, whose surname is Tezka, is leading the project as a general director. Keio University Professor Kurihara Satoshi, an AI specialist, is its general producer.

The AI manga project TEZUKA2023 was unveiled at a press conference at Keio University in Tokyo on June 12, 2023.

Members of the project team demonstrated the generative technology for media on Monday. The AI system learned story structures, dialogue and characters of the original 1973 series, which had more than 200 episodes produced over ten years.

Project will use two AI systems

Two different types of AI will be used to create the series. Human creators will give instructions on structure, characters, worldview, and the theme to GPT-4, a text-generation AI, to create a rough storyline.

The characters' faces and frames will be created by Stable Diffusion, an image-generation AI, which is learning Tezuka's drawing styles for elements such as facial expressions, backgrounds, and brushstrokes. Project members plan to combine the output of the two AI systems and discuss the results.

An example of the manga series Black Jack created by AI project TEZUKA2023.

At the media event, Tezka input “remote island, coronavirus, failure.” The system presented a storyline in which Black Jack works with a local shaman on a remote island to help a child infected with the virus.

Tezka said his father's works not only presented hope for a bright future but also incorporated problems and critical situations, so that readers could learn from them. He said the project faces many hurdles but taking on challenges is important, as Tezuka himself experimented with various forms of expression in his manga.

"I hope AI won't replace humans, but will expand human creativity by supporting creation," Tezka said.

Tezka Macoto, son of late manga pioneer Tezuka Osamu, is leading the AI project TEZUKA2023.

AI use presents challenges, risks

AI has a wide range of applications, but using it also presents many challenges and risks of problems.

One challenge faced by the project team is the difficulty in ensuring that the new series stays close to the unique style of the original Black Jack. The key to this is whether the human side is able to give clear, precise directions for the AI to follow.

Another peril is the possibility that AI's answers might contain incorrect information. Experts have warned that the new technology could be used to produce fake news or enable cybercrimes.

The copyrights of the material from which the AI learns are another potential complication. Some artists have claimed images were created based on their published illustrations.

TEZUKA2023 is allowed to reference Tezuka's work, but some other AI-generated manga has referenced content without permission.

The Black Jack series itself also encompasses many potentially problematic social and ethical issues. Storylines have included the limitations of medical care, death with dignity, and organ transplants. Tezka said the series' theme makes it well-suited to be a vehicle for AI technology.

"I thought Tezuka Osamu's manga was perfect for taking on new challenges in the world of creativity," Tezka said.