The TEZUKA 2023 project kicked off in June to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Black Jack series, which centers on a genius surgeon who practices medicine without a license.
It was led by Tezka Macoto, the late manga artist's son. He and Keio University professor Kurihara Satoshi — an artificial intelligence expert — held a news conference at Keio University in Tokyo on Monday.
There they unveiled the first five pages of the new 32-page medical drama.
The story begins with Black Jack and his assistant Pinoko visiting a company that makes cutting-edge prosthetics and artificial organs. There they meet a patient named Maria who has been given an artificial heart and is bedridden with multiple tubes attached to her. Black Jack realizes a serious problem exists with her transplant and gets to work solving it.
Tezka says, "It's a very contemporary theme, and a work that is very Black Jack in the way that it takes on problems that will happen in the future." He adds, "I think my father would have wanted to use AI. He always said he wished he had more hands so he could draw as much as he wanted to."
Creating a new character with AI
The project's team used generative AI to create the basic storyline and the new character Maria. The team members then improved upon the AI's ideas and came up with the final storyline.
To create Maria, the team fed the AI information on characters from other Tezuka works. This prompted it to come up with characters possessing Tezuka-like attributes. Next, the team specified Maria's age and physical characteristics along with descriptions such as "she's wearing headgear" and "her neck is also a machine."
Commenting on Maria's creation, a team member in charge of drawing says, "I read Tezuka's works and chose a few pictures that matched my own image of Maria and began on that basis. But it was still a very arduous task. The AI came up with many candidates that were close to my image, so in the future we can add as many new characters as we want."
The team ultimately chose the AI-generated design for Maria that best suited the storyline.
Tezka says he made a surprising discovery while working on the human-AI collaboration. "I felt more familiar with AI than I thought I would. We were supposed to be working on this project from the beginning with the idea that AI was just a tool. But we ended up with the illusion that we had a partner. It was not a bad feeling."
Film director Hayashi Kaizo credits the AI with inventing the episode's title. He adds that the team chatted with the AI and had fun asking it strange questions, which prompted equally weird answers.
But Hayashi says the AI's ability to create stories fell short. He notes he repeatedly needed to give it detailed instructions on how to improve the character settings and themes.
Read the new episode with an open mind
Tezka says the project's leaders were relieved when the episode concluded as planned. He says he's happy the human-AI collaboration was a success and believes they've created a very interesting episode.
He adds, "I want people to read it without preconceived notions. It'll be good to hear all kinds of opinions, no matter how frank."