Matsumoto Leiji

Matsumoto leiji

Native Name: 松本零士 (Matsumoto Leiji)

Birth Name: 松本晟 (Matsumoto Akira)

Born: January 25, 1938 (age 81), Kurume, Fukuoka, Japan

Known for character design, illustration, animation, film making

Notable works: Space Battleship Yamato, Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999, 

Awards: Order of the Rising Sun, Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur.


Matsumoto Leiji (1938-Present), is a Japanese artist and illustrator whose Space Opera stories and designs became icons of Manga and Anime in the 1970s and 1980s. Matsumoto's father was a pioneer aviator who had trained in inter-war France with aggressor squadrons, but fell on hard times in the 1940s. While Matsumoto's brothers went into engineering, the self-taught Matsumoto became a teenage Comics prodigy, pawning his record collection to make the one-way 24-hour train journey to Tokyo to work for the weekly magazines. He has cited Jūza Unno and H G Wells as primary influences not only on his writing but on his reading; he has lambasted comic creators who read nothing but other comics. The Life of King Robert, The Bruce, the legends of the 'Celtic Twilight' and the Nordic Saga loom large in his sf plots, characters and themes, alongside melancholy elegies of Time Abyss and Entropy. His artwork frequently displays a love of mechanics and machinery, in the original sense of the word "Mecha", particularly from the World War Two era; his non-sf output includes The Cockpit, a long-running series of war stories.

 Beginning with "Mitsubachi no Bōken" ["A Bee's Adventure"] (graph 1954 Manga Shōnen), Matsumoto's early work was published under his real name, and chiefly in the field of non-sf girls' comics, until the rising numbers of female creators crowded out male artists. His work in this period covered a multitude of genres, and included the manga adaptation of the US television series Laramie (1959) as Laramie Bokujō ["Laramie Ranch"] (graph 1960 Hinomaru). His earliest sf work, Betsu Sekai no Bōken ["Adventures on Another World"] (written 1956; graph 1958 venue unknown), foreshadows many of his later themes, with an Invasion by Aliens compounding problems for an Earth that faces imminent collision with Mars. Gin no Tani no Maria ["Maria of the Silver Valley"] (graph 1958 Shōjo Club) was commissioned as a fairytale fantasy of medieval Europe, but soon accrued sf themes including references to the sunken continent of Mu (see Lost Worlds; Under the Sea).

 His work post-1965 was entirely published as Leiji Matsumoto. Collected sf manga short stories from the ensuing decade fill several volumes [see Checklist], but true success eluded him until Otoko Oidon ["I am a Man"] (graph 1971 Shūkan Shōnen Magazine), the non-sf examination of an impoverished youth awaiting the chance to re-sit his university entrance examinations. Matsumoto also worked as a book illustrator, most notably for Japanese collections of the Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry stories by C L Moore, beginning with "Dai Uchū no Majo" ["Cosmic Witch"] (trans Katsuo Jinka 1968 SF Magazine). Published in book form in the early 1970s, these helped establish his reputation for Space Opera imagery and lissome heroines. This in turn led the producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki to commission Matsumoto as a conceptual artist on a new television anime project, eventually broadcast as Uchū Senkan Yamato (1974), in the US as Star Blazers (1979). Matsumoto arrived on the project after preliminary writing by Nishizaki and the authors Keisuke {FUJIKAWA} and Aritsune {TOYOTA}, but is widely believed to have contributed the lion's share of the work.

 For the following three decades, Nishizaki and Matsumoto were locked in legal battles over who had created which part of the Seiun Award-winning franchise. In 2002, a Japanese court finally ruled that while the trademark and basic plot of Yamato belonged to Nishizaki, the characters and Spaceship design belonged to Matsumoto, who had established the show's iconic look through storyboards for many early episodes, and a manga series Uchū Senkan Yamato (graph 1974).

 Uchū Kaizoku Captain Harlock ["Space Pirate Captain Harlock", in some variants, Herlock] (graph 1977 Play Comic) has a Far Future setting in which an apathetic human race on a Dying Earth largely submits to Alien invaders, before the titular buccaneer raises a flag of resistance. The subsequent Anime television series (1978) was much loved in the Francophone world under the title Albator: le corsaire de l'espace, and also broadcast in Latin America as Capitán Raymar. It was subsequently combined with Millennium Queen (see below) and entirely rewritten for the US market as Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years (1985).

 Sennen Jo-Ō ["Millennium Queen"] (graph 1980 Sankei Shinbun) involves the discovery of La-Metal, a rogue world beyond Pluto (see Outer Planets), with an eccentric orbit that will cause it to collide with the Earth on the 9th September 1999. The protagonist professor's beautiful assistant Yukino is revealed as an agent of the queen of La-Metal, who has been on Earth preparing the way for an exodus and enslavement of the survivors of humanity. She comes to question her allegiance, in a retelling of the Japanese folktale Taketori Monogatari ["Tale of the Bamboo Cutter"]. Later revealed as a distaff sequel, Ginga Tetsudō 999 ["Galaxy Express 999"] (graph 1977 Big Comic) drifts into Magic Realism, with a spacebound steam engine that takes an orphan protagonist to Andromeda in search of a Cyborg body. He later questions the wisdom of this decision during a picaresque series of Planetary Romances. The story is strongly redolent of Kenji {MIYAZAWA}'s Ginga Tetsudō no Yoru ["Night on the Galactic Railroad"] (1934), although Matsumoto points to other origins: chiefly the shock and awe he felt as an aspirant teenage artist on his first journey to Tokyo, travelling on a train network that still ran efficiently, but through a Japan in ruins. In the 21-volume version included in the Checklist below, volumes 1-14 are the initial "Andromeda" story arc; volumes 15-21 are the subsequent "Eternal" story set after the destruction of the Earth (see End of the World).

 His prose nonfiction includes autobiography in Tōku Toki no Rin no Sessuru Toko ["The Place that Connects with the Ring of Distant Time"] (2002), a Swiss travelogue, and the coauthorship of the magisterial Manga Daihakubutsukan ["Great Manga Museum"] (2004) a superb overview of the Japanese comics medium from 1924-1959, ending with the rise of Osamu Tezuka. 

 He is still working, at the age of 81 and striving currently to bridge the current perception gap between modern fans of Japanese culture and the superficial media which has largely come to represent 'Japanese animation'. His recent successes with the more considered 'Yamato 2199' and 'Sengoku Arcadia'have once again caught the cupidity of the World.


© Ronnie Watt OBE ORS - 2014