Leiji Matsumoto, one of the pioneering giants of the manga and anime genres, died in a Tokyo hospital on February 13 at the age of 85. Acute heart failure was listed as the cause of death. In announcing his death, Matsumoto’s daughter Makiko, issued a statement saying that he “set out on a journey to the sea of stars. I think he lived a happy life, thinking about continuing to draw stories as a manga artist.”
Matsumoto was best known for his epic productions such as Galaxy Express 999, Queen Emeraldas, and Space Battleship Yamato, all of which helped define the genre for his many fans worldwide. A dedicated antiwar activist, Leiji Matsumoto included this theme in many of his creations, inspired by his own father’s experiences in the Second World War.
Born as Akira Matsumoto in 1938 in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, he changed his name to Leiji when he moved to Tokyo to pursue a career as a professional artist.
The young man was still a teenager when his first work, Mitsubachi no Boken (Honey Bee’s Adventures) was published in a manga periodical. In 1961, he married Miyako Maki, one of the first female artists working in manga and anime.
Leiji first came to prominence in the early 1970s with the publication of Otoko Oidon, a manga series about an impoverished young university student. It won for him the Kodansha Publishing Award for Children’s Manga. He later saw some of his works adapted for television, such as Space Pilot Captain Harlock. The French duo Daft Punk commissioned him to create a music video for its One More Time song, released in 2000.
Tributes to Matsumoto have been pouring in from around the world since his passing.
Zack Davisson, who translated many of Leiji’s stories, called him an “absolute giant” while noting how the artist’s work served as an emotional bulwark especially to the young men who were among his many fans.
“Star Blazers and Galaxy Express was a gut-punch. People… died. People… cried. People… fell in love,” said Davisson, who added “There was an immense sadness in his works, a grandeur nowhere else seen. All wrapped in powerful visuals that were equally mythological and futuristic.”
Matsumoto is a recipient of several cultural prizes, including Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun and France’s Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters. In addition, a series of bronze statues in the Japanese port city of Tsuruga depict characters and scenes from Space Battleship Yamato and Galaxy Express 999.
Check out more of Edward’s articles.