18 January 2020
Leiji Matsumoto with a life-size figure of Maetel, the main character in his The Galaxy Express 999. Photo: HKEJ
Leiji Matsumoto with a life-size figure of Maetel, the main character in his The Galaxy Express 999. Photo: HKEJ

Manga master started as a teen

Leiji Matsumoto (松本零士) is highly regarded as a master of Japanese anime and manga.

Born in 1938, the artist began to show talent in manga making in his early years.

In 1954, Matsumoto, at the age of 15, created his debut professional publication, The Adventure of a Bee, for which he won the award for best new writer of comics.

In the 1970s, he made his name as a creator of sci-fi manga, with Space Battleship Yamato (宇宙戰艦大和號), The Galaxy Express 999 (銀河鐵道999), and Space Pirate Captain Harlock (宇宙海賊夏羅古).

Most of his works were adapted as TV anime series and movies, earning him a wider audience.

Matsumoto said growing up during World War II had affected his childhood but it didn’t have a big impact on his artworks.

“My father was a military fighter pilot, and I could hear the thundering of the bombs and the fighter jets all day,” he said.

“However, I only did a few publications that were war-related, and most of my works didn’t touch upon this topic.

“Space Battleship Yamato and The Galaxy Express 999 are unrelated to the second world war.” 

Though the artist’s memory is not as good as it once was, Matsumoto, 77, said he would continue to publish new works.

In one of his future works, he plans to combine three of his epic publications into one and write an ending for the main characters — Captain Harlock of Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Yayoi Yukino of Queen Millennia and Maetel of The Galaxy Express 999.

Matsumoto refused to give away details of other coming works, as he would like to surprise his fans.

Asked about his career lows, Matsumoto said: “The serial publication of my comics was once halted by the publisher.

“I was very upset at the time of the notice, but then the next day I felt all right.

“I kept reminding myself that ‘Tomorrow is my new self’ and I shall do better the next day.” 

Matsumoto compared himself to Captain Harlock, saying readers can find traces of him through the character.

“Being a manga artist is a job with freedom, and I am very lucky that I have enjoyed over 60 years of being able to write or draw whatever I like.

“To summarize my career, think of Captain Harlock.

“The way he lives is the way I looked forward to living.

“When I was young, I dreamt of becoming a pirate!

“Like Captain Harlock, I won’t give up and will become an even better fighter after meeting strong opponents.”

Matsumoto said it is important to keep a childlike faith, and different dreams can be actualized at different times.

One of his dreams is to look at the Earth from outer space — a recurrent scene in his artworks.

Asked about the trends in Japanese anime and manga, Matsumoto says he supports all manga artists doing their best and striving hard toward realizing their own dreams.

East Point City, Tseung Kwan O, is hosting a Leiji Matsumoto Christmas Fantasyland exhibition, featuring full-size manga figures of Maetel, Yayoi Yukino and Captain Harlock. Many artworks of Matsumoto are also on display until Dec. 27.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 10.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

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Leiji Matsumoto sketches a portrait of Queen Millennia with marker pens. Photo: HKEJ

Matsumoto creations include Queen Emeraldas (left) and Space Battleship Yamato. Photo: HKEJ

Leiji Matsumoto was invited to present Space Pirate Captain Harlock at a French comics festival. Photo: HKEJ

Leiji Matsumoto (right) attended the 2013 Venice International Film Festival with actor Haruma Miura (left) and director Shinji Aramaki of the Space Pirate Captain Harlock movie. Photo: HKEJ

HKEJ writer