松本零士

Leiji Matsumoto was born Akira Matsumoto in Kyushu, Japan in January of 1938. As a child, he followed his father - an Imperial Air Force pilot - around, and became fascinated with the shapes and images of warcraft. He began to draw them, in idealized form, as well as create his own amalgams of fantastic vehicles - spacecraft, land dreadnoughts, etc. - as well as embed his illustrations in short stories.

At the age of 15, he produced a manga entitled The Adventures of a Bee. It was noticed and picked up as a contest winner - and he was off. In the next few years, the magazine that published this early work prints several more of his stories, and he begins to use the name Reiji, which (according to the web) means 'warrior zero' when translated to English. His work reflects his fascination with war; in his Westerns, in his large body of war fiction (The Cockpit, Gun Frontier, Far West) and even in his new realm - sci-fi. It is in this area that he is best known by Westerners, especially those alive and between six and twenty or so during the 1970s and early 1980s, when one of his manga is picked up by an animation studio and eventually makes it onto extremely early-morning American television - as Star Blazers!

Millions of kids learn how in times of desperation you are forced to do what you've been told not to - and fire the wave-motion gun. The Space Cruiser Aurora (a retrofitted IJN Battleship Yamato, raised from the parched ocean floor and made spaceworthy) harkens back to his early fascination with fighting vehicles. The series' plotline allows him to continue exploring 'fantastic' warfare as the Earthmen fight grimly on to Gamelon...

Shro0m informs me, quite properly, that I've forgotten a major piece of Leiji's work. He is the creator of Captain Harlock, a 'space pirate captain' who stars in numerous anime films and television series; wearing an eyepatch and sporting a skull and crossbones, Harlock exemplifies the 'ronin' nature of Leiji's characters.

Almost 70 years old, he continues to draw; fascinated by the Japanese and German wartime cultures, he places them frequently in his work. He has moved more widely into anime, working with the best names in the biz; recently, he has branched out (under his new name, Leiji, which he began to use in the 1960's) into music video. At present, the most promoted of these is the film Interstella 5555, from which the first four videos from the Discovery album by the French techno duo Daft Punk are drawn. These videos, which remind one strongly of Star Blazers, contain all the trademark Matsumoto touches, from 1970's haircuts on space pilots to small, annoying dwarf characters with almost simian features. Check them out at Cartoon Network's Toonami website.

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