The Ninja Manga Master!

The famous Japanese mangaka Shirato Sanpei (or as babelfish calls him: clay three flat), author of many classic ninja manga, was born on February 15th, 1932 in Tokyo's Suginami-district, as the son of the leftist painter Okamoto Toki, leader of the proletarian fine arts movement. His father taught him his oil-painting skills in the post-war period. But he also learned country-/ and farm-life, as his family fled the city into the country during the war. In effect, many things depicted in his manga would not be there, were it not for the evacuation period and the abject poverty of his family.

Because of this artistic heritage, he started artistic work as a kamishibai (a form of street theatre using pictures to accompany the dramatic liturgic recitations) artist soon after graduating from middle school. As many performers, Shirato used the his aquired talents to draw manga later on, when the event of television brushed kamishibashi aside. In fact, he made his debut as a mangaka in 1957, aged 25 with the manga Kogarashi Kenshi. Before that, he worked as an assistant to mangaka Kazuma Maki. His first works were distributed through lending libraries and kashihon.

"I hate the samurai. -- A samurai deprives a farmer of his profits, believing it to be his birthright. But the farmer is the one who creates the wealth in the first place."

Even in these early works he had already focussed on his major topic: Japanese history, featuring ninja as main characters, mainly because of his dislike of the samurai class, the usual protagonists. At that time, ninja were popular characters, but were mainly depicted as mountain sorcerors, but around the late 1950s, together with a boom in ninja novels, and Shirato's works, this image began changing into the more realisic picture of the profession of the shadows. The popular and more realistic image of the ninja as the skilled assassin and spy, influencing the power struggles between Japanese lords, was born.

In Shirato Sanpei's manga, the characters were set as participants or observers against actual historical events and characters, such as the Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga, dealing with grand themes and stretching out over multiple volumes. All the while, Shirato remained true to his upbringing, using the stories to criticize class differences, repression, discrimination and poverty, but without preaching. At the same time, the stories were highly entertaining, surpassing other manga of the time in depth, expressive technique and art.

One of his first successes was the epic Ninja bugeich Kagemaru den (Records of Ninja Warfare: Legend of Kagemaru). When the lending library system faded in the sixties, major publishing houses, responding to the growing popularity of manga amongst adults, began republishing his work, broadening his readership enormously, and assuring the popularity of his art amongst other groups such as students and intellectuals.

At this time Shirato began work on new series for the weekly or monthly magazines of large publishers and for for the small and independant Garo. The survival of the latter was guaranteed by Shirato alone, as he published his greatest success, Kamui-Den (Legend of Kamui), here.

Today, aged 70, he is still working on Kamui, but is taking it slowly building the events and stories towards the final climax, while taking some time out to follow up on his hobby: Fishing in Chiba Ken.

Here's a list of Shirato Sanpei's works:

  • Ninja Bugeichou Kagemaru-den - Records of Ninja Warfare: Legend of Kagemaru 1959-1963
  • Kamui-den - Legend of Kamui 1964-71
  • Kamui-gaiden - More Legends of Kamui 1982-87
  • Kamui-den Dai 2 Bu - Legend of Kamui - Part 2 1998-
  • Sasuke 1961-67
  • Watari 1965
  • Kogarashi Kushi 19??
  • Kaze no Ishinoru 19??
  • La pesca 19??
  • Bacchus 1976-78
  • Sources:

  • Japanese Fanpage:
  • A History of Manga:
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