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Starry-eyed heroes of Akira 'Leiji' Matsumoto

Hello, friends and manga-philes.
    You probably know that my interest in Japan was originally fueled by a combined interest in Japanese animation and martial arts. My interests expanded somewhat over the years, but one big change happened about the age of 15 when I bought my first Japanese collected comic. From that moment on, I became more interested in comics than animation and eventually after moving to Japan, I started to collect the comics of Mr. Leiji Matsumoto
    At first, I was put off by the heavy-lined art and blocky characters, but the more I got into the stories, the less I cared about the style. Eventually, though, I started to appreciate the artistry much in the same way it took me a while to warm to Jack Kirby's art.
    Like most Leiji fans, I was heavy into Space Cruiser Yamato, Captain Harlock, Queen Emeraldas, and finally, Galaxy Express 999. These comics were created in the 70's and are representative of Matsumoto's style of that time. After moving to Japan, I came across Submarine Super 99 at a used book store near Hiyoshi station in Kanagawa. Looking at these two covers, one can see Matsumoto's 60's era big-ol' eyes style starting to merge into his 70's style. This series first started being serialized in the pages of Bouken Ou (Adventure King) magazine and contains many hallmarks of Matsumoto's most popular works. Steely-eyed boy (named Susumu) saving the world or universe (check), vehicle theme (check), Nazi stand-ins (check), and anti-warmonger message complete with the mixed message of 'aren't these weapons of destruction super cool' (check). My mistaken assumption was that Super 99 was Matsumoto's debut and all the rest went directly from there. How foolish I was.
Submarine Super 99

    I eventually learned that the highly-prolific Matsumoto had been creating comics since he was about 9 and was getting published at 11(!!) in a kids newspaper and at 16 (!!!) in a full-on pro magazine (Manga Shounen). I also learned that he originally worked under his actual name Akira Matsumoto until 1968 and started using Leiji from 1965. And that he worked in both boys and girls magazinesfor years while also working at magazines for older readers.
    This post is just gonna touch on some earlier works such as Gin no Tani no Maria (Maria of the Silver Valley, 1958, Shojo Club).

Maria of the Silver Valley

Interior art

    Here we can see the star-eyed motif of early Akira Matsumoto. This art is from the digital preview on Japanese amazon and his name has been updated. I don't own this one, so don't press me on the details. What I do own is this amazing replica reprint edition of Aoi Hanabira (Blue Petals, published in 1958 but containing works from 1957). It comes with a reversible cover to replicate the first printing. The Tezuka-influence is very strong in this one.
Blue Petals (as Leiji Matsumoto)
available here

Replica Cover (as Akira Matsumoto)

Interior splash with the Tezuka's Mushi Pro logo.

Contents stating that here are three stories of three girls facing some sad and scary situations.

adorable frontispiece
Creepy antagonist makes an appearance.

I'm not going chronological or anything, so here's a collection of ninja tales by 10 manga masters of which one happens to be Akira Matsumoto. This was printed first in 1966 and includes such big names as Sampei Shirato, Shoutarou Ishinomori, Jirou Kuwata, Taku Horie (who I've mentioned before), Fujio A Fujiko, and Mitsuteru Yokoyama. Big, big names.

Ninpou Juuban Shoubu (10 Ninja Battles, 1966)
get here

Here's a different kind of starry-eye. A star, in the eye! Yuk-yuk.

    Now comes the good stuff. My good friend and collector of first editions, Mr. Fujita has graciously lent me two Matsumoto items from his fantastic collection. Both are furoku (extra comic that comes with a comic magazine). They tend to be smaller than collected manga books, but are sometimes 224-pagers!
    The first one is Denkou Ozuma (Lightning Ozma, 1961) from Bokura Magazine (Koudansha). Here we see the starry-eyed kid (Susumu, again) going up against a mysterious evil organization (the Nova Empire).

You can virtually feel the anti-war message oozing from the cover.
Just in case you thought it wasn't anti-war enough, here are two guys who really hate war.

Close up on some starry eyes.
A motif that freaked me out when I first saw it in the pages of Urusei Yatsura.
A cool skull-faced bad guy. Our hero is in trouble.

Finally we meet the big bad baddy, Ganmos, leader of the Nova Empire.
You can get the physical or digital version of this. Or the 'I'll just make it up all in my head' version.

    Finally we have, Aoi Me no Marii (Blue-eyed Marie, 1958) from Shojo, a girl's comic magazine. This furoku is a thick comic of 224 pages with three stories including one by Akira Matsumoto. I thought it was one of Matsumoto's cute animal comics (of which he's done several), but written above the title it says kowai manga which means scary comic. The cover tho, not so much. Yes, good ol' Akira has put another young girl in distress. This time the heroine of our story is Mayuko who lives in America and has only one friend, Kenichi. Yep, it seems she can't make any local friends so she has to import one. Oh, but she does have one blue-eyed friend. Marie, her French doll who causes all kinds of mysterious things to happen.
    BTW, this is one of those rare stories that Matsumoto only does the art for. The story is by Toshio Shimamori who is known for writing travelogues and sexy books like The Wet Pillow (1968) or The Women's Hell Prison Gate Record (1980).

Not that scary. Actually... come to think of it, that chihuahua's eyes are boring deeply into my soul.

Poor Mayuko's evil hell-doll has been stolen by a strange man in a black beret who followed her and her father from Kyushu back to America. Then steals Marie and takes off. Maybe that's a good thing?

    This took a while to put together so my next post might be shorter. I have more examples from the wonderful Fujita Collection that I'll be sharing soon, but I think I have some other things I want to put up on here first. Like maybe about the time I met Leiji Matsumoto himself.
    See ya in the funny papers!


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