On February 13th, at the age of 85, Leiji Matsumoto, a mangaka who became famous all over the world thanks to the space pirate Captain Harlock and numerous science fiction sagas, passed away. We pay homage to this extraordinary and multifaceted artist who has touched the hearts of many generations with his poetry.
Once upon a time there was a little man who dreamed of the stars. He had started as a child, with the idea of becoming a manga artist, after reading the science fiction novels of HG Wells and falling in love with the filmstrips that his father, an army officer, brought home during the Second World War .
Leiji Matsumoto then he had moved to Tokyo, still very young, taking a train with a one-way ticket, and had begun to work with passion and dedication until he achieved great international success by creating some of the most iconic sagas and characters of the contemporary imagination. Once upon a time there was a little man who dreamed of the stars, and who made us dream about them too.
Leiji (with an L, for “Lion,” as he liked to point out) was a stage name. His real name was Akira Matsumoto, and was born in 1938 into a large family, with six other brothers and sisters, with a teaching mother and a military father. As soon as he turned 18 he moved to Tokyo with the aim of working in the cartoon world.
His first professional work was Otoko Oidon, the story of a reckless student who prepares for the very difficult entrance exams to the Japanese University. After forays into war stories and westerns, the consecration comes between 1978 and 1979, when masterpieces such as Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999 e Space battleship Yamatocreated together with the writer Yoshinobu Nishizaki.
From that moment begins a dazzling career studded with extraordinary successes, countless awards and honors, including the appointment as Ambassador of the city of Koriyama, and the unconditional affection of millions of fans around the world.
Married to the author Miyako Maki, Matsumoto has continued his prolific career over the years dedicating himself not only to manga but also to music, with a multi-year collaboration with the group Daft Punkand the design of air and water vehicles, his great passion, which also led him to design the futuristic Himiko boat which, still today, transports passengers to Odaiba, the artificial district/island of Tokyo.
From all his works emerges a melancholic and yearning love for the supreme beauty of nature, often offended and humiliated by human narrow-mindedness and arrogance. Against them Matsumoto opposes his heroes, characters with a noble but clumsy or naive soul like the young Tetsuro, who embarks on the Galaxy Express 999 space train to chase the dream of an artificial and immortal body, or valiant fighters like Warius Zero or Harlock himself, his symbolic character.
Next to them Matsumoto places his famous and unmistakable women: slender, diaphanous and delicate figures that hide an amazing fortitude, from the charming Maetel to the intrepid Emeraldas, from the sweet princess Aurora to the enigmatic Miime. After his death, Leiji Matsumoto remains one of the most important authors in the history of international comics, a first-rate author who has been able to cross the borders of the world with the greatness of his stories.
Among the stars, under the skull flag
Unquestionably, the most celebrated and famous character created by Matsumoto is the space pirate Harlockthe hero who plows through the stellar expanses on the powerful Arcadia spaceship with a handful of loyal companions, free and independent like him, and whom Matsumoto transforms into a sort of Eternal Hero, present in different incarnations and variants over the centuries.
While the rest of humanity lives in idleness and decadence, Harlock refuses to subdue his spirit and prefers an existence as an outlaw and pirate, in defense of the weak, under a flag that represents his will to fight for what he wants. he is noble and just until death.
Emblem of the romantic hero par excellence, a direct descendant of the German literary tradition of which Leiji Matsumoto was an admirer (so much so that there is a re-edition of the myth of the Nibelung’s ring in which Harlock is the protagonist), the space pirate succeeded right from his appearance on the television screens in 1978 to embody the dreams of all viewers and readers of the world, with thousands of fans of all ages captivated by his incredible charisma and by the ideals of freedom, courage and nobility of mind that the valiant captain defended against the corrupt , the villains and bullies, in an anime that was immediately characterized by its adult and lyrical tone.
But Matsumoto’s bibliography is extraordinarily vast and eclectic, as were his interests: from the space sagas of Galaxy Express 999 e Space battleship Yamatoat the Queen of the Thousand Years e Sci-FiSayuki Starzingerscience fiction reinterpretation of the famous Journey to the Westyes Planet Robot Danguard Ace (the Master’s only foray into the robotic genre, which he didn’t particularly appreciate) to comic, sentimental or war-themed stories, up to an extraordinary biography of Leonardo Da Vinci.
Matsumoto’s characters share the same meta-narrative universe, which fans call “Leijiverse”, in which the individual adventures of each of them are nothing more than fragments of a larger fresco, which unfolds through different moments of time and different reality, in a plot as majestic as it is elusive.
Matsumoto was, in the deepest sense of the word, a poet: a visionary artist with a sinuous, evocative and elegant style, capable of giving voice and substance to brilliant intuitions as well as of telling both the summits and the darkest depths of space and, with them, of the human soul.
Often his stories, the marvelous legacy that remains to us, do not have an ending in the classic sense of the term, but leave the continuation of the narrative suspended, waiting for everything to reunite in a distant point of the concentric rings of time, beyond space . There where, now, we hope that little man with his kind smile has flown: to meet his characters, continuing to dream of the stars.
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