Manga Legend Leiji Matsumoto Remembered for Passion for Outer Space

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Leiji Matsumoto

Like an eternal child, Leiji Matsumoto was always going off on imaginary adventures into outer space.

Matsumoto, whose death at age 85 on Feb. 13 was made public on Monday, left a legacy of manga characters whose journeys into the infinite universe will forever remain in the hearts of readers.

From Maetel and Tetsuro in “Ginga Tetsudo 999” (Galaxy Express 999) to the title characters in “Uchu Kaizoku Captain Harlock” (Space Pirate Captain Harlock) and “Queen Emeraldas,” he portrayed them believing in their own dreams.

In announcing his passing on Monday, his production company, Leijisha, commented: “Matsumoto would often say, ‘We can meet again in a faraway place where the rings of time touch each other.’” We believe those words and look forward to that day.”

Since making his debut more than 60 years ago, Matsumoto drew manga in a variety of genres, from the poignancy of living in a tiny 4.5-tatami-mat room to the realistic action of a battlefield, from sexy tales for adults to sci-fi adventures in outer space. Each had its own identity, making up one vast universe.

“In fact, ‘999,’ ‘Harlock,’ ‘Emeraldas’ and ‘Otoko Oidon’ (Oidon the man) are all one story,” Matsumoto said in an interview in 2018. “They are connected from generation to generation, and they will fulfill their dreams someday.

“In the end, I’m hoping to come up with a story with all of them together, but making it might kill me, so I don’t want to do it yet,” he added with a grin.

It was in 2018 that Matsumoto released what appeared to be start of such a work with the final installment of the “Galaxy Express 999” series, called “Dream Black Hall,” in which Maetel and Tetsuro board the 999 on an eternal journey in search of the truth of the universe.

“I’m really curious whether this is the only universe or whether there are a number of others,” Matsumoto once said. “What we call ‘the other world’ may be another universe. If so, death is not something to be feared. It could be a sendoff into another life in another time and space.”

©Leiji Matsumoto / Leijisha, Toei Animation
“Galaxy Express 999”

Tributes from diverse fields

Matsumoto inspired dreams of outer space among many readers, and his death is being mourned by people from all walks of life.

“I traveled into space wearing Mr. Matsumoto’s Speedmaster watch, and I remember he was very happy about that,” said astronaut Mamoru Mori, 75.

“Through the Young Astronauts Club – Japan [of which Matsumoto served as chairperson], which has the objective of ‘going to Mars through joint international cooperation,’ he conveyed his passion for space and helped educate youth.”

Machiko Satonaka, 75, current chairperson of the Japan Cartoonists Association, also recalled the influence of fellow mangaka Matsumoto.

“From the late 1950s to the early 1960s, he contributed to girls manga magazines, which inspired many girls aspiring to become mangaka who became enthralled by his sci-fi fantasies that addressed social issues,” Satonaka said.

“Even after becoming a great master with international fame, I will never forget how he helped young artist by earnestly taking up the [manga] copyright problem.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A mother and her son offer a prayer for the late Leiji Matsumoto in front of bronze statues of Maetel and Tetsuro from his classic manga Galaxy Express 999 near Seibu Ikebukuro Line’s Oizumi Gakuen Station in Nerima Ward, Tokyo, on Monday. Matsumoto was a long-time resident of the ward.