Leiji Matsumoto, the legendary creator of manga like Space Battleship Yamato and Galaxy Express 999, passed away on April 8, 2021. He was 83 years old and helmed many anime projects in his lifetime.
Before his anime and manga success, he was known as Akira Matsumoto. He changed his name to Leiji Matsumoto in 1960, working on a series of science fiction stories that would become his signature style and inspire many genre lovers. Intricate, detailed designs, memorable characters, and a sense of grandeur and epic scale characterized his work.
One of Matsumoto’s most iconic creations is Space Battleship Yamato, which premiered as an anime series in 1974. The story follows the crew of the titular spaceship as they embark on a desperate mission to save humanity from an alien invasion. The series was a massive success in Japan and later became a cult hit in North America, where it was rebranded as Star Blazers and aired on syndicated networks throughout the late 1970s. Despite the third arc not airing in most areas, the influence can be seen in countless other sci-fi anime and manga in America, let alone Japan. The series helped establish Matsumoto as one of the most influential figures in the genre and expanded an entire universe of crossover characters, including Captain Harlock, Queen Emeraldas, and more.
In 1977, he created Galaxy Express 999, a science fiction adventure that followed a young boy named Tetsuro as he traveled across the galaxy on a sentient train. The series was notable for its blend of action, drama, and social commentary, and it remains one of Matsumoto’s most beloved works. As my first significant exposure to Matsumoto and his world, I recall reading its many chapters in the Animerica magazine. I’d later catch the animated movie adaptation late-night on the Sci-Fi Channel, mesmerized by its adventure and detail with fantastic worldbuilding.
In addition to spawning many spin-off series and movies, Matsumoto’s work has extended into other genres. This includes the Western series Gun Frontier and the war drama The Cockpit.
Matsumoto should also be noted for his designs on the Daft Punk musical film, Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem (2003). The film tells the story of an abducted alien band, with the story’s soundtrack being an entire Daft Punk album. Matsumoto’s sci-fi designs and DP’s intoxicating techno was a match made in heaven.
Matsumoto’s final creation was Space Battleship Yamato 2199, a reboot of the original series that premiered in 2012. He worked on other projects until his death, including the ongoing manga series Captain Harlock: Arcadia of My Youth.
Matsumoto’s legacy will continue to live on through his work, inspiring and entertaining future generations. RIP to one of the most influential figures in science fiction in general.