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Manga in Minutes: Shotaro Ishinomori Month

Shotaro Ishinomori

I’m going to be trying something a little different this week. With the recent release of Archaia’s preview for their upcoming Cyborg 009 comic, not to mention the new 009 RE: Cyborg movie, it seemed like a good time to take a look at some of the Ishinomori series that Comixology has been releasing and to kick it off here’s a little look at his career.

Ishinomori’s career would begin in 1955 at the tender age of 15, after having been discovered by the legendary God of Manga, Osamu Tezuka through a talent contest held in the magazine Manga Shonen. Following this he would find himself apprenticed to Tezuka, with some of his earliest published work appearing within Tezuka’s famous Astro Boy series.

His first major solo hit would come in 1964 in the form of Cyborg 009, an action series following a group of cyborgs in their battle with their creators, an evil terrorist organization known as Black Ghost. The theme of heroes being created by villains and then turning against them is something that would appear time and time again in Ishinomori’s superhero works. Cyborg 009 would prove to be a major hit and remains popular to this day, as is evidenced by the aforementioned upcoming 009 RE: Cyborg movie and Archaia’s graphic novel adaption. Despite it’s popularity in Japan, and having an anime adaption running on Cartoon Network’s Toonami, the US release of the Cyborg 009 manga would be cancelled after 10 volumes by it’s then publisher Tokyopop. Despite the aborted run, it remains one of few, if not the only, Ishinomori manga to receive a physical release in the United States.

The 1970s was a banner time Shotaro Ishinomori. The decade started off with the debut of one of his best known creations, Kamen Rider. Much like Cyborg 009 before it, the series features a young man who’s transformed into a “mutant cyborg” against his will by an evil organization, escapes, and spends the rest of the series battling said organization. Initially created for television, Ishinomori would pen a manga adaption which would go on to differ wildly from the show. Arguably one of his biggest hits to date, the Kamen Rider franchise continues to this day in both manga and live action form, with the TV series fast approaching it’s 45th anniversary. As a TV series, Kamen Rider reinvents itself with each season, featuring new characters, enemies, allies and more. Sadly, the attempts at bringing the franchise to the US have met with little success. Saban Entertainment tried to import the series as Masked Rider in the mid 90s, but it was poorly received and only lasted one season before being cancelled. In 2008 Adness Entertainment tried it’s hand at bringing the beloved franchise to the US, this time in the form of Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight, a loose adaption of the original Japanese, Kamen Rider Ryuki series. Despite winning an Emmy, the series did horribly and was pulled from the broadcast schedule before the final episodes had a chance to air. Oddly enough, it was dubbed and broadcast on Japanese television and even received a novelized sequel in Japan as well.

On an interesting side note, Kamen Rider was actually something of a fall back creation for Ishinomori. He originally pitched a different character to the television studio, Skull Man . Skull Man was a much darker take on the superhero concept and was rejected as being too serious and grim for children. Despite the rejection Skull Man still received a one shot manga and would be revisited in the late 90s by Ishinomori in a new manga series he co-created with Kazuhiko Shimamoto. In 2007, the character starred in an anime adaption which took the concept in a different direction, while maintaining the dark, anti-heroic tone of the Skull Man franchise.

As the decade rolled on Ishinomori would create what is arguably his most successful creation outside of Japan. Once again working in conjunction with a television studio, Ishinomori would create a series about a team of color coded, transforming superheroes. Himitsu Sentai Gorenger would debut in 1975, and would serve as the template for the Super Sentai franchise, which began it’s 37th season just weeks ago. As with Kamen Rider, Ishinomori would once more create a manga for Himitsu Sentai Gorenger which would differ from the TV series in a variety of ways. While it had been running for decades in Japan, the franchise didn’t hit the American market until 1993, when Saban Entertainment licensed Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger and released a reworked version for the US in the form of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

In addition to the above mentioned series and characters, Ishinomori would continue to create superhero franchises for the live action television, anime and manga industries, many of whom are still present in Japans pop cultural landscape to this day thanks to later adaptions, spin offs and continuations. Kikaider, his android superhero equal parts Pinocchio and Frankenstein received two live action series during the 70s and enjoyed a small revival in the 2000s thanks to new manga series and new anime adaptions. Much like Cyborg 009 the anime adaption would also get a brief run on Cartoon Network, in this case as part of the networks Adult Swim block. Other superhero creations of his include Inazuman, who enjoyed a small reboot in a recent Kamen Rider movie, Henshin Ninja Arashi, Robot Detective K, his final creation Voicelugger and more. With such a large number of superhero creations under his belt, many of whom still exist to this day, carrying on under the pen of other manga, anime and TV creators, it’s easy to see why he’s often compare him to Stan Lee or Jack Kirby.

While his superhero work is probably what Ishinomori is best known for in the U.S., it wasn’t the only the sandbox he played in. Much like his mentor, Osamu Tezuka, Inshinomori’s manga output covers many different genres and subjects. These include adaptions of literary classics such as Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Animal Farm, biographical stories about jazz musicians Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane, to a guide about the Japanese economy, the award winning Jun, a dialogue free tale of a lonely boy’s fantasy life, and many, many more. How much more? While I can’t tell you how many pages, and volumes the above sampling covers, I can at least tell you that the late Ishinomori is currently recognized by the Guinness World Records organization for having the most comics published by one author. His output comes in at a grand total of 770 title, 500 volumes, and 128,000 pages! With so much work out there it’s a shame that so little of it is available in the U.S. at the moment, but over the next few weeks I’ll be taking a look at the first volumes of the small sampling of series that are currently available from Comixology.

6 Comments

For bringing Super Sentai/Power Rangers, Kamen Rider, and Cyborg 009 to the world, I am eternally grateful to this man.

@Aaron Thall – Amen to that!

Actually Kagaku Sentai Dynaman did appear in the US in 1987 as Dynaman, although that was just a few episodes and it was given a gag dub.

Oh, and what about Japan, Inc. which was released in the US in 1988?

They forgot to mention his adaptation of Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. That was my first exposure to his work.

Felipe Onodera

March 7, 2013 at 10:58 am

Actually, Ishinomori has several popular franchise for adults such as Sabu to Ichi Torimono Hikae, Hotel and Omiya-san. The first was one of the first anime for the adult audience on Japan and it was also adapted on live-action, the second is one of the most long running japanese TV Shows from the 90s and early 00s and the third is constantly being renewed for new seasons and always enjoying great TV ratings.

It’s beyond me why these series are often overlooked in favor of Kamen Rider or Super Sentai, I believe the reason is the huge marketing campaign did by Bandai to promote two of its most sucessful toy lines.

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