Shirow Masamune

Tagged: Art

Pen-name and preferred romanization of Masanori Oda (1961-    ), a publicity-shy Japanese comics artist crucial to the dissemination of Manga into the international market. Beginning with Areopagus Arther (1980 Atlas), Shirow was published in the fanzine Atlas, home to his early work until he was reprinted by professional publishers. Shirow's meteoric rise in the 1980s found him catching the zeitgeist both in Japan and abroad, beginning with his comic "Black Magic" (1983 Atlas). Purportedly set on Venus, it is a Technothriller in which humanoid robot Weapons ("bioroids") run amok. The fanzine work was snapped up by the local publisher Seishinsha, as was his subsequent Appleseed (February 1985-April 1989 Comic Gaia), Military SF set in a balkanized future in which humanity lives in uneasy and increasingly fearful symbiosis with a new race of superior Androids. Appleseed won a Seiun Award for best comic, bringing Shirow to the attention of pioneers in the manga translation business, and also of Anime producers. The subsequent animated adaptations, Black Magic M-66 (1987), directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo, and Appleseed (1988), directed by Kazuyoshi Katayama, played up pre-existing similarities to the work of James Cameron, particularly The Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986), both early acquisitions for the overseas anime market in the wake of Katsuhiro Ōtomo's Akira (1988), and alongside the similarly influential work of Rumiko Takahashi.

Other early works include DOMINION (January 1986-August 1986 Gekkan ComiComi) a playful Dystopia focusing on a police patrol unit that drives around in tanks, and Senjutsu Chōkōkaku Orion ["Magical Super Attack Shell Orion"] (1990 Comic Gaia), a retelling of Japanese myth, set in a Galactic Empire mixing science and magic, featuring suits of "armour" that are demonstrably Mecha. Orion began publication when Shirow had already commenced the series that would be regarded as his masterwork, Kōkaku Kidōtai ["Mobile Armoured Riot Police", parsed in both Japanese and English editions as The Ghost in the Shell from the outset] (May 1989-November 1990 Young). This latter manga was serialized in a magazine for a notably older readership, and was a more sustained Cyberpunk policier, detailing the activities of the titular response unit, its jurisdictional spats with rival ministries and institutions, and its ongoing battle against an omnipresent adversary.

Ghost in the Shell (its definite article soon dropped) is a central work in appreciating Japanese sf in the 1990s, particularly within anime viewership and among foreign readers. Its dystopian future, evocative of Blade Runner (1982), offers a barrage of high-concept ideas, beginning with the attempted defection of a bodiless AI Weapon, the "Puppet Master", which haunts Shirow's milieu by hacking into cybernetic implants, inflicting Memory Edits, and hijacking the bodies of unsuspecting citizens. Shirow's early and intensive grasp of globalization, the demographics of an aging population and the Internet turned his work into a piece of enduring Prediction: many of his speculations, particularly in matters of identity theft, surveillance, Climate Change, data protection, catfishing, malware and spam, have subsequently become real-world issues, turning Ghost in the Shell into a template for many contemporary Technothrillers. It is a mark of remarkable achievement that not only Shirow's own later volumes in the series, but also the Sequels by Other Hands of Kenji Kamiyama's anime Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex (2002-ongoing) have sustained this immense creativity in genre thinking. It is not solely, but certainly prominently, a key work in Japan's SF Megatext, both directly and also through its influence on other projects. Most notable among these are Fumihiko Sori's Vexille (2007), Kenji Kamiyama's Eden of the East (2009) and Naoyoshi Shiotani's PSYCHO-PASS (2012-2013), all of which might be readily classified as unofficial remakes or spin-offs in their own way.

Although there have been abortive attempts by Shirow and his amanuenses to fashion his diverse manga works into some sort of coherent future history, the number of contradictions makes this hard to sustain, even for the creator himself, who has, for example, disavowed the second volume of DOMINION as a retelling set in an alternate universe. Rumours persist that Shirow was a sometime designer and night-school art teacher in his native Kobe, for whom manga creation was a brief distraction and welcome windfall, but whose interest in the daily grind of manga production was already faltering by the time his work was making him famous. He was further distracted by the 1995 Hanshin earthquake, which disrupted his home life, and by his obligations to care for his aging father for over a decade. Many of his works have been left manifestly unfinished, while much of his fame in the later twentieth century was arguably the result of Mamoru Oshii's acclaimed anime feature Ghost in the Shell (1995), which benefited from a screenplay by Kazunori Itō that diligently redacted many of Shirow's own inconsistencies and tonal variations.

Since 1995, Shirow exercised his right as a successful and presumably financially independent artist to work solely on projects that he enjoys, which has seen him drift away from comics creation into an output largely of illustrations, first collected in Intron Depot (graph 1992): book covers and calendars, usually comprising genre artwork that combines technology with eroticized women, collected in art books split between Seishinsha, the small publisher that made his name, and Kōdansha, the Tokyo publisher that sustained it in the mainstream. He has also made occasional bill-paying forays into character design and "concepts" for video games. This has created a backwash of frankly disappointing cash-ins, such as his work as illustrator on Makoto Izumi's mixture of Wuxia and the Cthulhu Mythos, Jashin Hunter ["Demon Hunter"] (graph 1998), and the anime Landlock (1995) and Gundress (1999), which bear Shirow's name prominently in their advertising, despite what often appears to be involvement of mere hours, or possibly even the handover of pre-existing doodles.

Shirow's work remains a blue-chip investment in manga publishing, easily surviving the boom and bust of the first decade of the twenty-first century, and periodically revived by anime remakes. However, he has produced comparatively little in the field, happily coasting on a successful creative period that was largely spent by the mid-1990s, inadvertently catching the first wave of foreign attention after changes in video technology afforded wider access to anime, and that which Darko Suvin termed the vogue for the "Japanesque" in American cyberpunk led to a new interest in sf from Japan itself. [JonC]

Masanori Oda

born Higashinada, Kobe, Hyōgo, Japan: 23 November 1961

died

works (selected)

Kōkaku Kidōtai

individual titles and art collections

links

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