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Ishinomori Shōtarō

Entry updated 24 April 2023. Tagged: Author.

Working name of Shōtarō Onodera (1938-1998), Shōtarō Ishimori to 1986, Ishinomori thereafter, a prolific Japanese comic artist with a profound influence on both Anime and live-action Television in the twentieth century, particularly in the children's market. His collected Manga works, Ishinomori Shōtarō Manga Zenshū ["The Complete '10,000 pictures'/Comics of Shotaro Ishinomori"] (2006-2008) fill 500 volumes, containing 770 different titles, and established many modern Japanese genre archetypes for Pariah Elites and Superheroes. As with his contemporary, Leiji Matsumoto, many of Ishinomori's stories transferred from their initial serialization venue to other publications, causing radical fluctuations over time in the age and gender of their implied readers. A short entry such as this one can only paint his bibliography in the broadest possible strokes.

A teenage prodigy, Ishinomori submitted work around 1950 to a contest at Manga Shōnen magazine, leading to his first job as an art assistant on Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy (graph 1951-1968 Shōnen). He made his professional debut as a manga creator with "Nikei Tenshi" ["Second-class Angel"] (graph 1955 Manga Shōnen; dated January 1955 but published December 1954). His work was published under the pseudonym of "Ishimori", a misprint that he would retain for the next thirty years before adopting the "Ishinomori" he had always intended. One of a coterie of manga stars who accreted around Tezuka and the Tokiwa-sō apartment building in Tokyo, Ishinomori was dissuaded from seeking commissions in the nascent anime business of the late 1950s, both by the ample opportunities already available to him in comics, and through the distraction caused by the death of his sister in 1959. Hence, while his fellow assistant Sadao Tsukioka had become an anime director by the early 1960s, Ishinomori remained a comics illustrator. Ishinomori would subsequently become one of the founders of the animation company Studio Zero, but it never quite achieved the public profile of Tezuka's pre-existing Mushi Production.

His early work included manga for the girls' market, including versions of Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Speckled Band" (graph 1956 Shōjo Club) (see Sherlock Holmes), and a manga version of Edgar Allan Poe's "Black Cat" (graph 1956 Shōjo Club). He also drew a manga Tie to the film Matango (1963; vt Fungus of Terror; vt Attack of the Mushroom People, 1965 US; graph 1963 Shōnen); Ishinomori's own online bibliography lists the original authors Masami Fukushima and Shinichi Hoshi as sources, rather than the credited scenarist on the film itself. Other manga adaptations include Hisashi Inoue's Hyokkori Hōtanjima ["Madcap Island"] (1964 NHK; graph 1966 Tanoshii Yōen), D H Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928; graph 1970 Women's Club), George Orwell's Animal Farm (graph 1970 Shōnen Magazine), Yasutaka Tsutsui's "Vietnam Kankō Kōsha" ["The Vietnam Tourist Bureau"] (1967; graph February 1971 Shōnen Magazine), and other short stories by Sakyō Komatsu and Kōbō Abe.

Ishinomori's greatest impact was in the creation of several enduring manga and television franchises, which established new norms for Antiheroes and sentai ("battle teams") in Japanese sf. Cyborg 009 (graph 1964-1965 Shōnen King; trans 2003) is a Near Future Technothriller in which a multinational team of Cyborgs turn upon the criminal conspiracy that created them. Drawing heavily on the rising popularity of James Bond, and predating The Man from U.N.C.L.E. by several months, Cyborg 009 repackaged the spy genre for a young audience in several successive venues (graph 1966 Shōnen Magazine; graph 1967-1969 Bōken Ō; graph 1970 COM; graph 1975-1976 Shōjo Comic; graph 1977-1979 Shōnen Jump; graph 1977-1979 Play Comic; 1979-1980; graph 1979-1980 Shōnen Big Comic; graph 1984 SF Animedia). Some of these revivals coincided with adaptations of the story into Anime serials or Radio plays, of which there are many; for Cinema and Television incarnations, see Cyborg 009. (One of the manga's Villains was named van Vogt for the sf author, a name that was subjected to a variety of distortions in the anime versions.) At the time of his death, Ishinomori had been working on the outline for a new story arc for Comic Alpha, fixed up by his son Jō Onodera into the novel 2012 009 Conclusion God's War (2006).

His "Kaiki Romanesque Gekiga Skull Man" ["Bizarre Romanesque Graphic Novel Skull Man"] (graph 1970 Shōnen Magazine) began as the third chapter in a series of one-shot Supervillain stories; the earlier instalments were written by Gō Nagai and Kōji Asaoka. The title character, modelled to some extent on the "Fiend With 20 Faces" of Ranpo Edogawa, is the adopted scion of a crime family, ruthlessly hunting the anonymous super-wealthy mastermind who murdered his real parents. The murderer is revealed as the Skull Man's own grandfather, who has devoted his life to culling periodic appearances of a new race of Mutants, and who has hoped to lure the Skull Man to his lair so that he may immolate them both, along with the Skull Man's Telepath sister and transforming sidekick (see Shapeshifters). The story was an early appearance of notions of the shinjinrui (the "New Breed", "New Humans" or "Newmanity"), a buzzword in the Japanese mass media, holding that children born after 1961 were so different from previous generations as to be a different race. Initially a concept born of changes in Linguistics, fashion, outlook and diet, it had obvious application in the sf field, particularly in the assertion that the generation that remembered World War Two and its aftermath represented an outmoded, corrupt culture, and that modern youth was a new step in Evolution (see also Mobile Suit Gundam). Moreover, the story firmly established new tropes of antiheroism, with a protagonist who is part of, tied to, created by, and tempted by the allure of his own antagonist; compare to similar Doppelgangers in American Comics since relatively early in the career of Batman.

Both Cyborg 009 and "Skull Man" were refined in Kamen Rider ["Masked Rider"] (graph 1971 Bokura; many subsequent venues) in which the putative minion of a global terror conspiracy escapes his masters before he is brainwashed, but after he has been installed with cybernetic and mutant augmentations. The story's initial short-lived magazine appearance was a Tie to its television incarnation, Kamen Rider ["Masked Rider"] (1971-1973; MBS and NET); Ishinomori's name would appear as original creator on dozens of later spin-offs. A motorcycle accident during filming of the tenth episode of Kamen Rider led to the replacement of its lead mid-season, and his subsequent return in tandem with his successor, a switch in focus that would be repeated in many subsequent iterations of the franchise, not the least for the potential in extra Toys that such cast changes could engender.

While sequels and reboots of Kamen Rider continued to rotate on Japanese television throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Ishinomori would recycle his favoured themes again with Himitsu Sentai Goranger ["Secret Battleteam Five-Ranger"] (1975 TV Asahi; graph 1975 Shōnen Sunday), in which five colour-coded, transforming superheroes with martial arts skills, gimmicky Weapons and signature vehicles battled to protect the Earth from a terrorist organization. Although by no means the first television show to include such elements, many of which can be traced back to Thunderbirds (1965-1966, released as Chikyū Bōeitai Thunderbird ["Earth Defence Force Thunderbird"] 1966), Goranger is now seen with hindsight as the first of an ongoing sequence of team shows, "Super Sentai" from 1979. Although not credited as a creator after the relatively unsuccessful JAQK Dengekitai ["JAQK Blitzkrieg Squad"] (1977), Ishinimori's basic paradigm has been repeated on TV Asahi by a pseudonymous Tōei Studios house-name ever since, with the addition of Mecha, minor adjustments to storylines and periodic changes in underlying themes, including the dance-based Battlefever J (1979), the Mythology-themed Dengeki Sentai Changeman ["Blitzkrieg Battle Team Changeman"] (1985), and the fairy-themed Kōsoku Sentai Turboranger ["High-speed Battle Team Turboranger"] (1989) among dozens of others (see Clichés). The best-known remains Kyōryū Sentai Jūranger ["Dinosaur Battle Team Zyuranger/Beast Ranger"] (1992), not for any outright difference in content, but for the serial's subsequent re-editing for the global market as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993 US), retaining Japanese stunt and action footage, but splicing in new storylines featuring new, local actors as the superheroes out of costume.

Ishinomori's name continued to appear on reiterations of the Cyborg 009 franchise, alongside later Kamen Rider incarnations, and similarly themed creations such as Jinzō Ningen Kikaider ["Android Kikaider"] (from 1972 TV Asahi); its distaff sequel, the film Jinzō Ningen Hakaider ["Mechanical Violator Hakaider"] (1995); and the television series Robotto Keiji (1973; vt Robot Detective). Kikaider was screened in some American markets, as was the series Kamen Rider Black RX (1988 TV Asahi, 1995 US), broadcast in English as Masked Rider in the wake of the US success of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. His comics output declined in the 1990s, leading him to enlist the young artist Kazuhiko Shimamoto as an amanuensis on several finales and retellings in his last years; it is largely these later iterations, the work of another artist pastiching Ishinomori's style, that have been translated into the English language. His comic series "Okashina Okashina Ano Ko" ["That Girl's So Very, Very Strange"] (graph 1964 Margaret), in which a Japanese schoolgirl is revealed as the scion of an ancient family of sorcerous ninja, was adapted into the anime television show Sarutobi Etchan ["Monkey-jump Etsuko"] (1971). This in turn was the distant inspiration for Katsuhiro Ōtomo's break-out sf work, Dōmu ["A Child's Dream"] (graph January 1980 Action Deluxe; 1983).

Ishinomori is no less influential outside the sf genre, in particular with the samurai-era detective mysteries Sabu to Ichi Torimono Hikae ["Sabu and Ichi Investigate"] (graph 1966 Shōnen Sunday), adapted into several other media. Hotel (graph 1984-1998 Big Comic), is an account of the rise to prominence of a hotel manager in the upwardly-mobile boom and bust of the 1980s and beyond, and was adapted for television for TBS as Hotel (1990-1998). It, along with Ishinomori's Manga Nihon Keizai Nyūmon ["A Comics Introduction to Japanese Economics"] (graph 1986 Nikkei Shinbun; trans Peter Duus as Japan Inc.: Introduction to Japanese Economics 1988), formed key texts of Japanese auto-orientalism in the late twentieth century. His 55-volume Manga Nihon no Rekishi ["A Comics History of Japan"] (1997) spanned the period from the first mention of "the Land of the Rising Sun" in ancient Chinese chronicles, up to post-war growth and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. It has sold eight million copies. His work covers a boggling number of genres, even to the extent of a series of graphic biographies of musicians and bands (graph 1976-1983 FM Recopal), beginning with jazz performers such as Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, and John Coltrane, before expanding to include pop music icons such as David Bowie and Queen.

In terms of themes, franchises and tropes, Ishinomori is no less influential a figure than Osamu Tezuka himself. Tezuka, however, had better publicity, particularly in the English-speaking world, whereas Ishinomori's output remains largely buried amid Saturday-morning rubber-monster shows that are copies of copies of originals made decades ago. Despite many honours in the comics field, and immense contributions to the very fabric of Japanese sf, Ishinomori remained unacknowledged by the Seiun Awards during his lifetime (compare to Yoshiyuki Tomino). The continued global spread of the Power Rangers franchise and its imitators may yet show Ishinomori to have the most enduring impact in the long term. In 2008, he was posthumously recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for "the most comics published by one author". This was based on a title count, as Tezuka officially produced 150,000 pages to Ishinomori's 128,000. However, neither creator's estate seems to have rushed to tell the Guinness organization that both "solo" authors employed legions of assistants. [JonC]

Shōtarō Onodera

born Ishinomaki, Japan: 25 January 1938

died 28 January 1998

works (selected)

  • Mangaka Nyūmon ["Introduction for Manga Creators"] (Tokyo: Akita Shoten, 1965) [nonfiction: graph: pb/]
  • Cyborg 009 (Tokyo: Akita Shoten, 1966) [graph: in 32+ volumes: pb/]
    • Cyborg 009 (Los Angeles, California: Tokyopop, 2003) [graph: partial translation made from the above edition: in eight volumes: pb/]
  • Zoku Mangaka Nyūmon ["A Further Introduction for Manga Creators"] (Tokyo: Akita Shoten, 1966) [nonfiction: graph: pb/]
  • Manga Nihon Keizai Nyūmon ["A Comics Introduction to Japanese Economics"] (Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Shinbun, 1986) [pb/]
  • Manga Nihon no Rekishi ["A Comics History of Japan"] (Tokyo: Chūō Kōron-sha, 1997) [graph: in 55 volumes: pb/]
  • The Skull Man (Tokyo: Media Factory, 2002) [graph: with Kazuhiko Shimamoto: in 26 volumes: pb/]
    • The Skull Man (Los Angeles, California: Tokyopop, 2002) [graph: partial translation made from the above edition: in six volumes: pb/]
  • Ishinomori Shōtarō Manga Zenshū ["The Complete '10,000 pictures'/Comics of Shotaro Ishinomori"] (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 2006-2008) [graph: in 500 volumes: pb/]
  • Kikaider 02 (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 2006) [graph: with MEIMU: in seven volumes: pb/]
    • Kikaider 02 (New York: CMX, 2007) [graph: partial translation made from the above edition: in six volumes: pb/]
  • 2012 009 Conclusion God's War (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 2006) with Jō Onodera [Cyborg 009: pb/]


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