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Morohoshi Daijirō

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Artist, Author.

(1949-    ) Japanese artist, primarily of Manga, who rose to prominence in the 1970s as a proponent of avant-garde Graphic Novels dealing with sf, doubtful accounts of ancient history, and Slipstream works. After his debut work "Junko, Kyōkatsu" ["Junko, Blackmail"] (1970 COM) appeared in Osamu Tezuka's alternative manga journal COM, he found early success with Ankoku Shinwa ["Dark Myth"] (1976 Shōnen Jump), in which what is initially a suspected murder cover-up in contemporary Japan, is ultimately revealed as an account of the Reincarnation of the ancient Japanese hero Yamato Takeru, facing the resurgence of old enmities dating from prehistory. The teenage Japanese hero, a descendant of the bloodline of Japan's Jōmon ethnicity, is revealed as an atman, a Chosen One in a religious conflict that may also be a Shaggy God Story. Its backstory, like that of several subsequent tales by Morohoshi, derives its Sense of Wonder from the premise that despite Japan's pretensions to homogeneity, its prehistoric culture was a melting-pot of contending ethnicities. Morohoshi further suggests that before the time of humans, a Forerunner race fought over the Earth, and that vestiges of this story can be found buried within Hindu myth and Buddhist legend.

Adapting similar concerns to Ankoku Shinwa into a more episodic, serial form, Morohoshi began writing a series of manga stories about Reijrō Hieda, an archaeologist ostracized for his heretical views, which inevitably turn out not to be Pseudoscience, but a canny and perceptive understanding of some of the paranormal phenomena dotted all over Japan. The first iteration of Hieda's adventures, "Kuroi Tankyūsha" ["Black Seeker"] (1974 Shōnen Jump) was published under an editorially imposed umbrella title, Yōkai Hunter ["Phantom Hunter"] in spite of Morohoshi's own objections, in part because Hieda is not a hunter at all, but an investigator in the manner of Sherlock Holmes; he is moreover a respectful appeaser of ancient tribulations and spirits, more likely to hear their woes than exorcize them. His surname derives from that of a reciter of the Japanese myth collection Kojiki (circa 712 trans Gustav Heldt as The Kōjiki: An Account of Ancient Matters 2014), in the sense that he is figuratively there to "hear their stories." Consequently, although Yōkai Hunter has remained the official series title for the ensuing fifty years, Morohoshi can occasionally be found referring to it more prosaically as "Field Notes of Reijirō Hieda". Underlying Yōkai Hunter is an extended exercise in cryptozoology, and the suggestion that the contemporary mainstream of Earth's biodiversity is merely a single branch of might-have-beens on the phylogenetic "tree of life", and that Evolution has created many other subaltern genotypes, persisting in myths and legends. Hieda's own theories seek to reconcile the chaotic contentions of "primitive" pantheistic Religion with those of monotheistic beliefs around the world, which he contends to be a race-memory of primordial, spherical life-creating agents, possibly of Panspermia or Terraforming.

Morohoshi did not limit his work to examinations of Japanese folklore, displaying an eclectic knowledge of many other Asian cultures, particularly ancient China. Running for ten years in various magazines, but appearing for its first instalment as Saiyū Yōen-den ["A Fantastical Monkey's Journey to the West"] (June 1983-September 1987 Super Action), Morohoshi's retelling of Wu Cheng-en's classic Chinese novel Xi You Ji ["Journey to the West"] (circa 1592; trans Arthur Waley as Monkey: A Folk Tale of China 1942) similarly incorporated fantasy elements, suggesting that the journey to the west of the monk Tripitaka had indeed taken place, but that Wu's account of it was a drab and unnecessarily pious attempt to describe events that Morohoshi now stripped of their religious disguises, to reveal as encounters with Monsters and Secret Masters – compare to similar experiments by Ryū Mitsuse and Leiji Matsumoto. Less obvious out of its original context is the sense that Morohoshi was engaging in a dialogue not with the spirit of Wu, but with Osamu Tezuka, whose own manga adaptations of Xi You Ji had set the tone for much popular understanding of it in contemporary Japan. Conceived as a single tale, despite describing events separated by nearly two thousand years, Mumenmoku / Taikōhō-den ["The Faceless / Duke Wang"] (September 1988-March 1989 Comic Tomu) presents twin stories of duelling sorcerers and Pariah Elites in ancient China, at first in the Han dynasty roughly coterminous with Europe's Roman Empire, and then in a flashback to the fall of the Shang dynasty many centuries earlier. In both cases, Morohoshi leans upon deliberate misprisions or sometimes epic naivety (see Yōko Tawada) in interpreting stories from real-world Chinese chronicles.

Beginning with Ongoro no Kamen ["The Mask of Ongoro"] (1981-1982 Shōnen Champion) the Mud Men series delves further into Morohoshi's anthropological concerns, initially depicting an uneasy relationship between Namiko, a Japanese anthropologist's daughter, and her half-brother Kodova from Papua New Guinea. Kodova ultimately returns to his home island, a liminal figure expected to choose between modern, scientific civilization and the "primitive", Magic Realist worldview of his tribe. He appoints himself as a champion of his native Great Mask traditions (almost, but not quite a Lost World) against invasions by modern influences. The title derives from the "Asaro Mudmen", a real-world tribe whose distinctive masks are lauded as an ancient tradition, but have been heavily influenced by the demands of the tourist trade since the 1950s. The story would also inspire Haruomi Hosono's track "The Mad Men" (the title having been misread by the production company), on the Yellow Magic Orchestra album Service (1983) (see SF Music)

Morohoshi's minor works include Shiori to Shimiko (1996 Nemuki), which might reasonably be considered to be a dilution of his earlier concerns to create a more episodic account of life in a Japanese village populated with phenomena redolent of the Cthulhu Mythos. The two girls after whom the comic is named blunder into a series of seemingly unrelated encounters with strange phenomena and monsters, as witnessed by a local author who specializes in horror stories. The story is notable in Morohoshi's oeuvre largely because it represented his first, somewhat belated offering in the genre of shōjo manga ["comics for girls"]. In a similar vein, his reinterpretations of Grimm's fairy tales for Nemuki magazine were republished in volume form as Trude Obaasan no Grimm no Yō na Monogatari ["Aunt Trude's Tales in the Manner of Grimm"].

Morohoshi's work has often been poorly served in other media. A two-part Anime, Ankoku Shinwa (1990 trans as Dark Myth) was essentially intended in Japan as a rental-store advertisement for the manga in its volume publication, and proved to be a disappointingly truncated, incoherent and incomplete. It was acquired as part of a package of rights deals by overseas anime companies, and only translated into English in the late 1990s, when budgetary cutbacks forced the studio Manga Entertainment to make good on third-rate acquisitions. A live-action film adaptation of two early chapters of Yōkai Hunter was released as Yōkai Hunter: Hiruko (1991; vt HIRUKO the Goblin). The Shiori to Shimiko series was also adapted into a late-night Television show, Shiori to Shimiko no Kaiki Jikenbo ["Shiroi and Shimiko's Strange Casebook"] (2008). Morohoshi himself has dabbled on occasion in straight prose, collected in Kyōko no Kyō wa Kyōfu no Kyō ["The Kyō in Kyōko is (written) the same as the Kyō in Kyōfu (Terror)"] (coll 2007) and Kumo no Ito wa Kanarazu Kitereru ["The Spider's Thread is Sure to be Cut"] (coll 2009), but these collections have met with a largely lukewarm reception from a readership that has come to love him in comics form, but resists his moves into unillustrated fiction.

His influence upon Japanese fantastika cannot be overstated, and has been cited in multiple creators' accounts of their inspiration, some of which are included in the festschrift Morohoshi Daijirō (2011 rev exp 2018). In particular, it is possible to discern visual and thematic borrowings from Mudmen in Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke (1997), and from Yōkai Hunter in Shinseiki Evangelion (1995-1996), while much of Morohoshi's work may also be parsed as a long-running friendly rivalry with similar topics as explored by his friend Yukinobu Hoshino. [JonC]

see also: He Ma; Jan Slauerhoff.

Daijirō Morohoshi

born Karuizawa, Japan: 6 July 1949



Yōkai Hunter

  • Yōkai Hunter ["Phantom Hunter"] (Tokyo: Shūeisha, 1978) [coll of linked stories: graph: Yōkai Hunter: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]
  • Kairyū Matsuri no Yoru ["Night of the Sea Dragon's Festival"] (Tokyo: Shūeisha, 1988) [coll of linked stories: graph: Yōkai Hunter: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]
  • Tenson Kōrin ["Grandson of Heaven"] (Tokyo: Shūeisha, 1993) [coll of linked stories: graph: Yōkai Hunter: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]
  • Yomi kara no Koe ["Voice from the Yellow Springs"] (Tokyo: Shūeisha, 1994) [coll of linked stories: graph: Yōkai Hunter: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]
  • Roku Fukujin ["Six Lucky Gods"] (Tokyo: Shūeisha, 1998) [coll of linked stories: graph: Yōkai Hunter: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]
  • Hieda no Monogatati: Mabagatake ["Hieda's Chronicle: Haunted Hill"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2005) [coll of linked stories: graph: Yōkai Hunter: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]
  • Ankoku no Uguisu ["Dark Nightingale"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha,, 2009) [coll of linked stories: graph: Yōkai Hunter: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]
  • Hieda no Seitotachi ["Hieda's Students"] (Tokyo: Shūeisha, 2012) [coll of linked stories: graph: Yōkai Hunter: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]

Shiori to Shimiko

Mud Men

  • Ongoro no Kamen ["The Mask of Ongoro"] (Tokyo: Akita Shoten, 1981) [graph: Mad Men: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]
  • Ōinaru no Fukkatsu ["The Great Resurrection"] (Tokyo: Akita Shoten, 1982) [graph: Mad Men: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]

Trude Obaasan


individual titles (selected)

  • Ankoku Shinwa ["Dark Myth"] (Tokyo: Shūeisha, 1980) [graph: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]
  • Mudmen (Tokyo: Akita Shoten, 1981) [graph: published in two volumes: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]
  • Saiyū Yōen-den ["A Fantastical Monkey's Journey to the West"] (Tokyo: Futabasha, 1984-1995) [graph: published in ten volumes: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]
  • Suna no Kyojin ["Giants of the Sands"] (Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1984) [graph: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]
  • Shitsu Rakuen ["Paradise Lost"] (Tokyo: Sōbisha, 1988) [graph: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]
  • Mumenmoku / Taikōhō-den ["The Faceless / Duke Wang"] (Tokyo: Ushio Shuppan, 1989) [graph: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]

about the author

  • Satoshi Nishiguchi, editor. Morohoshi Daijirō (Tokyo: Kawade Shobō, 2011) [nonfiction: anth: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]
    • Satoshi Nishiguchi (ed) Morohoshi Daijirō (Tokyo: Kawade Shobō, 2018) [nonfiction: anth: exp rev of the above with additional testimonials: pb/Daijirō Morohoshi]


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