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Ōtomo Katsuhiro

Entry updated 23 December 2023. Tagged: Artist, Author, Comics, Film.

(1954-    ) Japanese Manga creator and film-maker, who became the most famous Anime director abroad in the early 1990s, largely on the basis of a single film. Like Hayao Miyazaki in the following decade, he occupied an iconic position as the face of the medium, despite conceiving much of his output in reaction to it. His comics debut, not sf, was with "Jūsei" ["Gun Report"] (August 1973 Manga Action), based on the novella "Mateo Falcone" (1833) by Prosper Mérimée (1803-1870). For the next ten years, he juggled manga short stories in several genres, including Bible pastiches and mundane drama, as a weekly contributor to Manga Action throughout the 1970s, and then increasingly for its rival Young Magazine in the 1980s. This work persisted alongside lucrative commercial contracts, such as the "Push On" (1983) campaign of sf-themed illustrations and animation to promote the Canon T70 camera (see Advertising). He also drew cover art for works by authors including Haruka Takachiho and Michio Tsuzuki.

Many of Ōtomo's works are cunningly Recursive SF, refashioning the plots of cartoon shows and comics from his childhood with an adult sensibility. In particular, he favours protagonists drawn from the underclass, in apparent reaction to the clean-cut heroes of the Golden Age of SF. His breakout work was Dōmu ["A Child's Dream"] (January 1980 Action Deluxe; 1983) [see Checklist for translations], which won both the Nippon SF Grand Prix and a Seiun Award. The plot concerns the duelling Psi Powers of an old man and a young girl in a run-down Tokyo apartment complex, but had its distant origins in Ōtomo's desire to retell the plot of Sarutobi Etchan ["Monkey-jump Etsuko"] (1971), an obscure girls' cartoon show based on a manga by Shōtaro Ishinomori.

Similarly, Ōtomo drew on plot elements and character names from Mitsuteru YOKOYAMA's Tetsujin 28 Go (graph 1956 Shōnen) for his long-running Akira (December 1982-June 1990 Young Magazine) in which, a generation after World War Three, the members of a Post-Holocaust biker gang accidentally encounter fugitives from a secret Psionics Weapons project. Akira's Cyberpunk sensibilities made it as definitive of the 1980s genre in Japan as were Blade Runner (1982) and William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984) in the Anglophone world. Its later volumes depict yet another Disaster, followed by a prolonged exercise in Survivalist Fiction in which the inhabitants of a ruined Tokyo stand up to an invasion by American "peacekeepers". However, Ōtomo never hid his recursive inspirations, and pointedly ended Akira with a dedication to Osamu Tezuka, darker elements of whose Astro Boy (1963-1966) can also be seen beneath Akira's glossy surface.

The first film to be based on Ōtomo's work was non-sf: Shinichi Shiratori's soft-core "pink film" Kōkō no Erotopia: Akai Seifuku ["Highschool Erotopia: Red Uniforms"] (1979), in which the members of a teenage film club decide to make a porn movie for their end-of-year project. He wrote and directed his own Jiyū Warera ni ["Freedom for Us"] (1982), presumably based on René Clare's À nous la liberté (1931), but was drawn inexorably into the anime world as a result of his growing manga fame. He was strongly dissatisfied with working conditions as an animator on an adaptation of Kazumasa Hirai's Genma Taisen (1983; vt Harmagedon 1993 US), but contributed strong work to two anime anthologies, Robot Carnival and Neo-Tokyo (both 1987). It was these apprentice pieces, delivered at the height of his accolades and acclaim, that led to him to be commissioned to make an animated adaptation of his then-unfinished comic (see Akira [1988]), emphasizing its "splatter" aesthetics (see Splatter Movies) and images of evolutionary Transcendence. Although it ran far over budget, the film eventually recouped its costs in foreign editions, inadvertently igniting a boom in Japanese animation abroad, and dominating popular perceptions of the medium until the translation of Hayao Miyazaki's films in the late 1990s.

Ōtomo did not seek, or was not given, directorial control of another animated feature for another decade, although for the latter half of the 1990s he was reportedly tinkering with digital resources for a Steampunk project. Meanwhile, he wrote the script for the underrated Rōjin Z, directed the low-budget live-action World Apartment Horror (1991) and directed one of the components of the anthology anime Memories (1995). He was also a powerful influence on other careers: it was his patronage that secured Satoshi Kon a directorial debut on the acclaimed Perfect Blue (1998) and Enki Bilal a Japanese release for Le Sommeil du monstre ["The Dormant Beast"] (1998), while Ōtomo's design work is a strong presence in the characters and machinery of Spriggan (1998). Another anime scripted by Ōtomo is Metropolis (2001; vt Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis).

As with Haruki Murakami, Ōtomo's celebrity led to strong competition for the foreign rights to his books, and hence to rival US and UK editions of Dōmu. A deluxe Japanese reissue of Akira (2004) used the flipped artwork from the American edition, including the colourizing added by Steve Oliff, but with the Japanese text restored and new afterwords from creators and critics.

Ōtomo's immense, sustained sprint of creativity throughout the 1980s, which can be reasonably said to have defined the decade in Japanese sf, has been unmatched by his output in the years since. His long-delayed Steamboy (2004) signified his return to full-length anime features, although by then the anime bubble had largely burst, and he had lost the shock of the new. He is credited as a contributor to novelizations and manga Ties to his work, or making-of books based on his films, although his new work is frequently minimal or collaborative, such as the short gothic fantasy Hipira-kun or his one-shot Batman story "The Third Mask" (September 1996 Batman: Black and White #4). [JonC]

see also: Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame.

Katsuhiro Ōtomo

born Tome, Japan: 14 April 1954

works as author/illustrator

  • Highway Star (Tokyo: Futabasha, 1979) [coll: graph: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • Hansel to Gretel ["Hansel and Gretel"] (Tokyo: Sony Magazines, 1981) [graph: pb/nonpictorial]
  • Good Weather (Tokyo: Futabasha, 1981) [graph: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • Sayonara Nippon (Tokyo: Futabasha, 1981) [graph: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • Boogie Woogie Waltz (Tokyo: Futabasha, 1982) [graph: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • Kibun wa mo Sensō ["Almost Enjoying the War"] (Tokyo: Futabasha, 1982) with Toshihiko Yahagi [graph: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • Character of Genma Taisen: Warning! (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1983) [nonfiction: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • Dōmu (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1984) [graph: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
    • Domu: The Dreams of Children (London: Mandarin, 1994) [graph: trans of the above by Tony Kehoe and Simon Jowett: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
    • Domu: A Child's Dream (Milwaukie: Dark Horse Comics, 2001) [graph: trans of the above by Dana Lewis and Toren Smith: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • Short Peace (Tokyo: Futabasha, 1984) [coll: graph: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • Akira (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1984-1990, 1993) [graph: in six volumes: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
    • Akira (New York: Marvel, 1998) [graph: translation of the above by Yoko Umezawa, Linda York and Jo Duffy: in six volumes: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
      • Akira (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2004) [graph: in six volumes: Japanese reissue using flipped and recoloured US artwork: in six volumes: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • World Apartment Horror (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1991) [coll: graph: with Satoshi Kon: pb/Satoshi Kon]
  • Kaba: Otomo Katsuhiro Artwork (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1989) [hb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • Saru Rah: Legend of Mother Sarah (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1990) with Takumi Nagayasu [graph: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • Kanojo no Omoide ... ["Her Memories ..."] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1990) [coll: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
    • Memories (London: Mandarin, 1994) [graph: trans of the above by Yoko Umezawa, Jo Duffy, Tony Kehoe and Simon Jowett: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • ZeD (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1991) with Tai Okada [graph: tie to Rōjin Z: pb/]
  • Sultan Bōeitai ["Sultan Defence Force"] (Tokyo: Dōbunsha, 1995) [graph: with Haruka Takachiho and Akihiko Takadera: pb/Akihiko Takadera]
  • Akira Club: The Memory of Akira Lives on in Our Hearts (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1995) [nonfiction: hb/]
    • Akira Club (Milwaukie: Dark Horse, 2007) [nonfiction: trans of the above: hb/]
  • SOS Tai Tōkyō Tankentai ["SOS Great Tokyo Investigators"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1996) [graph: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • The Memory of Memories (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1996) [nonfiction: coll: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • Otomo Katsuhiro x Metropolis (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 2001) with Osamu Tezuka [nonfiction: tie to Metropolis Anime: binding unknown/]
  • Hipira-kun (Tokyo: Shufu to Seikatsu-sha, 2002) with Shinji Kimura [chap: hb/Shinji Kimura]
  • Akira Animation Archives (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2002) [nonfiction: tie to Akira: hb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • Steamboy: An Adventure Story of Steamboy (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2004) with Sadayuki Murai [tie to Steamboy: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • Steamboy Ekonte-shū ["Steamboy Collected Storyboards"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2004) [graph: tie to Steamboy: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • The Art of Steamboy (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2004) [tie to Steamboy: pb/Katsuhiro Ōtomo]
  • Kikanosuke Gomen ["Pardon Dangerboy/Kikanosuke Dismissed"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2004) with Hiroyuki Kaidō [graph: pb/Hiroyuki Kaidō]
  • Shōsetsu Mushishi ["Bugmaster: The Novel"] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2007) with Naoki Tsujii and Yuki Urushibara [tie to Mushishi: pb/]
  • Steamboy (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2007) with Yū Kinutani [graph: tie to Steam Boy: in two volumes: pb/nonpictorial]
  • Viva il Ciclissimo (Tokyo: Magazine House, 2008) with Katsuya Terada [in two volumes: hb/nonpictorial]

live-action films as director

  • Jiyū Warera ni ["Freedom for Us"] (1982)
  • World Apartment Horror (1991)
  • Mushishi (2007)

full-length anime features as director

features as scriptwriter

  • Akira (1988) with Izō Hashimoto
  • World Apartment Horror (1991)
  • Rōjin Z (1991)
  • Memories (1995)
  • Metropolis (2001) [based on a manga by Osamu Tezuka]


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