Matsumoto Leiji, Japanese Manga Artist Behind ‘Space Pirate Captain Harlock,’ Dies at 85

Leading Japanese manga artist Matsumoto Leiji, whose space operas became known to fans globally in animated incarnations, died on Feb. 13 in Tokyo at age 85.

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His representatives announced on Monday that the cause of death was heart failure.  

Born Matsumoto Akira in 1938 in Kurume, a city on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, Matsumoto began drawing manga professionally after his arrival in Tokyo at age 18. He made his debut in 1954 with a comic titled “Mitsubachi no Boken” (Adventure of the Honey Bee).  

He drew successful manga about ronin (masterless samurai), cowboys and other subjects, but became best known for series about adventures set in outer space, including “Space Pirate Captain Harlock” and “Galaxy Express 999,” both of which bowed in 1977. Animated versions became enduringly popular in Japan and around the world.    

Matsumoto collaborated with producer Nishizaki Yoshinobu on the 1974-75 “Space Battleship Yamato” TV animated series that was shown in the U.S. under the title “Star Blazers.” The series and its various spin-offs became hits, but Matsumoto and Nishizaki became entangled in a legal battle over authorship rights of the “Space Battleship Yamato” manga that resulted in a Tokyo District Court judgement against Matsumoto in 1999. Matsumoto appealed and in 2003 arrived at an out-of-court settlement with Nishizaki in which both agreed to being co-authors.  

Matsumoto also supervised animated sci-fi videos for the house music group Daft Punk that were collected and released on DVD under the title “Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem” in 2003.  

Matsumoto is survived by his wife, former manga artist Maki Miyako, who created the look of Licca-chan, a Japanese version of Barbie that has been popular with generations of Japanese girls.

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