The Broad Spectrum of Shotaro Ishinomori’s Manga

Manga artist Mitsuru Sugaya, a former staff member of Ishimori Production Inc. who has watched Ishinomori at work up close, discusses Ishinomori’s most important works

Shotaro Ishinomori, "Nikyū Tenshi"Original Source: © ISHIMORI PRODUCTION INC.

A debut work overflowing with the spirit of experimentation

Shotaro Ishinomori, who once said, “I wanted to become able to draw any type of manga,” began imitating manga by artists such as Osamu Tezuka and Noboru Baba, and even the pen drawings of Katsuichi Kabashima, when he was in junior high school. Nikyū Tenshi [Second-class Angel] (Gakudosha, 1955), which was essentially his debut work that he created when he was 17 years old, overflowed with experimentative spirit—in it, he managed to combine disparate styles into a single manga. He also incorporated panel layouts and compositions reminiscent of those he would later use in the much-talked-about manga Jun. Without a doubt, Nikyū Tenshi is Ishinomori’s starting point as an all-genre manga artist.

Shotaro Ishinomori, The opening to "Moving In," episode 1 of "Bon Bon"Original Source: © ISHIMORI PRODUCTION INC.

Shotaro Ishinomori was a creator of biting comedy manga

“Quality is guaranteed based on quantity.” These words were spoken by Ishinomori during his lifetime to the novelist Bin Konno, his distant relative. Among Ishinomori’s works, some of which exceeded 600 pages produced per month, there are several works of comedy manga. Such works include the dry, savage humor of the slapstick comedy manga Terebi Kozо̄ [TV Apprentice] (Shueisha, 1959) and the contrastingly easygoing "Bon Bon" (Akita Shoten, 1965), as well as Tonari no Tamageta-kun [My Neighbor Tamageta] (Kodansha, 1965) and Okashina Ano Ko [The Strange, Strange Little Girl] (Shueisha, 1964; later called Sarutobi Ecchan), which were both flavored with science fiction elements. These comedies were slightly too difficult for children audiences.

Shotaro Ishinomori, The last scene of the “Underground Empire of Yomi” arc, in "Cyborg 009"Original Source: © ISHIMORI PRODUCTION INC.

Shotaro Ishinomori was also a champion of science fiction

Cyborg, android, mutant—many children first learned these science fiction terms from Ishinomori’s manga. In the mid-1960s, Ishinomori created highly-refined works of science fiction manga that, although too difficult to attract the support of primary school-aged children, gained a fervent followership among teenagers in junior high school and above when they were released as comics. Cyborg 009 became an especially huge hit. Even though the story was concluded the first time around, it was reopened with the enthusiastic support of female fans and published many times in various media. Unfortunately, the story was then ultimately left unfinished due to the author’s death.

Shotaro Ishinomori, "Shōnen no Tame no Mangaka Nyūmon"Original Source: © ISHIMORI PRODUCTION INC.

A bible for manga-loving boys and girls

The book Shōnen no Tame no Mangaka Nyūmon [An Introduction to Manga Artistry for Boys] (Akita Shoten, 1965) would later come to serve as the textbook that raised many aspiring manga artists. Part one is semi-autobiographical in nature; in it, Ishinomori describes how self-published works of manga are made and what it was like to work as Osamu Tezuka’s assistant in high school. In part two, he explains how to use various manga techniques, using his own works such as the shōjo (girls’) manga Ryūjin Numa [Dragon God Pond] (Kodansha, 1961) as examples. So many readers from across Japan flocked to visit Ishinomori that the nearest police station had to keep a map of his home. Ishinomori was a charismatic figure to his fans, and this book served as their bible.

Shotaro Ishinomori, "Jun"Original Source: © ISHIMORI PRODUCTION INC.

A magnificent, experimentative work

Many of the manga-loving boys and girls who became fans of Shotaro Ishinomori through reading Mangaka Nyūmon [An Introduction to Manga Artistry] shouted out in surprise when they saw the inaugural issue of COM magazine, published in December 1966. It contained the first episode of the series titled Jun, which utilized sparse dialogue and an entirely vertical panel layout. From the next issue onward, however, it became entirely horizontal. It was truly avant-garde. Jun is composed of layered images that stimulate readers’ imaginations. There is no “correct” way to experience this work—that is, all ways of experiencing this work are correct.

Shotaro Ishinomori, From “Directive No. 1,” in "009-1"Original Source: © ISHIMORI PRODUCTION INC.

The widening of sexual expression in seinen manga

The seinen (young male adult) genre of manga, targeting the Japanese baby boomer generation born after WWII, was created in the late 1960s during a time when Japanese manga was largely split between those for adults and those for children. The difference from shōnen (boys’) manga was that it included the element of sexuality. Shotaro Ishinomori, as discovered by teenage readers, was an artist who published many works in which beautiful, sexy women played an active role, even in seinen manga. The majority of these works were breezily drawn for light reading, as his readers were also looking for scenes of beautiful, scantily-clad women more than a complex story.

Shotaro Ishinomori, From “Rabid Dog,” in "Sabu to Ichi Torimono Hikae"Original Source: © ISHIMORI PRODUCTION INC.

A supreme masterpiece among Ishinomori’s manga depicting the four seasons of Edo along with the absurdity of mankind

At one time, detective stories that conveyed the atmosphere of the Edo period (1603–1868) along with a sense of the seasons, as pioneered by Hanshichi Torimonochō [The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi] (written by Kido Okamoto), were widely appreciated as works of “seasonal literature.” Drawing from this tradition of detective stories, Ishinomori created Sabu to Ichi Torimono Hikae [Sabu and Ichi’s Detective Stories] (Shogakukan, 1966) as a form “seasonal manga.” Especially memorable is his depiction of the Japanese summer, seen in the cumulus clouds, sudden rain showers, and lightning. Every time I re-read the episode titled “Rabid Dog,” themed on the smothering heat of the season, I am reminded of The Stranger by Albert Camus, a story about a man who commits murder “because of the sun.”

Shotaro Ishinomori, From "Kamen Rider" (vol. 1)Original Source: © ISHIMORI PRODUCTION INC.

Ishinomori’s superhero manga preceded the age of SDGs and AI

Similar to Cyborg 009, the protagonists of both Kamen Rider and Android Kikaider (Shogakukan, 1972; a.k.a. Kikaida) have been altered or manufactured by an evil organization. The story of Kamen Rider especially sounds the alarm against the misuse of biotechnology and destruction of the global environment, and it would fit in perfectly alongside what are now called “SDGs manga” (manga that illustrate Sustainable Development Goals). Kikaider, implanted with an incomplete “conscience circuit,” becomes human when he is overcome by evil. Could this also be an indication of where artificial intelligence (AI) is heading? Ishinomori’s superhero manga are surprisingly hard-hitting.

Shotaro Ishinomori, From "Manga Nihon no Rekishi" (vol. 27)Original Source: © ISHIMORI PRODUCTION INC. / Chuokoron-Shinsha

An unprecedented educational manga illustrated in 55 volumes

Manga Nihon no Rekishi [A History of Japan in Manga] (Chuokoron-sha, 1989), an educational manga series in 55 volumes illustrated completely by Ishinomori himself, was an enormous project the likes of which had never been seen before. Before starting this series, Ishinomori wrote “The Manga Declaration,” a declaration of manga’s limitless potential as a form of media that also served to affirm his position in the manga world after Osamu Tezuka’s death and demonstrate his commitment to this series. A veritable milestone in historical manga, Ishinomori drew the series on a specially-made light green paper to prevent the harsh reflection of light on his eyes, as his vision was deteriorating.

Shotaro Ishinomori, From "Sandarabocchi" (vol. 1)Original Source: © ISHIMORI PRODUCTION INC.

Long-running comics about “human emotions” that did away with the avant-garde

Ishinomori constantly developed new forms of expression in manga up until the 1960s, but in doing so, he did not always enjoy the understanding of his readers. His expression became more “rounded out” from around the time he created Sandarabocchi (Shogakukan, 1975). This manga, in which his “edgy presentation” is overshadowed by an orthodox story structure revolving around human emotions and interactions, achieved wide popularity and continued for eight years. Hotel, a human drama Ishinomori started in 1984 that wove together the stories of regular hotel workers and guests, became a long-running series that continued for 14 years until 1998, the year of his death.

Credits: Story


Text: Mitsuru Sugaya(Manga artist / Kyoto Seika University)
Edit: Taisuke Shimanuki, Narika Niihara, Natsuko Fukushima(BIJUTSU SHUPPAN-SHA CO., LTD.)
Supervisor: Hirohito Miyamoto(Meiji University)
Written in 2020

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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