More words have been written about this man than any other single person who was involved in the production of Space Battleship Yamato. Writers around the world have exhausted entire vocabularies trying to describe his unique vision, his incredible range, and his bottomless supply of creative energy. So in the end, there’s only one way to sum up Leiji Matsumoto: he’s a true original.
Born Akira Matsumoto in Japan’s Fukuoka Prefecture in 1938, he loved to look at bees and butterflies by day and at the stars by night. Whenever he held a pencil, he drew comics. By the third grade, he held a vague ambition to be a cartoonist. When he was a mere tenth-grader in 1954, his first professional manga, The Adventures of a Honeybee, was published in Manga Shonen. After graduating high school, he moved to Tokyo and started drawing girls’ comics. At the same time, he absorbed the works of creative pioneers both at home and abroad, such as Disney, Fleischer, and Osamu Tezuka (creator of Astro Boy).
In 1962, he married Maki Miyako, widely considered the Madonna of girls’ manga. With adventure strips such as Lightning Ozma and Submarine Super 99 as a start, he migrated away from girls’ stories and created SF stories such as Sexaroid and the Fourth Dimension series, and he found great success with the “everyman” story Otoko Oidon [Oidon man]. After developing his own worlds in SF, he became the supervising director and conceptual designer of the TV anime Space Battleship Yamato.
He has worked in a variety of genres, from science-fiction to historical and war dramas, bringing to each the same unique tone and appeal, the image of a man who “thoroughly lives his own way of life and dies without regrets” and the image of a woman who “knows the sadness of the man and understands and supports his dreams.” These core ideas attract many fans to Matsumoto stories.
Those last three paragraphs came from the Office Academy hardcover book for Farewell to Yamato  and fall far short of a comprehensive profile, given the enormous amount of work he has created since. After hundreds of manga stories going all the way back to the 1950s (Matsumoto celebrated his 50th anniversary as a professional in 2004) that spawned dozens of anime productions, a normal person might be tempted to put down the pen and relax. But Matsumoto hasn’t lost an ounce of steam and charges ever onward, always expanding the horizons of his personal universe.
Not surprisingly, his career has shone the brightest since the Yamato staff went their separate ways. He is still a public figure in constant demand for lectures and special events, and serves as a professor at the Takarazuka University of Art and Design. He has had much to say about his Yamato experiences over the years, particularly when he stepped forward in 1998 to help engineer a renaissance of products and events.
The best way to get the true measure of the man is through his own words, and we can now share many of them with you in English for the first time. A collection of his shortest essays and commentaries fill the rest of this page, and waiting at the bottom are links to a cornucopia of articles that stretch from his time on the 1974 TV series all the way into the 21st century. Through them you can track Matsumoto’s experiences as he rose through the ranks of anime legends, learn more Yamato trivia than is good for you, and explore the evolving philosophies of one of Japan’s truly original voices.
Production Comments, 1977-1983
The Japanese have accomplished miraculous economic growth and have an abundance of material things, but as a result there is pollution and high prices, and we’re far from leading happy lives. We are all just helpless cogs in the machine of the industrial world, especially when it comes to the material aspect of our lives. Will we find a way out of our predicament? History will allow us to determine this. Human civilization has lived through a number of dangers and somehow managed to survive to the present day. An important point for us to realize is that we are human beings, not products of the industrial world.
We created Space Battleship Yamato to teach not only the adults, but also children the importance of having dreams and understanding ourselves. This is a 21st Century science-fiction adventure drama about a spirited group of young men and women who play an active part in the story. What I want to emphasize through their actions is that love defines our humanity.
From the Space Battleship Yamato movie program book (1977):
This was my first experience creating animation, and I am happy that I could dedicate myself this much. I became another self, walking around inside Yamato, following one path to another. This experience was shared with the entire staff. Yamato is the great ship which brought me to the world of animation, my lifelong dream.
From the Farewell to Yamato movie program book (1978):
In the previous TV series, each episode was comprehensive, with a beginning, middle, and end. In the feature film version I feel this was lost, and I really regretted it. This time, when participating in the production of Part II, I gave careful attention to this point, so I am proud that this has higher level of completion than the previous work. For me, Yamato is “the ship I am about to board,” [a Japanese proverb about having to finish what we start] so my attachment is stronger than that of others. At the same time, I want to express my appreciation to the numerous staff members who coped with my selfish voyage.
From the Farewell to Yamato Roman Album (1978):
Teresa: For me, this Yamato production started with drawing her and in a way it ended with that as well. The reason is that it was very difficult to draw a woman who symbolized “space love” in a fresh way because I already designed Starsha for the previous work. Of course, she couldn’t resemble Starsha. Morever, she couldn’t break the image of Yamato.
While thinking about this over and over, I remembered something. It was the first girl’s manga I drew back in the mid-1950s. In it was a girl named Teresa. I felt very nostalgic for her. As I thought about this story, the image solidified for me.
The thought, “maybe Teresa could be younger than Starsha, or maybe her age doesn’t even matter,” rolled through my head while the pen moved across the page. This is how I came up with an image sketch in a short time that the cleanup staff then labored over for a long time. But for me, this will be a help the next time I’m presented with such a hardship in my work.
From the Be Forever Yamato movie program book (1980):
Space Battleship Yamato was my very first animated production, so when I close my eyes, every scene revives in my memory. For me, Yamato is a monumental work I will never forget. That is why I always feel that I want to take care of it until the very end.
During the creation of this film, my first question was, “why has Yamato sailed and what has Yamato fought for?” As a member of Yamato‘s crew, I have been on a very fulfilling voyage. But I wanted to go back to basics and distinguish the very essence of Yamato itself, lest the original direction be lost.
From the Be Forever Yamato Roman Album (1980):
Although Farewell to Yamato was intended to be the end, I didn’t want anyone to die. But I’ve ended up in situations like that before. Therefore, Be Forever is a strong sequel to the TV version, Yamato 2. Do not consider it to be a continuation of The New Voyage by any means.
Originally, we talked about setting Be Forever 300 years after the previous story. The Yamato crew would be descendents of Kodai. But when I thought about creating a descendant of Dr. Sado, it didn’t inspire me for some reason. I didn’t feel like myself.
This is because we on the staff feel like Kodai, Yuki, Shima, and the others are brothers and close friends, even our alter egos. It wouldn’t be the same with a descendant, even with the family name Kodai. Thus, it became a story set only a few years after the original.
However, it has been six years since the first Yamato story began! The crew should have grown older and moved on, but we decided that Kodai would be the eternal 18-year old. However, this made Sasha’s age troublesome. She couldn’t be involved in this story as a baby…so I had my eye on the characteristics of her mixed blood. She could grow to 17 years old in one year, but then take on the same tempo as an Earthling.
As for the concept, I made elaborate plans this time. Even if the story is good, it can be brought down by a shabby stage. The double galaxy and the New galaxy were born from that thought. I am convinced that combining the drama with such a setting will surely satisfy.
From Leiji Matsumoto Anime Fantasy World (1980):
Space Battleship Yamato was my first work in animation. I had wanted become involved before then, but never had an opportunity. When I heard that a story about Yamato was being made, I jumped at it.
But when I thought about showing images of war and the original battleship Yamato, I shrank a little and wondered if it would be a mistake. The animation I wanted to make was more in the style of fairy tales. I think that my current work, Galaxy Express 999 is the closest to this ideal.
But it was my tendency to be attracted to Yamato. It was linked to my hobbies: battleship mania, airplane mania, tank mania, etc. It was in the domain of things I personally enjoy, but I didn’t actually have the opportunity to use them in the animation.
Boarding Yamato was troublesome. I have no regrets, but it was a long voyage and now I have a touch of exhaustion.
Space Battleship Yamato was an important work that prepared my place in animation. It allowed me to reach back into myself as a boy and face the strong impressions my senses provided to me then. It made me ask the basic question of whether or not I would want to see this anime.
This theme will be in my head from here on, no matter what I make. There is no turning back after such an important work. Passion alone is not enough. It opened the door for everything else. If Yamato was my elementary or junior high, then Galaxy Express 999 was my high school, and Captain Harlock and Queen Millennia were my university studies.
I think Space Battleship Yamato was a course in finding out how to see more freely. Animation must not in any way limit the imagination of those who watch it. I often think I should work without pretense, not just to tell stories of love and justice. They should also be fun, heartwarming, and unassuming.
Yamato is a very important work for me, so I think I should firmly decide when to quit so it won’t head to a miserable end. I don’t want my child to be set adrift. The feeling I have for it is, to my mind, like parental love.
From the Yamato III Roman Album (1981):
It has been seven or eight years since I started to work on Yamato. The series owes its longevity largely to support from the fans, and as a creator, I am very fortunate. The story was originally supposed to end with Series 1, so it was hard not to destroy the initial image while creating new stories. In Series 3, Yamato flew from my hands, and I largely left it to the staff. They had a hard time, and I appreciate their efforts.
In previous stories, Yamato saved the Earth from invaders, but this time Yamato takes off on a mission to find a second Earth, owing to abnormal changes of the Sun, and I think this shows a different aspect of Yamato. Also, Earth gets caught up in interplanetary wars between the Galman Empire and Bolar Federation, which closely reflects the contemporary conditions of our world. Kodai is appointed as captain, Shima and Sanada are appointed as deputy-captains, and the new crew members bring changes to both our story and characters
I have a great attachment to Yamato, but if another new story is created, I do not want to participate unless my heart is in it. Otherwise, I am afraid Yamato will no longer be my work.
From the Final Yamato Animedia special (1983):
I didn’t think it would last 10 years, either. But, this time, it’s finally the Final one. Personally, I had never wanted to have Kodai and Yuki get married. Once they get hitched, she would belong to him alone, right? I just couldn’t bring myself to allow Kodai to have Yuki all for himself. But, since this is the finale, I felt a resolution was needed and I will see that they are wed. I believe that Final Yamato is a great piece of work. I hope that everybody will come and see the last Space Battleship Yamato.
From the Final Yamato movie program book (1983):
There finally comes a time to say good bye to the characters, who are my other selves, and the great voyage in this grand ship, Yamato. Although it was a temporary voyage, I have many passionate memories of it. I say good bye to Yamato with deep emotion. Good bye Yamato!!
From the Final Yamato Roman Album (1983):
“A Fresh Ending for Yamato”
Actually, we had decided to sink Yamato from the very beginning. We wanted a graceful scene for Yuki and Kodai. Since this is the last story, we made sure that it flowed smoothly. We also added some new elements and changed earlier ones. What I regret, however, is that I could not attend the voice recording session because of my schedule.
It was fun when I was working on this project. In Yamato‘s case, I tended to trust other staff members and depend on them too much. As a result, as the release of the movie approached, I felt nervous wondering what kind of work it would be.
This is the last story of Yamato, so I would like the fans to enjoy this movie a lot. I would also like older fans to come to the theater to see our work. Personally, I wanted to end Yamato in a fresh way.
Short Essays from The World of Leiji Matsumoto (Tatsumi Mook, 2005)
Something in common with that great master!
People are connected by strange fates. I learned after-the-fact that I had contact with Osamu Tezuka in Akashi because of the evacuation to Ozu. I watched an animated movie in Akashi called The Spider and the Tulip [Theatrical short, 1942].
It influenced my debut manga, The Adventures of a Honeybee. Mr. Tezuka saw my work and asked me how it was inspired. When I told him I’d seen The Spider and the Tulip at a young age in Akashi, he gasped. He saw it in the same theatre, where it had played for only one week!
I remember seeing it on a Sunday; he might have been in my neighborhood and watched it at the same time. At least, our eyes were glued to the same movie screen. I was 5 years old then, and Mr. Tezuka was 15.
My fate as a manga artist was set
My father was a pilot and also a machinery enthusiast; he left a 35mm film projector in my hands when he went off to war. While he was engaging Americans in dogfights, I watched and enjoyed American cartoons in my own home. I was the middle child of seven brothers, and there were a lot of books and magazines around. I hunted down and read SF novels by such writers as Juza Unno and HG Wells at that time. Because of that environment, I became a manga artist.
Experience speaks: my own life appears in my manga
I aspired to draw, and went to Tokyo at age 18 determined to become a manga artist. I left from Ogura, and my steam locomotive arrived in Tokyo at 5am the next morning. I greeted the dawn in Osaka, but it didn’t relieve the tedium. But I reproduced that scene later for the viewers of Galaxy Express 999.
People are connected by a mysterious fate
Captain Harlock is based on a classmate in my elementary school. I made up the face, but he was tall and popular with girls. I looked at porno books with this classmate. At least, that’s what it seemed like. Two people on a tandem bike or reading in bed was pornography to us!
There were many cases where I took a character name from a real person. Yuki Mori came from Yukiko Moriki, a woman a liked in my youth. Susumu Kodai got the name ‘Susumu’ from my younger brother. Jyuzo Okita was named after Jyuza Unno, the SF writer and the Shinsengami [special police] captain Souji Okita. And many of the characters in my work are connected by a curious coincidence. This comes from a law I learned in my own life, that people are connected by a mysterious fate.
I Wish they all could be Matsumoto Girls…
One of the most fascinating stories of Leiji Matsumoto’s life involves a true Ghost in the Machine in the form of a woman from the 1800s. He shared this story with several journalists after its discovery…
From The World of Leiji Matsumoto (Tatsumi Mook, 2005):
There was a model for Starsha and Maetel! The real thing…?
I was 36 years old when I drew the face of Starsha. She became the foundation for Maetel. However, this face emerged years ago in a manga I drew when I was 17. I casually drew my ideal image of a woman and was not conscious of any particular model for it.
But in 2000 I finally discovered the model for both Maetel and Starsha. During the war, my mother’s parents evacuated to Ehime-Ozu Prefecture, and one of their old photographs was recently found in the warehouse of their former neighbor. It was the portrait of a woman named Takako Mise.
She was the granddaughter of Philipp Franz Von Siebold, a Dutch doctor who was the first European to teach Western medicine in Japan during the Edo period [the 1800s].
She came from my homeland, and it is certain that she had some involvement with my ancestors. And she’s the spitting image of Maetel and Starsha. I lined up my painting of Starsha, and the position of the eyes and eyebrows matched perfectly. Thus, the ancestral memory of my DNA caused me to draw the face of Maetel and Starsha.
From a 2004 TV interview:
This is a woman’s picture. She is named Takako Mise. This is a photograph taken during the American Civil War, about 1860. The man is my ancestor’s partner. She was his wife. I have no direct relation to her, but 140 years ago we had contact. With this memory I unknowningly drew her face. I can now believe that after many generations the people in our dreams must reappear. This is the best evidence.
Interview segment from Leiji Matsumoto: a Collection of Pictures (2004):
Interviewer: You once told a story about a trip you took to Europe and discovering one of your favorite actresses there.
Matsumoto: It was Marianne Hold, who appeared in one of my favorite movies, Marianne of my Youth (1955). She had the beautiful features of a European. She and Takako Mise resemble each other. Their features are similar. I seemed to be charmed by that common element. Perhaps neither their race nor their nationality matter.
[Editor’s note: the Japanese rendering of Marianne of My Youth closely matches the title of Matsumoto’s beloved 1982 feature film, My Youth in Arcadia.]
Generally, the women I had affection for in my childhood had a common character of strength and gentleness for some reason. Their lives and character are reflected through my heart and my heroines.
Interviewer: Another characteristic of your women is their beautiful hair.
Matsumoto: I consciously drew a long-haired woman in Sexaroid , because of the social environment at the time. I received a strong notice about drawing nude women, so I decided to draw her hair as a substitute for clothes. Thereafter, it became my habit to draw very long hair. It became part of my style.
Click on the links below to further explore the world of Matsumoto. If you wish to follow these in chronological order, each story contains a link to the next.
Matsumoto’s story treatment for the first TV series
1976 interview from Fantoche Magazine
Matsumoto’s story treatment for Farewell to Yamato
1978 interview from Kinejun Magazine
Matsumoto’s story treatment for Be Forever Yamato
1980 interview from Monthly Animation Magazine
1980 interview from OUT Magazine
1983 essay from Yamato Perfect Manual 2
1998 Laserdisc liner note collection
1998 interview from Comic Gon Magazine
1999 interview from Yamato Legacy
1999 interview from This is Manga!
2002 essay from The Ring of Time
Bibliography and Product gallery
Matsumoto meets a Star Blazers fan
BONUS: Leiji Matsumoto Anime Masterpiece Theatre
This unusual TV special, broadcast in Japan to promote the debut of Queen Millennia in 1981, put Matsumoto on screen with his own creations. One by one, they fly in from space to keep an appointment with the man himself. This includes the crew of Yamato, in their one and only animated appearance outside the confines of their own saga. Unfortunately, the special is not available commercially, so the only stills that can be had come from off-air VHS copies. That aside, it’s still a fascinating artifact from the early years…
After scenes of the Galaxy Express and Queen Emeraldas’ arrivals on Earth, we see Yamato on her own approach. Cut to the ship anchored in Tokyo Bay and the command staff boating to shore.
Kodai enjoys the fresh air, but Yuki apologizes; she has to leave for her appointment with Starsha, Sasha, and Mr. Matsumoto. (Yes, she actually says this.)
Cut to a pastoral setting at Captain Okita’s monument. Dr. Sado, Analyzer, and Mi-kun are already there and Kodai runs to join them.
They toast their former commander and are approached by a reporter from Fuji Television for some exposition on who they are.
The others arrive, and after a scolding from Dr. Sado they line up for a salute. This leads in to several clips from Yamato adventures, and then…
…we see Maetel (from Galaxy Express) step out of a cab at Matsumoto’s home. She is the last to arrive, so she sits with the other ladies and conversation begins. Gathered together are (clockwise) Yayoi Yukino from Queen Millennia, Starsha, Sasha, Yuki, Matsumoto, Maetel, and Emeraldas.
The discussion continues for several minutes with Matsumoto describing the origins and motivations of his work. This marks the one and only time Yuki and the adult Sasha are seen on screen with each other.
At one point, Matsumoto lights up a cigarette and Emeraldas responds decisively…
After a few more minutes, all rise and file out. Matsumoto bows in thanks and the ladies turn to leave, most likely to find some hair products. (See some animation layouts from this scene here.) The 75-minute special concludes with a preview of Queen Millennia, and the world moves on. This may be an appropriate moment to point out that Who Framed Roger Rabbit was still a good seven years away…
I was in Japan in 1981. I wish I had seen this ’cause I KNOW it would’ve been fun to watch!