Breaking the Narrative Episode 82: The legend that inspired two countries of boys, Shotaro Ishinomori


This time around I have decided to cover another creator who has inspired several generations of young boys and men with a strong example of honorable and self-sacrificing men. If Osamu Tezuka is Japan’s equivalent to Walt Disney then today’s subject, Shotaro Ishinomori, is their Stan Lee!  Sadly just like Tezuka-sensei, Ishinomori-sensei has long passed from this world. Main difference here is that even if you have never been a fan of anime you have likely watched something that Ishinomori has inspired or worked on himself. He is a triple threat like no other; he has drawn manga, developed anime, and written live action special effects shows known in Japan as Tokusatsu! He has even been involved in the translation for Japanese TV audiences of a version of Spider-Man!

We are talking a man who even today still is someone who has properties he has started in the 1960’s and 70’s that are ongoing to this very day with very few hiatuses. Even since his unfortunate passing in 1998, concepts he had written would be used, even close to 10 years later. I will state that it is astonishing that he lived to be exactly 60 years old, having died 3 days after his 60th birthday. So much of his life’s work can be seen in something he would also share in common with Stan Lee, the vast amount of collectibles produced by his franchises. Now on to the life of this creator of household names! Let’s Hammer This In!

Born Shotaro Onodera in the city of Ishimori-Cho of Miyagi Prefecture in Japan. He took his city’s name as his original penname in the 50s changing it from Ishimori to Ishinomori in 1986, oddly enough around the day I was born (January 10th, Ishinomori’s birthday being January 25th.) He was already on his way to becoming a manga-ka (artist) in the 1950s when Tezuka himself would take him under his wing.  While Tezuka was agreed to be the God of Manga (Katsushika Hokusai, whose daughter I’ve written on before, being the Father,) Ishinomori was King. During this start of his career he would be helping with some of the inking on Tezuka’s own Astro Boy manga. The way manga was made being very similar to American comics. One person does the shading, one does the inking and lettering, while the main artist does the outlines and writing.

It was during the initial printings of his first mainline work, Second Class Angel, in Manga Shonen, that his father showed disdain for the master’s chosen profession.  However his elder sister Yoshie would take him in and house him as he got started. Though due to complications from asthma, at the young age 23, she had died. Even though at this time in 1958 he was a 4 year veteran of his industry, this death affected him and his work immensely. This was due to how close the two siblings were as a whole and how much his sister supported his early career. It was at this apartment he had met and interacted with several fellow manga-ka which would help him throughout the years.

In 1960 he had started to consider becoming a director and give up his manga when he had a few unexpected hits come his way. At this point Ishinomori obtained a 2 million yen (Little over $5,500 USD in 1962) to travel the world for the purpose of researching new work on of a concept that would color a large majority of his primary works – cyborgs.  The idea of transhumanistic man/machine hybrids enchanted him to no end, not just because of the works of his mentor, but also the ways he had seen their influence in Western works such as James Bond. This would influence one of his most prolific series, which he would pen as soon as he returned to work. Cyborg 009 was about a group of 9 people remodeled into specialized cyborgs with the intent of world domination, who were turned against the terrorist organization that developed them by a scientist of theirs who grew a conscience and went rogue with them before their minds got reprogrammed fully.

This idea of people turned into a weapons of war, then their innate humanity overcoming such perversion of the human body, would be a theme that would be present in a majority of his works, almost a counter to the super soldiers put forth by Marvel in the form of Captain America. This one in particular was overshadowed only by Astro Boy and Dragon Ball as the most well known manga in existence. During the later half of the 1960s he would develop the archetype of character that would be his most defining overall character. The Skull Man, released initially in 1970 as a one-shot, the character is a mysterious psychic who would wear a skull mask, investigating the police for corruption after having been adopted by a Yakuza family and infiltrating the top detective agency in the area. This manga showed a fascination that Ishinomori developed due to his sister’s demise; that of tragedies.

At this time, Toei, perhaps the largest known producer of media in Japan requested that Ishinomori develop a series for them in 1971. He suggested a variation of his Skull Man character but Toei wanted something more marketable, something that that would become the next Ultraman. As such, Ishinomori-sensei took some influence from a consistent hobby among young boys in in Japan, bug collecting, and developed the grasshopper-themed cyborg Kamen Rider! Takeshi Hongo, a brilliant bio-chemist and researcher, was kidnapped by the global terrorist organization Shocker, and rebuilt with synthetic muscles with the comparable strength of a grasshopper, with the leg structure reconfigured in a way that would mimic the jumping capacity of a grasshopper.

This concept, was pioneered in Cyborg 009 and perfected in this 1971 series, shows two key factors that would define a large majority of Ishinomori’s heroes: The idea of specifically male disposability as a female variant of these heroes wouldn’t come along for another decade, and the idea that men in particular are deemed to be weapons by the powerful.  At the same time, it’s through the strength of the human mind that evil is overcome, as all of the master’s works express. That innate aspect of the soul of man is what determines true heroism.

A following work Android Kikaider tackles this expertly by having the completely artificial Kikaider show more humanity and a soul of a true hero while the Hakaider a rival scientist who put his own brain into the body of a machine was nothing more than a killer, despite having human will from when he was human. This gives an idea that the human soul isn’t necessarily a product of biology but can be something in-and-of-itself that transcends perception, apure product of chance.

It was only be after these works are established that he was tapped once again by Toei for his next work of genius. This is something you have likely watched in one form or another – Super Sentai! First developed as Himitsu Sentai Goranger in 1975, it’s eventually grown into the series Dinosaur Squadron Zyuranger, the show that was developed into Mighty Morphin Power Rangers by Saban Entertainment in the mid 90’s. While Ishinomori did not work directly on a majority of the series in Super Sentai beyond the first two, his influences are seen throughout the entirety of the franchise, much like Kamen Rider. For example, in Kamen Rider Decade they gave that show’s version of Kamen Rider Kuuga (the first of the Heisei period works) the name Yusuke Onodera. Adding the original family name of Ishinomori to the given name of the original character he worked on, Yusuke Godai.

Ishinomori worked intensely and solidly for most of this time, only letting his workload decline in the 1990s, to the point that 10 years after his passing in 2008 the Guinness Book of World records deemed him the most productive comic artist of all time. He surpassed the workload of Tezuka and any other author prior or current. his lifetime workload spanned over 120,000 individual comic pages, 700 chapters combined across all works, and 2000 episodes directly worked on in both animated and live action properties. The only creators hoping to surpass him at this time are Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball fame, Eiichiro Oda of One Piece, and Gosho Aoyama of Detective Conan. The latter two only hope for such devevelopments because both of their shows have been airing uninterrupted since the late 1990s. Toriyama has about a 15 year lead on both of them due to both Dragon Ball and Dr. Slump.

This level of dedication to the craft is shown primarily by men as can be seen by researching all of these creators. I have not been able to find any female manga-ka who matches any of these insane workloads. This is something that should be noted about many male creators – they never truly retire from their work in their lifetime, often working until the end of their lives. In fact, you could say his industry was Ishinomori’s life in so many ways. He was even introduced to his wife Toshiko through Tezuka-sensei.

As for his legacy, in addition to his works, he is the reason a prime word of the Japanese lexicon even exists today. He is the one who first coined the word ‘HENSHIN,” a word for transformation. As such, his works had led to the second Kaiju boom and he has even drawn what would become a well known comic in the US. The comic version of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was drawn and written by Ishinomori-sensei! So he has even had a hand in the world of video games within his lifetime. This as a whole is beyond impressive.  It is also for this reason that he is considered the Japanese Stan Lee. He is a prime example of the male capacities of hard work, ingenuity, and most importantly to take the darkest and most negative aspects of life and turn them into a positive. This influence can also be seen in any and all main characters of his works.

He still worked and looked positively upon his life until he died of heart failure due to lymphoma. His spirit should be something that anyone who views anything developed by him takes on within themselves, to strive to always become better the next day despite the most horrible things happening to you. I know I took that lesson to heart in my own life. Its that mindset that helped me overcome homelessness.  Keep that in mind whenever you watch or read something touched by this epic master. Also as always Please Remember to Game Freely!

Alex Tinsley
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About the author

Alex Tinsley

A student of Fine Arts and Japanese culture of six years at Murray State University. Having never graduated due to difficulties with a specific teacher has gained a unique perspective upon the issues being faced by men and boys. A father of a young boy and loving husband.

By Alex Tinsley

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