Inside the curious creations of Fujiko A. Fujio

The world of manga and animation was in mourning on April 7 with the news of the passing of Motoo Abiko, alias Fujiko A. Fujio, creator of some of Japan’s best-known manga.

Born in 1934 in Himi City, Toyama Prefecture, Abiko’s initial foray into manga began during his elementary school years, where he befriended fellow enthusiast Hiroshi Fujimoto, with whom he would collaborate under the joint pseudonym “Fujiko Fujio”. “since 1954.

After the duo’s disbandment more than three decades later, Fujimoto continued to write under the pseudonym “Fujiko F. Fujio”, while Abiko adopted the pen name “Fujiko A. Fujio”, broadening her horizons through production work. in anime, TV and film.

Although the duo is arguably best known for Fujimoto’s manga series about a robot cat called “Doraemon,” Abiko gained a great deal of admiration for her own wacky creations.

Among them was “Kaibutsu-kun”, which tells of the earthly tribulations of its protagonist “Monster Kid” (this is how the title was translated for audiences abroad) and other beings from Monster Land, which he turned into an acclaimed television drama. in 2010.

In fact, the alien, or unusual being with magical powers that intrude into everyday life on Earth, became a genre of manga that was arguably the baby of the duo, and has been adopted and nurtured by countless artists. worshipers in the Japanese manga scene ever since.

Another of Abiko’s most beloved creations, “Ninja Hattori-kun” also typifies this genre, featuring Kenichi, a shy fifth grader who is bullied at school but is saved when his “normal” life is interrupted. by an extraordinary 11-year-old boy. old ninja named Hattori.

In this and other of her works, the departure of the “outsider” character signifies the end of childhood, and over time, Abiko also began to move away from fantasy manga aimed at a predominantly younger audience in favor of more age-oriented themes. Adults.

These were often very strange creations, delving into the dark side of the human psyche with more than a touch of black humor.

“The Laughing Salesman” is a classic example. Written in 1968 at the height of Japan’s years of economic growth, it tells the story of shady salesman Moguro Fukuzou and his promises to “fill the empty souls” of the dissatisfied underachievers he encounters in society.

Such themes and the mood in which they were written were hitherto unknown, and were regarded by many as almost like Abiko.

However, he did not always get it right, and several of his works have been labeled “problematic” and demoted to mere footnotes in his bibliographic history.

“Madman’s Army,” for example, is superficially a story about a baseball team, but it also offers extreme content about mental illness, with many of its deranged characters representing well-known people in the real world, including baseball players, whose names they are only changed minimally.

'Ninja Hattori-kun', which featured an 11-year-old ninja named Hattori, was one of Motoo Abiko's most beloved creations.  |  ROB GILHOLY
‘Ninja Hattori-kun’, which featured an 11-year-old ninja named Hattori, was one of Motoo Abiko’s most beloved creations. | ROB GILHOLY

Consequently, “Madman’s Army” is one of several compositions that have never been published in book form, although Abiko himself did not apologize for the work, apparently saying that only manga “connoisseurs” could really appreciate it.

However, he was never so arrogant as to be considered above reproach, and while his outgoing nature was the perfect foil for the more timid Fujimoto, he could be endearingly modest. During an interview in 2009, he referred to his creative partner as “a true genius”, whom Abiko himself “could not sustain”.

It was a feeling he had from the first time they met, at elementary school in Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture, where 9-year-old Abiko was forced to move after the death of his father, a Buddhist priest.

From that first meeting, Abiko recalled how, on the first day at his new school, his teacher had introduced him to the rest of the class at lunch, after which all the other children dispersed, leaving Abiko alone, or at least alone. that said. thought.

“I sat down and did some drawing in my notebook, and the next thing I knew, someone was looking over my shoulder, and this skinny kid said to me in a thick Toyama accent, ‘So you like to draw, right?’ “. Abiko remembered.

“I told him yes and asked him if he also drew. He showed me his notebook and I couldn’t believe my eyes: he had drawn some manga and they were really good. … From that day on we became good friends and hung out almost every day. It was fate, I guess.

Inspired by the great manga Osamu Tezuka (whose “New Treasure Island” he described as “like a movie on paper”), Abiko invented a “dream world” where he and Fujimoto would become manga artists, though deep down he doubted that “two boys from Toyama” could ever realize that vision.

In fact, it was the more reluctant Fujimoto who, after training to become an electrician but lacking the social skills to hold regular employment, urged Abiko to quit his job as a reporter at his uncle’s newspaper, the Toyama Shimbun, instead. and go to Tokyo in search of fame.

“I told him there was no way I could leave, that my mother and uncle would blow a fuse if I told them I was resigning just at a time when I was beginning to be of some use to the paper,” he recalled. “But when I discussed it with my mom, she just said, ‘You should do what you want.’ I still wasn’t sure what to do, but in the end I gave it up. I don’t want to sound pretentious, but I decided to bet on my dream”.

In 1954, at just 19 years old, Abiko left for the capital. Four years later, she stayed at the renowned Tokiwa-so, a two-story wooden apartment building in Toshima Ward that might as well be labeled a manga mecca.

It was here that some of Japan’s most revered manga artists laid the foundation for the worldwide sensation that followed, including Abiko’s hero Tezuka, whom he described as “to Japan what Shakespeare is to Britain.”

“Japan doesn’t know how lucky it is to have had someone like that,” he said. “If I hadn’t chosen to write manga, I’m sure manga would never have developed here the way it did.”

Although he received two major awards in his later years, many would argue that the same could be said for Abiko, the boy from Toyama who tested the limits of the manga genre, introducing readers to unforgettable characters such as Fujiko A. Fujio himself. They worked hard to achieve their dreams.

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