On Wednesday, the editorial department of Big Comic announced that Takao Saito passed away on September 24 from pancreatic cancer. He was 84.
Golgo 13 is the second-biggest-selling manga series of all time, between One Piece at number one and Dragon Ball at number three. It debuted in Big Comic in 1968 and has been in serialization ever since, making it the oldest manga in publication.
When Saito was coming up in the late 1950s and early 60s, he and his cohorts took a stand against the term “manga”, which is commonly used to categorize Golgo 13. The word evoked cartoony cute characters, kid stuff, they argued. “Manga” was antithetical to Saito’s style.
“My people hated that name, so we decided to call our work gekiga [literally ‘theatre-images’] to show that it was about drama,” Saito told The Financial Times in 2015. “So, no, from the very beginning I have never been a manga artist. What I produce is drama.”
Gekiga was not aimed at children, but rather at adults, with adult themes and situations. The stories were gritty, sexy and violent. The characters were hard-nosed, like the assassin that made Saito famous. The audience was ready, and Golgo 13 was a smash hit at home. Exporting it seem like a no-brainer.
Starting in the 1980s, Golgo 13 was translated into English—something that Saito was initially against, because even though the main character, also known as Duke Togo, was a modern, gun-toting hitman, he was deeply influenced by samurai.
“That is why I was against the idea of introducing Golgo to foreign countries,” Saito told The Financial Times. “Just take as an example the timing of when he actually takes his shot. It evokes iaido [the martial art of drawing one’s sword and mimicking a deadly blow]. It is the same movement and the same shape. I love Japanese samurai stories and that is why, unconsciously, Golgo moves like a samurai. That is why I thought foreigners wouldn’t understand the story.”
According to Big Comic’s editors, Saito reportedly said, “Even without me, I want Golgo 13 to continue.” Originally, he did everything from the drawing to the writing, but his production company Saito Production was restructured so that his creation could continue after he was gone. Golgo 13 will remain in publication in accordance with Saito’s wishes, with his company and the editors of Big Comic working together on each new installment.
Saito pushed the envelope and transformed the medium. His influence will continue to be felt. May he rest in peace.