The legacy of the manga artist “Fujiko a Fujio” that he left behind from the work of black comedy and the spirit of the underdog

Fujiko A Fujio, who passed away this year, worked for decades with his creative partner Fujiko A. Fujio to produce countless blockbuster manga, TV shows, and movies. In this article, we look at his career and the artwork he left behind for his young and old fans.

Two giants in the manga world

The famous manga artist (comics) Fujiko A Fujio passed away on April 7, 2022 at the age of 88. Over the decades of his career, he gained notoriety for works such as “Ninja Hattori-kun” and “Monster Child”, in addition to a myriad of other creations that demonstrated his style of black comedy.

Famous characters from ‘Ninja Hattori-kun’ and ‘Monster Child’ (Photo courtesy of Studio Fujiko).

Born Abiko Mutou in 1934 in Hime, Toyama Prefecture, Fujiko A Fujio loved to draw from an early age (by the way, “A” is the first letter of “Abiko”). In 1951, he joined his elementary school classmate Fujimoto Hiroshi (stage name Fujiko Ive Fujio), where they created their first work as a team of manga artists, titled “Tama the Angel” and arranged in the Mainichi Shogakusei Shinbun.

From this early beginning in their teens, the duo Fujiko Fujio have created countless big manga hits through a career that spans nearly four decades. Their first works were released under their real names, after which they used the names “Fujiko Fujio” until they broke off their partnership in 1987, except for a short period early when some of the works were released under the name Ashizuka Fujio.

Abiko (Fujiko a Fujio) left, Fujimoto (Fujiko If Fujio) right, with an unknown dated photo from the 1960s (© Jiji).
Abiko (Fujiko a Fujio) left, Fujimoto (Fujiko If Fujio) right, with an unknown dated photo from the 1960s (© Jiji).

There were many other well-known groups of artists in the manga world whose artists work under one name, such as “Yodetamago (Kinnikuman creator duo)” and “Clamp (a group of female artists who produced works, including Card Captur Sakura)”. But most of these groups divided the work of creating the manga among themselves, with some members setting out the story and others signing it for publication. Both Abiko and Fujimoto were able to create the stories and draw to completion, making them a truly rare team in the field. (Perhaps the only other similar group that comes to mind is Moroyama Mayumi, the name of one duo, the other is her sister Moroyama Mariko, and the duo created works, including “Asari-chan.”)

Fujiko Fujio duo deserve credit for the consistency of their graphics. It is possible for several artists to create stories that stick together, but when it comes to images on the page or on the screen for a long animation it is a different matter, and although there may be a number of illustrators who artwork in the early stages of creation, there is often General One Technical Director responsible for reworking each band at the end of the process. This seems to be something that Abiko and Fujimoto have never had to resort to. Perhaps because they learned from the same examples – it was known that they both spent many hours transcribing images of Tezuka Osamu that they deeply respected – they showed an ability early in their careers to produce art that was seamless in a single work can be merged.

But as their careers progressed, their individuality began to shine more clearly in both the images they painted and the stories they presented. At one time they were called “the bright Fujiko” and “the dark Fujiko”, and Abiko was the last, and here their artistic paths separated. In fact, they started creating more works individually as early as the mid-1950s, and the “66 Obake no Q-Taro” series, which ran between 1964 and 1966, was the last series they co-wrote under the name Fujiko. Fujio. their partnership remained in place until they ended it in 1987 when Fujimoto became ill. Thereafter, they worked under the names “Fujiko a Fujio” and “Fujiko if Fujio”.

Fujimoto became known for his childhood work as Doraemon. Meanwhile, Abiko constantly turned to dark humor, grotesque stories, and other, darker areas of his work.

Darker business for darker times

The distinctive style of Abeko’s drawing that matches “Dark Fujiko” did not depend on the extensive use of black on the page.

His images are often distinguished by the sharp contrasts of black and white, but when the eye falls on one of his frames, the predominant impression is black, not the white parts of the design. Compared to his partner Fujimoto, Abiko uses a darker pencil when outlining the basic shapes he draws, especially from the middle of his career, and his works approach somewhat the feeling generated by the manga’s giga (dramatic comedy) word “.

In addition to the aforementioned “Ninja Hattori-kun” and “Monster Child”, “Fujiko a Fujio” has created works including “Our Way to the Manga” which tells his autobiography, “Saro the Golfer” and “Mataro is coming!” and “The Laughing Salesman.” As mentioned above, many of these later creations delve into the darker side of human nature with a dark sense of humor and exploration of the grotesque. In fact, it was not just his heavy use of black ink that earned Abiko the nickname “Dark Fujiko”. Even in his brighter works like “Ninja Hattori-kun” and “Monster Child” with their many jokes squarely aimed at younger audiences, we might notice that the main characters in those works are the ultimate ninja and a monster, which are characters from the dark side of the world.

Character Saroo van
Character Saroo from “Saro the Golfer” (Photo courtesy of Studio Fujiko).

In his later years, Abiko wrote about his love of dark stories in his autobiography, Still Walking the Manga Path at 81:

“I have always loved stories with a worldview, the kind that Edogawa Ranpo described as ‘weird’ like the books of British author Roald Dahl or American Stanley Ellen. It was full of strange characters and mysterious incidents. I thought readers of Japanese manga magazines like Big Comic would enjoy stories from black comics like this one, and that was the idea behind the origins of the Black Salesman.

The ‘Black Salesman’ to whom the title of this short, tragic (though not without comic) work refers, which turns the life of a miserable businessman on its head, will of course continue to be the ‘Laughing Salesman’ of the popular Abiko series same address. The work appeared in the November 1968 issue of the newly launched “Big Comic” magazine, and was an instant hit. In the latter half of the 1960s, several manga publications appeared targeting the youth market, suggesting that Abiko’s new and dark creation was a perfect fit for publishers trying to attract an older readership at the time. He was quick to exploit this growing position as he published more short works in addition to the series he published at the time.

Abiko’s talent for portraying increasingly darker and more exotic themes has manifested itself in works aimed at teenage readers, not just young adults. This shift would yield a work that directly targets the consciousness of these younger readers, focusing on the revenge of the bully: “Mataro is coming!”.

Encourage the weak

The protagonist of the work is a middle school student, Orami Mataru. The quiet boy becomes the target of bullies around him. But he has a secret, he had foreign powers because he is a worshiper of the black devil, and by using a special spell, he exercises his powers to severely punish those who bully him too much. Abiko’s work became one of the successful series in the seventies of the last century.

The 1989 book “Manga Evolution” by manga legend Ishinomori Shotaro quoted Abiko for his inspiration for his work, and Abiko lived with Ishinomori and other future stars of this genre in the famous Tokiwa-su house:

“Why did Maturo become so famous? Well, from my side, I’ve always been on the receiving end of bullying. I was young and did not do much sports. I was also not very smart, which made me feel sad. . . . The older kids in elementary school took my books or whatever, and it made me feel less like they were. You are a tightly wrapped inferiority ball. In general, in the world of children, victims of bullying are much more than bullies. So I decided it would be useful to write a manga that reflects the point of view of these underdogs. And that job was “Mataro is coming!”.

One of APICO’s strengths as an innovator, I think, was indeed one of APICO’s strengths as an innovator, and it resonated with a large number of readers.

Take, for example, the typical narrative twist of The Laughing Salesman, Abeko’s first major solo creation. A person who is somehow dissatisfied with society or its role in it, meets Mogoro Fukuzo, the mysterious salesman after whom the business is named, who provides him with some things or services that seem to have been around for some time fulfill all his dreams. But eventually things go wrong, and the person returns to the harsh reality.

Mogoru Fukuzu 'The Laughing Salesman' and the cover of the first volume of 'The Laughing Salesman' in the Shogakukan Digital Anthology series by Fujiko a Fujio (Copyright by Studio Fujiko).
Mogoru Fukuzu ‘The Laughing Salesman’ and the cover of the first volume of ‘The Laughing Salesman’ in the Shogakukan Digital Anthology series by Fujiko a Fujio (Copyright by Studio Fujiko).

Of course, Mogoru’s overwhelming personality is a big factor behind the program’s continued popularity. But people’s greed, or ambition, and their acceptance of the dangerous help of Mogoro that takes them to the heights of greatness and from which they eventually descend, is just as important.

But at the same time, when we think about why the “punishment” of these characters resonates so strongly with readers, we must also realize that they can also have some empathy with the dissatisfaction and fears that the characters feel at the beginning of the stories. Here, too, we can emerge the point of view of the underdogs in Abiko’s work, which adds a new layer of realism to these proverbs for adult manga fans.

The power to know your weaknesses

Abeko and Fujimoto write in On Our Way to the Manga how they became childhood friends and then turned into artists and eventually worked as professional manga creators. Even in this autobiography, Abiko wrote from a vulnerable position as he portrayed many realistic memories of unfair bullying and harassment before making his debut in the manga world, either as a student or during his short service as an employee of the company. But what goes further is the emotional response he shows to his partner Fujimoto.

In fact, Abiko was well aware that he was not quite as good as Fujimoto when it came to art. His understanding of this matter, and the distress it caused, appears in scattered glimpses of his work here and there. But we can say that this understanding of his own weakness was ultimately one of his greatest strengths as an innovator. While he was comfortable with this fact and confident in his friend, he did what he was capable of, which was to pursue the art he wanted to make and to do his best. A manga by an artist like this can not go wrong in beating readers’ hearts.

With his death in 1996, Fujimoto Hiroshi’s “Fujiko If Fujio” left behind a large mountain of works worthy of one of Japan’s top manga artists. But the “manga path” that Abiko Moto (Fujiko a Fujio) took was no less fascinating in the end.

(Originally published in Japanese on April 30, 2022. Banner photo: Abiko Moto, also known as “Fujiko a Fujio.” Fujiko Studio.)

Leave a Comment