Momiji Award Winner: Go Nagai

This year’s recipient of Anime North’s Momiji Award is manga/anime creator Go Nagai. Go Nagai is a legend, and if not responsible for literally single-handedly creating several loved genres, defined many more with his unique style. For those of us that remember the Shogun Warrior line of toys from the ‘70’s, most were based on Go Nagai’s creations. Of all the mangaka (manga artist), Go Nagai may be the best known to our generation (Osamu Tezuka, who died in 1990, was the God Of Manga, but his material did not have that much influence on people our age). Nagai has created, drawn and animated series such as Cutey Honey, Shin Cutey Honey, Cutey Honey Flash, Mazinger Z (Nagai is responsible for much of the giant robot genre), Devilman (Horror), Violence Jack, and Getter Robo. And, maybe his best known outside Japan and quite popular in Quebec, UFO Robot Grendizer, also known as Goldorak in French. But just who is Go Nagai?

Go Nagai, the fourth son in a series of five, was born September 6, 1945, in Wajima, Ishikawa prefecture. From a very young age, Go was haunted by terrible nightmares (he calls them "dreams", but, by the description he gives of them, they are definitely nightmares!), full of hideous monsters, Oni (Japanese demons), ghosts and other horrible creatures, which would, one day, appear in some of his manga, such as Devilman, Violence Jack, etc. From this moment on, Go's life wass led by his dreams and imagination. He remembers very clearly which event focused all this imagination towards manga: his older brother gave him a copy of Lost World, by Osamu Tezuka. As his brother read the story to him, Go took the most important decision in his life: he, one day, would be able to draw and tell stories, just like Tezuka was now doing through his manga. In 1952, Go entered school, a world he was not always be comfortable with. Although quite intelligent and imaginative, he did not interact with his follow students, preferring his own worlds. In this period he started reading more and more manga (liking stories where women were the main protagonists, a taste that continues to this day) and developing a taste for drawing. Also around this time the Nagai family moves to Tokyo, in the Toshima district. 

By now, Go's passion with drawing was all consuming. Everything within his reach was covered with drawings, a passion which grated on the rest of his family's nerves. Although his drawing "style" (today considered to be quite unique) was starting to appear, he had too many ideas running around feverishly in his brain to put them together as of yet. Luckily for him, he now lived in Tokyo where he could devour books, manga and, mostly, movies. All these movies (his tastes covered a wide variety of subjects, from Akira Kurosawa's samurai movies to westerns and science-fiction) would show him how to rearrange all his ideas and put them into workable manga scenarios. By the time he entered college, he saw up to 150 movies a year! He also read articles and reviews from the famous "Kinema Jumpo" magazine and listened to radio soaps. Having, at last, structured his mind, Go was ready to start his first true manga.

However, life struck him with one of the greatest ordeals he would face: the death of his father. Go loved him very much, fell into a deep depression, and hid from the pain in his own world of illusion, from which one of his older brothers was able to rouse him, but only after months of patience. However, Go would never be the same again and the memory of his father haunts him to this day.

In college, Go was a good student, but his tendency to hide from reality and his tremendous unused capacities was the despair of both his family and his teachers. But Go continued his musings: he will be a mangaka, whatever the cost may be. Having read all the works of Tezuka, Ishinomori and Yokoyama, Go plunges in the more mature world of Sampei Shirato. It is Shirato's work that would give Go the hint that manga doesn’t need to be for children only.

Having finished college, Go took the second most important decision in his life: not to go to university. His family was in consternation (going to university is the only way to become someone in Japan), but he made the first step toward his goal by failing all his university entry exams; putting his back against the wall! It is during this period that he created and drew the Kuro No Shishi manga (the animation has been released in English under the name BLACK LION). During the next two years, Go would work at a frantic pace (20 hours a day, nearly seven days a week!). His success was so great that he obtained permission to do whatever he pleases for his next manga, to be published in Shonen Magazine. Some people were shocked by the kind of black humor that tinted his story, Jintaro Sandokosa, but he really didn’t care. In 1968, he created the first of his ground-breaking works: Harenchi Gakuen, the adventures of a group of students in a school full of crazed teachers. Published in Shonen Jump, HARENCHI GAKUEN became a hit with the kids, but the mix of sexy girls, violence and tasteless gags was not to everybody’s taste and Go has his first problems with the PTA (Parental and Teacher Association), which would continue for the rest of his career.

In 1970, Go decided that he was tired of the competition between Shonen Jump's artists (but he does think that this competition helped him become a better artist) and of working under the rules of the publication companies. The result was Dynamic Productions, a company that would take care of all his productions, in manga or animation. One of the first to come work with him was a young artist named Ken Ishikawa, with which Go created Getter Robo. AbashiriI Ikka (Abashiri Family) and Kiku No Suke would be some of the first works done under the Dynamic Productions banner. But Go now had other ideas and those concerned a style he has not explored that much yet: science-fiction...
Oni (‘Demons’ in Japanese) was for Go very hard to do, mostly because he fell extremely sick while working on it. It was, however, a success and gave him even more recognition. Maho Dante, another demon story, followed and then Go started working on his next project, Devilman. The success of Devilman, first published in June 1972 in Shonen Magazine, was explosive, so much so that Devilman became the first of Go's work to be animated. However, drawing DEVILMAN was very taxing on his psyche and physical strength and he decided to tackle another genre: Giant Robots!

Mazinger Z, Go's first effort in the genre, proved to be so groundbreaking that it profoundly changed the world of manga and anime forever. Macross, Gundam, Evangelion and hundreds of other series would never have appeared without Mazinger Z! While working on the manga and animated series, Go started working on Violence Jack. This series, ten volumes of 900 pages each (nearly 7000 pages in all), done between 1973 and 1992, was the longest in Go's career (so far!). It was also one of the master's most complex and accomplished works. Around this period, he created yet another classic, the adventures of a cute android girl capable of changing shape to fight against a group of evil terrorists: Cutey Honey was born, soon followed by Shuten Doji, another of Go's classics.

Recognized as an excellent author by the Japanese science-fiction authors (an honor he shares with Osamu Tezuka and some very few others), Go continued on the sci-fi trail with Susan-O and won the award as the lectors' favorite sci-fi manga author. His manga are sold by millions and the animations adapted from his manga, such as Devilman, Mazinger Z, and Great Mazinger, beat all audience records (In all, more than one third of Go's material has been animated). Unsatisfied however, he decided to diversify his career.

In 1980, he did the character designs for Bomber X, a science-fiction puppet TV series (similar to the Thunderbirds). He also became director for a live video series in 1992 and directed the KEKKO KAMEN movies (three in all), all in the 1990's. Lately, he has done fewer manga, his latest being Devilman Lady (now a TV series as well), a sequel to his famous Devilman.

Although he has had a rather full career (more than 30 years!), Go Nagai is not even close to retirement and even considers that his real career is only beginning! After all, for him, what he has done so far are only partial studies of what he really wanted to do! Be afraid, be very afraid: Go Nagai is on his way and nothing will stop him!
Go Nagai could be said to represent the somewhat darker-side of Japanese manga and anime, but this should not detract from the enormous impact he has had on the industry and creators that followed in his footsteps. When choosing a Japanese recipient for the Momiji Award, we are looking to recognize those that have made the biggest impact in our beloved hobby – and Go Nagai has made a large one for himself. We are lucky to be able to share it with him.

Research and Writing Credits:
Martin Oulette from Protoculture Addicts #54
Additional material by Aaron Dawe

Details regarding Go Nagai's appearance at Anime North will be announced shortly, as we are currently working on personal scheduling conflicts for Mr.Nagai.