The anime/manga community is still wiping its eyes after the news that Monkey Punch (birth name Kazuhiko Kato), creator of crime comedy "Lupin III," passed away this month. With fans and family still grieving, though, it’s time to say goodbye to yet another of the manga world’s all-time greats, Kazuo Koike.
Like Monkey Punch, Koike’s greatest hit came early in his career, with 1970’s "Lone Wolf and Cub." A gripping tale of a wandering swordsman pushing a baby carriage with his infant son in it around feudal Japan on a quest for revenge, Lone Wolf and Cub’s gritty visuals and historical setting won it international fans and accolades even before overseas anime/manga fandom existed in any substantial form.
Sadly, Koike, who turned 82 last May, spent much of the past 12 months in poor health. Hospitalized since last summer, he continued to tweet, citing the importance of keeping his mind active and his spirits up. “It’s not good for you, psychologically, to spend the whole day in your pajamas,” the artist said, “By changing into regular clothes, you get emotionally ready for work or play, so on days when I’m feeling energetic, I make sure to get out of bed and change my clothes.”
Still in the hospital when November rolled around, Koike once again tweeted “While here, I’ve realized something important. Even when there are limits to what you can do, it’s important to do something creative. Once your mentality becomes listless, everything else goes to pieces, so staying creative is a way of keeping yourself healthy.”
Unfortunately, Koike’s mental facilities began to deteriorate, and in January he was diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Nevertheless, he tried to stay positive. “My family has told me, ‘We love you, no matter what,’ so I can sleep peacefully,” he tweeted on January 18.
Koike’s ailments weren’t limited to those of the physical variety, though, and on April 17, he succumbed to pneumonia, as revealed in a posthumous tweet from his official account.
“Kazuo Koike, who had been hospitalized for some time, passed away from pneumonia on April 17. We would like to sincerely thank all those who showed him, and his works, love during his lifetime. In accordance with his last wishes, his funeral will be a private service for family members.
Thank you for your support.”
The comment about Koike’s works being widely loved is no exaggeration, and not just among everyday fans either. His stature as a creator brought other aspiring artists to study under him, including Rumiko Takahashi (creator of "Inu Yasha" and "Ranma 1/2"), Tetsuo Hara (artist for "Fist of the North Star"), and Yuji Horii (creator of the "Dragon Quest" video game series).
In turn, Koike himself was also a fan of other creators’ works, going so far as to state that being an otaku, with a passionate interest in some sort of hobby, is the key to feeling happy and fulfilled in old age. Upon hearing the news of Monkey Punch’s passing, he tweeted “So Monkey Punch has passed away…I loved 'Lupin III.' I’ll miss him, and pray for his happiness in the next world,” and Koike’s last tweet before his death, his very last public statement, was another fond reminiscence of his fellow manga artist:
“40 years ago, in the first era of action manga, Monkey Punch was my rival, with 'Lupin III' and 'Lone Wolf and Cub' battling it out in a popularity war. At one point, we even teamed up to make the manga 'Secretary Bird Together.' I’m really going to miss him.”
No doubt the two are enjoying their reunion now, and if it was Koike’s time to go, at least he got to remain true to his spirit as the man who once said “People who are born as otaku are otaku for life. You can’t quit it…being an otaku until the end of your days is a wonderful thing. Live as an otaku, die as an otaku.”
“It’s the greatest.”
Sources: Twitter/@koikekazuo via IT Media, Yahoo! Japan News/Nikkan Sports
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