By Kenichi Sato / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterYuki Hijiri was still an amateur when he started drawing “Chojin Locke” (LOCKE THE SUPERMAN). This year, the sci-fi epic manga by the 67-year-old artist is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Now it’s an incredibly long-lasting work, but in the beginning, Hijiri was drawing it as “nothing more than just a hobby,” the mangaka said. Enthusiastic fans persuaded the less-than-impassioned author in one way or the other, getting him to continue the work.
“Chojin Locke” dates back to Hijiri’s high school days in Nagoya, when he saw an advertisement put up by Sakuga Group, a group of amateur mangaka producing and circulating hand-drawn dojinshi books of manga. Inspired by the ad, the young Hijiri joined the group.
“I wanted to draw an absolutely cool and strong hero,” he said.
Hijiri thus created Locke, initially just as a cover illustration. He then decided to make the hero an immortal with supernatural power, while setting the plot in the future when humans have ventured into space. Locke’s story proved popular among readers, with the third episode made into an independent publication for book-lending shops.
Hijiri’s talent got enough recognition for him to make a major debut in a girls’ manga magazine in 1971. He moved to Tokyo to start a career as a professional mangaka. At that time, however, Hijiri never thought of drawing Locke for a commercial magazine because he was “told that sci-fi wouldn’t sell,” he recalled.
He later moved on to producing manga versions of tokusatsu action hero TV dramas to make a living, thereby losing time to work on Locke. This prompted a friend of his to form a group “to put pressure on Yuki Hijiri to save ‘Chojin Locke,’” whose members urged him to draw a sequel “whenever they saw me,” the mangaka said.
In 1974, he released a new Locke episode for book-lending shops, and three years later, the monthly anime magazine Out featured special articles on “Chojin Locke,” describing as a “phantom” hero, even though the work had never been carried by a commercial magazine. Hijiri then serialized a new episode of Locke in the same magazine, taking the work outside the boundaries of dojinshi.
“Chojin Locke” won nationwide popularity when it was serialized in the Shukan Shonen King weekly boys’ manga magazine in 1979.
Hijiri revealed that at first, his editor did not confess the magazine’s real intention, in an apparent desperate attempt to discourage the mangaka from turning down its offer.
“The editor initially asked me to do a gag manga featuring audio equipment, probably because they knew I was an audio maniac,” Hijiri said. “When planning a story for that offer, I was told that they actually wanted me to draw Locke.”
It was the right time for the sci-fi manga because the genre was becoming more popular following the success of the animation film “Uchu Senkan Yamato” (Space Battleship Yamato) in 1977.
Since then, “Chojin Locke” has changed its platform from one magazine to another as Hijiri has produced enough episodes for more than 100 compilations. The story spans more than 1,000 years, following the rise and fall of the galactic federation, the comings and goings of leaders of colonial planets, psychics and space pirates. Locke fights for his loved ones and sheds tears for useless deaths. He also fascinates readers with his super-cool looks, shiny eyes and flowing electric green hair.
“Locke has to live on in solitude, and this is one of his appealing aspects, I believe,” Hijiri said.
Hijiri has recovered his once-dwindled passion for creation. Now the mangaka draws Locke stories in two magazines.
“I’ve always been chasing a deadline, and I’m just noticing that 50 years have passed,” he said. “Locke is like my brother in arms.”
He said he is not thinking how the manga will end. “I’d like to continue drawing [it] as long as possible.”
An exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary is being held at the Yoshihiro Yonezawa Memorial Library of Manga and Subcultures in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, through Sept. 24. The library is closed Tuesdays through Thursdays. Visit www.meiji.ac.jp/manga/yonezawa_lib/ for more information.Speech