TOKYO — Takao Saito, who created “Golgo 13,” a manga comic book series that has sold in staggering numbers over a half-century, making its assassin-for-hire antihero one of Japan’s most recognizable characters and the world of Japanese comics a darker, more adult place, died here, Sept 24. He was 84.
His office said the cause was pancreatic cancer.
In tales of international intrigue and moral ambiguity, Saito’s laconic but ruthless character Golgo 13, armed with a customized M-16 that almost never misses its mark, has appeared in movies, video games and even a self-improvement book that counseled businessmen to follow his single-minded commitment to his work.
In July, “Golgo 13” became Japan’s longest running comic series with the publication of its 201st collected volume, an event marked by Guinness World Records. (The stories were originally published in weekly magazines.) This month, the 202nd volume was published. About 300 million of the volumes have been sold, the series’ publisher says.
With tales of sex and violence set against the backdrop of contemporary geopolitics, “Golgo 13” marked a turning point for the manga industry, whose top creators had mostly made comics for children.
Saito became one of the foremost representatives of a new style of Japanese comics, known as “gekiga,” or “dramatic pictures,” which uses cinematic techniques such as close-ups and intercuts to tell the kinds of dark adult stories found in the work of film directors such as Akira Kurosawa.
He also drew attention for his innovative (now common) studio-based approach to making comics, one that effectively transformed the art form into an industry, with directors overseeing teams of writers and artists operating in assembly-line fashion to increase output and insure a homogenized style.
The gritty tales of Duke Togo, as Golgo 13 was also known, won fans across Japan, including the country’s current minister of finance, Taro Aso, who gleefully welcomed the news that a character seemingly drawn in his likeness had hired the assassin for a hit.
Without Saito’s work, “we probably wouldn’t live in a society where it’s natural for adults to read comics,” Masahiro Kurata, a pop culture commentator in Japan, wrote in a tribute.