Matsumoto Leiji is best known for his work on the series Space Battleship Yamato, as well as his own manga, Galaxy Express 999 (1977) and Space Pirate Captain Harlock (1977). He is seen as one of the most important Japanese figures in the development of the Space Opera genre. With a career beginning in the 1960s, he is also responsible for a wide variety of historical and romantic titles, and the creation of a feature length music video for the French musical duo, Daft Punk, as well as being the designer of a Tokyo river bus, the Himiko.
His earliest successful work, Otoko Oidon (1971), which almost autobiographically details the struggles of a student making his way in life, is broadly comic parody. However, stylistically Matsumoto has always favored the frail, slender characters that were an early trademark, especially in his expansive space opera stories. His fascination with such characters is rooted in his fondness for the fashion of the 1960s, and the models of that age. In addition, his philosophy has been influenced by the work of his own wife, Maki Miyako, who was an artist in her own right, and also the designer who invented the Japanese Licca-chan doll.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Matsumoto’s creative output is the emphasis he has always seemed to place on the heroic and classical qualities of his stories. When a young man, he seemed to have been very critical of manga creators who were not willing to lift their own work beyond simple cartoons and aspired to follow the path being laid out by his contemporary creator, Tezuka Osamu. Matsumoto’s ideal lay particularly in the heroic stories of Richard Wagner’s epic operas, and the European legends from which they themselves were taken. In all his series the influence of this heroic fiction can readily be seen, rooted in sweeping themes of moral desolation, human hope, and the eternal heroes that represent our own collective consciousness.
However, for the international community, Matsumoto Leiji represents one of the first manga creators to actively embrace the foreign markets that turned to Japanese pop-culture. Several of his TV series were sold overseas in the 1970s/80s to positive reviews. The US broadcast of Space Battleship Yamato as Starblazers, and the French fascination with Captain Harlock, broadcast as Alabtor, were important in winning Matsumoto the respect he enjoys. In 2012, Matsumoto was honored by the French government with the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters).