Veteran Ulysses 31 animator dies
Shingo Araki, who died yesterday, was one of the giants of Japanese animation. Born in Nagoya in 1939, Araki left education after high school and found a job working for the train manufacturer Nippon Sharyo. He was still working at the NS factory in 1955 when he won a new artists’ competition in the magazine Machi, propelling him into a new career. He struggled to make a living as an illustrator, before being drawn inexorably into the orbit of Japan’s burgeoning television industry, first as a storyboarder for commercials, in which capacity he made contacts at the early studio Otogi Pro. In 1964, he was one of the hundreds of young talents hoovered up by the sudden expansion of Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Production to meet the impossible demands of weekly 22-minute animated television serials.
Araki was strangely cagey about his days at Mushi Pro, joking that his most enduring memory was of “working” at the company for three months without drawing a single frame of animation. By 1966 he, like many of his fellow artists, had realised that it was more efficient to cut out the dead wood by leaving the company and forming a subcontracting studio with friends that he trusted. As a result, he was one of the founders of Studio Jacquard along with his friend Hiroshi Saito.
As Saito’s right-hand man, Araki became a prominent animator not only on Tezuka’s Jungle Emperor, but on other palpable hits of the 1960s, including the ground-breaking baseball drama Star of the Giants, and the Japanese adaptation of The Moomins. He worked solidly right through Japan’s 1970s doldrums, although Jacquard itself folded along with many other troubled studios in 1972, he reformed around his own company Araki Production. Araki kept busy on numerous tasks in anime production, alternating between animation, character design and storyboards depending on the available work. As a director, he helmed several of the World Masterpiece Theatre serials for Nippon Animation, bringing foreign children’s books to local audiences.
He soon found work heading in the opposite direction, working for hire as one of the anonymous figures who made supposedly “foreign” cartoons, including The Mighty Orbots and G.I. Joe. In Britain, his most iconic work surely on the children’s favourite Ulysses 31, which repurposed Greek mythology in space. According to producer Keishi Yamazaki, it was a matter of some annoyance among the staff at Tokyo Movie Shinsha that their names were dropped off the original French broadcast credits.
However, Araki’s global fame rests on another property, largely unknown in the English-speaking world. Saint Seiya, a.k.a. Knights of the Zodiac, was based on the comics by Masami Kurumada, but steered to the screen by Araki and his regular collaborator Michi Himeno. In Spanish- and Chinese-speaking territories, or in other words, across two entire continents, Saint Seiya remains one of the biggest cartoon franchises to have come out of Japan. It is sure to be regarded as his enduring monument by the majority of his fans.
In recent years, Araki took a step back from anime work, returning to his first love of manga illustration. In an interview last month with the French zine Total Manga, he was asked what image he would want to put on the photo album of his life.
“There is a photo that really exists,” he replied, “taken of me when I was a child. I was playing with two of my friends, at sword-fighting. We were exhausted, and posed with our swords, for a moment that was immortalised. That’s what would be on the cover.” He then sketched the photograph for his interviewer before they parted company.
As Araki observed himself, the message of his work was “that in the trials and tribulations of life, it is better to part with a smile.”