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It’s bye-bye Birdy, but hello to Masami Yuuki

With the hit sci-fi action comedy Birdy the Mighty: Decode drawing to a close this week, we bid farewell to super-powered space cop Birdy Cephon Altera and Tsutomu Senkawa, the everyday high school student who share the same body. As the pair head into their final confrontation with Birdy’s old friend Nataru, a battle sure to set your eyes on fire with hot-blooded action and pluck at your heartstrings with bittersweet emotional moments, the Manga UK blog focuses on Birdy’s original creator.

Born plain old Shuji Sato on 19th December 1957, Masami Yuuki made his first manga sale in 1980 with The Rival, to Out magazine. For the next two years, he continued to draw manga in his spare time, while still holding down a day-job. By the mid-80s, he had hit his stride, with a scattergun of serials including Birdy the Mighty, which first appeared in 1984. By 1985, Birdy was running in Shonen Sunday alongside Yuuki’s Ultimate Superman R, an outlandish high school comedy focusing on a photography club with more weirdos than Haruhi Suzumiya could shake her SOS Brigade at. Back then, it was Superman R that caught readers’ imagination, running for three years and nine collected volumes. Meanwhile, Yuuki’s parody of Japanese pop culture, Assemble Insert, began its short run in the pages of Out magazine. The series pitted super-strong teen idol singer Maron Namikaze against Demon Seed, a bothersome terrorist organisation with an army of mecha. As you do.

But Yuuki is probably most famous for his work on another SF project. The story was born from many long sessions in a Tokyo coffee house, where a bunch of sci-fi fans gathered to lament the state of modern media. They were particularly annoyed with the 1980s penchant for post-apocalyptic wastelands, and instead hatched an idea for a story in which Japan suffered rising sea levels and climate change, but somehow muddled through with the aid of a new invention – towering bipedal construction machines to help with the sea walls and dams. But new technology meant new crimes, leading in turn to the formation of a special unit designed to deal with it: Mobile Police Patlabor.

Patlabor was credited to the five-person collective “Headgear”, comprising director Mamoru Oshii, screenwriter Kazunori Ito, character designer Akemi Takada and mecha designer Yutaka Izubuchi. While Yuuki’s colleagues worked on the video, and subsequently the TV series and movie spin-offs, he spent six years from 1988-1994 drawing the manga series, racking up an impressive 22 collected volumes.

But although he’s known abroad for sci-fi, Yuuki’s incredible versatility back home has given him  a varied career. Following Patlabor’s conclusion, he launched the 26-volume Grooming Up!,  depicting a high school student moving to a horse ranch in Yuuki’s own native Hokkaido, while series such as Kunie, Daughter of Pangaea offered a playful take on young romance – all without a giant robot in sight. Meanwhile, a side project with fellow creator Tori Miki notched up nine years of a gag comic: Murder on the Saturday Variety Show.

Today, Yuuki is back drawing Birdy. The series that originally finished in 1988 sprang back to life in 2003, and continues to run in Japan. This means that, stealthily, the Birdy manga has now outstripped both Patlabor, Grooming Up! and even Murder on the Saturday Wide Show in terms of sheer longevity. With a personal best-of collection published last year, Masami Yuuki is still doing mightily well. Long may he continue.

Birdy the Mighty: Decode 2 is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment

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