Born November 23, 1961, in Kobe, Japan. Education: Osaka University of Arts, graduated, 1985. Hobbies and other interests: Taking photos of spiders and making papier-maché figures.
Home—Hyogo, Japan. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Dark Horse Comics, 10956 Southeast Main St., Milwaukie, OR 97222.
Manga cartoonist. Taught art in a high school, c. 1985-90. Creator of mechanical and character designs for film Gundress, 1999, and Landlock.
Galaxy award (Japan), 1986, and SPJA Anime Award (U.S.), both for Appleseed.
Black Magic (originally serialized in Atlas, 1983), Seishinsha (Osaka, Japan), 1985, translated by Toren Smith, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 1998.
Appleseed Book 1: The Promethean Challenge, Seishinsha (Osaka, Japan), 1985, translated by Toren Smith, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 1995.
Appleseed Book 2: Prometheus Unbound, Seishinsha (Osaka, Japan), 1985, translated by Toren Smith, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 1995.
Dominion (originally serialized, 1986), Seishinsha (Osaka, Japan), 1993, translated by Toren Smith, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 1993, published as Dominion: Tank Police, 2000.
Appleseed Book 3: The Scales of Prometheus, Seishinsha (Osaka, Japan), 1987, translated by Toren Smith, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 1995.
Appleseed Book 4: The Promethean Challenge, Seishinsha (Osaka, Japan), 1989, translated by Toren Smith, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 1994.
Appleseed Data Book, Seishinsha (Osaka, Japan), 1990, translated by Toren Smith, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 1995.
Ghost in the Shell (originally serialized in Young Magazine, 1990), Kodansha (Tokyo, Japan), 1991, translated by Toren Smith, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 1995.
Orion (originally serialized in Comic Gaia, 1990-91), Seishinsha (Osaka, Japan), six volumes, 1991, translated by Toren Smith, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 1992-93, published in one volume, 2001.
Intron Depot 1, Seishinsha (Osaka, Japan), 1992, translated by Toren Smith as Intron Depot, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 1992.
Exon Depot (originally serialized in Comic Gaia and Young Magazine, 1992), Seishansha (Osaka, Japan), 1992.
Neurohard, serialized in Dragon Comics, 1993-94.
Dominion Conflict 1: No More Noise (originally serialized, 1993), two volumes, Seishinsha (Osaka, Japan), 1995, 1997, translated by Toren Smith, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 1997.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Man Machine (originally serialized in Young Magazine, 1997), Kodansha (Tokyo, Japan), 2001, translated by Toren Smith, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 2005.
Cyberdelics, Kodansha (Tokyo, Japan), 1997.
Intron Depot 2: Blades, translated by Toren Smith, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 1998.
Togohimezohushi, Kodansha (Tokyo, Japan), 2001.
Intron Depot 3: Ballistics, translated by Toren Smith, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 2003.
Shirow's works were originally published in English translation by Studeo Proteus.
Shirow's works have also been translated into Italian, Spanish, Polish, Thai, Korean, Dutch, French, and German.
Most of Shirow's work has been adapted for anime. Black Magic was adapted as the Japanese anime Black Magic M-66, 1987, and as a video game; Dominion was adapted for Japanese anime, 1988; Appleseed was adapted for Japanese anime, 1988 and 2004, and as a video game; Dominion: Tank Police was adapted for Japanese anime, 1993; Ghost in the Shell was adapted by Mamoru Oshii for Japanese anime in 1995 and released in the United States in 1996, and was adapted as a PlayStation video game, and the television series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex; Ghost in the Shell 2 was adapted by Oshii as the Japanese anime Innocence, 2004. Numerous CD-ROM's, calendars, and statue/action figures feature characters from Shirow's artwork.
Masamune Shirow is the pen name used by one of the most famous practitioners of manga—the Japanese variety of comic book—at work. The author/illustrator of such popular manga works as Appleseed, Dominion, and Ghost in the Shell, Shirow presents a "synergistic dance of written word and visualisation . . . [that] weaves extraordinarily complex stories of vast character and subtle speculation," according to Cathy Sterling in Manga Max. He blends elements of philosophy, science, medicine, the supernatural, mythology, biology, military tactics and sword fights, nanotechnology, dystopian visions, eroticism, and comedy to come up with a heady mix that has made him well known internationally. Shirow's stories, though dense and often complicated to follow, tend to take on a familiar formula: a female protagonist—often a police officer or woman warrior—comes into conflict with some malevolent outside force while also having to wage battles with the status quo of her own department or force. These stories are set in the near future and feature dystopian and cyberpunk elements. Shirow's lead characters include Deunan from Appleseed, Leona from Dominion: Tank Police, Seska from Orion, and Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell. Critics and fans alike have noted a similarity in the drawing of such characters, with hair color being one of the few differentiating characteristics.
While Shirow's characters may be born in Japan, his stories are universal. As the artist told Trish Ledoux in an interview reprinted in Anime Interviews: The First Five Years of Animerica, Anime and Manga Monthly (1992-97), "'Appleseed' and 'Ghost in the Shell' are relatively international works. They transcend national boundaries. Even native speakers may have different reactions to the multiple meanings I've built into the story through the Japanese characters." Shirow manipulates these printed characters to come up with subtle references to elements as varied as nuclear power and American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, among scores of other international leitmotifs. Ledoux noted that "such multilayered meanings are often a feature of Shirow's stories." His manga "usually center around pessimistic visions of a future involving mankind having to deal with some variation on a Brave New World." With Dominion, Shirow posits pollution as the evil force destroying humanity and raising the crime level to the point where the police need to patrol in tanks; in Appleseed bioengineering makes possible a sort of utopia, as mankind on its own is capable of such bliss. Shirow takes this solution a step further in Ghost in the Shell, in which humans have largely been transformed into machines while their minds roam, ghostlike, through cyberspace. "In Ghost, as in Appleseed," Ledoux noted, "these kind of experiments keep running afoul of the fact that humans are . . . only human."
The Private Life of an Artist
Shirow, an intensely private individual, has never revealed his true identity and has given few interviews. Part of his pen name, "Masamune," is taken from the name of a famous thirteenth-century Japanese swordsmith, while "Shirow" is an amalgamation of "shi," meaning warrior or samurai in Japanese, and "ro," meaning young. Born in Kobe, Japan, in 1961, Shirow grew up as a "member of the color TV generation," as he noted in an interview with an online contributor to the Dark Horse Comics Web site. Shirow was deeply influenced by television, and specifically by programs imported from the United States and England. He also loved to draw as a young boy. "When I was in elementary school I used to do water colors without thinking about it much," Shirow noted in the Dark Horse Comics interview, "and for fun I often went out to draw in the local mountains or at the seashore—taking complicated illustrated reference books with me that I didn't really understand at all." By the time he was in junior high and high school, Shirow had replaced art with sports, especially judo. However, when it came to choosing a university, he opted for the Osaka University of Arts, where he studied oil painting.
It was while at university that Shirow was first introduced to manga by a friend; he had never bought a manga book before then. "Perhaps because of this, there's very little of the usual manga 'know-how' in my work," Shirow further commented in his Dark Horse Comics interview. The style appealed to him from the moment he was introduced to manga, and soon he was drawing and writing his own stories. After two years of drawing Shirow finally finished his first manga, Black Magic, which he self-published in 1983 in the fanzine Atlas. This story has many of the elements that would appear in his later work: a dystopian, near-future setting wherein human beings are replaced with machines—in this case, cyborgs—and the elemental battle between good and evil to save humankind, or what is left of it. The setting for Black Magic is a nameless future and "life" forms now include biodrids with names from the ancient Greek, as well as cyborgs who are programmed to kill. The remaining humans are pitted against these other synthetic life forms in a battle that could spell the end of the world, but one character, Typhon, assumes the role of savior just in time.
The World of Manga
Little noticed at the time, Black Magic proved to have large consequences for Shirow. The manga caught the attention of the president of Seishinsha Publishing, who hired the young artist and assigned Shirow to draw a manga for his debut with Seishinsha. "Thus began my first contact with the real manga world," Shirow noted in his Dark Horse Comics interview. Shirow was still busy with school, but upon graduation he drew Appleseed specifically for this small Osaka-based publishing firm.
Shirow's first significant manga, Appleseed, is set in the post-apocalyptic world of 2127. World War III ended a century ago and the Central Management Bureau is now trying to pick up the pieces of and rebuild civilization. Their model city is Olympus, a sanctuary for humans, as well as for a new life form: half-human and half-robot hybrids called Bioroids, who are responsible for the administration of Olympus. As huge computers run many of the aspects of daily life, humans and Bioroids work together to create a new utopia. As part of this task, female soldier Deunan Knute and her cyborg buddy Briareos Hecatonchries are selected by the Central Management Bureau and whisked away from their struggle for survival and brought to Olympus, where they are placed on the fledgling police force. Members of the elite Extra Special Weapons and Tactics Squad (ESWAT), the duo help battle the anarchy
that exists everywhere outside of Olympus, as well as the possible fascists inside the city who wish to rule by computer and synthetic humans.
Winner of a Galaxy Award in Japan—the equivalent of a Hugo Award in the United States—Appleseed was not serialized in Japan, but was directly published in four volumes between 1985 and 1989, and earned Shirow a top reputation as a manga artist. With the work's English translation and original publication by Studeo Proteus from 1988 to 1992, and the winning of the SPJA Anime Award for best-translated manga, Shirow's name began to be known in the United States, as well. Many critics—including Shirow himself—think Appleseed, one of his earliest productions, to be among his best manga works. The beautiful artwork, complex storyline, and fully developed world building have made the work a modern science-fiction classic.
At this same time, Shirow began teaching art at a Japanese high school, a position he held for five years until he grew frustrated with the system. He saw that he could, in fact, reach more people with his manga than with his teaching. Meanwhile, he continued to expand his manga oeuvre with 1986's Dominion: Tank Police. Here the future is closer at hand: 2010. Toxic clouds force the populace to wear masks when outside and use complex filtration systems indoors. Terrorism is also the order of the day, forcing Newport City, Japan, to battle these hightech terrorists with a new element: the Tank Police. Leona Ozaki is a member of the Tank Police and is crazy about her converted tank, Bonaparte. It is small enough to navigate the streets and alleyways of Newport City, yet strong enough to withstand heavy weapons fire. Al is her tank partner, and an assorted cast of characters, such as Chaplain, the Chief, and Lovelock, round out the police-force characters. Leona, like many of Shirow's heroines, battles an evil force—in this case Buaku and his catlike aides, Annapuma and Unipuma—while on a mission to free the green-skinned girl, Crolis, who can clean the air of poisoned Earth.
Lighter in tone than most of Shirow's other manga works, Dominion: Tank Police was followed by the six-part series Dominion Conflict 1: No More Noise, wherein Leona again battles the bad guys, but this time with a little help from the newly deputized Puma sisters. There is also in-fighting in the police force that she must deal with, as well anger from the enraged citizens of Newport City who have had enough of the heavy-handed Tank Police.
If Dominion was a lighter diversion for Shirow, Orion was a definite change of pace in terms of theme. Here, instead of some post-apocalyptic future, is the world of myth made real where the sorceress Seska is caught in a battle between politicians and psychic deities. The setting is the Yamato Empire, where magic and scientific technology are one. The Empire wants to destroy negative karma in the galaxy. Gaining the super-psychic powers of a goddess through a spell, Seska must balance her own identity with such newfound powers as she battles the god of destruction, Susana, who has come to teach the world a lesson in what real power is. Which will be the real savior of the world? is the question Shirow posits in this blend of science fiction and fantasy.
Completes Ghost in the Shell
Shirow began work on what some have called his masterwork, Ghost in the Shell, in the late 1980s, with the first installment serialized in a Japanese magazine in 1990. Labor intensive, the work on this detail-laden manga took Shirow an entire day per page. Featuring the sexy cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi of Section 9 counter-terrorist group, the manga is set in 2029. The setting is another dystopian, futuristic, cyberpunk world in which the borderline between reality and virtual reality, Artificial Intelligence and human intelligence, is becoming blurred. Kusanagi herself has very little real human left in her: with a cyborg body, she has her brain encased in a titanium shell. The people of this time have interfaces implanted in their brains so that they can interact with computers. This also allows hackers to plug into people's brains and souls—or ghosts—and manipulate them.
Kusanagi is ideally built for her work; she is able to take punishment as well as dole it out. Her job is to track down criminals, terrorists, and most of all, the hackers who control humans. In this environment, Shirow is able to raise questions about Artificial Intelligence and the power of computers in our lives. The major story line in Ghost in the Shell is the hunt for "The Puppet Master," a cyber criminal who accomplishes nefarious goals by ghost hacking. Soon, however, Kusanagi and her colleagues, including the muscled Batou, brainy Togusa, and Chief Aramaki, understand that they are not battling just any criminal, but a super form of Artificial Intelligence, which was created by the police of Olympus to battle crime but which spiraled out of control to become a master criminal. In order to help capture the Puppet Master, Kusanagi agrees to allow it to enter her own consciousness.
Littered with technical and technological footnotes, Ghost in the Shell is a dense and thoroughly researched work. It even inspired a popular anime movie of the same title, released in the United States in 1996, that reached the top ten list on Billboard's video sales that year. The manga also inspired an anime television series, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, as well as a popular PlayStation video game. In preparation for it U.S. publication in 1995, Ghost in the Shell was edited by its creators for erotic content. Such self-censorship on the part of Shirow and the American publishers involved removing two pages of quite explicit lesbian sex involving Kusanagi and two other cyber-women.
In 2001 Shirow began publication of the sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Man Machine Interface. Half of the three-hundred-plus pages of this work are in color. This sequel picks up five years after the action of the first volume, and Kusanagi—after her alterations by the Puppet Master and her break with Section 9—is now a very advanced cyborg who heads the investigative department of Poseidon International, a huge multi-national business concern. In her work she utilizes humanoids remotely controlled, but chooses to investigate on her own when a new and bizarre crime is reported: the destruction of a herd of pigs bred to clone human organs. Again
Shirow employs his high-octane blend of eroticism, military tactics, suspense, science fiction, Artificial Intelligence, and super computers. Ghost in the Machine 2 was also adapted for an anime movie.
Shirow has also published compilations of his artwork in the three volumes of Intron Depot, which reprises pages from his published and unpublished works. While he often works with traditional pen, ink, acrylics, and copier, Shirow has also moved on to the word of computer graphics. His university art training did little to help him in his chosen profession, other than to give him a steady hand; he is largely self-taught in the art of manga. He is also assisted by an eclectic library of books on military machines, cars, art and sculpture, robots, Greek mythology, and specialized books on bees and other insects. Indeed, insects have proven to be not only a hobby for Shirow, but have also inspired his detailed drawing style.
Shirow has long spoken of returning to Appleseed, and his legion of international fans keep the Web alive with rumors of a fifth volume in the series. Meanwhile the pseudonymous artist continues his quiet life in Japan, far from the limelight of Tokyo, maintaining a steady flow of production in his one-person studio. He summed up his philosophy toward his work in an interview with Dark Horse Comics: "As with cooking, even if the ingredients are the same, the way they are mixed together and the goal of the person doing the mixing creates a different flavor. In that sense, if the result of cooking can be called original, so, too, can my work. I always try to draw manga that are true to myself."
If you enjoy the works of Mesamune Shirow
If you enjoy the works of Mesamune Shirow, you may also want to check out the following graphic novels:
The "Akira" series by Katsuhiro Otomo.
The "Battle Angel Alita" series by Yukito Kishiro.
The "Lone Wolf and Cub" series by Kazuo Koike.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Anime Interviews: The First Five Years of Animerica, Anime & Manga Monthly (1992-97), Viz Communications (San Francisco, CA), 1997.
Los Angeles Times, September 12, 2004, Scarlet Chang, "Fall Sneaks," p. E6.
Manga Mania, February, 1994, Toren Smith, interview with Shirow.
Manga Max, December, 1998, Cathy Sterling, "Masamune Shirow."
Science Fiction Studies, March, 2000, Ray Mascallado, "Otaku Nation," p. 132.
Washington Post, March 29, 1996, Richard Harrington, review of Ghost in the Shell (movie), p. B7.
Anime Link,http://members.aol.com/mech73/bio.html/ (September 11, 2004), "About Masamune Shirow."
Dark Horse Comics,http://www.darkhorse.com/ (September 11, 2004), interview with Shirow.
Juzzam's Masamune Shirow Page,http://mywebpages.comcast.net/juzaam1/shirow.html/ (September 11, 2004).
Lambiek,http://www.lambiek.net/ (September 11, 2004), "Masamune Shirow."
Masamune Shirow,http://www.asgard.gen.nz/anime/shirow/ (September 11, 2004).
Masamune Shirow Hyperpage,http://members.lycos.co.uk/masumane_shirow/ (September 11, 2004).
Masamune Shirow Interview,http://www.jai2.com/MSivu.htm/ (January 28, 1998), Frederick L. Schodt, interview with Shirow.
Seishinsha,http://www.seishansha-online.co.jp/ (September 11, 2004).*