This week, I look to one of our own. Hojo sensei, one of the founders of COAMIX, has built an illustrious career that boarders on the cinematic. With Femme Fatale’s aplenty, the Manga Master has made liberal use of classic movie tropes that shine a light on the good, the bad and the ugly of life, all carried out with tongue firmly in cheek.
Name: Tsukasa Hojo (北条 司 Hōjō Tsukasa)
Born: March 5, 1959
Place of Birth: Kokura, Kitakyushu, Japan
Speciality: Urban crime thrillers with a twist.
Tsukasa Hojo, entertaining the crowds at Romics Comic Festival, Rome, Italy
A native of Kyushu, Tsukasa Hojo’s career in manga could well be viewed as ‘accidental’. While studying at Kyushu Sangyo University, Hojo spent much of his time balancing film and illustration. These two, albeit similar forms of visual expression would come to a head when he submitted a piece, “just for fun” to girl’s manga magazine Ribon. Unexpectedly receiving an Honorable Mention Award for his efforts, this seemingly innocuous event decided the future of Hojo’s artistic output.
While living the typical, penniless student life, Hojo’s friend brought the fledgling manga creator’s attention to Shonen Jump’s Tezuka Award. With a 1 million Yen top prize, the competition was too tempting to pass up, so empowered by his modest achievement with Ribon, Hojo hastily got together a 31 page story, submitted and against all odds, won!
Not long after graduation, Hojo sent a storyboard to Jump, of what would later become his breakout hit, Cat’s Eye. The editor was so impressed by the potential of this young manga creator, that he insisted he up-sticks, leave Kyushu behind and set up shop in Tokyo, going so far as to pay for his accommodation. That editor was a certain Nobuhiko Horie, future CEO of COAMIX and the driving force behind SMAC!
Hojo was more than daunted by the grueling work load of the tireless Mangaka. Advised to “grind out” work for 5 years, the standard “probation period” of professional manga creators, the author of Cat’s Eye, City Hunter and Angel Heart stuck to his convictions, toiled away at a frantic pace and created some of the most enduring characters ever to fill the pages of manga.
I’ve always had a passion for detective stories of the 40’s and 50’s, from the screen work of the eternally grumpy Humphrey Bogart to the gritty world of Raymond Chandler. The characters of that time were larger than life, almost caricatures of emotion who dominated the stories they inhabited. The downtrodden ‘gumshoe’ detective; the stoic and all knowing bartender and the lustful, yet unattainable Femme Fatale, these were characters that spoke to me on a personal level. Veritable “anti-heroes” that are flawed, almost vindictive at times, who use whatever methods they have to get the job done, not only make for strong and interesting characters, but allow us to identify with the stories unfolding before us. Tsukasa Hojo took this concept of character driven narratives, warts and all, and ran with it!
Debuting in 1981, Cat’s Eye was Hojo’s breakout work. The tale of three sisters engaged in art theft looks, on the face of it, a tale of daring anti-heroes with a devil-may-care attitude. But more than that, Cat’s Eye, like real life, is a story steeped in duality. Hitomi, the eldest sister and the driving force of their criminal behavior, loves the inept police officer in charge of bringing them to justice. She also displays incredible levels of jealousy, going so far as to resent her own alter-ego when Toshio, the bumbling cop, spends more time in pursuit of his nemesis than he does wooing his beloved. These all too real emotions are the secret to Cat’s Eye success, firmly placing the morality of Hojo’s characters well and truly in the grey area.
Arguably Hojo’s most famous work, City Hunter, we meet characters that we can’t help but fall in love with, precisely because they are wading around in this murky grey area. We have Ryo Saeba, a killer and borderline sex offender tasked with righting the wrongs within Tokyo’s seedy underbelly. His ever suffering partner Kaori, a tomboyish moody character, is constantly rebuffing Ryo’s advances, yet secretly exhibits dismay when ignored by him. In a perfect example of life imitating art, fans of the manga started leaving XYZ calling cards, the means of contacting the City Hunter agency in stations around Tokyo, further exhibiting how Hojo expertly crafts characters that resonate on a personal level.
City Hunter’s spiritual successor, Angel Heart is a mark of maturity, both for the author and his creations. Set in an alternate reality, where Kaori’s heart is transplanted into an assassin driven to suicide for the lives she has taken, signifies a turning point in Hojo’s work. Yes, Ryo is still as rampant as ever, but in place of feverishly exerting wanted/unwanted sexual advances, we have a paternal figure who quickly falls into a father role by caring for his 15 year old ward. ‘Glass Heart’, the recipient of Kaori’s heart, herself on a mission of redemption, exhibits a will to crawl out of her murky past and reinvent herself as better person. With this sense of responsibility, coupled with the incessant gnawing of guilt, Hojo abandons the urges of youth and places his characters firmly in the modern age.
With themes covering everything from questionable morality in the pursuit of doing the right thing to transgender issues and a need for acceptance, as featured in Hojo’s spectacular manga Family Compo, the veteran manga creator brilliantly and expertly holds up a mirror to reality. We are neither good, nor evil. We all make mistakes and when we do, we strive to make them right. We live in a grey area but are always searching for acceptance and a sense of home. Tsukasa Hojo weaves exciting stories with one eye firmly fixed in reality, giving us a body of work that transcends the pages they were illustrated on and reassures of our own shortcomings. In a word, we are not “perfect”.
The legacy of City Hunter lives on in Monthly Comic Zenon.
Space Angel – 1979
Ore wa Otoko Da! – 1980
三級刑事 – 1981
キャッツ♡アイ – 1981
Cat’s Eye (キャッツアイ) – 1981 – 1984
Space Angel – 1982
City Hunter XYZ – 1983
City Hunter Double Edge – 1984
Cat’s Eye – 1985 I
City Hunter (シティーハンター) – 1985
ねこまんまお変わり♡ – 1986
Splash! – 1987
Splash! 2 – 1987
天使の贈りもの – 1988
Splash! 3 – 1988
Splash! 4 – 1989
Taxi Driver -1990
Komorebi no Moto de (こもれ陽の下で…, Under the Dapple Shade) – 1993–1994
Rash!! – 1994–1995
Family Compo (ファミリー・コンポ) – 1996–2000
Angel Heart (エンジェル・ハート) – 2001–2010
Angel Heart 2nd Season – 2010-2017
NEXT WEEK: I get my Shojo on as I trip into the fantastical world of Sailor Moon with Naoko Takeuchi!
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