We're celebrating the anime and manga veteran's birthday with a look at some of his most memorable titles over the years!
Go Nagai is one of the most prolific creators alive in the world of anime and manga. He's invented and reformed entire genres, bringing us everything from transforming superheroines to super robots. And even if you don't know his name, you probably know some of the highlights of his career. Oh, and today just so happens to be his birthday! So, to celebrate, we're focusing on three of his most enduring titles. How enduring? Well, considering that each of these anime have been revitalized and renewed over the years, each time appealing to old fans and new generations, I'd say that the work of Go Nagai has endured pretty well.
And we'll begin with one of his most famous offerings....
Like much of Nagai's work, Mazinger Z launched in manga and anime form nearly simultaneously. Both versions starred Koji Kabuto, the grandson of a genius scientist, as he fights to protect Japan from the wicked Dr. Hell and his menagerie of bizarre monsters. His main weapon is Mazinger Z, a robot built by Dr. Kabuto out of the mighty Super Alloy Z.
Mazinger Z wasn't the first mecha anime (that honor goes to Tetsujin-28), but it did take the first big step of putting the pilot inside the robot. Prior to this series, robot "pilots" worked off to the side, in a lab, or held on for dear life. Koji's Hover Pilder (the bubble-top car in Z's headpiece) let him work on-site. Plus, Z was the first robot to have a rocket punch attack: a move that's become standard for giant robots and the occasional Lyrical Nanoha character.
The original series ran for 92 episodes, as well as some specials and team-ups with related series, but even that wasn't the end of Mazinger! The series was revisited many times across the years...
Technically a reboot of the manga, Mazinger Edition Z: The Impact! revisits the original story in a condensed 26-episode format. But even though it's almost 1/4 the length of the original, it's packed with extra content.
Fan-favorite moments like Z's battle with Rhine X1 are revisited, but the show is largely new content. It digs into the mecha's Greek mythological ties, ramps up its attacks even more, and delivers more back story for Dr. Hell's underlings. Plus, it mixes in characters and elements from other Go Nagai titles, like Scandal School and Abashiri Family—kind of like Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still does for Mitsuteru Yokoyama!
There have been many sequels to and continuations of the original Mazinger Z. Some, like Great Mazinger, expand directly on the story. Others are "what-if" futures involving interplanetary destruction. But last year, Nagai put a period at the end of the mecha's saga with the big-screen installment Mazinger Z/Infinity.
The movie skips ahead ten years, as Japan coasts toward a bright future with clean energy and Koji does a bad job at telling fellow pilot Sayaka he likes her. During construction of a new building, a massive robot codenamed Infinity is unearthed—and with it, a mysterious girl named Lisa. A literal fight for the universe breaks out as old enemies return and Koji learns the true power of Infinity.
Cutie Honey first debuted in 1973, again as both a manga and anime. This time, instead of a scientist leaving a robot to their heir, the robot is the heir. Honey Kisaragi's father reveals to her that she's an android implanted with an Elemental Manipulation Device, which basically allows her to alter matter. Obviously, an evil organization wants this: Panther Claw, led by Sister Jill and her weird-looking monster ladies.
Honey uses her powers to take on a variety of disguises, but also to transform into her fighting form, Cutie Honey. There were already a handful of magical girls in anime and manga, but Honey was anime's first transforming heroine. She might be an android from a shonen series, but in a lot of ways, she's the godmother of anime's fighting magical girls.
Cutey Honey Flash
Of course, there's the time she was a magical girl.
Once Sailor Moon finished its impressive run, TV was hurting for a show to take over its time slot. The answer was a retooled version of Cutie Honey where, instead of being an android, Honey Kisaragi was a normal girl whose father had gifted her with Significantly Advanced Technology. The story is largely still the same, save for the addition of a cute guy who gives her flowers and an evil doppelganger named Misty Honey.
The show actually shared some of the same staff members as Sailor Moon—though, despite appearances, not the same character designer. It looks it, though, doesn't it?
Cutie Honey: The Live
Eventually, the series went full tokusatsu, making Honey Kisaragi one of multiple girls with the power to use the Elemental Manipulation device. While several of the usual suspects were there, like Seiji and Natsuko (an ever-changing character whose only constant is that she's Honey's best friend), Sister Jill was missing. Four branches of Panther Claw still fought to obtain Honey's powers, but there was a darker side to why she had them in the first place.
In spite of Sister Jill's absence, there are "Sisters" in the series. What side they're on is up for debate at any given time, but it's one of the first versions of Cutie Honey that kept even long-time fans guessing.
This isn't the only time Cutie Honey has received a live-action adaptation. A film adaptation directed by Hideaki Anno went hand-in-hand with Gainax's series Re: Cutie Honey (also directed by Anno and featuring work by Trigger's Hiroyuki Imaishi). There was also Cutie Honey Tears in 2016, which put a slightly more dystopian spin on the franchise.
It only feels right to close out with Devilman, the series Nagai himself considers to be his magnum opus. Of all his works, this is the one that seems to be the most varied across its iterations... even from the beginning. Its original anime and manga versions were very different, with the former being a superhero monster-of-the-week series and the latter featuring drug-fueled rituals and literal Satan.
Regardless of which version you watch, you'll still see Akira Fudo at the center of it all. One way or another, he transforms into the antihero Devilman, intended to usher in a demonic takeover of Earth but choosing instead to fight back the demons. As a bonus, the manga sets the stage for another of Nagai's series, Violence Jack.
Nagai's own retelling of his series was released in America under the slightly less confusing title The Devil Lady, but the original title gets the point across: this is a Devilman-esque story with a female protagonist. What that means differs, as with the original, between the manga and anime.
In both versions, a woman named Jun Fudo discovers that she has Devilman-esque powers, and a mysterious woman named Lan Asuka takes an interest in them. In the anime, these abilities are treated as the next form of human evolution. The manga goes down a different road altogether, at various points involving a retelling of Dante's Inferno, time loops, a cult, and the Archangel Michael.
Early last year, Masaaki Yuasa put his own spin on the original Devilman manga with this Netflix-exclusive series. While DEVILMAN crybaby follows the story of Nagai's original manga, it also mixes in elements from other iterations. You'll even see a nod or two to the aforementioned Devilman Lady.
As part of the celebrations for the anniversary of both Devilman and Go Nagai's career in general, DEVILMAN crybaby introduced a whole new generation of viewers to the long-running story. Not only that, it did so with its roots firmly in the manga's original story and Yuasa's unique art style.
This barely scratches the surface of these three series's many forms, let alone the full body of Go Nagai's work. His manga and anime have been reimagined into dozens of films, series, manga, games, and more... often by himself or his company! Besides being trend-setters and game-changers for anime as a whole, they're also enduring titles with enough versions to keep readers and viewers busy for years.
What's your favorite Go Nagai work? Share recommendations in the comments!
Kara Dennison is a writer, editor, and interviewer with bylines at VRV, We Are Cult, Fanbyte, and many more. She is also the co-founder of Altrix Books and co-creator of the OEL light novel series Owl's Flower. Kara blogs at karadennison.com and tweets @RubyCosmos.