First published in the US in 1976, the magazine Starlogwas conceived by Norm Jacobs and Kerry O’Quinn initially as a Star Trek centric magazine, but became an all encompassing look into the burgeoning world of science fiction a scant year before the release of Star Wars. 1976 was the year before Star Wars would hit the big screen in the US, which Starlog was primed to take advantage of. American sci-fi films seemed poised to take over the world, but Japan was also voraciously consuming sci-fi (or SF for speculative fiction) for decades. Japanese magazines and fanzines on science fiction go as far back as 1957’s Uchujin. During the 1970s, after the kid friendly kaiju boom was subsiding, Japan would become newly enamored with science fiction due to the hit novel Japan Sinks by Sakyo Komatsu published in 1973 (and is still popular enough to get a new anime adaptation in 2019), the airing of Space Battleship Yamato in 1974 and Mobile Suit Gundam hitting TVs and hobby stores in 1979.By 1980 there were more than 400 science fiction related publications being released in Japan. In 1978, the same year Star Wars would reach Japanese theater, publisher Tsurumoto Room, headed by Shozo Tsurumoto, brought Starlog to Japan to join the throngs of science fiction magazines. Very little information on Shozo Tsurumoto exists in English, but he was born in Hokkaido in 1935, worked closely with fashion designer Issey Miyake, was responsible for bringing model/muse of Robert Mapplethorpe, Lisa Lyon, to Japan, and would go on to organize exhibitions of ancient Mayan artifacts. According to aninterview, Tsurumoto was often busy at work as a graphic designer and publisher during the 1970s and was unable to spend time with his son, who was also an avid science fiction and manga fan. Launching the Japanese edition of Starlog was a way for Tsurumoto to connect with his son, along with taking advantage of the science fiction boom happening. This would be Starlog’s first foreign language release, and along with translating articles from the US edition, it had its own unique contributors.
Starlog’s Japanese edition provides a time capsule of beloved classics from the west such as Star Trek, along with a few titles time has since forgotten (I don’t think anyone today waxes nostalgic for Greystoke or Digby, The Biggest Dog in the World). Covers rarely featured Japanese science fiction, and focused primarily on western imports. Mad Max, E.T., and Wonder Woman graced covers. However, the Japanese Starlog was more than simply mirror of the west, as it covered the growing doujinshi scene, the first Wonder Fest, the release of ambitious but low budgeted direct to video releases such as Mightylady, and articles chronicling the past of science fiction covering Eiji Tsuburaya and Japanese stage comedian Enoken, and essays debating where series such as Space Battleship Yamato and Gundam fall in the pantheon of science fiction. This was the era that science fiction entered the realm of music too, with Starlog covering western acts such as The Residents, Blue Oyster Cult, and Devo, along with Japan’s homegrown YMO. For pre-internet science fiction fandom, Starlog (both the US and Japanese incarnations) was a vital source of not only news, but a look at the expanding world of special effects. Director Nobuhiko Obayashi, known for his bombastic and distinctly cartoony films such as House, had recurring articles looking at special effects and comparing compositing in films to Japanese woodblock prints.
Starlog also served as an exhibition of manga greats and future-superstars such as Yukinobu Hoshino (2001 Nights), Fujio Fujiko (Doraemon), and Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), along with introducing Japan to Western artists such asMoebius, Enki Bilal, and Philippe Druillet, and other Heavy Metal luminaries. One of the more unusual features to run in the Japanese edition of Starlog was A Space Godzilla (not to be confused with Godzilla Vs. Spacegodzilla from 1994). A Space Godzilla ran in two issues of Starlog in 1978, and was presented as a sort of treatment for a proposed Godzilla film to be directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi in which a little girl on Earth with communicates psychically with the brain of a dead Godzilla and sends a baby Godzilla to outer space. This treatment featured art by Shirayama Nobuyuki and then up and comer, Katsuhiro Otomo.
After 100 issues, Tsurumoto Room ended publication of Starlog in 1987 (though there was a brief revival from the publisher Takeshobo from 1999 to 2006). Starlog continued in the US until 2009, though there has been some discussion of reviving it as a website. 1987 was the same year the anime Bubblegum Crisis was released on video in Japan. Bubblegum Crisis wore its influences from Terminator and Blade Runner pretty clearly on its sleeve along with a big neon sign also pointing you towards said sleeve. Yet despite the obvious western influences, the end result was a series most people would consider distinctively Japanese. Because of this cross cultural exchange between Western and Japanese science fiction, something unique was created.
The fun thing about science fiction fandom is that it isn’t stationary. It travels borders and spans time. In my years of collecting vintage magazines from Japan, I deeply treasure my issues of Starlog. I have one Japanese issue of Starlog that I think about a lot. It’s the April 1979 issue, which I purchased from Japanese used goods purveyor Mandarake. It has a price tag on it from the New York comic book store Forbidden Planet. That means this one magazine had traveled from Japan to the US some time around the early 1980s, maybe spent a few years in an East Village apartment, then went back to Japan, where it wound up in the hands of Mandarake, and was then sent back to the US again to me, where it currently sits on a bookshelf. I don’t think a more apt metaphor for the evolution and exchange and science fiction between the US and Japan could be imagined. We pass ideas back and forth and each time we get something different from it. The period of the late 1970s into the mid 1980s was a time when Japanese animation was just starting to enter the US thanks to the likes of Starblazers and Battle of the Planetslocalizing Space Battleship Yamato and Gatchaman, fomenting the earliest American anime fandom. At the same time Japan was consuming Western sci-fi movies, literature, and comics, preparing to re-work these elements into uniquely Japanese creations such as Akira and Bubblegum Crisis. Starlog Japan is the embodiment of this exchange between Western and Japanese science fiction, and how in a pre-internet age it laid the groundwork for the sort of stylistic fusion that we see today.
Those of you who would like to have some back issues of Starlog for your own, you can easily find back issues on sites specializing in second hand Japanese goods such as Mandarake, Yahoo Auctions Japan, and Mercari, or if you get the chance to go to Japan, browse the many used bookshops the Jimbocho neighborhood of Tokyo.
Article and photos by David Namba
The DNA of Tokusatsu Ultraman Genealogy exhibition on Ultraman, the reigning king of Japan heroes and the history of Tsuburaya Productions safely lands with COVID-19 prevention measures at Gallery AaMo in Tokyo Dome City. From the first program in 1966 to today, no Tsuburaya hero or program is left out at this game multimedia exhibition that additionally highlights Reiwa era hitters like Ultraman Z, now running Saturday mornings on TV Tokyo and the Ultraman Tsuburaya YouTube channel.