Settling Down

In Hotman, a former gang member tries to put his life in order to raise his four younger siblings – no surprise that the leading role of Enzo Takaya is taken by Takashi Sorimachi, still widely known for his role as a gangster-made-good in GTO. But Enzo doesn’t merely have to teach classes in fine art and chase around after his surrogate family, he also opens his door to find five-year-old Nanami (Nana Yamauchi). Her absent mother has left a note informing Enzo that he is the father. Enzo now has to contend with a fifth hungry mouth to feed, and one with a series of allergies and intolerances that force him to become an instant expert on organic produce and health food. It could only be based on a manga…

Hotman creator Sho Kitagawa was born as Hiromitsu Ota in 1967, and has often spoken of his embarrassing teenage obsession – comics for girls. For some reason, the young Ota found girls’ comics far more appealing than the other kind, and pursued his interest with furtive trips to stores far from his house. He excelled at design in school, and was still a mere 14-year-old when he won a manga competition organised by an offshoot of the girls’ anthology Margaret. Not wishing to be identified as a boy who wrote sissy stuff, he took the pen-name by which he is still known today, although he now wears his childhood manga addiction with pride.

Although he published occasionally in the years that followed, he was, ironically, just entering his twenties when he began serialising Let’s Be Teens in Young Jump magazine. Adulthood and a career were thrust upon Kitagawa so early that his attitude towards ‘normal’ life often took on a surreal edge. While other artists were experimenting with science fiction and fantasy, Kitagawa wrote the fanzine Nineteen, about a boy’s love for a girl who moonlights as a model to pay her tuition fees. Eventually picked up by Young Jump in 1989, Nineteen was transformed into an anime by no less a studio than Madhouse, makers of Ninja Scroll.

Kitagawa returned to his roots with his 1990 follow-up Blue Butterfly Fish, which was serialised in boys’ magazine Young Jump, but had all the hallmarks of a comic created for girls. Once again, its protagonist is a youth squandering his prospects, redeemed by his love for a beautiful muse. Kitagawa replaced the struggling artist of Nineteen with a struggling swimmer, and the story was soon also picked up as another anime adaptation.

Hotman followed in 1997 after several others, beginning its run in Young Jump around the same time as the GTO manga in Shonen Magazine. But Hotman had something that GTO lacked – a family angle that hooked in the thirtysomethings. With a second season broadcast in 2004, the producers seem ready to create a franchise in the tradition of some of the long-running series of the 1960s and 1970s – encouraging viewers to watch Nanami grow up, even as they age along with Enzo. GTO might have made Takashi Sorimachi’s name, but in making a TV show that will appeal to the manga-fans-turned-parents out there, Hotman could become the cornerstone of his later career.

(This article first appeared in Newtype USA, December 2004)

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One thought on “Settling Down

  1. It is absolutely fascinating watching how certain actors’ careers do/n’t develop over time. I still think that some never equal their early work, while others create lasting characters that bury their younger selves. TV has been a great place to see former silver screen talents devote themselves to developing a single character over time, from which we the audience benefit the most.

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