Some fifteen years ago, I had the pleasure of translating a brilliant story by one of the most brilliant creators of science fiction manga. The story was “Changeling,” and the artist was Shio Satoh.
Satoh, like so many talented women artists, was discovered by legendary shoujo manga editor Junya Yamamoto, and made her professional debut in 1977 in the magazine Bessatsu Shoujo Komikku (“Special Edition Girls’ Comic”). She quickly carved out a niche as a creator of serious science fiction drawn in a style that was subdued by the standards of shoujo manga. Needless to say, such work did not result in bestsellers, nor in “Shio Satoh” becoming a household name. But Yamamoto had a policy of supporting excellent work regardless of sales figures, and Satoh developed a dedicated following of readers, as well as critical acclaim.
When I visited the offices of Shogakukan Publishing back around 1994 (or was it 1996?), I got lucky. Yamamoto (“Chief”) was meeting with Satoh that day to go over the galley proofs for a new edition of one of her best-known works, One Zero, and I got to tag along and have lunch with Satoh in a coffee shop in the basement of the Shogakukan Building.
Satoh was exactly the kind of person I imagined. Quiet and intellectually curious, someone who would much rather sit home reading a book than attend a party and schmooze with manga artists and editors. Someone I would like to be friends with. Yamamoto actually gave me free copies of those galleys that day. They sit on my shelf today, with blank white covers, the volume numbers scrawled in marker.
More or less around the same time, I asked Moto Hagio (who had so beautifully adapted Bradbury’s “R” Is for “Rocket” and Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles) if she had ever thought of adapting Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Hagio said, “I never thought about it. That sounds like something Shio Satoh should do.” That stuck in my head. Someday I would have to ask Satoh about it.
On Tuesday, April 6, Shio Satoh passed away as the result of a brain tumor. She had undergone surgery for breast cancer several years ago, but the cancer returned and moved to her bones and her brain. She died in a hospice in Kiyose City, Tokyo Metropolis.
I had no idea she was even ill.
She was young. She is sometimes referred to as one of the “Post ‘Forty-Niners,” because she was a few years younger than such “‘Forty-Niner” artists as Hagio, Yumiko Ohshima, and Keiko Takemiya, but clearly followed in their footsteps. She was a regular at the so-called “Izumi Salon,” where Hagio and Takemiya shared an apartment in the early ’70s. In my 2004 interview with Hagio, Hagio said that Satoh
came as an assistant. Well, actually I got a fan letter from her, and it was so interesting I invited her to come visit us. She said she was hoping to become a professional cartoonist, so I asked her to help me.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I always assumed I would see Satoh again someday. I never got a chance to suggest she adapt my favorite novel. But hopefully, someday, I’ll get another chance to bring Satoh’s work to readers of English.
Starting with One Zero.