In Memoriam: Manga-ka Leiji Matsumoto, Animator Will Ruzicka, Toei CEO Osamu Tezuka & Actor Jansen Panettiere

Leiji Matsumoto [Kyodo News]
Leiji Matsumoto [Kyodo News]
Legendary manga creator Leiji Matsumoto (né Akira Matsumoto), creator of thrilling sci-fi worlds adapted to anime, including Captain Harlock, Starzingers, Space Battleship Yamato, Star Blazers 2199 and Galaxy Express 999, died February 13 of acute heart failure at age 85. His studio, Leijisha, confirmed his passing in a statement, in which head of studio and Matsumoto’s daughter, Makiko Matsumoto, expressed that the storyteller “set out on a journey to the sea of stars. I think he lived a happy life, thinking about continuing to draw stories as a manga artist.”

Born in 1938 in Kuume, Fukuoka Prefecture, Matsumoto published his debut manga Honey Bee’s Adventure aged just 15, although he wouldn’t get his big break until the 1970s tale of struggling student Otoko Oidon. He married pioneering manga creator Miyako Maki in 1961, and the duo collaborated on multiple projects.

Galaxy Express 999
Galaxy Express 999

Matsumoto’s work often shared anti-war themes and featured emotionally vulnerable characters, particularly boys and men, which were not often represented at the time — let alone with such skill and sensitivity. His work found fans all over the world, including multiple Grammy-winning French house/dance act Daft Punk. Matsumoto collaborated with the duo on multiple music videos (including “One More Time”) and the cult film Interstella 5555.

In recognition of his artistic influence, Matsumoto was honored with Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun, the French government’s Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters, and saw several bronze statues of his Galaxy 999 characters erected in the port city of Tsuruga in 1999.


William Ruzicka
William Ruzicka

Animation director and storyboard artist William Ruzicka (Invincible, Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight, Blood of Zeus) died suddenly on February 1 aged just 45 years old. Colleague Shaunt Nigoghossian, exec producer on Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight, shared on LinkedIn that Ruzicka had been experiencing cold and flu-like symptoms for a week before collapsing on his way to seek medical care.  A cause of death was not announced.

“William was one of the sweetest, kindest, most hardworking people I’ve ever known. We’ve worked on seven shows together spanning 12 years time. He was a generous and thoughtful leader to his teams, a good friend and a good man,” Nigoghossian wrote, adding that Ruzicka’s family was understandably “in shock”. A GoFundMe to help cover costs of a planned March memorial service has been set up by the family, with excess funds to go to charity in his name.

Ruzicka directed the ‘Invincible’ S1 finale “Where I Really Come From,” in which Mark Grayson (Steve Yeun) faces off with his father, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons)

Born October 14, 1977, Ruzicka started his animation career doing storyboard revision for Hasbro cartoons such as Transformers Prime, Transformers Rescue Bots and G.I. Joe Renegades. His recent work includes the critically acclaimed Robert Kirkman adaptation Invincible for Prime Video, for which Ruzicka directed and storyboarded the epic Season 1 finale. Season 2 is due to premiere this year.

Ruzicka also applied his artistic skills to Crunchyroll’s western anime High Guardian Spice and Mexican-American co-pro Onyx Equinox, Paramount+ adult comedy Star Trek: Lower Decks, Nickelodeon’s Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Legend of Korra, as well as several DC projects, including the Justice League Action series and DC Universe Movies Wonder Woman: Bloodlines, Justice League vs. Teen Titans and multiple Batman Unlimited installments.


Osamu Tezuka
Osamu Tezuka [Toei Co.]
Toei Company Ltd. President & CEO Osamu Tezuka died on February 14 at age 62, the company confirmed. Managing Director & Chairman Noriyuki Tada will take on Tezuka’s responsibilities as president in addition to his other duties.

Born in March of 1960, Tezuka (no relation to the Astro Boy creator of the same name, who died in 1989) joined Toei in 1983, working his way up and being appointed a board member in June 2012. In June 2016, he was named managing director of the company, which oversees the iconic Toei Animation studio (One Piece, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, Slam Dunk, Saint Seiya), and was appointed as President & CEO in June 2020.

One Piece Film Red
The 15th film in Eiichiro Oda’s hit franchise, ‘One Piece Film Red’ was a huge success for Toei last year, currently ranking as the fourth highest-grossing Japanese film of all time.

Prior to his death, Tezuka had also served as Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Tokyo International Film Festival for its 34th and 35th editions (2021 & 2022). TIFF shared in a statement, “The entire festival staff is deeply grateful for his understanding and great support toward holding a full-scale physical editions despite the continued challenges and uncertainties brought about by COVID-19.”


Jansen Panettiere
Jansen Panettiere

Jansen Panettiere, an actor and artist who voiced roles for animated hits including Robots, Ice Age: The Meltdown and Blue’s Clues, has died due to unconfirmed causes. The younger brother of Heroes and Scream franchise star Hayden Panettiere was just 28 years old.

Born September 25, 1994 in Palisades, New York, Jansen Panettiere began his career quite young, guest starring on Even StevensHope & Faith and Third Watch as well as Canadian animated series Jacob Two-Two. He had a recurring role on the original Blue’s Clues series son Nick Jr. as Periwinkle the cat, and later played Truman X on The X’s.

Panattiere’s v.o. performances also included Young Stripes in Stripes, Younger Rodney in Robots, Shovelmouth Boy in Ice Age: The Meltdown and Robby Hobbie in multiple Holly Hobbie specials.

Blue's Clues
Panettiere voiced the neighbor kitten Periwinkle in ‘Blue’s Clues’

Jansen and Hayden Panettiere co-starred in the 2004 Disney Channel movie Tiger Cruise. In more recent years, the younger sib co-starred in MTV’s How High 2, appeared in The Babysitters, The Walking Dead and Nickelodeon’s The Last Day of Summer, for which he was nominated for a Young Artist Award. He played in the award-winning 2022 indie Love and Love Not and is credited for several upcoming projects.

[Sources: Anime News Network, BBC, Cartoon Brew, Deadline, IMDb]



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