By Shinji Hijikata / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer for the Japan News
The figure of a beautiful girl flashing a gentle smile materializes in a matter of minutes as manga artist Izumi Matsumoto guides his pen skillfully across a sheet of paper. The girl is the heroine of Matsumoto’s “Kimagure Orange Road,” a 1980s hit manga that employed skill and a comedic touch to depict a love triangle between a man and two women.
“Orange Road” storybooks have sold more than 19 million copies, attracting avid fans both at home and abroad. Even today, a quarter century after the series came to an end, Matsumoto, 57, receives regular invites to comic events in the United States and France.
However, until about 10 years ago, Matsumoto was suffering so severely from an illness he could not even name that he was prepared to die. “When I think about how hard those times were, I couldn’t be any happier being able to draw like this now.”
Matsumoto, whose real name is Kazuya Terashima, set his sights on becoming a comic artist about four years after graduating from high school and moving to Tokyo from Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture. Giving up on his aspiration of becoming a professional musician, he instead went around pitching his pieces to the editorial departments of comic book magazines in an effort to build on his other hobby — drawing pictures.
His designs and style caught the eye of an editor at Weekly Shonen Jump (published by Shueisha Inc.), and the “Orange Road” series got its start in the magazine in the spring of 1984.
To produce the weekly series, Matsumoto got in the habit of working through the night. With so few assistants in those days, “it was ordinary to work 72 hours straight, non-stop,” he recalled. Overexerted, in the third year after starting the series Matsumoto began to experience unexplained fevers and shoulder pain, forcing him to take a break. Nevertheless, figuring that he had “just built up some fatigue,” he picked up again six months later.
Then in 1999, more than 10 years after the “Orange Road” series came to an end, as Matsumoto was running around conducting interviews in preparation for an upcoming piece, his whole body suddenly broke out in hives and he was struck with headaches and a sense of sluggishness like he had never experienced before.
This time, regardless of how much treatment he received, Matsumoto did not recover. He figured the cause was the way he clenched his teeth so he saw a dentist, then suspected depression and went to a psychiatrist. Eventually, the artist was examined by more than 40 hospitals. At each examination, his symptoms were attributed to a different illness.
Since his physical appearance had not changed, he ended up on the receiving end of scathing comments like, “You’re just slacking off,” which grew harsher the closer he was to the people saying them. Completely worn out both physically and mentally, he strung together passages in his diary that expressed his anguish at the time, writing: “Somebody, help me. I can’t take this any longer…!” And, “Will I ever be able to go back to the healthy body I used to have?”
In the summer of 2004, five years after the crippling symptoms emerged, his elder sister visited with a clipping of the article “Medical Renaissance” from The Yomiuri Shimbun. “I wonder if this is what you have?” she said. The topic covered in the article was “cerebrospinal fluid hypovolemia.”(see below) Matsumoto had never heard of the illness, which is caused by impact injuries due to traffic accidents and other collisions in which cerebrospinal fluid leaks, afflicting victims with severe headaches and dizziness.
Thinking back on it, he was hit by a car when he was around 4 years old, absorbing an impact so intense that it left him with residual hearing impairment. Desperate, Matsumoto went to a hospital in Tokyo and — just as suspected — the doctor confirmed that he had a cerebrospinal fluid leak. When the doctor told Matsumoto, “This must have been tough on you,” the artist was so moved that he felt like he was going to break out in tears. “I finally discovered the name of the illness. I told you I wasn’t just slacking off or anything like that,” he thought.
Matsumoto underwent treatment to close off the location where the spinal fluid was leaking, alleviating in a flash the headaches and sluggishness he had been experiencing. Since that time he has regained his drive, heading up a university lecture that started in October and, little by little, returning to his work as a manga artist.