You may not know the name Leiji Matsumoto, but you've seen his work. Including Space Battleship Yamato (aka Star Blazers in the U.S.), Space Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999. His work stands out, because of his striking characters and because of his distinctive themes.
Over at Black Gate, there's a really great survey of some of Matsumoto's works, along with an argument as to why he's such an important creator. In Galaxy Express 999, a young boy boards a locomotive that travels between planets, trying to get himself a "machine body" so he can get revenge on the cyborg that killed his mother. Space Pirate Captain Harlock is an idealist who fights for freedom in his ship, the Arcadia. Queen Emeraldas is another space pirate, who captains a ship of the same name, and a small boy stows away on board. And of course, Space Battleship Yamato is about the crew of a World War II battleship in space, who rush to save Earth from a blight inflicted by the Gamilons.
Black Gate's essay stresses the romantic archetypes in Matsumoto's works, as one reason why they're so inspiring:
The Leijiverse has no set continuity. Its consistency is in the characters. Old-school anime fans know his aesthetic. Handsome, square-jawed men with a lock of hair covering one eye. Tall women with the exact same heart-shaped face and long hair. Squat secondary characters with lumpy features, whom Matsumoto fans affectionately deem "potato people." There is an iconic aspect even to these chibi characters; they are dwarves, sharing outer space with knights and elves.In every Leijiverse story, there will be a sake-loving doctor. There will be a cute cat walking around. There will be a weepy vulture crying over the wrongs of the world....
Archetypes congregate in Matsumoto's chimerical universe. Take, for instance, his most famous creation, Space Pirate Phantom F. Captain Harlock the 99th. Harlock is part Romantic hero, part swashbuckler, and part samurai. Originally designed as a French privateer, he debuted as a cowboy in the 1972 western manga Gun Frontier. In Yamato, he shows up as the hero's long-lost brother (a development that never made it into the TV series, but was explored in Matsumoto's 1975 manga adaptation). Finally, in 1977, Matsumoto created the definitive version of the space pirate: an implacable, black-clad idealist who fights for freedom in his ship The Arcadia. A year later, the Harlock TV series debuted....
The fairy tale influence is most evident in his female characters. The "Matsumoto woman" is elf-like. She is often a queen or princess, and has a magical aura. Also, she can be good or evil, and in her mystery represents the wonder and terror of following your ideals. In the 1978 Harlock series, the Mazone, a race of warrior women, are characterized as nymphs, sirens, the Snow Queen, witches, and other iconic females from fairy stories.
Black Gate is a fantasy magazine, so it's perhaps not surprising that they're picking up on the fairytale and fantasy elements in Matsumoto's works — but it also really helps to illuminate why they're so indelible, and why they've captured so many people's imaginations. The whole essay is definitely worth checking out. [Black Gate]