The death of Yoshito Usui, 51, creator of manga and anime Crayon Shin-chan, has left a lot of people stunned. A long-time friend, commenting at his unexpected tragic death, said: “The last time I saw him was in spring. We hadn’t seen each other in a while. He was a man of few words but a good listener, always observant and looking for ideas to use in his work. So I was astonished to hear him say that he no longer wanted to work, that he had nothing to write about any more. He seemed emotionally exhausted… When I heard the news that he was missing, I honestly got this really bad feeling.”
The writer’s body was found a week after he was reported missing on Sept 19, under the cliff of a mountain bordering Gumma and Nagano.
A spokesman for Futabasha, the publisher of the manga series, said that Usui must have accidentally fallen based on the digital camera found at the scene, the last image of which was the bottom of the cliff.
However, it remains questionable if the misfortune was indeed an accident. A number of people had noticed a change in Usui’s behavior. A neighbor said, “It was the day after he was reported missing. I happened to walk by his home, and heard the voice of a middle-aged woman who must have been talking to someone over the phone. I heard her say, ‘What am I to do if he’s killed himself!’ It sounded like she was on the verge of a breakdown.”
On the very same day, Usui’s wife had gone to the police to state that family and relatives were concerned that his disappearance was no accident but possibly indicated suicide.
A source at the publisher said that the writer, who used to go scuba diving and fishing with work-related friends, had stopped all such recreation in recent years. Another acquaintance also noted how he had become introverted over the last 2 to 3 years, which worried many who knew Usui. Fellow writer Sumishi Alan comments that the comedic nature of Usui’s manga had changed since 2007, incorporating more serious themes such as terrorism, alcoholism and death wishes. Referring to some Crayon Shin-can episodes, Alan says he felt Usui was under emotional stress.
That Usui was a devotee of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a well-known fact. When the writer purchased a 200-tsubo plot of land in Kasukabe in 1994, he had a church facility constructed adjacent to his home. Both he and his wife devoted their time proselytizing through door-to-door visits and distribution of church publications.
According to the source at Futabasha, Usui was known in the industry to read out the New Testament for a full 20 minutes at each meeting with his publisher. While he wasn’t necessarily being pushy, some people were surprised when Usui would give them a copy of the Bible as a gift. But his devotion to the faith seemed to have diminished about three years ago, as noticed by the aforementioned friend. It was around the same time that Usui began suffering from severe back pains, which limited his activities.
A clinical psychotherapist speculates the writer’s condition may be explained by male menopause, where hormonal imbalance can trigger insomnia, chronic fatigue, depression and even suicidal wishes. “Provided that the writer was experiencing depression, it’s conceivable that he deliberately chose to go to a dangerous place, whether or not he had any intention of killing himself.”
What thoughts had crossed the writer’s mind as he stood at the top of the cliff will never be known.