The Many Aliases of a Legendary Assassin
By Joshua Corin
There exists an assassin. His weapon of choice is a modified semi-automatic M16A1 assault rifle with a sniper scope—and he will use this rifle to end the life of anyone, anywhere. As long as his client is honest and pays on time.
His true name is unknown, but his alias is legendary. He is Golgo 13 and he has starred in three films, six video games, 50 episodes of television, and countless commercials—but he got his start in January 1969 in a manga created by Takao Saito that is still running to this day.
Sometimes he’s captured, but never for long. When the South African government imprisoned him on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, Golgo 13 made short work of the warden and escaped.
Sometimes he’s hired to change the course of history with the barrel of his gun, as he did in 2000 when he destroyed a series of consequential ballots cast for Al Gore.
Golgo 13 is a professional. He wears nice suits. He is a man of few emotions and fewer words. What good are emotions and words when a bullet will do?
Before creating Golgo 13, artist Takao Saito adapted four of Ian Fleming’s spy novels into manga, and one can see the influence of 007 on the mercenary assassin. Both are humorless, globe-trotting specialists. Both are also unrepentant misogynists.
But according to Saito in a 2015 interview with The Financial Times, one of the models for Golgo 13 is more mundane:
“He’s a lot like a Japanese salaryman. One of the main virtues that Golgo and salarymen share is that both are capable of great endurance. Even the nature of their endurance is the same. They are both patient. Golgo is purely Japanese.”
This notion of sniper as businessman is very 20th century. We can imagine Golgo 13 walking alongside Babbitt and the man in the grey flannel suit. It’s no wonder then that Saito’s creation has proved so popular.
At almost 600 stories, the manga holds the record for oldest ongoing comic book series—although Saito keeps threatening to end it.
Like everything about the man, the origin of his most popular alias is mysterious. The prevailing theory is that Golgo is a reference to Golgotha, the location of the Crucifixion, and 13 to the unluckiest number in Western civilization.
In all things, Golgo 13 portends death and misfortune. Beware.