'Yu-Gi-Oh!' Creator Kazuki Takahashi Died While Trying to Save a U.S. Solider and Girl from Riptide

"He's a hero. He died trying to save someone else," Major Robert Bourgeau said of Kazuki Takahashi

Kazuki Takahashi
Photo: Peter Endig/EPA/Shutterstock

More details are emerging about the July 4 death of Yu-Gi-Oh! creator Kazuki Takahashi.

The Japanese manga artist is being remembered as a "hero" after dying while reportedly trying to help rescue a U.S. soldier, an 11-year-old girl and her mother from a current at a dive spot in Japan.

Major Robert Bourgeau, 49, told military newspaper Stars and Stripes that Takahashi had tried to help rescue those who were caught in the riptide when he drowned. A spokesman for the Japan Coast Guard added that Takahashi's body was recovered 1,000 feet away from the shore of Awa, Nago.

The Japan Coast Guard did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

A marine official reported on July 6 that a body was floating in the water, Japanese outlet NHK reported. First responders arrived on the scene and declared that individual dead. The next day, it was confirmed to be Takahashi. He was 60.

"You play that 'what if' game a lot," Bourgeau told Stars and Stripes, adding of Takahashi, "This guy had a huge impact on the world."

On July 4, Bourgeau, who is from Missoula, Montana, was serving as a scuba diving instructor at Mermaid's Grotto around 2 p.m. local time.

He recalled, "The conditions were really, really rough." He saw a local woman screaming for help as her daughter and a 39-year-old soldier were being swallowed by a heavy current. They were roughly 100 yards from shore at the time as the six-foot waves hit them.

Bourgeau teamed up with one of his scuba diving students to reach snorkelers, and another student called for help.

While Bourgeau managed to rescue the girl, he said he quickly grew tired as he pulled her closer to the shore. Along the way, he came across her mother, who by that time had also been pulled into the dangerous waters.

"I grabbed mom and I grabbed [the girl] and I just kicked for all life," he said.

Takahashi also intervened and jumped into the water himself, Bourgeau said, telling Stars and Stripes he didn't see him in the water. Instead, one of Bourgeau's students spotted him coming in and out of the current until he was pulled away completely.

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"He's a hero," Bourgeau said. "He died trying to save someone else."

Bourgeau said he was able to bring the mother and daughter to safety; however, he was not able to help the soldier while in the water.

"That was one the hardest things I have ever had to do, I let [the man] go so I could save myself," he wrote in a witness statement that the Army gave the publication.

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"I didn't think I was going to make it," he said. Bourgeau added that his children were on his mind during ordeal.

Once he made it out, he instructed the soldier on how to get out of the current and to shallow waters.

The manga artist was traveling alone and was found wearing snorkeling equipment, the Coast Guard told NBC News, which also reported that the Coast Guard said there were "damages to his body which looked like they were caused by some sort of marine animal."

Sources also told NHK that Takahashi took out a car rental for roughly three weeks. However, before he was scheduled to return it, the company was notified that the vehicle had been sitting idle for some time. The car was found by employees 12 kilometers (roughly 7.5 miles) from where Takahashi was recovered.

Takahashi, whose real name was Kazuo, started his career as a manga artist, according to The New York Times. He found success after a story he wrote about a spiky-haired boy named Yugi and his magical gaming powers gained a following.

Yu-Gi-Oh! went on to become a global craze that spawned trading cards, a long-running anime series, books, movies and video games.

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