The Interview Mr. Ken Akamatsu -First Part-

Fields and JAPACON Contents & Human Future Lab. are planning to interview Japan’s leading manga artists every month.
We will shed light on the artists’ background and what they think about the heroes/heroines of their works.

Special hero series: We interviewed Mr. Ken Akamatsu this time.
Mr. Akamatsu released his first manga 25 years ago, and he has been producing a series of hits. This time we tried to find out how he continuously produces hits.

 

■What triggered you to become a manga artist?

Komuro:
Thank you for taking time to talk to us today.We are delighted to see you in person. First of all, could you please tell us what made you decide to become a manga artist?

Akamatsu:
I graduated from Chuo University.During my university days, I was a member of three societies, animation, manga and cinema.
Of the three, I thought I would be able to start manga with the least investment but enjoy the best return!Therefore, I chose manga. I got serious and started to draw manga when I was in college.

Seo:
I have interviewed a number of manga artists and most of them started to draw manga when they were in primary school or secondary school.You started later.

Akamatsu:
There are many people who love manga and are skillful at drawing manga, but they seldom have the luck or success to become a professional manga artist. One reason is that they realise they’re a good artist and they don’t like to be influenced by the editors’ suggestions. I did not think that I was such a good manga artist and therefore I was open enough to improve my skills based on such feedback. I also managed to learn the various styles from other manga artists. I completed my graduation thesis and my manga for a new face award in parallel. I got the award and was contracted with a weekly magazine for a serial manga.My parents were relieved and supported my decision to become a manga artist.

Seo:
Not all new face award winners turn out to be successful.

Akamatsu:
That is correct.The winners can make some money at the various comic markets. In my case, I planned to be a part of the entertainment business. That was the reason why I also sat for the entrance exam for a cinema course at the Nihon University College of Art, aiming to become a film director. I passed the first exam and proceeded to the second exam. At the interview, I said to the examiner, “I like cinemas as they are good from a business viewpoint”. The examiner responded, “You’d maybe fit better as a film producer”. I did not manage to pass the second exam because of this. It was my mistake. (laughs)

Seo:
So, you considered that the chances are larger with manga in the entertainment business.

Akamatsu:
Indeed. On top of that we can create animation and films based on manga.

■How to produce a hit?

Seo:
We see a lot of manga artists who do not continue and give up easily. Could you tell us why?

Akamatsu:
You become stuck if you only draw what you want to draw. It is important that the artist draws what the audience want to read. That said you can only continue doing what you like.
I make it a rule of drawing manga to think about what happens next in society. For example, stock dealers will speculate in the stock market movement in Japan analysing what is happening in the US stock market today. Manga artists do the same thing. A small group of people like edgy manga trend first and then it gets popular in 3 to 5 years. “Evangelion” (an apocalyptic anime, set in a futuristic Tokyo) attracted only a narrow audience in the beginning and it got more popular and finally it turned out to be a blockbuster hit.
Talking about the stories in manga, love-triangle was the most popular in romantic comedies in the 1990’s.The trend moved on to romantic comedy with cutie girl characters and the attractive boys with a lot of admirers.

Seo:
Well, attractive boy is something ordinary boys’ desire.

Akamatsu:
I agree with you.That is what geeks desire. I started to draw manga with
a lot of cutie girl characters and attractive boys. These manga were different from what I weekly drew for Shonen-magazine (one of the popular weekly manga magazines). I was inspired by having seen lots of mature ladies going crazy over Daniel Radcliffe when he came to Japan to promote the Harry Potter film series.My interpretation then was boy-characters were getting less masculine or losing their sexual characteristics.

Seo:
Perhaps the lead boy in a manga is the hero that all geeks desire to be.

Akamatsu:
You may be right. In more recent years, around 2000, manga evolved even without having any male characters. “Keion” (meaning easy listening music club) had the characters of schoolgirls but no boys. This is for a boy to imagine himself in the stories of cutie girls. The geek boys have some desire to become a girl.There are novels in which a male character turns into a female.By transforming into a female, they can play with the girls they like. There are 31 girl classmates with a lot of cuties involved in “Negima” (a romantic comedy where Negi Springfield, a boy wizard, played the lead).Each of 31 girls has their own characteristics.There are two hundred songs related to Negima and some have been released on CD.Some were ranked in the top ten for ten consecutive months.When we organised a concert in Makuhari Messe (an exhibition hall located in Chiba, west of Tokyo) and voice actresses sang in front of a 5,000 audience, I realized that this was entertainment based on manga.

Komuro:
It is unusual to have a long hit of ten months, isn’t it?

■Return to hero-centric stories and AKB (an idol unit comprising about 48 girls)

Akamatsu:
The next theme that I dealt with was hero stories, the authentic theme for boy’s comic.However, the fighting heroes do not fascinate girls.Goku (the lead of manga “Dragonball”) and Luffy (the lead of manga “One Piece”) are the examples of the fighting heroes and Luffy puts priority on friendship rather than romance.I drew similar manga stories with fighting heroes as it was the classical theme. I wanted to draw such manga as a professional manga artist.

Seo:
We can say that the heroes have been changing over time, can’t we?

Akamatsu:
That is a good side of the story. I think that the geeks dream of transforming themselves into a girl and getting along with the girls. It makes me sick that they keep a dreamy eye on cutie girls.

Seo:
My reading is that the audience supported and empathised with the boy wizard.You intended the boy to represent the audience and play on their behalf in the story.

Akamatsu:
You may be right.On the other hand, it is true that audiences over the generations have been supporting fighting heroes.

Seo:
That is understandable.Dragonball has been popular for a lot longer than Arale-chan in “Dr. Slump” (a gag manga with the lead of Arale-chan, a human-like robot).

Akamatsu:
A hero’s characteristics are presented as positive traits. Men always like to be the strongest and like to be described as terrific.Female character traits are somebodywho wishes to be protected, who needs sympathy.

Komuro:
How would you describe female characters?

Akamatsu:
When I drew “Negima”, I organised a popularity poll and put the first prize winner in the lead character. AKB carries the same method now and they emulated the approach I took with “Negima”.When “Negima” was dramatised for a TV programme, the director was employed by the record company which has AKB under contract. He applied the same method with AKB.

Seo:
It is interesting to know the method known as AKB popularity poll has its origin in your manga.Talking about idols, 30 years ago they were one, or two to three at most.Nowadays the number is increasing and can even be over ten.Looking at it like this, such group idols become more and more anonymous as they increase the number of members. It is difficult to tell who is who.

Akamatsu:
Morning Musume (a pop girl group) was the first group idol.I could not tell who was who at the beginning but could soon easily identify my favorite. Same holds true for “Negima”.
You cannot tell who is who for 31 girls in the volume 1 and when you continue to read up to, say volume 20, you can easily identify each of them.The 31 characters maintain their personality and speaking tone throughout.Each girl in a group idol has her own role and maintains her personality.

■Editor’s note
We interviewed Mr. Akamatsu in his studio.Surrounded by white walls and sitting on a chair on a white floor, Mr. Akamatsu looked like a prince alone in his castle. However, he turned out to be quite straightforward and approachable!Although he claimed that he no longer knows what boys think about these days, he himself impressed us as having a remarkable aura of a young-at-heart mentality.He is a marvelous entertainer who closely watches social developments and analyses the feelings of the audience.
He handles elements in a good balance between liking and professionalism, and between the freshness of youth and maturity of adulthood. He truly is another talented manga artist.

 

Continuing onto the second part

■Interviewers

Taichi Seo
Senior Executive Director, Contents Portal Website Executive Committee
Photographer
Executive Director, Japan Photographic Copyright Association
Vice President, Japan Reproduction Rights Center
He has a wide range of human network including creators.

Tsugumi Komuro
Research and Development Office
(Fields Research Institute),
Fields Corporation

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *