The Interview Mr. Ken Akamatsu -second 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.

■Akamatsu’s manga philosophy

Seo:
Manga has evolved into different styles along with changes over time. Where do you think manga is heading?

Akamatsu:
Goku gets interested in somebody strong who shows up in the story but he does not appear to have any fixed goal. On the contrary, Luffy has his own goal as he declared he wanted to become a pirate right at the beginning.

Seo:
But in reality, humans have more complex characteristics.

Akamatsu:
I like simple things. Luke in Star Wars is simple. As the story is simple, the film got very popular all around the world. As human lives are not straightforward, the audience prefer something simple in manga, so do manga editors.

Seo:
I prefer Han Solo in Star Wars. He is very human, isn’t he?

Akamatsu:
Han Solo attracts more people in the world. In manga, the audience prefer simple things.

Seo:
What kind of characteristics did you give to the hero in your recent manga?

Akamatsu:
I did not have trouble in determining the hero’s characteristics when I drew “Love Hina” (a romantic comedy) and “Negima”. It is unusual in the manga world that an artist makes three consecutive hits.The only exception is Ms. Rumiko Takahashi. A manga artist can make the second hit after the first and it takes time for him/her to make the third hit.The reason that I can think of is that the different type of hero does not satisfy the audience and the same type of hero on the other hand makes them bored. My solution is to let the characters in the previous stories appear again but prepare a new set of elements for the circumstances.

Seo:
Is that a kind of spin-off manga?

Akamatsu:
You are right.“GTO” (or Great Teacher Onizuka, a campus-life story) is a spin-off hit from “Shonan Junai Gumi” (Shonan Pure Love Gang). I demonstrated a successful example that avoided disappointing or boring the audience. I’ve become 48 years old and it’s getting difficult to share the same feelings that a boy audience holds. When I made my debut work in my early twenties, I shared the same feelings and I managed to draw manga which boys liked and supported. Now such days are gone and it is natural that my feelings have shifted or grown with my age. I decided to go classic and draw heroes. It was not a super hit but will be animated next year.

 

■Professionalism

Seo:
You have been making continuous hits for 25 years since your artistic debut. Hardly anybody else has made such an experience.

Akamatsu:
As you said, manga artists with continuous hits are few and far between.

Seo:
You made such a great accomplishment. Is it because you have been looking into the future?

Akamatsu:
Manga which the audience want to read is one thing, manga which the artists want to draw is another. The artists should be attentive enough on how to entertain the audience.
I would like to draw a manga showing women in their prime, experienced and mature, but naturally it would not attract the boy audience.

Seo:
That is exactly how professional artists should prepare and perform. They do not see the things only from their viewpoint but from the audience’s as well.

Akamatsu:
I agree with you. It is similar to selling seafood to the people in a mountainous area and sell mountain vegetables and game to the people close to the sea. Drawing a manga of cutie girls for a manga magazine where there are no similar serials is something similar. So is waiting for the social readiness to draw characters which would have been attractive only to a narrow segment of audience three years ago.
My own experience is that I continued to put the same characters in the third manga series to avoid the flop.

Seo:
I look forward to your next work.

Akamatsu:
That will be the work in the 26th year after my debut. I know some artists continue to draw one hit manga for 20 to 30 years, but artists hardly continue to draw a series of manga with a different set of characters for 20 to 30 years.

Seo:
That would be the result of good marketing. You are the first manga artist who applied marketing techniques to manga.

Akamatsu:
You may be right. Considering your point, I have been doing the editor’s and agent’s jobs on top of being a manga artist. Success in manga business depends on such additional elements and not just on being a manga lover or having skillful drawing techniques.

■What is a hero/heroin?

Seo:
The manga artists who I have interviewed answer that ordinary people or people with an immature personality would be manga heroes.

Akamatsu:
I suppose the extraordinary artists would answer like that. For extraordinary artists, everyday matters are not ordinary for ordinary people.

Seo:
You are certainly a hero in my eyes. You claim that you are not a natural manga artist, but the reality is your manga have been attractive to the audience for as long as 25 years.

Akamatsu:
I admit that I have always been making efforts. I wish I could be a natural artist but it is not possible. I suspect that there are ten failed natural artists for every single successful artist. I do not like producing such a sacrifice and prefer to push for overall success with all of artistic efforts. Ordinary people cannot learn from an extraordinary person’s experience such as someday a dream would come true. My theory is that you should try to get a lucky punch before graduating from school. Those who want to become a professional manga artist are good at drawing, but most of them are not so fascinating.

Seo:
I guess so.

Akamatsu:
Getting back to the hero discussion, I want my hero character to include the heroic elements that the audience want to see. I do not intend to make an unprecedented maverick hero.

Seo:
As a professional photographer, I have seen other photographers’ work for a long time. They enhance the level of technique as they get older and have more experience. However, their work done in their thirties often looks more energetic and motivated. I suppose that my observation may be relevant to manga artists. Would you agree?

Akamatsu:
I believe that applies to manga artists too. Artists often draw manga with unorthodox ideas when they are around 30 years old. “Shingeki no Kyojin” (Attack on Titan), a dark fantasy, is a good example. I look forward to his next work.

■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.

 

First half

■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

 

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