Up until now, the Special HERO column has interviewed four manga artists about their vision of what it means to be a hero. In this article, I’d like to take a look back and reflect upon the interview series.
After a lot of thinking, I came to realize something. Although all of the manga artists I interviewed are people who I had already gotten to know to some extent, I felt like I was able to see a different side to them in these interviews. One thing that can be said about the artists is that they all have a love for manga. Another is that they all have the decisiveness and grace only possessed by those who have kept on moving forward in life.
The first manga artist to be interviewed in this column was Mr. Tetsuya Chiba. Having lived through adversity during the war and post-war era, the love and warmth his parents showed him during these times is reflected in the main characters of his works.
Both Joe and Danpei are outsiders on the edge of society, but they both have warmth in their personalities. All of the main characters start out as ordinary people, but as circumstances change they develop and grow ? this is how heroes are born. Heroes at their heart are ordinary people just like the rest of us, and in the current era in which we live, these changes in circumstances and environment can happen to anyone.
The next artist to be interviewed was Ms. Machiko Satonaka. Ms. Satonaka became a manga artist at an early age, and is a very unusual individual. She has a profound knowledge of history, and this is reflected in the depth of her carefully constructed work. Actually, Ms. Satonaka might be the artist that I have had the most opportunities to meet with. Although I have often spoken with her over dinner, I feel like this is the first time that I have seen her talk so frankly about the thoughts and emotions she puts into her work and how it all comes together.
One thing that left a particular impression on me was listening to her talk about how her work spread internationally. Manga has the power to unite people, even between countries with poor relations, and younger generations speak about how they are moved by manga. The medium of manga crosses regional and generational boundaries, and is sure to see the birth of a new sensitivity. It is not only the text of the story, or the artwork that is important. I deeply felt that the many facets of manga, such as the way the panels are divided and arranged on the paper, and even the speech bubbles, have contributed to the foundation of a new culture.
For the next interview, I was fortunate to have had the chance to catch Ms. Keiko
Takemiya whilst she was visiting Tokyo from Kyushu. Ms. Takemiya is the president of a university, and is closely involved with education. She is also working very hard in the education and training of creative people in Japan. Her manga expresses a unique way of looking at the world, and has a young, refreshing vitality. One thing that struck me in particular about our conversation was hearing about how, once the main characters become well-known to a certain degree, they no longer belong to their creator but also to their readers. For example, when trying to write the sequel to a famous work created a long time ago, it is impossible to steer the manga away from the overall image of the original series. Once the heroes of manga are known throughout society, they become not only a representation of the creator’s will, but have their own personality, and move and impress people for generations to come.
The final interview was with Mr. Ken Akamatsu. A generation younger than the other artists, he has a completely different style.
Mr. Akamatsu’s manga is a reflection of our time. He considers what people are looking for in manga, and what characters are needed in the age in which we live, and from this his manga is born. This can sometimes mean having multiple characters instead of just one, or even a large group of characters. Hearing this, I was reminded of AKB. Maybe what our current age needs is not individuals, but groups. However, even within this group, the character that takes the main role can be timid, or an ordinary young person filled with curiosity. In Mr. Akamatsu’s work, ordinary people like these can become heroes. They may not do anything out of the ordinary, but surreal and unexpected circumstances throw them into strange and mysterious experiences. They may not have any special powers, but they do have special circumstances ? I feel that this could be a new form of hero.
Listening to the artists, I realized that for each of them, their heroes are not born out of any specific intention or idea. This can also be said to be true for the real world. In other words, the people we call heroes are met with all kinds of circumstances, through which they are able to get a glimpse of a world no-one has experienced, gaining many things in the process. However, even when they become known as heroes, they may not really feel like they are heroes themselves. Ms. Takemiya described how heroes in manga gradually become independent from their creators. Mr. Chiba talked about how the ordinary people he created in his manga grew and developed as the story progresses. Ms. Satonaka spoke about how heroes can only be discussed through history. Finally, Mr. Akamatsu described how heroes are not something that are actively created, but are born out of the needs of the era.
The modern era in which we live is a confused world, but it is filled with constant change and human drama. In 3 years’ time, the metropolis we know as Tokyo will be home to the Tokyo Olympic Games. Perhaps, in the noise and crowds of Tokyo, the heroes of the future have just begun to embark upon their own story. And maybe, in 3 years’ time at the change of the era, they may suddenly shine on the main stage and provide us with courage and strength.
Now that we have reached the end of this series on what it means to be a hero, I feel very happy to have been able to get a glimpse of what the heroes of the future may look like. I would like to end this series thinking of the heroes who have not yet shown themselves. I hope, from the heart, that you will be the hero of tomorrow.
(Article by Taichi Seo)
・The Interview “What makes your hero?” Mr. Chiba Tetsuya＃1
・The Interview Ms. Satonaka Machiko －First Part－
・The Interview Ms. Takemiya Keiko #1 －Passion toward Creativity－
・The Interview Mr. Ken Akamatsu －First Part－