Hirohiko Araki, the creator of the popular series “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure,” which was selected second in the manga category of the “100 Best Media Arts in Japan,” a project commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Japan Media Arts Festival in 2006, has long been a top runner in the shonen manga world. We asked him about the path he took to develop his original style and the new frontier he is challenging as a manga artist with his latest work, “Steel Ball Run,” which marks the 20th anniversary of the series.
Quotes Japan Media Arts Festival
The Manga Hirohiko Araki Read and the Land He Grew Up in
When did you realize that you wanted to be a manga artist?
Araki: When I was in junior high school, I was drawing manga and pictures that I liked and my friends praised me for it.
I had a vague idea that I wanted to be a manga artist from that time, but it wasn’t until I entered high school that I really wanted to become one and started to contribute. yudetamago-sensei started serializing “Ultimate Muscle” right after graduating from junior high school, and I thought, “There are people my age who are doing this professionally, I can’t take it easy. At that time, everyone made their debut early, but even more than that, a generation of manga artists influenced by Osamu Tezuka and Ikki Kajiwara were emerging, and manga was gaining momentum as a medium. I was warned by my school teachers and parents, “If you read manga, you will become an idiot…But the manga of that time was interesting because of the clash of various personalities.
Ultimate Muscle Osamu Tezuka Ikki Kajiwara
You are from Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. Did Sendai have any influence on you?
Araki: When I was a boy, it was about 20 years after the end of the war, and there were still various legends, though they were not the scars of the war. There were still air-raid shelters. Since it was a old castle town, there were rumors that buried gold was hidden there, and in fact, there were people who looked like miners looking for such dubious treasures. There was also at least one child a year who drowned in a pond, and there were also murders. In those days, Sendai still had a lot of darkness, and I think there were many mysterious elements to the city.
Was there a sense of chaos and the waves of rapid economic growth competing with each other?
Araki: Sendai is a compact city with elements such as mountains and the sea. I grew up watching the development of new residential areas pushing toward the mountains and the rezoning of the old, old town. But strangely enough, it was also a town that stimulated my imagination with ghosts and buried treasure when I walked through the mountains. Reading “Sherlock Holmes” and other books in such a place gave me a strange sense of reality. So I really liked reading manga and fantasizing.
What kind of manga did you like to read as a child?
Araki: I read almost everything that was popular at the time. Babil II”, “Kamui Den”, and “Kamui Gaiden” were my textbooks, and I still read them over and over. I was very conscious of Mitsuteru Yokoyama and Sanpei Shirado during the process of becoming a professional. In particular, Yokoyama’s style was to depict the emotions of the main character in a dry manner, and he was completely devoted to suspense, so I thought to myself as a child that he was different from other writers. Yokoyama’s works are hard-boiled and his drawings are cool. Among “Shonen Jump” works, I would have to say “Ring ni Kakero”. Also, “Cobra” and “Wolf of the Circuit. When I was a child, I also liked “Isamu the Boy of the Wilderness” and “Ajihei the Kitchen Knife Man. I read “JUMP” from cover to cover, both weekly and monthly.
Even the weak may be able to beat the heroes!
began submitting his work in earnest with the aim of becoming a manga artist, and in 1980, his work “Armed Poker” was runner-up for the Tezuka Award, the “Weekly Shonen Jump” rookie of the year award, and he began his career as a manga artist. In 1983, he serialized “Ma-Shonen Beetee,” and the following year, “Baoh” was well received, leading to expectations that he would be the next generation’s signature artist. However, in order to survive in the “Weekly Shonen Jump” magazine of the time, which was full of blockbusters such as “Ultimate Muscle” “Captain Tsubasa,” “Fist of the North Star,” and “Knights of the Zodiac,” new manga artist Hirohiko Araki had to go through a number of trial-and-error processes.
Armed Poker Ma-Shonen Beetee Baoh
What was your impression when you first came to Tokyo and visited the editorial office of “Weekly Shonen Jump”?
Araki: I think it was right before I graduated from high school, but I had submitted a story to the Tezuka Award, and although there were some honorable mentions, it didn’t quite make the cut. But with an honorable mention, you only get a one-line review, so I didn’t really know what my shortcomings were. So I came to Tokyo to ask the editorial staff about my shortcomings in detail. At that time, the Shinkansen bullet train had not yet opened between Tokyo and Sendai. It was a four- to five-hour drive each way to get to the editorial office, and I felt that the competition with the editors started the moment I took the manuscript out of the bag. I was suddenly told, “Hey, you didn’t whitewash the manuscript. At first, I didn’t know how to whitewash a manuscript, and the lines I had drawn were sticking out. After a few years, there were times when the editor would look at the door picture without even turning the manuscript over and say, “I don’t want to read it. Even though I had stayed up all night for days to draw it (laugh). In other words, they wanted me to draw a picture that would make them want to see the rest of the story. Editors of weekly manga magazines read many manuscripts every day, so they have a sense of how good or bad a work is.
It took about one year from the time your first serialized work, “Ma-Shonen Beetee,” was nominated for serialization to the actual start of serialization. Did you have any concerns during that time?
Araki: No, not at all. I had already drawn a lot of manga for the serialization during that period. Also, I was drawing by myself at the time, so I wasn’t technically confident that I could do a serial every week, so I was more worried about that. At that time, Osamu Akimoto’s “Kochira Katsushikaku Kamearikouenmae Hashutujo” had already published about 30 volumes, I wondered how he was going to draw 30 volumes.
Was there any impressive advice from your editor at the time?
Araki: I often talked with my editor about books other than movies and manga.
He would always try to go in a dark direction like conspiracy theories (laugh). At the time, I was completely ignorant of such things, so I would ask, “What is that? I would ask, “What is it? Then he would say, “What, you haven’t read that book? Buy it today and read it. If you don’t read it, you won’t become a professional. They put pressure on me. There was an atmosphere that you had to read books anyway. After reading a recommended book, I would basically critique it with my supervisor. We would talk about things like, “This is artistically excellent, but the readers won’t like it,” or “What is necessary for entertainment？ We did this at the manga editorial meeting. Along with critiques of rival works, etc.
Competition for survival is fierce in shōnen manga magazines, but is there anything you found “wonderful” about working on a series?
Araki: Weekly Shonen Jump is a magazine that has a very unique and distinct personality. Or rather, they sometimes let manga artists with an unusual style like mine make their debut (laugh). In those days, Daijiro Moroboshi and Takeichi Terasawa were also drawing unique works in Weekly Shonen Jump. Weekly Shonen Jump” had several major works as the main feature of the magazine, but all the other works had their own unique characteristics. I think that’s what makes it so great.
Daijiro Moroboshi Takeichi Terasawa
On the other hand, was there anything that was difficult for you?
Araki: In those days, “Weekly Shonen Jump” was a magazine where not only writers but also editors were competing with each other. The opinions of the editors in charge clashed at the editorial meetings, and it was only after overcoming these rough waves that a serialization was decided. In particular, there were times when my works were strongly rejected because they were not necessarily sound in content. For example, with “Demon Boy Beetee,” I was told that I could not use “Demon Boy” in the title. For “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” I was also told that it was impossible to have a foreign protagonist in a shonen manga. On the other hand, there were editors who thought, “Since we’ve never done this before, let’s give it a try anyway. In particular, my first editor said, “You dare to do something minor because it is a major magazine. There is no point in doing something minor in a minor magazine.
He strongly insisted that it was because it was a major magazine that we should dare to do it.
Since “Baoh,” the second manga in the series, you have been drawing mainly battle-based manga in which a wide variety of characters compete with each other for strength. You have used a wide range of expression, from suspense to heretical scientific theories, making full use of your various wisdoms.
Araki: I’ve always thought, “Not only muscle-bound heroes are strong. I thought that even someone with a shabby body might be able to beat a hero if he or she could break through the limits of his or her own weakness. Also, for practical reasons, there was the situation at the time that one could not survive without aiming at the gaps in the expressions of the older generation. The dry suspense technique itself was influenced by Mitsuteru Yokoyama, but this is how I pioneered the “Jojo” style.
The style of “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” has now become the mainstream of Weekly Shonen Jump 20 years after its serialization began.
Araki: That may be because my former readers have started to debut as writers.
But in the early days of the serialization of “Jojo,” I was often told that the meaning of the story was not clear, so I struggled to figure out how to make the story easier for readers to understand. So I feel that the world has completely changed.
Hirohiko Araki in progress
The “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” series has greedily taken on a wide variety of genres, including mystery, horror, action, and science fiction, and the seventh in the series, “Steel Ball Run,” which began in 2004, saw a change from the previous installments. Set in 19th-century America, where will this outlandish adventure, with a similar but different worldview, take us?
In your latest work, “Steel Ball Run,” the number of pages per issue increased, and you were moved to the monthly magazine “Ultra Jump” halfway through. From your point of view, have there been any changes in the content of your work?
Araki: In a weekly serialization, you have to show the reader how the story develops in a short period of time. Having more pages gives me more room to develop the story twice, which is an advantage because I can describe the psychology of the story in detail. When I was working on a weekly magazine, I always ran a little over the page count, and it took me a lot of time to figure out how to cut the extra pages. I would discuss with my editor which parts I didn’t want. We would say, “There’s nothing we don’t want,” or “But if we don’t include this part, it won’t fit in the story,” or “It’s not a good idea to cut it at this point.
With “Steel Ball Run,” the stress caused by the page limit was eliminated and the rhythm of the story was improved.
What was the reason for your decision to have a larger page count?
Araki: I wanted to draw a manga that combines dynamic screen expression with sensitive psychological portrayal. I was also influenced by the increasing number of epic and voluminous stories such as the foreign TV drama “24” and the trilogy movie “The Lord of the Rings. I wanted to tell a bigger story, not the compact, repetitive plot of a weekly serialization. So I want to enlarge the frame of the manuscript, or, to exaggerate, I am thinking that I could draw on a sheet of manuscript paper as large as 2 meters (laugh). Recently, the circulation of magazines has been decreasing and that of comics has been increasing, and I think this is because readers want to read them all at once in book form.
The change to a magazine with a higher target age range has also changed your depiction of ethics.
Araki: I felt that, after turning 40 years old, it was necessary to draw expressions related to ethics as well. For example, actor/director Clint Eastwood has been involved in various activities without being confined to the framework of an action star. As for myself, I thought that if I limited my target audience to young readers, my works would be too constricting. Also, with “Steel Ball Run,” I am planning to go in a more classical direction in the future, from the story to the artwork. The characters’ pedigrees and histories have been reset, and I’m trying to keep their abilities simple. Also, the use of computer graphics has been increasing recently, but I dare not use them in my manga. I would like to include philosophy in my work to the extent that it is not at the forefront, and this change may be the reason why I left “Weekly Shonen Jump.
I think the battles in the “JoJo” series are not so much “physical battles” as “philosophical battles” in which the values of the protagonists clash with those of an enemy with an unorthodox outlook on life. This time, too, we have a strong enemy who is obsessed with “male aesthetics.
Araki: The work itself is moving in a classical direction, so naturally the characters in the film are also moving toward classical values. Somewhere in the development of the story, it is necessary to rethink the meaning of the protagonist’s participation in the race. The battle against the classic values of “male aesthetics” was a fitting development. I thought that the classic value of spiritual growth through fair competition, though classic, would be new to today’s readers. In addition, in order to pursue the simplicity of the battle and the realism of the gun, I wanted to express the quiet duel of a samurai with a gun, like iaikiri, rather than a flashy shootout. I think I was able to portray it well in that sense.
Mr. Araki is famous for his quick drawings. How do you get around when you are stuck in the development of a story?
Araki: Sometimes I have to use an idea that I have already used once, and I have a hard time not to overlap the direction to the idea. However, I never try to follow all the logic in moving the characters. As long as the characters are well-developed, they can move and get through even when the flow of the story is blocked. I give all the characters a positive direction, so that as they clash with each other in the story, the problem is resolved. Even the villains all think they are right.
Are there times when you think of a new ability and come up with it, but this is hard to use in a fight?
Araki: In that case, I end the fight early. But I don’t think about it for days.
But it’s not good to have a situation where you say, “This guy looks like a character that came before. Readers will have a sense of déjà vu, so I’ll think, “Should I add a new charm?” Or, “Do I make a drastic cut?” I have to make a decision, and that’s when I have a bit of a hard time.
Hirohiko Araki’s vision of the future
Hirohiko Araki is an “ongoing” manga artist who continues to exert a powerful influence on young creators in a variety of genres while creating new stories that no one has ever seen before. Even today, Araki continues to run to new places. What is his message to the younger generation?
You have recently held an exhibition in Paris and are involved in other activities that go beyond the existing image of a manga artist. What are your other interests besides manga?
Araki: I am a manga artist who thinks that when asked which is more important, the story or the pictures, the pictures are more important. Therefore, I am very interested in things that can be incorporated into pictures, such as music and paintings. Even if they are different from manga, they are all connected to manga. I am particularly interested in contemporary painting and Italian Renaissance painting. The more I wonder what this person is thinking the better. Gauguin and Michelangelo are good.
I enjoy reading and deciphering them, or rather, I like to find out why they have become Divergent.
You mentioned before that you already have a plan for the ninth part of the manga. Will you continue to draw “Jojo” as long as you can?
Araki: The problem is my stamina. It has changed from a weekly series to a monthly series, but when you reach 40 or 50, your physical strength also deteriorates. When I was younger, I used to be able to recover after a night’s sleep, but now I can no longer do so. If you have a bad joint or something, and you keep putting up with it, it gets worse and worse. Manga artists have to maintain their condition for a long period of time, similar to athletes in that respect. Even if it wasn’t, “Steel Ball Run” is a difficult work because the artist is under the illusion that he is running a race across the American continent (laugh). In particular, it is very tiring to draw the scene where the horses are running. Drawing horses probably takes as much energy as riding them.
Since I myself am one of the participants in the race, I feel relieved when I reach the goal. But then, a few dozen hours later, there is another race… Oh, how I wish I could go back to Japan as soon as possible (laugh).
There are now a number of young creators who claim to have been influenced by Araki’s works, such as Otsuichi-san, who spent several years writing a spin-off novel of “Jojo,” and SOUL’d OUT, a band that was strongly influenced by Araki’s music. What do you think about this?
Araki: I am very happy to hear young artists say so, and it is a source of energy for me.
When I draw manga silently, no matter how successful they are, I always wonder if my drawings are good enough, or if they are getting old.
When new artists appear one after another, I wonder if I will be abandoned.
At times like that, I am grateful to be told that I have been influenced by my work, and it is sad when I don’t hear that. It makes me feel like I don’t know the meaning of what I have painted until now.
All three members of SOUL’d OUT are big Jojo fans and have visited Araki’s home. They are a legendary rap music group in Japan, although they are not well known overseas.
Lastly, do you have a message for young people who want to become creators?
Araki: Looking back on my own work, I think that young people will not accept my work if it is simply for profit. Young people who are growing up don’t need works that don’t grow up. Also, if you think something is “new,” you should try it, even if it seems futile at first glance. Art and manga…especially the medium of manga, have a place where such experimentation is tolerated. Well, there may be some people who wrinkle their brows at such experiments, but I hope that they will try their best without being discouraged, while reading the atmosphere moderately. If we don’t try new things, the human spirit will stagnate.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Hirohiko Araki