【Interview】Akihito Tsukushi talks about his origins


New expressionists are active in a wide range of fields today. In this interview series, we explore their creative origins and how they acquired their current individuality. The first interview is with Akihito Tsukushi, whose first work “Made in Abyss” was adapted into a TV anime this summer. We asked him about the process from his days as an employee at a game company, through his first fanzine, to his first serialization on the web, as well as his future outlook.

reference コミティア


The Origin of Akihito Tsukushi, Author

First, we would like to explore your roots, Tsukushi-san. Please tell us about your hobbies, favorite works and artists.

My hobby is gaming. My electronic original experience was Wizardry Gaiden on the Game Boy, and this is how I became fascinated with dark fantasy. When I was in junior high school, I saw a nice round drawing by Shinya Kaneko, who drew the annotations in the rulebook of the TRPG version of Wizardry, and I thought it was nice, and it has stayed with me to this day.

shinya kaneko

Tsukushi-san’s paintings are impressive for their depiction of a fantasy world with fine detail and depth.

I also like fantasy with a sense of loneliness, and when I was a student, I loved Naohisa Inoue’s work in Ibarade Natural History.The atmosphere is lovely, but the people are just standing there in the world, and I feel as if I am there looking at the scenery with them.

Naohisa Inoue

And then there’s the Polish painter Zdzislaw Beksinski. It reeks of death and desolation, but it’s serene and spacious and beautiful and exciting and realistic.

Zdzislaw Beksinski

Most shocking was the American painter Norman Rockwell. He paints in the motif of good old America, and I can easily recognize the stories in his paintings. His paintings made me want to paint pictures that capture the brightest moments of the characters.

How did you learn to paint?

I attended the Illustration Department of Tokyo Design College to become an illustrator. When I took the entrance exam for Konami, I ignored the assignment and instead thoroughly finished a picture called “Gentleman’s Treasure,” which I had drawn for my graduation project, and brought it with me, and was accepted. This painting still hangs on the site today.

Gentleman’s Treasure

Akihito Tsukushi’s company days until he started his doujinshi activities.

What were your goals when you joined Konami and what kind of work did you do?

At that time, my goal was to create games, books and animations with my drawings. I had been working in motion production for a long time. There was a time when I was rotting away doing work that had nothing to do with drawing, but Elebits gave me my first job as a game illustrator. My schedule was really tight at the time, and I was sleeping over at Roppongi Hills, where the company was located. That was the only time I was a member of the Hills tribe (laugh). In animation, I participated in the drafting of the characters for the fairy tale musketeer 「Red Riding Hood」 in 2005. Then I was put back in the job of motion production again.. Around that time, I participated in Comitia for the first time as a vendor for a friend’s circle and became interested in doujinshi activities. I always thought, 「Somebody, consume me!」 so I started thinking about leaving the company by the time I was 30.

Did you have any vision for the future when you retired?

I didn’t have any at all (laugh). But I did think about making a coterie magazine in the abundant time I had. I had been interested in comics for a long time, and I thought that once I finished it, something interesting would happen. My first circle event was Comiket, but I found that Comitia was a place where I could interact with a variety of people in a peaceful and enjoyable environment, so I began to attend this event as a different kind of fun.

How Akihito Tsukushi conceived of Made in Abyss

How did your first coterie manga 「From Starstrings」 come about?

At first I was going to draw a story about various robots and the boys and girls who ride them. One of them was a girl who liked to write stories, and she came up with the idea of climbing up a star string, so I turned it into a manga. It took about a year and a half to complete, but it gave me a lot of confidence. After that, Takeshobo told me that they were going to launch a new web-based magazine and asked me to write a serialized version, so I decided to accept the offer. At the time, I thought that if it was a web manga, there would probably be no damage to Takeshobo even if it was a mock-up (laugh).

     「From Starstrings」

Did 「From Starstrings」 lead to your serialization story?

A senior colleague at Konami had a connection with the first person in charge at Take Shobo, and he recommended me to them. If I had not been making games at Konami, I might not be drawing manga like this now.

How was Made in Abyss born?

Abyss was actually something I was thinking of publishing as a doujinshi as a trick picture book. I like stories about diving into dungeons, like Wizardry, so I wanted to describe in detail the world of the Abyss, the great cave.I tried to create a sense of tension by making the viewer think that no matter how far you go down the hole, it will be the same, and then showing interesting places that are only found there, or showing a monster in a beautiful landscape that almost killed the main character in real life.However, since we were both amateurs in the field of manga, things did not go as smoothly as we had hoped, and around the time the second volume was released, there was talk of discontinuing the project when a new editor took over. However, shortly before that, I borrowed from an acquaintance a book on how to create manga characters called 「The Art of Attracting People」 by Mr. Kazuo Koike. Then I began to think carefully about the shaping and setting of the characters. The characters thus created are Othen, who appeared at the end of volume 2 of Made in Abyss (manga), and Nanachi, who started appearing in maruruku and volume 3. Especially around the time Nanachi appeared, I feel that Abyss suddenly became very popular.

What kind of response did you feel?

We have received more feedback on the web. Abyss is a story of meeting and parting on a once-in-a-lifetime journey, so Nanachi was supposed to be a one-time-only episode, but it became so popular that she was suddenly assigned to a regular role. It’s funny, Nanachi started helping out with the manga on her own. And it seems she is more popular than the main characters (laugh). It’s hard for me to follow the plot, but it’s interesting to see how the characters interact with each other and how the story develops, so I would like to continue to draw dramas that involve the characters and the action.

What kind of communication do you have with your current contact person?

The person in charge knows all the contents of the Abyss, but he is also in the position of a reader reading it for the first time. In other words, if the person in charge doesn’t understand, the reader won’t either. I appreciate the sense of balance that he has in pointing this out to me.

In volume 4 of Abyss, there is a story about a flower garden, and I adopted the advice of the person in charge of the final development, such as bringing out small insects. He said, 「It’s interesting that the flower garden that Rico’s mother cherished burns so vigorously.

It’s nice to get real feedback on the spot.

I guess I have a voracious appetite for fun. When I created that story, I also referred to an article I saw online called Pixar’s 22 rules for creating stories. In the article, it said that if you are having trouble coming up with a story, write down a list of things that will never happen, and in the list you will find clues. One of them was to burn the village.When I think about the list, I find parts that I don’t like, but if I try something out of the ordinary, the character moves toward a solution, and sometimes the fun comes from that part of the list.The other thing that struck me about that rule is that the audience wants to see the process, not the success of the character. Success must be absolutely clear. If the process of success is depicted, the drama will work. I thought that was definitely true.

Akihito Tsukushi’s commitment to Made in Abyss

What are some of the particulars in drawing the Abyss?

It’s to portray the excitement of adventure while still being about the everyday life in the hole. At first, everyone is elated and excited about the adventure, but in reality, you have to step into a very steep place and take risks – the catharsis is what makes it interesting.

Certainly Rico and his friends are in a lot of danger along the way.

I think people will be more nervous if characters can’t be easily healed when they are injured. Otherwise, it would feel like even a child could easily descend to the Abyss. I wanted to give the impression that the Abyss is a successful case where things are going well by chance, so I tried not to make Rico and his friends look like heroes.

How do you think about the meal scene in your work?

I go to restaurants that serve food close to my image and take notes of my own facial expressions when I eat the food and refer to recordings.The scene in volume 4 where the unknown animal is being processed is based on my experience of processing raw squid in the kitchen and being impressed by the silver color of the internal organs.If I can experience it properly, I can convince myself that it will be interesting, and I can also create a fantasy with persuasiveness.

Did you actually cover the adventure scenes?

This is based on movies and books that are based on the real experiences of mountaineers and explorers. Their experiences under extreme conditions are very interesting with surprising discoveries and reality. I myself did a 100-meter bungee jump at the Ryujin Suspension Bridge in Ibaraki Prefecture last year. I wanted to experience it for sure because there will probably be scenes of Rico and his friends falling down in the future. When I actually jumped off the bridge, I found that I was freed from gravity for a short time and felt completely free. That feeling is addictive, and I’m sure Rico and the others will feel the same way.

Ryujin Suspension Bridge

The Present and Future of Akihito Tsukushi, Writer

Please tell us about the Abyss animation.

The decision was made at the end of the year before last. It seems the producer of the anime read the third volume and recommended it to his boss. When I heard about it, I thought, “Are you out of your mind? (laugh) After the decision was made, I simply asked the director to organize the parts that corresponded to the first volume and make it more interesting. The person in charge of the anime told me to get the sixth volume out before the anime started, and I tried to do my best, but I found out early this year that I couldn’t do it, so I asked Daisuke Habata, a junior member of my high school illustration club, to assist me. He is a longtime friend who I have known well, so I feel no discomfort in working with him, and he is helping me to finish the project.

Tsukushi-san, you often draw children’s characters, what attracts you to them?

I really like children in their secondary sexual characteristics. I can imagine what it was like for me because all kinds of people go through this period, and since it is only a moment and changes quickly, it brings out feelings that are unique to that time. Cherry blossoms are at their best when they are falling, but I really like the fact that they are changing without us having to do anything.

You have loved drawing and fantasy since you were a teenager, and I feel like you have been pursuing it all the way to the present. Do you feel that you are realizing your dreams?

I don’t have a sense of accomplishment yet. When I accomplish something, I am happy at the time, but later I suddenly feel anxious that one day I will be in trouble, or that I will not be able to do this again. But if I can keep my focus, my passion, and my interest in new things, I think I can do it again the next time.

Finally, do you have a message for the circles participating in Comitia?

Doujinshi are good because they contain the things that people like and the unfiltered, muddled parts of the person who draws them. I like books that are drawn by people who enjoy drawing to the fullest, so please let me read them at Comitia, where I will also be participating!

Thank you very much. I look forward to more great work from you in the future.

Thank you for watching and we’ll see you soon.

 Made in Abyss (World’s largest number of translations)


English Page

Hi everyone, nice to meet you. I'm a translator of my favorite manga and anime in my spare time while doing FX trading as my main job. I am also on Twitter, so please follow me if you like.

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animeMade in Abyss
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