In the second part, we talk about overseas fans, GANTZ and Oku’s past production methods
(photo: Daryl Harding)
After diving deep into how Hiroya Oku came to create GIGANT in the first part of this interview series, Kaho Shibuya and I talked with Oku-sensei about his past works, where the rights of GANTZ currently stands, and where he’d like to see the popular franchise go in the future. With a sprinkle of his reaction to overseas support.
We got to sit down with Oku-sensei and his editor in the office of Shogakukan — letting us speak freely and candidly about his works.
Note: the interview has been translated from Japanese into English and edited down for clarity and flow.
(photo: Daryl Harding)
Daryl Harding: There have been a lot of reboots of anime these days, such as Shaman King and Sailor Moon. With the GANTZ anime now 17 years old, would you like to see a reboot?
Hiroya Oku: Whoa, has it been that long? But I wonder if a reboot anime is possible for GANTZ ... Even for seinen manga, the manga is quite full-on with naked bodies and gory scenes.
When GANTZ first got its anime adaptation, it still faced quite a lot of censorship. I was told something like "we can't make it how you want it to be" by the TV producer. The anime director seemed to often struggle. With things getting way stricter these days, I honestly think the idea of reboot is difficult.
Harding: How about the Hollywood remake? You did reply back to such a rumor on Twitter with a shushing face emoji teaser.
Oku: (Laughs) Yeah, I can’t talk about all the details on that subject, but a Hollywood company does have the rights to adapt GANTZ at the moment, and unless they return us the rights, we won't be able to make either an anime or live-action adaptation of the manga. That's the Hollywood type of contract; they own all the adaptations including anime and live-action, except for manga.
There is another spinoff called GANTZ:E that is currently being serialized in Young Jump (illustrated by Jin Kagetsu) right now, which has been allowed to be made by the producers [as it's a manga], though an anime adaptation of that spinoff won't be. It's becoming such a pain, to be honest.
Harding: How long will they retain the rights?
Oku: About four more years, I think. We just made a contract last year (Note: in 2020). I haven't been updated about how the Hollywood adaptation is going or whether it will actually be made. It's likely COVID-19 has paused a lot of new projects over there, and GANTZ is probably one of them. If that’s the case, I’d like to have the rights back.
(photo: Daryl Harding)
Harding: For the 2016 Japanese full CGI anime movie GANTZ:0, did you have any say in the production?
Oku: I left it to the production team, but they did ask me to redesign mecha items like X guns, Y guns, and the one-wheel motorcycle. It looked like they wanted to add more elaborate details to each mechanical device than was in the manga, which I enjoyed a lot.
They said they could make each gun display letters on the LCD, or have the cylinder rotating. I wrote in comments like "flash a blue light" to some parts while drawing them.
Kaho Shibuya: GANTZ became an international success. Why do you think it was received so well outside of Japan?
Oku: It hasn't quite hit me if the show got well-received in overseas countries. Yes, GANTZ was translated into foreign languages as manga and ebooks. However, the feeling of many people outside of Japan reading my manga hasn't sunk in yet. I do realize there are some non-Japanese comments to my Twitter posts, but I'm not sure if my works are popular over there.
Shibuya: YouTubers overseas share their manga and anime reviews, and when I searched for your work, quite a few French channels came up, especially about GIGANT.
Oku: Oh, I had no idea. I wonder why ...
Oku’s editor: Indeed! I was told that for the French version of GIGANT Volume 1, the large number of printings was especially rare, and has since seen a lot of re-printings.
Harding: When I told my editor at Crunchyroll that we were going to interview you, he got extremely excited. The whole office did. In my eyes, why wouldn't your works be popular in the West when mature series such as Game of Thrones and Westworld are loved by a huge audience?
Oku: Really, you think so?
Harding: Well, manga is now outselling American comic books in the US [by volume].
Oku: I saw so many people talking about that on the internet. I also read a criticizing tweet about how much American comics have to care about political correctness and copyrights, while manga doesn’t ... (laughs)
Shibuya: Well, things like copyrights are way stricter here. Some American fans refer to you as a Japanese Stan Lee because often you and your other works make cameos in your other series.
Oku: Oh! Oku-kun in HEN has the same name but the likeness is that of my friend back in high school. Neither the looks nor the personality is mine.
The reason why I showed GANTZ posters in Inuyashiki is that I want to write manga that looks like it's actually happening in real life. I'd like to use real names and things as much as possible. Yet to name other series, you need to get permission and it's frankly a bit of a hassle to do that every single time. It was out of convenience that I chose GANTZ since I own the rights.
(photo: Daryl Harding)
Harding: Are there any brands that you asked for permission but they said no?
Oku: That happened in GANTZ. It was this huge scene of extraterrestrials invading earth and as the huge robot-ish creatures are walking, they see the big Gundam in Odaiba, thinking that it must be an enemy and destroy it. I wanted to draw that, but I was never given permission, so I gave up the thought.
Harding: That would've been really interesting.
Shibuya: You mentioned that your manga often mimicked reality, and they have indeed been adapted into live-action more often than anime.
Oku: That's probably because my artwork is rather realistic.
Oku's editor: Back in the '90s, there were more live-action TV shows from manga, but lately it's all about anime, which can ignite the manga sales by 10 times more with Demon Slayer being the best example.
Shibuya: As someone who watches a lot of live-action shows, is it more special to you when you get live-action adaptations?
Oku: Not in particular, I've been an anime fan since childhood. I even joined an animation club in high school and drew a lot of animation cuts. Getting an anime adaptation does make me feel happy as much as having live-action adaptations.
However, I worry that because drawings have a lot of lines, it may be difficult for hand-drawn anime. The art style looks difficult to move in animation.
Even in Inuyashiki, while the characters are delicately drawn in close-ups, I noticed a lot of lines seem to have been lost in the wider shots and I thought my art is not very conducive for animation.
Shibuya: Regarding the GANTZ anime, the key animation was great, but there were moments we thought "Is this the character we saw in the manga?" while they're moving.
Oku: I understand that. Character faces I draw look close to actual human ones, which would be hard for animators to grasp the facial features for animation. A deformed art style would be a lot easier to animate. My manga art style makes it hard to keep animation consistent and I feel that's an issue when it comes to creating anime adaptations from my manga. I kind of feel bad for anime studios (laugh). Even though the production budget is the same as other shows, animating my work requires a lot more lines, hence more work and time in the art.
Oku’s editor: Many manga fans get excited about anime adaptations as an "upgraded version" of the original work. So it actually helps if the manga work has some room to grow, which can be compensated for in anime. Animators do get motivated to draw more dramatic visuals for some emotional scenes and add some cool actions, as much as general readers who get inspired to draw fanfictions. In my opinion, Oku-sensei's work is perfection on its own, which means there's no room for others to play with it. Maybe his manga is not compatible with an "anime makes the original show more famous" success story.
Shibuya: How have you achieved such unique art? In the beginning of your career, the style looked rather cinematic, then eventually it reached the point where readers could confidently tell it's your drawing.
Oku: Gradually, I've found it through drawing one series after another. Actually, it's probably too subtle for others to notice, but I try to change the look of my drawing style for each manga. My drawing style before HEN was quite different, yet when I came up with HEN's idea, I thought a mixture of the shojo-manga and anime-style would fit the theme of the series. After the series, I wanted to draw a more dramatic art style again, which was 01, however, it commercially failed. Due to that, I drew GANTZ a little more manga-ish than 01. Inuyashiki is where I could finally add a super detailed and dramatic touch and make it look like the quintessential seinen content. Now I'm aiming to make the art a little bit more casual for GIGANT.
Harding: What's your favorite style to draw?
Oku: I think I love drawing the dramatic style of Inuyashiki the most.
(photo: Daryl Harding)
Shibuya: While you were drawing GANTZ, you mentioned in an interview that "Good-looking characters such as Kurono and Kato are harder to draw than someone like Suzuki-san." Has that changed?
Oku: I do enjoy working on handsome characters, but drawings of such beautiful faces are difficult to keep balanced. They are so fragile that a tiny mishap can ruin everything. Old men like Suzuki-san can be drawn roughly and always seem to work. Pretty faces require attentiveness and strenuous efforts. Every time I draw nice-looking characters, I hope to create my ideal look as I draw more and more without fixing too much again and again.
Shibuya: I found the first cover of Inuyashiki, the face of the old man with detailed wrinkles and all, incredibly realistic. How long did it take to draw?
Oku: It doesn't take that much time, even with all those wrinkles. Drawing Inuyashiki himself doesn’t need careful attention to keep right, so I can sort of relax while drawing it. To draw pretty characters drains so much more energy. In regards to GIGANT, because both main characters Papico and Rei-kun are attractive, I have to draw with intense focus while visualizing them vividly in my head.
Actually, a lot of manga artists say they enjoy drawing ojisan, because it's easy. There’s no pressure with those characters.
Harding: People's impression toward your works in general, especially because the most known one is GANTZ, is eroticism, grotesque, and violence. Do you intentionally use those three elements?
Oku: Yeah, they are actually my favorite genres to watch, such as Game of Thrones and The Boys. I love a show with those elements in it, just like a ramen bowl with every one of my favorite toppings on it. I think really, what I want to write is something I want to watch myself. If there was another me, I'd imagine he would be super excited reading my work. That's how I feel every time I write a story. So naturally, my manga has those core elements.
Oku-sensei’s editor: Sorry for commenting again ... but I think Oku-sensei's work has eroticism, grotesque, but then also pure love and silly comedic scenes as well. As an editor, it has a lot of toppings and is quite flavorful. I find this kind of entertainment to be rather rich compared to recent content that focuses on one element like moe or ecchi. They are made especially for each fan base. Oku-sensei's story makes me feel really content as an editor.
Harding: You have worked with three major publishing companies in Japan; Shueisha, Kodansha, and now Shogakukan. Are there any differences or do you work differently, like adjusting to each publisher?
Oku: No, I don't make an attempt to change for each company. They all have their own corporate culture, but it is not too obvious for me to pinpoint how they vary from one another and I pay little attention to those kinds of things. They gave me offers and I just responded to each on a first-come-first-served basis.
Oku’s editor: I don't think seinen manga varies that much depending on the publishing company. I was a freelance editor 'til last year. Kadokawa is skilled at creating plenty of content, Shonen Jump is such a powerhouse of Shueisha that nothing else can be compared to other companies. They all have their own strong points, but seinen magazines are not that obviously different from one another.
Shibuya: It's incredible that you have many non-Japanese fans even though you're unaware of the international popularity and weren't particularly aiming for that.
Oku: I doubt that any Japanese manga artist starts out by trying to make manga oriented toward overseas readers. If you think about your audience too broadly, the series can become bland and boring. You have to gain fans who can read your content before it gets translated.
Shibuya: Are you interested in making your appearance at international conventions?
Oku: I don't like long flights ... (laugh)
Shibuya: You also don't show your face to the public anymore. Is there a reason for that?
Oku: I used to show my face before the internet became a huge part of our everyday life. Recently, with Twitter and other social media, I find it annoying when your photo is shared without your knowledge and people make mean comments about your look. Nothing good can come when manga creators show their face publicly. I mean, it won't help manga sales. More manga creators from the younger generations choose not to be photographed, probably because of the internet and how horrible they can talk about your looks.
Harding: How different is that, compared to the '80s? I remember seeing Shonen Jump's cover showing the author's faces.
Oku: I remember those days. They used to take group photos of artists at the party held by the publisher, but not anymore. Assumingly, the authors didn't want to appear in photos and they voiced their opinion. Lately, you have no idea what each manga creator looks like in Shonen Jump, even the gender is sometimes unknown.
Oku’s editor: A long time ago, they even put the actual home addresses of authors, for fans to send letters to. Some kids went to the house and rang the bell, holding a shikishi (sign board) to be autographed.
Oku: I heard such stories a lot. Older than the '80s, like Fujiko Fujio, Tetsuya Chiba, and Osamu Tezuka-sensei’s era. That's unthinkable today.
Harding: Revealing where you live would be scary when Google Earth exists ...
Oku’s editor: I go to award ceremonies and accept on behalf of winning authors, so my photos of receiving a trophy go up on the internet when people search the author's name. I see comments like "Huh, this old man is writing such manga!", thinking "That's me ..." (laugh) The internet is not nice.
Oku: I truly regret agreeing to have my photos taken in the past because people can still look for them by googling and keep using them.
Shibuya: Do you get recognized because of it?
Oku: Not really, but because of the type of content I make, people somehow assume I'm scary. Whenever I get a new assistant at work, they say "I thought you would be a frightening person." They are surprised to find me super ordinary.
Harding: Lastly, are there any comments you'd like to make to international fans?
Oku: To begin with, I don't think about a particular audience while writing my manga. As a Japanese manga creator, I started writing in the hopes of getting accepted here in Japan. So the idea of people outside of Japan loving my series is beyond amazing. I consider myself fantastically fortunate. All I can say is thank you. If you are fond of my manga, then please look forward to it. I'll stay as I am and keep my peculiar style and continue to write in my own original way.
Harding and Shibuya: As opposed to the violence and craziness in your work, you're such a nice person. We appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule for this interview.
Oku: You're very welcome. Thank you.
Hiroya Oku-sensei not showing his face (photo: Daryl Harding)
You can catch the first part of the interview where we discuss in depth about GIGANT, how the series came to be, and what Oku-sensei’s favorite films are.
GIGANT is available in English from Seven Seas Entertainment with five volumes currently released physically and digitally.
GANTZ is available in English from Dark Horse Comics.
Daryl Harding is a Japan Correspondent for Crunchyroll News. He also runs a YouTube channel about Japan stuff called TheDoctorDazza, tweets at @DoctorDazza, and posts photos of his travels on Instagram.
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