Interview: Manga Artist and Illustrator Hiroyuki Asada [1/2]

Interview: Manga Artist and Illustrator Hiroyuki Asada [1/2]

In the 1980s, there was a time in Japan when it was thought that basketball manga would not do well. This was because not many people played basketball, not many were familiar with it, and there had been few examples of basketball manga that were successful.

However, once the ‘90s came, this all changed. Slam Dunk was serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump magazine beginning in 1990 and became an instant hit. At this same time, as Japan reached the peak of it’s “Basketball Boom,” there was another manga from the same publisher that began its run in the Monthly Shonen Jump magazine. This manga was Hiroyuki Asada’s I’ll.

I’ll takes place in a high school’s basketball club. It focuses on two members, Tachibana Akane and Hiiragi Hitonari, their club activities, and other aspects of their adolescent life. It attracted many readers with it’s detailed background illustrations and a story that accurately captured the state of mind of contemporary youth. After I’ll ended it’s run in the magazine, Asada drew the full color manga PEZ before getting his latest manga, Tegami Bachi, serialized in Monthly Shonen Jump (later moved to Jump Square magazine). Tegami Bachi went on to become a TV anime and ran for three seasons. In this interview, we talked with the eminent Hiroyuki Asada about his work as a manga artist.

【Hiroyuki Asada’s Profile】
Japanese manga artist and illustrator. He made his commercial debut after submitting a one-shot manga, Hades, to a Weekly Shonen Jump manga competition and receiving an award for it. In 1996, I’ll began serialization. His current manga series, Tegami Bachi, is being published in Jump Square magazine.

“A line being off by 1 millimeter can make it feel wrong.”

TOM: Congratulations on the first book release of your full color manga PEZ.

Asada: Thank you. It’s taken 10 years since the first episode was published to finally get a book put together. I’m serialized in other monthly magazines, so it was difficult to find the time to draw out the additional episodes.

TOM: You really did it in an interesting way.

Asada: Yeah, well at first I started out doing a normal book, but then I decided that I wanted to add a bunch more things to it, kind of like a box of toys, and that’s why it eventually turned out like this. It’s a book full of analog gimmicks, which is something I haven’t been able to do lately. After the publisher, Wani Magazine, introduced me to book binder Milky Isobe, I started to get many different ideas. The final product is not just a complete manga, but a collection of sketches, DVD bonus footage, and various other things.

TOM: Are you very particular when you draw?

Asada: The way I draw depends on the work. I approach manga and illustration in different ways, too. When drawing illustrations, I feel that the less lines you use, the harder it is, if I’m really particular about a painting. A line being off by 1 millimeter can make it feel wrong. The feeling you get from it changes. I’ve always been obsessive about that kind of thing. But with serialized manga, where you have a short amount of time in which to draw a few dozen pages, I don’t focus on getting each line in order. Instead, I usually use more lines to try and achieve something that’s balanced. I focus on making something that’s forceful rather than refined. With PEZ, if I had to choose, I’d say I approached drawing it more like a manga than an illustration.

TOM: Have you been drawing ever since you were a kid?

Asada: I was a solitary kid, I think. I often played by myself. I was close with both of my grandparents. When I was in kindergarten, they complimented a drawing I did, which made me first think about becoming a manga artist. My elementary school was a boarding school. I drew constantly during that time. It was probably the easiest and most accessible form of entertainment for me there. At that time, I also wanted to become a soccer player, or a baseball player, or a pro wrestler, but I didn’t grow big enough so I gave up.

TOM: Did you join the art club in middle and high school?

Asada: Nope, I wasn’t a part of that. Since becoming an artist, I sometimes wish I had been in the art club, but when making manga, life experience is more important, so I don’t really regret it.

TOM: When did you make your first work?

Asada: In elementary school, I guess. If there was paper around, I was drawing manga on it. I never actually finished anything, though. But I was drawing with my pencil every day. I used popular manga at the time and tried to copy them in my drawings––manga like Ashita no Joe, Galaxy Express 999, and Cyborg 007. That’s quite a mix of various styles. As a teenager, I started reading works by Hisashi Eguchi 1, Katsuhiro Otomo 2, and Atsushi Kamijo 3, and I started to seriously consider becoming a manga artist. Every time I read those manga, I thought, “I want to draw like this.”

“I was freaking out, thinking, ‘At this rate I’ll never be able to pay my loans!’"

TOM: What led up to your commercial debut?

Asada: I was 18, and it was 1986. My first completed manga book was selected in the Monthly Shonen Jump competition, and after that I made my debut. I first took my work to Shonen Sunday, but they only give out amateur awards once or twice a year, so I wasn’t able to submit it. Someone from Shonen Sunday asked me to submit it next time, but at the time I had just quit my part-time job to finish the book, and on top of that I ended up buying a motorcycle (laughs). It was a Honda GB 250 one cylinder. I was freaking out, thinking, "At this rate I’ll never be able to pay my loans!”

TOM: Sounds like you were over your budget. (laughs)

Asada: I thought, “This is bad. What am I gonna do?” I decided that I needed to submit my work to a competition that would allow me to pay at least one month’s worth of loans if I won. I looked around and ended up applying for the Monthly Shonen Jump competition. At the time, I hadn’t even read the magazine before; it was just the competition with the closest deadline, so I submitted. Once it was chosen, I was able to pay off all of my loans. But of course that’s not all. It was also a major turning point in my life.

TOM: In 1996, I’ll was serialized in Monthly Shonen Jump. What led up to this? Were you in basketball club when you were a student?

Asada: I was not. Monthly Shonen Jump is a major magazine with a long history, so it has a tendency not to accept new forms of expression. I was working on Renka, a kind of minor, experimental period piece, and one of the editors told me sharply that that was not the sort of thing I should be doing. At the time, Slam Dunk had become a big hit, so it was suggested to me that I do a basketball manga. I had reservations regarding drawing about something that had become popular, but I also thought that if I could find something there that I wanted to draw, I might be able to express myself in a way that I had never thought of before. Eventually, I came up with I’ll, and thought, “This, I can do.” At first, I planned to only run with it for about half a year. It’s not like I was really into basketball, but I thought that maybe I could learn to like it, along with the main characters.

TOM: So along with Tachibana Akane and Hiiragi Hitonari, you would learn to like basketball?

Asada: That’s right. I started the story with the main characters having just given up on basketball, and then followed their return to it. It’s completely the opposite pattern from what one would expect to see in a shonen magazine, but I felt it represented me best. Also, I felt that if I wasn’t really interested in basketball, I would start to feel the same way about the series itself. In the end, I became an avid basketball fan, the characters really devoted themselves to their club, and I ended up drawing many basketball games during its serialization. I did not at all expect it to run for nine years. I almost feel like I did it for too long. (laughs)

TOM: In I’ll, the two main characters initially abandon basketball, and the team captain has a considerable injury in his knee. What was the meaning behind having characters with vulnerabilities and weaknesses like these?

Asada: I tried to come up with characters that would never appear in Slam Dunk. What turned into I’ll was the result of me trying to find what it was that I could do while not following in the footsteps of other great basketball manga. I knew that even a story about a small and weak team that had no chance of winning at national competitions could offer the same level of drama. The ending with Tachibana getting badly injured and then returning to the game, is something that I thought up soon after the series started. From the beginning, I had a good idea about how I wanted it to end.

^1^ Manga artist and illustrator. Eguchi is known for his gag manga and has released many works. From doing covers of other manga, to competitions with his contemporary manga artists, to creating the manga magazine Comic Cue, he’s done an unprecedented amount of experimental work in his field. His best known works include Susume!! Paire-tsu and Stop!! Hibari-kun, among others.

^2^ Film director, manga artist. Otomo had his commercial debut in 1973 in Manga Action. In 1988, he released a film adaptation of his series Akira, and gained the support of fans all over the world. He is currently still working hard, focusing on film production.

^3^ Manga artist. Kamijo had his commercial debut in 1983 with Mob Hunter. His manga TO-Y, about the lead singer of a rock band, drew attention from many for its stylish drawings and unique art style. Another of Kamijo’s major works is the series SEX.

Pez - Limited Edition Luxury Box Set

This is a Tokyo Otaku Mode original article.

Interview: Manga Artist and Illustrator Hiroyuki Asada [1/2] 1
Interview: Manga Artist and Illustrator Hiroyuki Asada [1/2] 2
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