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A Kishiro Yukito interview

The following is an interview by "Darklion" which was taken from "Tsunami" magazine (#18, Nov 1995). It was originally presented in PUFF (08/1995). This is a translation of a translation of a translation, so a few mistakes and non-sequiturs may show up.

"Gunnm" is Yukito Kishiro's most successful manga. All the ideas present there are the result of previous deliriums he hadn't had a chance to use. This young artist who is passionate about monsters has become one of the best known mangakas. Yukito Kishiro was born in Tokyo on March 20th, 1967, but he spent his teenage years in Chiba. Since he was very young ("the age of reason", as the legend says) he started to draw. Unlike others, however, he doesn't sketch human beings, but various bizarre creatures. Using pencil only, his first amateur mangas were drawn on cardboard paper, and were populated by monsters in which events took place throughout bloody and violent scenes. In elementary school he fills 17 notebooks with a manga whose main character is a monster who pilots a giant robot. It is at that time when the idea of a post-apocalyptic universe rattles in his brain. When he goes into junior high school he buys pen and ink, but the technique is very different and he leaves aside these more professional tools without persevering. He draws 300 monster-filled pages using pencil. Never having drawn humans he continues drawing strange creatures. It is at the lyceum where Yukito finally overcomes his lack of patience and starts using pen. For the first time he begins drawing human figures. These 200 pages are part of a project of 1000 which would never be published. During the third year at the lyceum he sends a manuscript to an editor and "Kikai" wins Shogakukan's young artist award in 1984. He also writes short stories for a fanzine. He creates "Out Rigger". After other experiences with fandom, he debuts professionally in 1988 with "Bugbuster", which paradoxically is commissioned by a fanzine. An avalanche of titles follows: "Kaiyosei", "Hito", "Dai Majin", "Mirai Tokyo Headman" and "Kaisuku Shonen-Dan". Many ideas which didn't make it into these titles are subsequently re-taken by Yukito and used to create "Gunnm". Kishiro is a collector of police novels, and in his story lines there is a tendency towards mystery. If the fight scenes are realistic and dynamic it is because Yukito admires Bruce Lee and Masutatsu Oyama, this last one founder of the Kyokushinkai school where blows are actually landed, which is strange in martial arts. This background makes Kishiro's drawings truly careful studies on martial arts techniques.

Kishiro: the interview

Gunnm has ended in Japan. With volume 9 not only the first manga of a young artist concludes, but an international hit also. Yukito Kishiro is one of those hyper-dedicated authors whom editors pressure to the maximum as they are a guarantee of good business. Yukito Kishiro has known when to call it quits. He speaks calmly, without pointing any fingers. This interview makes us appreciate Gunnm even more, and with the current interest in manga it all starts making sense.

You mention in the "Author's forward" in volume 1, Japanese edition: "The pre-publication of Gunnm in magazines took place without me having defined the general concept and the overall organization of the work". When did you finally elucidate the plot of the story?
It had been a few years since I had imagined a "space" version of the series. Gally would go up to Zalem and continue her adventures in space. External and personal circumstances made it difficult to continue the series. I then decided to end it. I wasn't forced to do it, I made the decision after some painful thought. Since the beginning, I made it a rule for Gunnm not to plan ahead or organize the story beforehand, so as to keep it "free". I frequently had the bad idea of planning an episode's outcome and having to find completely unexpected solutions. To conclude Gunnm I didn't change the way I had worked until I finally had to do something definitive: Gally had to save Zalem, which is about to fall. But I didn't know how. During the development of the action I theoretically couldn't let the heroine die. The editors (Shueisha) and myself discussed it a lot. Finally, after thinking about it all night long, I decided to resuscitate Gally in the epilogue.
What can you tell us about Gally?
My readers usually tell me things like: "stop going after Gally", or "it's so pitiful to see her like that". To me, however, one of the golden rules as an author is to never have compassion of the heroes. They must go through difficult tests, they must become puppets of the circumstances to make their hearts stronger. That is the true "mark" an author must make. I'm under the impression that right now there is a lot of manga in which the heroes are pampered. Gally (like all other characters) is an amplified facet of my personality. The theme of Gally's adventures is based on the fact that she becomes independent of her parents, achieving autonomy. I've described in a positive light the selfishness required to reach this objective. Wanting to fight for others without knowing how to fight for oneself is hypocrisy. To achieve self-control one must continually escape to safer, quiet places. With feet firmly planted on the ground one can see with one's own eyes, ponder and decide which direction to take. At that moment our courage is tested, and to confront it one must be really strong. I think everybody should act like that, and I've drawn Gally as an extreme example of that attitude.
Any advice for Gally?
A very hard question. How about: "Be happy"?
Characters who fight Gally, like Makaku or Zapan, sometimes behave in ways which are not really "evil". What can you say about their attitudes?
They too, like Gally, are a reflection of my own personality and emotions. They are the enemies of the hero but they are not necessarily "evil". The dialogues between Gally and these characters symbolize my own internal conflicts.
Her first love, Yugo, was a big influence on her. How did you come about to creating this character?
At first I assumed somebody would try to climb up the tubes connecting Zalem, and I just drew it. I thought of it as a test of courage on the part of a thief, but I couldn't find any narrative link with Gally. I ended by telling a love story between Gally and a dreamer. To be honest, having a love story intimidated me, and I didn't want to touch the subject. At the same time, however, I told myself that it would be strange if Gally didn't fall in love. When I drew the more sentimental scenes even my ears turned red. Yugo, a dreamer, is also a double of myself. It has become a tendency (in Japan) to talk a lot about "dreams" in a similar manner as when one talks about "love", and there are a lot of morons who use these words lightly. To some degree I drew Gunnm to show that "dreams", like "love", are things that one achieves by sometimes risking life itself. When I hear people without convictions talk about their dreams I feel like striking them.
Professor Nova is quite an important character and one could argue he is the "anti-hero". Did you imagine him like that from the start?
Given that Frankenstein is the precursor of Heavy Metal Sci-fi it is only expected that Gunnm would have its own obscure cyber-doctor. His name, "Desty Nova", was taken from an astrologer which is mentioned in a song by Blue Oyster Cult, the first Heavy Metal group. Since there are many "mad scientists" in the genre it was very hard to find some way to make Nova's personality respectable from the very beginning. Finally, I was inspired by the laugh in "Amadeus" to obtain the result everyone knows. Nova is sort of an ideal type of guy to me. If I possessed an enormous intelligence and had nano-machines at my disposal I wouldn't hesitate in abandoning my career as a artist and imitate Nova's lifestyle. To me Ido represents supreme dandyism and Nova is ambition fulfilled.
Kaos has the power of "psychometry", allowing him to perceive a lot of things. What is the significance of his appearance?
It has no particular meaning. The appearance of Bar Jack and his gang was required to expand the framework within which the other characters could develop. Often those who join a group rushing towards the future do not realize the pain, the blood which flows during these movements. Kaos's "psychometry" not only allows him to see past events, but also to feel the forgotten pain of people, long ago erased by time. I wanted to create a story which showed a society and its history... but unfortunately I wasn't able to do everything I wanted.
As we approach the end of the story, Prof. Nova allows us to glimpse his human facet. Did he manage to overcome his "karma"? (In volume 5 he claims that his ultimate objective is to overcome his karma. In Hinduism and Budism human existence is a karma. If one is successful and perfection of oneself is attained it is possible to avoid reincarnation. Of karma. Do not forget that Yukito Kishiro is Asian).
It's not about being able to change one's "karma". Nova's work, being a scientific endeavour, consists of trying to understand the mechanics of "karma", and develop a theory so as to reproduce it whenever he wishes. He is the inventor of a hypothetical factor of the "karma" ("Go Shi", in the original) which arises from mathematics, and he has also worked on the "Go-Shi mechanical equation" which attempts to explain "karma" in terms of quantum theory. Since his head has become a tulip, he will have to wait 5670 million years to obtain a solution (in Japanese "Go" means "karma" and "Shi" is "factor").
In "Ouroboros" Gally again fights against Jashugan, who is trained by Nova. Was Jashugan Gally's greatest foe?
Her fight with Jashugan during the Motorball saga was simply a first encounter. They had to confront each other again. Many things had not been said. What Jashugan has that Gally does not possess is not "real world" strength, but a compass within the heart which always points north over the violent sea of destiny. That is the reason he is the one true master of Gally throughout her relationships. In "Hokuto No Ken" (Ken, the survivor) there is a ghost which appears over the shoulder of various characters and he speaks to them. Gunnm is science fiction and such things are out of the question. A vision within a character's dream is the best way to show a ghost.
What has Gunnm provided you?
Passionate admirers and unexpected income. Every time I read fan mail their passion impresses me. Sometimes I can tell by reading between the lines that people are having a hard time in their lives, and I'd like to tell them: "don't give up! Stand firm!" Others ask for "shikishi" (a special paper used for painting and calligraphy) for dedications or some original artwork, and these make me laugh. Indeed, I understand what they want, but the world just isn't generous enough for their wishes to come true so easily. For those admirers, forget it and that your wishes enter Buddha's paradise! When I began the series I was poor and slept in some studio's closet, like at "Doraemon". It didn't bother me then, but when I compare it with the large apartment I have now it's like night and day. I never imagined that being a mangaka was such a lucrative career.
What were your feelings when the last chapter ended?
I wasn't able to deliver the last episode in time, which was the usual case during pre-publishing. When I finished the last page I simply said to myself: "Uff, I could've avoided the embarrassment of the delay", and that was it. Later, however, after going over volume nine, and after finishing the colour cover illustration, I said to myself "Oh, it's the last time I'll draw Gally...", and I felt a bit sad.
Please, a word for your admirers?
See you in the next dimension...
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