Translations Archive

Monthly Starlog, 1980 #11 (01 October 1980)

Akira Toriyama Interview

Starlog Exclusive Interview
Akira Toriyama

By the time Dr. Slump began, I had about 1000 pages of manuscript that got rejected

Interviewer: Haruka Takachiho

■ I started drawing comics at 23

Nothing’s been written about you in detail anywhere, Toriyama-san; so I’d like to hear about what sort of person you are.
Now then, let’s start with the basic outline. Is “Akira Toriyama” your real name?
It’s my real name.
“Toriyama” is not a common name; are there many?
There are a lot where my grandmother’s from. It’s a place called Hazu in Mikawa (Aichi Prefecture).1
And where are you from…?
Let’s see… it’s the place I’m living now. I’ve always stuck there.
So in that case, Nishi-Kasugai District (north of Nagoya)….
How old are you now?
25. I was born on April 5th, 1955.
Could you describe the route you took to becoming a cartoonist?
I came from a design course in high school, so of course I joined a design-oriented company… though I didn’t like design all that much. What I really wanted to do was draw pictures. And then I was forced to do things I’m not good with, like lettering. I hated it, of course, so I quit. But thinking about it now, the experience has come in handy.
How long did you work there?
Let’s see… about three years.
And when did you start drawing comics?
On my 23rd birthday. (laughs)
Was there a reason of some sort why you started on your birthday?
Yes. Up until then, I had been drawing illustrations for advertisement-type things, like flyers, as a part-time job…. But I couldn’t really draw much of the things I liked, and as I was wondering what I should do, that’s when I first thought I’d try drawing comics. The first one I put out was something I’d sort of drawn half for fun.
And you sent it in to Jump?
Yes. It’s called the Fresh Jump Award now, but at the time, it was the Young Jump Award.3 I entered, but it was just no good, and only my name got published. I’m the kind of person who hates to lose, though, so I submitted again, and a person from the editorial department4 said, “You look like you’ve got potential, so have at it.”
What did you draw at the time?
Gags, of course. They’re the only thing I can draw, after all….
Was your art the same as it is now?
No, it was completely different. It was right after I had worked as a designer, so the art was really stiff.
When did it start to change?
I drew about three works after the ones for the Young Jump prize; it was the last one. At the time, I drew it kind of unwillingly, and sort of out of laziness, I drew the lines faster… and apparently, that was good.
So it was a relaxed feel, taking it easy. One does have those periods, as you said. Now then, as for illustration….

■ I want to try doing comical illustrations

Yes, even now, I do want to do it a bit. Even in illustrations, I [try to go for] a relatively comical feel.
Ah, but that’s the smallest field in Japan, isn’t it? Your title pages are always incredibly good. They’re the best!
I never have time for those, either. I really want to work on them more.
Once, there was one in the style of Frazetta5. I liked it so much that I cut it out and kept it.6
I’m also the kind of person who goes crazy with monomania when I start drawing. Even that one is quite relaxed. I have all of Frazetta’s illustration collections.
Do you read any science fiction?
I’ve just read a little of Yasutaka Tsutsui7, which my friend recommended to me.
So was your formative experience with things like Tokusatsu shows and comics? Though you mention “Gamera” quite a bit.
I like Gamera; it seems somehow silly. Although I haven’t seen the one with Mach Fumiake8, as it seems like it would destroy my image of her.
Also, Ultraman and such.
Right, although the very first Ultraman is the only one I like. By the time it got to Seven, the design was a mess. I prefer things nice and simple.
What about the current Ultraman?
80? I don’t know about that one…. (laughs)
We (Studio Nue) designed the mechs for The Ultraman, you know.
What, really? I just couldn’t imagine those complicated mechs moving.
We’re Studio Nue, of complex mecha fame. (laughs) Are you unable to watch TV at all, now?
I like animals, so if it’s about wild animals, I’ll watch all of it. But with Tokusatsu shows, I usually have something else going on, though I watch when I can.
Do you keep any animals at home?
No, none right now. I used to have quite a few, though… even a crow. (laughs) At one point, I had close to 100 birds.
100! (laughs) Your house itself must have been Penguin Village. (laughs) Still, it’s incredible to think that you had a crow.
Someone in the neighborhood took in one that had injured its wing. I was still really little, though, so I don’t remember what it ate or anything. From out in back of my house, you can see farmers’ fields and such.
Amazing. The Nōbi Plain, right?
I take the neighbors’ dogs for walks through there, and pheasants will show up. (laughs) I’ll think, “This is a really nice place.”
That must be your model for Penguin Village.
There are a lot of starlings. But they eat all the figs.
Don’t they try to get rid of birds causing damage to the crops?
They’re useful birds, so it’s fine.
Well, recently they do some pretty unimaginable things, so…

■ My Debut Work was Wonder Island

Returning to the subject of comics, what was the official title of your debut work?
It’s called Wonder Island. It ran in Weekly Jump in December of 1978.9 After that, around January of the next year10, I drew Part 2 of Wonder Island for an extra issue. I don’t remember how many months it was after that, but I had one called Today’s Highlights11 published, and then the one after that was a cop story, a three-part serial in Monthly Jump.12 And then there was Dr. Slump.
Will none of them be published in tankōbon?
I don’t suppose they will.13 Nowadays… I don’t like my old stuff. (laughs)
Nobody does. (laughs) Did you submit Dr. Slump to the editorial department as something you particularly liked?
At the time, I’d show them at the sketch stage: “How’s this? What do you think?” I wonder how many it was… I guess it was about 1,000 pages that got rejected.14
That’s incredible! It’s a number so incredible it defies imagination.
I guess my personality is pretty beneficial. Even if I get rejected, it doesn’t bother me. So, as I continued on with that, I drew something like Dr. Slump…. At first, Arale-chan was going to be nothing more than the robot of a single chapter.
You planned to stop using her immediately.
Right, but that person from the editorial department said that the girl was cute, so why not make her the main character? At the time, I didn’t like it, but now, I think, “Ah, I’m glad.”
Well, that’s because she’s just super cute! (laughs) The alien speaking Nagoya dialect was also funny, so good that it moved me. You could bring that alien out more often. (laughs)15

■ I do everything but the blacking myself

Did you like reading comics?
Yes. But there wasn’t anyone I was especially partial to, so it was on the level of just normally flipping through the pages.
In that case, why did you choose Jump?
Because I could apply to them every month.
What about what weekly magazine your comics were suited for, that sort of thing?
I didn’t give it any thought at all. …Or rather, I didn’t know.
I think about that immediately. (laughs) Judging by those illustrations, you draw by yourself, don’t you, Toriyama-san?
Yes. My kid assistant16 only does the blacking. Really, I just want to draw my own things by myself.
Isn’t that really tough?
Weekly publication is really tight. (laughs) When I take a day off now and then, I end up sleeping all day and then it’s over.
Everyone’s like that. (laughs)
Even for inking, I’d like a least one more day. There are even times when I have to go straight to the post office, without any time to review the inked manuscript.
What kind of pen do you use?
A G-Pen. When I was in high school, I was in the manga club, so I knew just the tools.
Ah, I see. Were you already drawing your own works at the time?
Yes, although I didn’t complete a single one. (laughs) So I can’t actually say that I made any comics.
I was the president of my manga club, you know.
I was the president too, for what it’s worth. (laughs)
Science-fiction authors are almost all people who couldn’t become cartoonists, you know. So we have this big complex towards comics. That envy turns the tables, and we write criticism. (laughs)
Wow… and here, I’m always worried, because I’m not good at coming up with stories.
Well, it’s interesting. (laughs) Props are good to have. Guns, and things.
I do like that sort of weapons-type stuff. Nothing is wasted in the designs.
Do you have any model guns?
Yes, I do. There are a lot that I want, but I’m frugal with money, so when I look at the price, I end up thinking it over. (laughs) It seems like people who do this sort of work like things like guns.
Well, when I came back from Hawai’i, I wanted to fire a gun. I absolutely hate the idea of shooting an animal, though. Even if I could shoot a human, I couldn’t shoot an animal.
I don’t like that, either.
I’d like to do skeet shooting with a shotgun, though. So, target shooting.
I don’t really get the nerves of a hunter. Although I suppose there might be that instinct.

■ I’ve been working through the night every other day

Come to think of it, Akane-chan is often brought out with a kung-fu look. Is that a hobby of yours? Do you like kung-fu?
Yes, well, if you put it on a girl, it becomes cute, right? Although I did like Enter the Dragon.
Are you a Star Wars fan, then?
Yes, I like it. Those sorts of designs, I mean. The way The Empire Strikes Back ends doesn’t sit well with me, though.17 I liked how Star Wars felt both old and new. I even built a model of R2-D2, taking about two months mixing two kits to make one that looked just like the real thing. I’m the kind of person who gets really into it when I do something like that.
Amazing! (laughs)
I also like really incomprehensible stuff, like Alien.
The design was scary, too.
That’s good.
What’s your number-one favorite movie up to now?
I like ones that have been relatively high-profile. Like Jaws. Enter the Dragon, Star Wars, and Alien are like that, too. I used to watch movies almost all the time, but recently, it’s become a bother just to get up and go.
In that case, you focus on action movies, then.
Well, I like things you can simply watch and enjoy. My comics are like that too, though.
Have you seen Virus?
No, not yet.
Penguins and elephant seals appear in it. Those elephant seals slip and slide down an iceberg… it’s incredibly good. (laughs) By the way, what cartoonists do you like?
There are a lot; apart from Tezuka-san, there are people whose work I always enjoy reading in Sunday, Magazine, and Champion.
If it’s enjoyable, you breeze right through it.
That’s right. Even if it’s the same person drawing it, if it’s not enjoyable, you don’t enjoy it.
Are there any serials that you look forward to reading?
No one in particular.
But you can’t make friends with other cartoonists, or have anything to talk about with them, can you?
Yes, that’s true, because everyone’s in Tokyo. I do plan to leave and go to Tokyo, but I really am a country boy by nature, so it seems that I’m better suited to the countryside.
No, that’s definitely not true.
Even in Nagoya, when there are a lot of people in an underground mall, it kind of starts to bother me.
I see. Now, you mentioned this a moment ago, you have a hard schedule, don’t you?
Right. My kid assistant only comes once a week, and I do all the whiting18, so every other day, I work through the night.
That’s fine while you’re young, but once you get to be about my age…. You should roam the fields and the mountains while you can. (laughs) Your heart will go bad.19

■ When I was set to do a serial, I was half-happy, half-uncertain

That’s true. So when I was set to do a serial, I was half-happy, half-uncertain. At first, I didn’t have any confidence at all, though. I was prepared for it to end at 10 weeks.
Jump holds a “Readers’ Award” competition every year; haven’t you been told to be in it?
I started just after the Readers’ Award competition for 1980 opened, so no.
In that case, for the next one.
If I get selected.20 What I can’t predict is, well… how long I’ll be drawing Dr. Slump for. I think that, as the years pass, the things I’m inclined to draw will probably change, as well.
It does change. No doubt about that.
I also like building plastic models, the military kind.
Tanks and such?
Well, I prefer vehicles that are smaller than tanks, though.
Do you make the tanks and such into dioramas?
Well, it doesn’t go all the way to being dioramas.
The old Wehrmacht, then?
Yes. I like German- and American-type things.
In the interest of full disclosure, I went up to Hokkaido and rode in a [JSDF] Type 74 tank.
Wow… really?
Really. (laughs) And I was taken the V.I.P. area, and sitting on the table were a bunch of plastic tank models. Returning to the subject of Dr. Slump, is there no map of Penguin Village anywhere?
I get asked that a lot. It’s in a lot of fan mail, as well, but if I decide on that, then I’ll be boxing myself in.
Like one of just the places that have already appeared, or something….
Ah, well if it’s that sort of thing, then I could do it. Penguin Village is nice because you don’t know what will appear. The nice thing about gag manga is how it has this aspect where, at the very least, you’re permitted to come out with anything. In my case, anything can talk. Like the mountains….
That was incredible! (laughs)
I really have the privilege of doing whatever I want.
Well, it’s better that way. Because, essentially, it’s the author’s sensibilities that determine everything. Although I really like King Ghidorah, myself. (laughs) Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is a masterpiece. Up until the part where Mothra persuades Godzilla and Rodan to put aside their differences, at least. (laughs)
I love King Ghidorah, too. Even among kaijū, I like the dinosaur-type ones, that sort of thing. I don’t like the mixed-up ones that come from “Planet such-and-such”. Although I do like the Baltanians (from Ultraman), but only them.
How about foreign ones? Where it’s not a person in a suit, but stop motion (animated dolls)?
I like those. One Million Years B.C. was good.
The Tauntauns’ movements in Star Wars are good, too.
I never would have guessed that they’d run like that.
Its unexpectedness, or rather, the way that it makes you inadvertently catch your breath, is where Star Wars really excels.
Though I think I’d prefer that it always end on a happy note.21
The following translator notes are included for the benefit of the reader as supplemental information.

1 A town to the south and east of Nagoya, on Mikawa Bay. It was incorporated into Nishio City in 2011. “Mikawa” is the old provincial name of eastern Aichi Prefecture; Toriyama’s hometown is in the old province of Owari.

2 This is no longer the case, however, as Kiyosu Town was removed from the district when it became a city in 2005. Cities are administered separately from districts, which contain only villages and towns.

3 This prize was changed again in 1985 to the Hop Step Award, a name it kept until its discontinuation in 1996.

4 This person was Kazuhiko Torishima, Toriyama’s first editor at Jump.

5 Frank Frazetta, an American fantasy and science fiction artist.

6 He may be referring to the title page to Chapter 18 of Dr. Slump, “Kind-napped?!”

7 A science-fiction writer whose most famous work, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (published 1967), was given an animated sequel in 2006.

8 Gamera: Super Monster, released in March 1980. Mach Fumiake, originally known mainly as a pro wrestler and an actress in more traditional productions, played Kirara, one of the “Spacewomen” (“Super Girls” in the original Japanese), aliens trying to protect the Earth from space pirates who have set Gyaos loose.

9 Toriyama is reckoning by effective publication date rather than sale date. Wonder Island was released in Weekly Jump 1978 #52, on 28 November.

10 Actually 27 December 1978, for the same reason as above.

11 Or “Today on Hairai Island”

12 Toriyama appears to be misremembering this point, as Gal Detective Tomato was published in a seasonal special issue of Jump (not yet called the “Summer Special”), rather than Monthly Jump.

13 They were later published in Toriyama’s first- and second short-works collections in 1983 and 1988.

14 Toriyama may be exaggerating (or simply still scarred from the experience) here, as in later interviews, he settles on a rather more modest — but still impressive — figure of 400-500 pages.

15 This would, of course, be Nikochan the Great, and he does in fact get more exposure later in the series.

16 Hisashi “Hiswashi” Tanaka (b. 1959), Toriyama’s first assistant, who worked with him from 1980 until 1983.

17 The Empire Strikes Back ends without real resolution: Han Solo has been captured and taken to the crime lord Jabba the Hutt, and Luke Skywalker has been defeated at the hands of Darth Vader. These plot threads are not resolved until Return of the Jedi, which would not come out for another three years at the time of this interview.

18 Done to fix inking mistakes and to bring out characters and sound effects from the background.

19 Takachiho was born on 07 November 1951, making him 28 years old at the time of the interview. He is a little less than three-and-a-half years older than Toriyama.

20 He was, and his comic for the competition, Pola & Roid, won.

21 We certainly hope Toriyama enjoyed his dancing Ewoks.

English Translation: SaiyaJedi