Translations Archive

TeLePAL (1986 No. 3)

Big Creators’ Talk:

Akira Toriyama x Rumiko Takahashi

Just before broadcast starts on the Dragon Ball and Maison Ikkoku anime!

The popular anime Dr. Slump and Urusei Yatsura, which have continued for many years, will end this spring. But don’t fret: the aforementioned anime from the same creators will start right after. With that in mind, we interviewed the two of them in the midst of their busy schedules and got them to do a talk for this magazine.

Rumiko Takahashi
Born 10 October 1957 in Niigata prefecture. Served as president of Japan Women’s University’s Manga Study Society, and made her debut with Urusei Yatsura in Shōnen Sunday in June 1978 while still a student. Since then, she has continued drawing Urusei up to the present. Apart from that, she is also serialized in Big Comic Spirits with Maison Ikkoku.

Akira Toriyama
Born 5 April 1955 in Aichi prefecture. After working as a designer at an advertising agency, he made his Shōnen Jump debut in November 1978 with Wonder Island. He started serialization in December 19790 with Dr. Slump, which lasted until 1984. Dragon Ball started serialization in the same magazine in 1984, and is still going.

■ “We create the comics as we’re drawing them”

We had two of the most popular Japanese cartoonists in history, Akira Toriyama and Rumiko Takahashi, who typically don’t take interviews that often, talk to each other about their comics and animation. Let’s start by asking them about stories from their new anime, Dragon Ball (currently serialized in Shueisha’s Jump) and Maison Ikkoku (currently serialized in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Spirits)!

In going from Dr. Slump to Dragon Ball, and from Urusei Yatsura to Maison Ikkoku, you have both released comics completely different in tempo and content from what you did before; we’d like to have you start by talking about that.
Toriyama: I wanted to change up the tempo and setting of my comics in the sense of giving them some variety, for one thing. So where, for Slump, the art was very America-esque, in the case of Dragon Ball, I made it as Chinese as could be.

Takahashi: Well, after all, if you don’t change the tempo, there’s really no point in changing to a different work, is there? There are times that that sort of thing is the very reason I’m able to do it.

Toriyama: If you don’t make a change, it’s a pain for the one drawing it, as well….

What points did you pay attention to when you made those changes?
Toriyama: The point I kept in mind the most was not to make it too silly. I really worked to reduce the playful elements, since, in Slump, I really played around, having the creator himself appear and whatnot…. (laughs) But this time, the focus is on the story!
How about you, Takahashi-san?
Takahashi: In my case, I really wanted to draw an apartment story. There was a time when I lived in an apartment building in Nakano. Next door, there was this strange apartment building that was practically falling down.
And so that became your motif?
Takahashi: Well, not just that, but my own room, and so forth.
With absolutely nothing in it, like Godai’s room…?
Takahashi: Yes. I had no furniture whatsoever, just the essentials. People nowadays wouldn’t live in such a bare room, would they. In my mind’s eye, there’d be a bed, and a stereo… I know, but still!!

Toriyama: I’ve also used things that happened to me in the past as material.

Takahashi: Now that you mention it, one time about two or three years after Maison started in serialization, I went back home to the countryside, and, for whatever reason, I looked at my diary from when I was in high school and reeeally got that sense. I knew that the person who wrote this diary was the same one who wrote Maison. So I felt that that’s just how it is.

How do you determine the characters’ faces and personalities?
Takahashi: First off, I decide at the design stage that they’re roughly “this sort of person,” but until I draw them, I don’t know the finer details of their personality. What about for you, Toriyama-san?

Toriyama: In my case, I wanted to draw Goku as a mischievous and earnest boy, so I’ve tried to express the mischievous part through his hair, and the earnest aspect through his face and eyes. His eyes in particular, I made the same as a supporting character. So I’m trying not to bring out any particular uniqueness in the supporting cast.1

How do you go about coming up with your stories?
Takahashi: I hardly do a “story” as such, really. The big contours are there, but I think it’s only after drawing for a while that — poof! — I come up with something.

Toriyama: I’m virtually the same as you, Takahashi-san. I’m flying by the seat of my pants, never creating with a thought to what’s up ahead!!

Wouldn’t that break the flow of the story, or the continuity?
Toriyama: That happened a lot with Slump, but I think that’s a kind of enjoyment you can only get from comics, or something like that.

Takahashi: If you’ve committed to too many things, the characters will no longer have a life of their own, after all.2

Toriyama: I’m the sort of person who doesn’t get too particular about things, so at first I took Dragon Ball‘s settings from China, and lately, I’ve gone from Bali, to Siberia, to Old West-type locales, changing them up according to my mood. If you go with a vast continent, you’re pretty free with what you can do, after all.3

■ “In rough times, rejected manuscripts come in handy, and introducing new characters helps you get through them.”

On the TV program NHK Special Feature, Osamu Tezuka-san said that he doesn’t get any ideas until a deadline draws near; how about you?
Takahashi: Well, I do think there is that aspect. But most of the time, it takes two days to create the story and draw the storyboard (the rough draft), and drawing the manuscript takes about one night, I suppose.

Toriyama: For me, about two days go by with me going, “I need to come up with some kind of story,” but really just pretending to work. And also, inking takes me probably about a day.

With both of you drawing your comics like that week-in, week-out, don’t you ever reach an impasse?
Toriyama: I do. At times like those, in my case, I make up my mind and go to sleep. (laughs)
That sort of thing happens even for you, Toriyama-san?
Toriyama: What’s that supposed to mean? (laughs) When I get sleepy, something just goes “pop!!” right into my head; I think it’s done quite well for me. Except, a lot of the time, I just go on to fall asleep. Times like those, I feel really strongly that I’ve lost out. (laughs)

Takahashi: Even if you have to force yourself, you’ve got to draw something, after all… I do it, one way or another. (laughs) I’ll change things up with the depiction of a character’s psyche, for instance….

Toriyama: Back before I made my debut, I had about 500 pages worth of material that got rejected, so I’ve used plenty of things from those. I feel like I’ve probably used a few stories from them, as well….

Takahashi: That sounds like it’s come quite in handy. (laughs)

Toriyama: No joke. (laughs) Back when they were rejected, it was really rough. But it made things easier afterward, so I’ll let it slide.

Takahashi: When I’m stumped for story developments in Urusei, I’ll also do things like introduce a new character in order to give things a breath of fresh air.

Is that why for both of you, there are so many characters in your works?
Takahashi: It might be, but for Maison, the setting is an apartment, after all, so there won’t be that many characters appearing.
Takahashi-san, for some reason both Maison and Urusei are stories with a love triangle; did something like that perhaps happen with you in the past? (laughs)
Takahashi: Not that, but…. When I started Urusei, I was pursuing things like science fiction, but my first editor told me that, at the end of the day, love triangles were the most interesting.

Toriyama: That’s right; your first editor’s opinions really stick in your head. For me, it’s “draw comics so they’re easy to understand”.

Takahashi: Right? I’ve got love triangles ingrained into my very being.

Toriyama: And I created the story of Dragon Ball, talking to my editor about raising the target age group with it, but because of that “easy to understand” caveat, it ended up being the same as Slump.

Why did you go with a shōnen magazine rather than shōjo, Takahashi-san?
Takahashi: Because I’d been reading Shōnen Sunday since I was little. I read Margaret and such too, of course. But at my most emotional time4, I preferred shōnen magazines, having been used to them since I was a child.
About how old were you when you decided you wanted to become a cartoonist?
Takahashi: I think it was around 11th grade.
What about you, Toriyama-san?
Toriyama: It’s a secret, but when I decided to apply to Shōnen Magazine, it was already past the deadline, so I had no choice but to go with Shōnen Jump. (laughs) My motivation for becoming a cartoonist was… to put it bluntly, the ¥100,000 prize money. (laughs)

■ “In comics, [use of] ‘space’ makes things more interesting, but in animation, you have to keep things moving”

Do the two of you watch much animation?
Takahashi: I try to watch when I have the time. Right now, it’s Fist of the North Star and such….

Toriyama: I don’t watch it much. I don’t read much comics, either. I do know that they’d be fun to read, though. Perhaps I go out of my way not to watch.

How about the animated version of your own work?
Toriyama: When it first started airing, I did watch it a fair bit, which is pretty rare for me!! I’d record it on video.

Takahashi: I even record every episode, although it’s on SLP5. I don’t have many opportunities to watch, but there are episodes among them that I actually like quite a bit, and those times I’ll use a special tape. Then I’ll watch furtively in the middle of the night. (laughs) I do things like that.

Is there anything that’s enjoyable because it’s a comic, or things that are more interesting when they’re animated?
Toriyama: Animation’s good in how well it combines movement, color and sound. For comics, it’s the panel layout.

Takahashi: It seems like that’s pretty often the case. With Urusei, for instance, it’s really flashy. In the comic’s case, there are things I couldn’t draw for any number of reasons, such as there not being enough space, but I’m pleased when I can get them to do it with some interesting direction in the animation.

There are times when the animated version will use three chapters of the original comic in a single episode. How do you feel about that as the creators?
Toriyama: Well, comics and animation are different, so it’s better than than leaving in awkward spaces in the action. There are even times when I’d prefer that they cover those gaps with movement.

Takahashi: That’s right. Though there are times when they go too wild with it, and you can no longer see how things got the way they are; that sort of thing can pose a problem. The key is the enthusiasm of those who are animating it. That really comes out on screen.

Do you go to see the theatrical animation of your own work?
Takahashi: I always watch the preview screenings. The first one in particular was exciting; I even thought that it was better than the original comic. For the author, there’s no greater pleasure than being able to say, “It was a really good story!!”

Toriyama: In my case, I’m really shy, so I’ve never watched it at a movie theater. I mean, it’s embarrassing.

Takahashi: It isn’t really, for me.

Toriyama: If I remember correctly, you had a short video that came out. Didn’t you, Takahashi-san?

Takahashi: Yes. It’s called Fire Tripper!!

Toriyama: How deeply were you involved?

Takahashi: I just did the original story. I didn’t think they’d make it very faithful to the original story, so to be honest, I was pleased. I was thankful that they took it seriously, and that made me happy. Their work was so convincing that, if there’s anything bad to say about it, it’s the creator’s — my — fault.

Would the two of you like to make your own animation?
Toriyama: Back when I watched Future Boy Conan, I thought I might like to try my hand at animation, but now, not at all.

Takahashi: I like watching animation, but making it is a completely different kind of work. I prefer drawing static illustrations.

Did you make any requests with regards to the new animated shows?
Toriyama: At any rate, I want them to make Goku move around like mad. That’s all, really.

Takahashi: For me, I think the success of animation comes down to the voice actors. About 50 percent of it. I’ve worked with the director, Kazuo Yamazaki-san, since Urusei. Between the two, I feel like he’s better suited to Maison, so it probably wouldn’t make a difference, no matter what someone like me told him. I’ll leave things up to him.

Toriyama: As long as it’s interesting, I don’t mind if they tweak things, even to the point of completely ignoring the comic.

Lastly, a word about your new animated shows.
Takahashi: Elementary and middle schoolers!! If you don’t watch it, you’ll regret it so bad, you could die!! Ahaha. Also, read the original comic too, OK?

Toriyama: It might be hard to understand when taken an episode at a time6, but I think you’ll begin to get the sense of speed and the tempo of it if you continue to watch, so by all means, please check it out!! And also, the collected volumes are also selling like hotcakes, so please give those a look as well.

Dragon Ball Staff Interview
Minoru Okazaki (series director): I believe it’s a work that will appeal to a wide age-range, from little kids up to middle- and high-school students. I want to have the innocent, mischievous Goku move with a lot of energy, and since the setting is China-esque, I’d like to bring out a profoundly mysterious and mystical atmosphere. Rather than comparing it to Dr. Slump, I want people to treat it as the new, second chapter of “Toriyama Theatre”.

Minoru Maeda (chief animation supervisor): Dragon‘s characters are all nicely proportioned, unlike Arale’s stubby-looking characters, which I’m struggling with. And also, there are large differences in heights, which makes it hard to contain on screen. As long as it isn’t unnatural, I plan on changing up the heights freely. I’d also like to show some sexiness in the art that wasn’t in Slump, so I’d really like the director not to cut those parts. (laughs)

Maison Ikkoku Staff Interview
Kazuo Yamazaki (series director): I’m not particularly concerned with the fact that it comes after Urusei. I believe there should be a more adult kind of animation like Maison among animated works, and on the production side, I’m viewing it as one more adventure, and quite excited about it. I’d like to depict it so that even the little everyday occurrences become funny by changing the point of view.

Yūji Moriyama (character designs): I was able to do my work this time with out any major problems. Among the various series I’ve worked on, this was one of the faster ones to complete. This time, I’ve only participated with the character designs, but the director, Kazuo Yamazaki-san, is trying to make a Maison Ikkoku that’s just a bit different from the original comic, my expectations for it are high.

Planning/Organization: TeLePAL Editorial Department
Interview/Text: Tsuneo Matsumoto7
Staff interviews/Text: Hiroshi Yamaguchi (Studio Hard)
Photography: Takahisa Hayashi
This talk has been arranged for the purposes of the magazine.

The following translator notes are included for the benefit of the reader as supplemental information.

0 sic — actually January 1980
1 One of the complaints from Toriyama’s editor, Kazuhiko Torishima, was that even with his tail, Goku was “too plain” and “didn’t stand out” as a main character. By this time, Toriyama had rectified that by introducing characters such as Kuririn as foils to bring Goku’s personality into sharper relief.
2 i.e., if the characters are too constrained by backstory and continuity, there’s nothing interesting to do with them.
3 Bali influenced the island location of the Tenka’ichi Budōkai, while Siberia would have been the inspiration for Jingle Village, the location of Muscle Tower. The “Old West” location is unclear; at the time of the interview, Goku was still at Muscle Tower in serialization. Perhaps Toriyama was thinking ahead to what would become the Karin Sanctuary (with its tepees), but it’s unclear.
4 i.e., adolescence
5 The lowest-quality setting, where the tape moves the slowest and captures the least information.
6 In contrast to Dr. Slump, which was largely episodic and self-contained from one episode to the next.
7 The president of Toriyama’s fanclub and founder of Caramel Mama
English Translation: SaiyaJedi