While at Japan Expo, the one guest I had to speak with was Naoki Urasawa. He's the creator of some of the most amazing manga titles of recent years: from the haunting tribute to Astro Boy in Pluto, to the absolute page-turners that are Monster and 20th Century Boys. Urasawa has won numerous awards throughout his career, and Japan Expo was no exception, as the con honored him at their awards ceremony.
We spoke with Urasawa about the start of his career, some of his future plans, and what it's like to be a rockstar both on and off the stage.
Japanator: Urasawa-san, you wrote a lot about murder, fate, and other dark matters. Did something happen to you as a kid that made you want to write about these things?
Urasawa: [Laughs] I wasn’t a very happy kid, but nothing really bad happened to me. It was a normal childhood. But, yes, there was something. In grade school, a teacher had us write compositions about our family, and this one classmate wrote a story that was nothing but “happy happy happy.” And the teacher really praised him for it! I thought the story was a lie, so I made up what I thought was a “more realistic” version of the truth -- almost humorous, honestly -- and the teacher really got mad at me for that.
How do you go from doing this “more realistic” version of the story to creating incredibly dark characters that are without remorse, such as in Monster?
This might be hard to believe, but people tell me Monster is a dark series. In truth, I see Monster’s story very close to a comedy. It’s totally dark, that’s for certain, but I set out to write it as something you can laugh with.
So will you ever write a true comedy?
What I really like to write is those scenes where, in the middle of a serious or dark situation, just a bit of comedy leaks out. So, that’s the extent of my comedy writing.
You’ve gotten a lot of awards over the course of your career. Are you bored by getting them, or are just used to it now?
No no no! From the bottom of my heart, I’m truly happy whenever I receive one.
What’s your favorite, then?
There are two in particular that really stick out: the Eisner and the Angoulême. It really touches me when people who speak a foreign language give an honor. Sure, I’m happy when I get awards from the Japanese crowd, but when I find that my material can transcend borders and be loved by overseas audiences, that makes me truly happy.
What’s the one thing you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t yet?
Well, I put out a CD back in 2008, but I’d love to make a second album.
Think it’ll break the Oricon 100?
Ranking’s a whole different beast -- I’m not so interested in it. But then again, whenever Bob Dylan comes out with a new CD, it always tops the charts, so maybe I can do the same!
Have you thought about moving into another medium, such as film or TV?
I’m best off as a manga artist. That’s fine if my works are adapted into TV or film, but manga is my base -- I don’t have any real interest in working in other mediums like that.
When you did Pluto, it was a “collaboration” in the sense that you worked on a Tezuka project, to retell the story of Astro Boy. Are there any other works outside of Japan that you’d want to “collaborate” with?
Pluto was a special beast. That was me retelling the first story I had ever read when I was 4 years old. That was my way of doing a tribute to Tezuka, through that work. Otherwise, I don’t have any intentions on doing collaborations with any other works.