The Ever Evolving JoJo
Saito: As a psychiatrist I have noticed in recent years a trend of manga and the like focusing on the characters’ pathological problems, like Evangelion or Yoshida Sensha's work. On the other hand, I feel like your manga stands out thanks to a special kind of “healthiness”. Normal healthy comics are taken for granted and seen as completely dull and insignificant, but your writing portrays impulses with a unique balance of healthiness and peculiarity. Today, I would like to uncover this mystery as a simple fan. Well, this will come later, so please tell me about your debut first.
Araki: I come from Sendai and made my debut at around 20. I drew a serial named Cool Shock B.T. while I was in Sendai, and by the time I started my following series, Baoh the Visitor, I moved to Tokyo. This was during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure started its serialization in Shonen Jump in 1987.
Saito: You debuted 16 years ago and we are now celebrating the tenth anniversary of JoJo. Your main work, the JoJo saga, is more than just one story – it would be better described as one big varied setting, or a succession of stories, each featuring a new generation. At this point, the only character the currently serialized part five has in common with the rest of the series is Koichi Hirose or so.
Araki: Yes, exactly. If the readers didn’t like the story, I would be able to stop anytime. Still, I did have something resembling a theme for the first three parts, up until the story reached the present. I also decided to have the protagonist evolve, even though that hadn’t really happened until then. These were the elements I more or less had in mind.
Saito: Having the stories revolve around a lineage of protagonists named JoJo felt incredibly fresh. Giorno Giovanna, protagonist of the fifth part, is the son of Dio, the enemy of the JoJos, and rounds up very nicely the friend and foe sides of the lineage.
Araki: The saga’s original theme is a praise to humanity, with both its good and its bad sides, as food for thought for the readers. This emphasies both blood ties and the characters’ way of life. When I write my protagonists, I always make sure to establish their lineage, the childhood environment that turned them into who they are now, and develop them from there. I kept that in mind and started building based on it.
Saito: You originally only thought up the setting and story until the third generation, Jotaro Kujo.
Araki: I really sped up the story development at that point, since I knew I would get to a third part. On the other hand, I wrote the third part thinking I might end it there… But, how do I put it, the ideas kept flowing…
Saito: You do not really have slumps, do you?
Araki: I believe it’s different for everyone, but in my case it is for rather short periods of time.
Saito: There is this general image of manga artists having all nighters and stuffing themselves with health drinks before their deadlines, but you look like the type of craftsman who plans their working hours during daytime and keeps a light schedule.
Araki: You truly are perceptive. That’s exactly what I do.
Saito: You have mentioned this before in an interview ("JoJo6251: The World of Hirohiko Araki"). You work out the plot on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are for drawing, while Fridays and Saturdays are spent gathering information. You have been doing this for a decade, yet, strangely enough, you are still not stuck in a rut. How come your art style keeps evolving?
Araki: Probably because I reflect on my past works and think about things I would have done a bit differently or what other artists do. That is when I decide to make some changes. I don’t truly do it on purpose though.
Saito: Do you ever feel jealous of other artists? Are there other styles you admire?
Araki: I do. However, due to my own quirks, things don’t really go the way I want them to.
Saito: Your quirks, or, better yet, particularities are strong indeed. It is interesting that I haven’t really seen artists who copy your style. There were, for example, a lot of Katsuhiro Otomo imitators a while ago, but none for you.
Araki: My art style keeps changing, so it may be difficult to imitate me.
Saito: Not just the art style, but also the lines, the hectic changes in points of view, the extreme composition and perspective, all are Araki style. Perhaps the lack of imitators also reflects a matter of technique.
Araki: I have this tendency of changing not just my art style, but also story development and character points of view, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be able to advance the story. I may also be that everything ends up looking hectic because of the 19-page limit.
Saito: The passage of time in your stories is also unique. You do not show through just one line. You use numerous tricks, then go back in time and reveal what was actually going on. Well, you also introduced stands that could literally stop or rewind time too.
Araki: I put a lot of detail into every single second. Let’s take characters falling for example, I like showing how far they’re thinking while falling and that tends to last (laughs).
Saito: The entire scene until Yoshikage Kira's death in part 4 only lasts about 15 minutes, but you turned it into an entire volume: temporality, manga style.
Is it correct to say that your works feature a clear and logical entertainment value, especially if you take the existence of SF-like constant and precise explanations into account? I feel that you are not satisfied unless you reveal precise principles, either behind the existence of stands or simple tricks….
Araki: That is true. I can’t be satisfied unless I write a proper explanation, be it based on scientific or manga logic, even when I draw invisible or unclear concepts, like ghosts or paranormal phenomena. That is how stands were born.
Saito: They feel so fresh and innovative, unlike anything I have seen before. Did you get this idea from somewhere?
Araki: No, they were simply the result of a request. I was basically told to make super powers that were easy to understand for the readers, like breaking something with your mind powers; have something appear and actually break an object. But only that. Take Ushiro no Hyakutarou, for example: even if guardian spirits show up, they don’t actually do anything (laughs). I figured they should also punch or beat up evil spirits, and ended up with what we know as stands.
Saito: I believe there was this Katsuhiro Otomo boom, a tendency in the beginning of the 80s when everyone wanted to write stories featuring invisible supernatural phenomena, like Domu. Did you incorporate a sort of rebellion to that in your own work?
Araki: I did. I wanted to do something about the almost incomprehensible way psychic abilities were portrayed. I learnt a lot thanks to Otomo’s technique though, like the way cups break and so on. It’s easy to see how much attention he pays to such things and how much care he pours into drawing them, how bases his style on theory, how he draws each part properly, like the pieces of a puzzle. Take scattered water for example, the way he draws it makes you think he takes photos of water and watches it fall in slow motion. It’s that accurate. I loved reading it, but the psychic powers parts were a bit difficult to understand; I just couldn’t agree with the way they were presented. We then figured we should have our characters beat up others. I think this is where the request came from.
Saito: I have seen many readers talk about that particular way your characters speak, that it feels more like reading translations. Is that on purpose?
Araki: Ah, no, I’d say this might be the result of the books I’ve read. I also talk like that sometimes. Those are totally me (laughs).
Saito: King is your favorite foreign writer, right?
Araki: He is, but that is perhaps because I haven’t paid attention to too many other suspense writers.
Saito: What about the sound effects? Like the famous “zugyuuun” during the kiss scene in Part 1 (laughs). Are these unique sounds, like “baaaam” or “dododo”, what you hear in your head while drawing?
Araki: They are like a rhythm I wanted to give to certain scenes. I guess it’s the movie influence, like the music that starts playing all of a sudden when the murderer shows up behind the characters. Like “beep beep beep” or “dun dun dun” (laughs). There’s something special about them that I can’t help adding in my manga as well.
Saito: I believe you want your manga to have a movie-like development, right?
Araki: I do. When I draw, I “see” the characters through cameras, like capturing that eerie feeling you get when the camera approaches something. Seeing the camera come closer like that makes you think even an ordinary glass of water might actually be filled with poison. Of course, manga panelling also has its limitations.
Saito: It seems you love movies quite a lot.
Araki: I mostly watch famous movies. My favorite directors are Clint Eastwood, Coppola, De Palma, Spielberg. I’m not too fond of Lynch or Kubrick. The definitely have their good points, but I don’t really draw any inspiration from them.
Saito: Your character, but especially your Stand designs are outstanding. Tohl Narita, Ultraman’s designer, said that drawing monsters properly is difficult, and even experienced artists tend to turn them into into deformities or chimera at best. The monsters you draw have a certain consistency to their designs, coupled with a healthy and autonomous life force. That is why they don’t feel grotesque at all.
Araki: I think this might also be because I can’t draw grotesque things. Well, I don’t think I draw particularly brutal scenes in my manga either. Let’s take scenes covered in blood for example: I prefer making the bleeding look more stylized than realistic. I don’t find designing Stands too difficult though, since they have parts in common with folk craft creations or puppets. I also add these elements to somehow complement Stand abilities.
Saito: Did Echoes (Koichi Hirose's Stand) come out just as easily too? It feels like you spent quite a bit of time designing it.
Araki: I may have spent a bit more time thinking about Echoes, since it was the first time I tried to write character growth. This was also reflected in the Stand coming out of an egg and changing several times.
Saito: Koichi Hirose is one of your favorite characters, right?
Araki: Well, perhaps it is his destiny to show up again and again, but I don’t actually plan this kind of thing in advance, although it may look like it. I used to plan out the story in the beginning too, but at some point figured it would be more interesting if I wrote it like a sort of diary instead, like putting together the things that came to mind on that very day. Still, I will always think up a definite direction for my stories.
Saito: Could it be you are not particularly attached to past characters?
Araki: I don’t think about them in particular, but more fondly, like friends I’ve said good bye to. I have my mind full of the things I have to do for the following week, so I forget about them. You might say you don’t have the time to look back in this world.
Saito: Some time ago, Buichi Terasawa said you are the type of writer who thinks up the entire story from beginning to end first and then starts drawing.
Araki: I don’t do that anymore. I don’t know the following week’s story anymore. I did do this for Baoh and the first part of JoJo, but I think doing that is a waste now.
It is easy to follow a character’s destiny as long as you have a clear image of them in mind. They have to move, just like real humans. I will always have the protagonist act based on the feelings he derives from his motivation, as long as that motivation is clear itself.
Saito: Ah, so this relates to your non-existent slumps.
Araki: No, no, I do have slumps (laughs).
Saito: I would have started worrying if had you said 100% no, but still, this is quite something compared to others. There is a certain pattern of manga artists improving their art, sometimes at the expense of their storytelling skills. You don’t have this problem at all. Both your art and storytelling evolve simultaneously at a great speed. Has any other manga artist maintained this same constant tension for an entire decade? Let’s say Jump’s Kochikame for 20 years and Dragon Ball for ten years, but not even Dragon Ball could avoid repeating the same pattern – the tournament formula, with enemies that get stronger and stronger. I have a feeling you are not too fond of the tournament formula.
Araki: I think it was a Bubble-like thing, followed by a period of uncertainty; I wasn’t too sure what to do when asked to write something of the sort. I do reject tournaments on some level.
Saito: There seems to be a surprisingly high number of people mistaking JoJo for a tournament manga, among them even critics who fail to read it properly. The story being divided into several parts that feature only one ability, Stands, shows that differences are based on value rather than strength. Did you use this setting in order to limit the inflation of strong enemies?
Araki: Sometimes the editor asks me to introduce a tournament arc because readers love that kind of thing, but I just reply with “Eh, ok. But what do I do when I’m done with this enemy?”. I originally wanted to end JoJo with part 4 and figured I would start drawing a different type of manga, but the editorial department told me I wasn’t allowed to take a break (laughs), so I forced myself to start a new part and make new characters. I did end up getting attached to them along the way though.
Saito: It simply looked like Koichi Hirose passing the baton, so as a reader I didn’t feel any sort of discomfort, nothing felt contrived.
Araki: I felt I did a rather good job there, but I wonder if that feeling will last as I start introducing more characters.
The Classic Way of Shonen Manga
Saito: I feel that you are following the classic way of shonen manga from several points of view.
Araki: Yet I am also misunderstood and wrongly perceived as a more obscure type of artist, even though I have always intended to inherit the spirit of certain shonen manga.
Saito: True, true. Basically manga critics have nothing to say to you. I decided to talk to you today because I wanted to emphasize that. I believe you are being undeservedly underestimated. Small things, like your lines and sound effects, used to be praised in the beginning as “interesting”, but now they are criticized as repetitive, whereas to me they are constantly escalating the tension. Perhaps these persons either do not notice experimentation, or your way of experimenting is too difficult to understand for them. The only criticism I consider accurate at the moment is Hachiro Taku's (included in “Ikasu! Otaku tengoku“) (laughs).
Araki: That is because he is a Jump reader and is perhaps used to this. But I think he might be overestimating me (laughs).
Saito: Oh no, following this classical way while being experimental is actually a very rare occurrence, and I came here today feeling it is my duty to turn around, even if a little, this unfair criticism.
Your works are like an ode to life, a bit different from the typical notion of “wholesome”, but with an extremely “healthy” feel to them. I have also talked about Sensha Yoshida's manga, but his work has certain “pathological”, if I may say so, aspects, which conversely makes them easy to talk about. What do you think about that type of manga?
Araki: I love it. It’s interesting to see that abnormal part of humans brought to light. I do get some ideas while reading this type of manga, but my work is an ode to humanity, so I only touch on them a little. I do believe that if you turned my manga inside out you’d end up with the kind of work we were talking about .
My previous editor told me to write more about human sadness, but sometimes I feel that I am not really the type of person to write about something like this. It’s not really in my nature. These moments really give me a headache. But I do try my hand at it.
Speaking of novels, there is this “innate sadness” that permeates books like Stephen King’s, which for me is also an ode to humanity, although it is not a place I really want to go to. That is why I think that having your entire story focus on that will make you look like a poor writer. Too much focus on that one aspect. I don’t think ending a story in such a hellish point, like the movie Seven, is a good idea either. There needs to be some sort of salvation, somewhere, for me. But I’d say the other way is all right too. I’m thinking of challenging myself and trying it out one day, if it fits the theme.
Saito: Your style changed a bit in part 4, which featured a psychopath, a character you would encounter in Silence of the Lambs or Seven.
Araki: That’s right. It was the times. JoJo’s third part leaned more towards the mythical angle, while part four, together with its protagonist, moved a little towards normal daily life.
Saito: Was that kind of atmosphere an active choice? Or was it more of a necessity once you decided to draw about normal daily life?
Araki: I was inspired in part by the Tsutomu Miyazaki murders, among others. While thinking about something to represent the enemy, (as an aside, Dio also represented various things as well), I figured that the most frightening thing in your daily life would be not knowing what your next-door neighbor is doing. Now, the enemy of part five comes from your inner group, he’s your higher-up. He’s basically superimposed over the the people who are supposed to protect you, like statesmen or policemen.
Saito: Are you thinking of creating an open world setting, with only part 4 as the exception? Having enemies that keep appearing in a closed setting does end up resembling a tournament.
Araki: I would do it if necessary. But while drawing week to week I can only think about the types of attack and defense that take place in a certain second, in a certain space, and this writing style of mine basically limits my options. Looking back though, the world does end up bigger than expected.
There’s also the fact that I only come up with one plot thread per week; if I introduce two, the readers won’t know what is going on anymore. This style of drawing manga one by one, according to editors. If you were to introduce two plot threads, they would say “Don’t think too much about that” or “Don’t introduce two plot threads, the readers won’t know what to focus on”. One is enough. Drawing one without feeling awkward is more than enough. There are also moments when I am told “These panels look awkward now” (laughs). If I am more daring I will receive encouragement, like being told everything will be okay when I feel a little anxious. These words coming from an editor mean a lot.
Saito: This is a story about a lineage, so family is obviously involved, but fathers mostly die or end up frail and feeble. Many fights are motivated by the desire to protect or help a woman, mostly one’s mother, which to me is another brand of wholesome.
Araki: Well, I do my best to avoid having my readers think it a bit awkward, but it always ends up like this. It might feel a bit too noble for me if it were about protecting one’s lover… Sure, I can also include the hero’s own desires or advantages and disadvantages, but for that you have to write the beginning of the love story properly. You don’t need an actual incentive to protect your mother or a relative, but the story changes greatly if it is about protecting a romantic interest. You have to write why that girl needs to be protected and the story itself will end up digressing. Well, there is also the fact that I can’t write girls too well, although I have tried too many times.
I may be drawing a fighting manga, but the readers still need to be patient. There might be enthusiastic readers who want to see fights too, but drawing those endlessly is rather… That is why turning the mother into the hero’s purpose makes the story flow easily afterwards. I had some ideas that were considered too slow and sluggish and ended up rejected too. Sometimes I also write the story as a puzzle, taking into consideration what fits in where and what doesn’t, whether to save certain characters or what may feel too slow and irritating. Other times I go all out like James Cameron. I love how solid Cameron’s storytelling feels — he doesn’t introduce too many useless details, but will definitely have a background story.
Saito: Have you thought about a live-action adaptation of your works?
Araki: I am not interested in directing my own live-action, but sometimes I think about movies and what an excellent communication method they are. I respect movies, but I have my doubts about manga becoming an art similar to movies. Not even going to talk about anime.
Saito: A critic named Mikiro Kato identifies manga written by you or Buichi Terasawa by the general term of "mannerism", that is, manga drawn with incredibly high skill and peppered with brilliant references. Do you use this style on purpose?
Araki: I cannot help doing it.
Saito: You include references, but not too many parodic moments. You have serious touches, but not silly anime-style moments. Am I right?
Araki: You see, my standard is that even though I find it a little silly myself, I will draw whatever it is without feeling embarrassed. I transcend that and use the technique of “I can do it!!!” (laughs). This is what I call determination.
Saito: So you are tempted to joke around too.
Araki: Hahaha, I am. Sometimes I do think I may be crossing some lines, but if my readers saw through that, it would ruin the entire atmosphere. But this is also a Jump tradition. If you are wondering why artists like Masami Kurumada were able to get so far, well, it’s because they are great people.
Saito: This is something unique to Jump.
Araki: Like one of those moments when you stop and think why a character jumps into space (laughs). However, that completely flies over the readers’ heads, so you just go “aaah”.
Saito: Incidentally, the one shouting the name of the move is Masami Kurumada.
Araki: As expected (laughs).
Saito: Kurumada’s punching panel composition is mainly the same, but you, on the other hand, draw them differently most of the time.
Araki: That is because the times advance as well. Yep. That is why, in the end, my manga follows conventions.
Saito: Are there any manga artists that have caught your eye lately?
Araki: Hmmm. There are a lot, but there’s a part of me that does not want to admit it. I can’t really understand the otaku type of manga artists, but I won’t say they aren’t good; they simply have a particular charm, I guess. Everyone fervently endorses them and praises their style anyway. And yet, there are also parts I cannot understand, like why is it good to draw incessantly or if it’s all right to just draw the same face over and over again.
I love Minetarou Mochizuki. Currently reading Dragon Head. I didn’t really understand Batāshi Kingyo, but I started thinking he’s good around the time of Zashiki Onna. From Jump there’s Kyosuke Usuta's Sexy Commando Gaiden. There’s also Nobuyuki Fukumoto's Kaiji, serialized in Young Magazine. Don’t you feel that Kaiji is just my type of manga? The art style feels inspired by Tetsuya Chiba, but it's not as good. But that’s a good thing. I was really into Kaiji last year. I hadn’t run to the bookstore like that in quite a while.
Saito: Today’s conversation has convinced me that you come up very casually with the all the things we love so much. As expected (laughs). This, to me, is a sign of genius.
Araki: I am not a genius though (laughs). But it’s not that important anyway.
Saito: Our points of view may differ, but there are certain aspects that pass unnoticed when it comes to other series, while attracting a lot of attention when featured in your manga. We may think you are doing this on purpose, but you truly aren’t. It’s something that comes to you naturally.
Araki: I cannot do it any other way.
Saito: I hope you will keep doing it this way for ten, no, twenty more years.
Araki: Understood. I will do my best, even though it will be quite tough (laughs).
[Translated by Dijeh]