Nolife (May 2007)

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Published May 11, 2007

An interview with Hirohiko Araki shown in a documentary on the French television channel "Nolife" on May 11, 2007.


JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is an exceptional manga because of its scope and its longevity. The story takes place in 6 generations split through 80 volumes and it still continues in Japan. Even if this manga never had the honors of an adaptation as a TV series, it has a big popularity in Japan and Italy. This success, is due to its original setting and colorful characters.

Araki: Why did I decide to become a manga artist? Well, I had two sisters that were twins and when I was a kid, my parents had a tendency to take care of them more than me. When I think about it, I remember a pretty lonely childhood. When I came home after school, I would have liked having a brother to play with. I found my consolation in reading manga. At that time, many skilled manga artists began to release their first work... This was the 70s and was how I became interested in manga.

At school, my classmates would tell me I was skilled at drawing manga. It made me really happy and I persevered in this field. I made my first manga near the age of 10. I made a few tries before, but wasn't really successful. After that, at the age of 15, I started submitting my pages to editors, then after leaving high school, I made my professional debut. I was 19.

Even if the basics of the story are classic, the manga itself is made in an original way. The first two generations have their protagonists using Ripple energy, created in their body by their breathing, to fight against vampires. In the next generations, all of its characters developed really particular entities: Stands, associating a ghostly avatar to everyone that has a special ability. Those abilities, which are often very unique, make JoJo's Bizarre Adventure a unique manga in its genre.

Araki: There would be a lot to say about JoJo, but if we look at a human, how far could we go? How far can we find the courage to fight against evil? When I think about it, my protagonists must have a really strong and resistant body, as well as a pure heart, and an iron will. To summarize, that's the perfect manga hero. And to please the readers, I wanted a solid story, with enough suspense and humor that is effective. So I thought about the characters needed to make this type of story, and I started working. For me, what's important in a manga is the hero, who needs to stay in the reader's heart. If the hero gives the reader a déjà vu impression, then it's already a failure. It needs a hero with a strong impression that stays engraved in your memory.

I rack my brain every week to find ideas. For example when the hero fights the enemy, sometimes they lose hope against the power of their opponent. In those times, I also despair to find a solution to make my hero win. And every week, it starts again. Generally, in a shonen manga, the hero is Japanese. It's an old habit in the world of publishing in Japan. But in my manga, I wanted the hero to be born where the story takes place. For example, if it takes place in England, my hero is English, if it's in Italy, my hero would be Italian, etc... It creates a certain distance with the readers, that can no longer identify with my characters. This was quite an adventurous choice, but in my manga, we can find universal themes like love or courage, and there is no reason to make the difference between people and their origins. This was pretty bold at that time, and when I made this exhibition in France, which isn't really common for a Japanese manga artist, I convinced myself by telling myself that drawing has no borders. So I took the decision of doing it abroad. This was in the logic of my artistic choice.

And the running gag of the series is that the surname of some characters is the surname of a music artist. As such, we see appearing in the pages, "Vanilla Ice", "Killer Queen", or "Pearl Jam". We even find a Frenchman, that Mr. Araki called Jean Pierre Polnareff.

Araki: (Laughs) When I was a kid, I listened to Michel Polnareff's records a lot, the one where he sings "Tout tout pour ma chérie". I was really a fan. His name slightly sounded Russian, but because I liked him a lot, I gave it to a French character. That's pretty much it.

A manga artist's work is very different from a regular author's work. First in terms of pace and length, they are really different from the French-Belgian production. A manga artist needs to send 20 pages per week to their editor, then often works in a team, inside of a small studio, where their assistants relieve them from a big part of their work.

Araki: After sketching the draft, I draw characters with a pen and Indian ink. Then, I add multiple layers of acrylic. I always use this method. I think few artists use this technique,. There are more and more illustrators that use a computer, but I am infinitely more effective by hand. The magazine in which JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is published is weekly, so my schedule is based on the release rate. As far as I'm concerned, on Friday and Saturday I'm resting, Sunday I search ideas, Monday I make the storyboard, then there is 3 days left to make the 20 pages that we need to give to the editor. I personally draw all the characters, but my assistants take care of the backgrounds, buildings, and trees.

Long ago, manga artists used to work tirelessly day and night. Nowadays, perhaps they have a little less stamina... but we nevertheless still sort of have the same work rhythm as office workers. You must look after yourself to hold up against the weekly rhythm. You need discipline, somewhat like an athlete. I think manga is very different from western comics. The art in American comics makes use of much more rounded shapes. In Japan, manga are drawn with swift lines, thrown onto the page with no hesitation. It makes for a very flat illustration. It's a heritage we surely owe to ukiyo-e, those 17th century prints. Our roots differ greatly from those of classical western art.

It's uncommon for a manga artist to exhibit his work, and it's even rarer for it to be done outside of Japan. This one of a kind initiative is an opportunity for Mr. Araki to meet a new audience.

Araki: This is my first time making this sort of exhibit. Usually, all these drawings are stored away in a drawer. This must be the first time they see the light of day. My readers start reading my manga around age 15. One day, a little 9 year old girl told me: "You draw so well!" I realized that even those who don't read my manga can appreciate my art. So I chose a country where JoJo isn't very well known and where art occupies an important spot. As such, I chose to come to Paris. I was rather surprised. I imagined that my exhibit would attract an audience of young people, students. But there were old people, Americans too, Asians, people from all over the world came. I think Paris is an extraordinary place.

Unlike Jump comics' other flagship franchises, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure never got an animated TV show adaptation. A series of high-quality OVAs were still created, directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo, director of Roujin Z and Golden Boy.

Araki: The first proposal I got to make it an anime was in 1994. But the story was really long. At the time, volume 30 had just released. To make it an anime, you couldn't preserve such a long story. We thought about it long and hard and, eventually, settled on adapting the battle between Jotaro and DIO. It's a very important moment in the manga. My involvement ceased past approving the plot. I did all I could to be perfectly satisfied with it and production started. It's only later that they would adapt the beginning of that story. The last episodes were released last year. Truly, the anime's production team has done an outstanding job.

These OVAs are soon to be released on DVD in France. As for the manga, its publication has been on going for a year and a half.

Araki: First of all, this is a great joy for me. But also... You know how in Japan, manga is read from right to left. And when they are released overseas... The pages are inverted so as to make them readable the western way. But French people are fine with reading manga in the original way, that's great. For example, when you flip the pages, right handed characters become left handed. I think that's really not good.

With such a rich universe featuring many fights, it's only natural JoJo would pique the interest of video game publishers. As a result, Capcom released in 1998 a fighting game based on the third generation of the series, which is also the most popular. Drawing from all that made its success, the player can therefore summon their Stand whenever they wish, use special moves straight from the manga, and bonus points will even be given if the player finishes off their opponents while respecting precisely how it went down in the series. For instance, to be faithful to the story, the final hit against Avdol must be performed outside of the prison cell. Now that's a detail fans will enjoy.

Araki: I was present for a good amount of meetings with the goal to define the look and ambiance of the game. But these are professionals, so if I'm too nosy about their work...they get annoyed easily. So I keep my distance. Either way, the resulting look and sound is a success. I'm very pleased. It's not up to me to reach out to them, instead they have to approach me to initiate a project. That's how things work. I just do my job as a manga artist. You can't insert yourself so easily into the world of video game development.

The 6th generation of JoJo is set entirely in a prison, and stars Jolyne, Jotaro's daughter, as the heroine. The part has just come to an end in Japan, but the author is far from done.

Araki: Yes, the series will continue. Once more, all the characters will be new. JoJo is a series told over multiple generations. I want to make an hymn to humanity this time too. I want to show the best of it. Don't worry, it will continue, I still have plenty of ideas in stock. Trust me!

[Translated by Boubaker and Null]


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