Interview by Misaki C. Kido
Hiroya Oku is an alchemist of storytelling. He closely studies theories behind storytelling in every popular media, imbibes them, and somehow transforms them into a truly original story that no one has ever seen before.
This is Part 1 of the interview with Hiroya Oku (about Inuyashiki). Click here for Part 2 (on Hollywood movies).
About Hiroya Oku
Born in Fukuoka, Japan. Debuted as a mangaka (manga artist) in 1992, with his first series, Hen: Suzuki-kun and Sato-kun in Weekly Young Jump. The series became a hit and was adapted into a live-action TV series in 1996. In 2000 he started his most famous work, GANTZ, a sensational manga using CG for the background, driven by thrilling plots. It was adapted into anime, game, and live-action film and became a widely popular media franchise. In 2014 Oku started his latest series, Inuyashiki, in Evening.
“I try to make a story that I want to see next.” ––Hiroya Oku
Kodansha Comics (KC): What was it like when you were a kid?
Hiroya Oku (HO): When I was a kid, I liked playing outside. I used to play baseball with other kids, roller skated, made hideouts. I was just an ordinary kid.
KC: When did you pick up drawing?
HO: I got into drawing when I was in kindergarten. I remember being influenced by another kid who was drawing on the sand on the ground using a rock. I was drawing superhero characters from tokusatsu (special effects) TV shows. It was just simple drawings with basic shapes, so it was easier than drawing other things like humans.
KC: Did you read manga back then?
HO: Not really. I used to watch TV more, so I saw more anime, like Kyojin no Hoshi and Tezuka’s Jungle Taitei (Kimba the White Lion). I remember being really into it.
KC: Do you still watch anime?
HO: Not really. I rarely watch anime nowadays.
KC: What were you doing between your previous series, GANTZ, and your current series, Inuyashiki?
HO: Actually there was hardly any time between those series. I thought of the idea of Inuyashiki when I was wrapping up GANTZ. So Inuyashiki was already set in motion before I was done with GANTZ. When GANTZ ended, Inuyashiki started immediately, so I didn’t have any break in between.
GANTZ is available from Dark Horse Comics.
Inuyashiki is available from Kodansha Comics.
KC: How did you think of the idea of Inuyashiki?
HO: When I was still working on GANTZ, the editor from Kodansha came and asked me if I wanted to do my next manga series for their magazine. So I was thinking about what what kind of story I wanted to work on next. Around that time, I was randomly watching the new Astro Boy movie. The setup of the story is that once there was a human boy, the original, who died, and thus they made a copy of him as a robot, which is the Astro Boy. I thought this was interesting. If I could make my own version of the story, with a similar setup, it could be a new series. That was the beginning of Inuyashiki. It’s about an ordinary person who dies and gets replaced by a super robot. When I was working on GANTZ on Shueisha’s Young Jump Magazine, I was more concerned about the popularity and sales figures of my manga. In that magazine’s culture, there’s an unspoken rule to make the main characters visually attractive. When I started work for Kodansha’s Evening, there was more freedom. So I suggested going with the not-so-good-looking teenager as a main character. They green-lit the idea, so I started drawing the character in the manga. But something wasn’t working right. So for a try, I drew an old man as the main character instead. Then everything clicked.
KC: How would you describe the two main characters in Inuyashiki?
HO: They both start out as human, but as they become robots, they start to feel the void in life. It would be hard to admit if your body suddenly became a machine. I would imagine that they’d feel like they’re not truly alive. In order to fill the void, one starts to save lives with his new body, and another starts to take lives. One becomes good, and one becomes evil. Ultimately, they have to face off against each other.
KC: So these main characters have a body of a robot, but also a heart of a human?
HO: They’ve definitely got hearts of humans, because they were originally copied from humans. But when they realize they are not really human, they become really sad, very empty, and have a hard time accepting this truth. So they want proof that they’re alive, thus they take their own course of action.
KC: It’s kind of a sad story.
HO: It is kind of a sad story. Astro Boy was like that too. Like in the world of Astro Boy, the robots don’t have the same rights as humans. This becomes a conflict when a robot has a personality of a human. This is one of the ongoing themes for all science fiction, so I wanted to spin it in my own way.
If you suddenly became a robot one day, what would you do?
KC: Do you like making stories or drawing art?
HO: I like them both. I like the process of taking all aspects and turning it into a manga. I like writing stories, drawing art, and confirming what it turned out to be. When I make a manga, I start out with a blueprint in my mind. It consists of logic and theories, but I try to combine these loose ideas and components into a single piece. Only when I look at it later, I can clearly see what it turned into. Sometimes it turns out to be better or worse than what I expected. That’s really interesting to me. It’s like a science experiment. You have a theory, like, if you combined chemical A and B, it’ll make an explosion. Sometimes it goes accordingly to your theory, sometimes it becomes a bigger explosion than you expected. [laughs]
KC: Do you have an example of one of your manga experiments “getting out of hand” in Inuyashiki?
HO: In my manga, we use photos and CG as backgrounds. So in general, it’s hard to tell how the scene is going to look and feel like until it’s done. For example, for the scene in Inuyashiki where the characters fly in the sky, we used a drone. Actually, we hired someone to fly a drone to capture a birds-eye view and used that image as the manga background. We also hired a helicopter to get a higher view. But for the moment of take-off, I had a feeling that we wouldn’t be able to capture it without a drone. I had no idea what it was going to look like. It turned out to be a scene with more presence than I ever imagined. I don’t think anyone has ever used that method in manga—or maybe it’s even rare in live-action films—so I was quite happy. It really feels like flying.
A flying scene from Inuyashiki volume 2.
KC: How much of your work is made with digital vs. traditional media?
HO: Everything except human or animal characters are done in digital. Most of the background, mechas are digital, but anything that is alive is all drawn by hand.
KC: When you make a manga, do you have a certain audience in mind?
HO: Not really. I try to make a story that I want to see next. I tend to imagine if there was another person like me, an audience who enjoys all things entertainment, like movies. I try to make manga that may be interesting to that person. Otherwise, it’s never-ending. Everyone thinks differently, and you can’t please everyone. So I tend to focus on what’s interesting to me. Someone who has similar taste as mine may enjoy my manga.
Inuyashiki vol.1-3 by Hiroya Oku is available from Kodansha Comics.
You can also read the latest chapter streaming on Crunchyroll.