Interview: Inio Asano

by Manu G.,

During the past Salón del Manga de Barcelona, Spain's largest anime and manga event, which took place in Barcelona from October 29th to November 1st, we had the opportunity to talk with Inio Asano, the manga creator responsible for such successful titles as Goodnight Punpun, A Girl on the Shore, Nijigahara Holograph, and Solanin.

From his reflections on modern society to his opinions on the Japanese market and how it influences his work, Asano's approach to his current ongoing manga, Dead Dead Demon's Dededededestruction, really stands out. His stories seek to make you feel real emotions, through a bold new way of making manga hand-in-hand with the ideas and overall feel of his own generation.

Everyone is talking about a new wave of manga authors lead by yourself and Kengo Hanazawa. Do you feel the pressure and responsibility of living up to this new generation of readers' expectations?

Yes, and speaking on behalf of Kengo Hanazawa, I think we're both aware of our position and the responsibility we feel on our shoulders. We want to meet those expectations and create stories that rise to that challenge people have given us.

These new audiences seem to come about as society evolves. Do you think your works are an accurate reflection of that evolution, as pop culture and technology have shifted, or do you find those elements play an independent role in your storytelling?

Indeed, society is changing, and that is reflected in my work. The simplest example might be how we exchange information today through the internet, which makes communication absolutely nothing like how it was in the past.

On the note of mental evolution in society, the way that people think and feel is also changing all the time. A normal person doesn't stop their day to think about these changes, and he might not give them any importance, but it's true that as society evolves, we start encountering new kinds of problems and different issues to think about - although we do not realize it in the moment. But there are some contemporary authors like myself who dedicate our time to focusing on these things in our work.

There's a strong component of your work that seeks to cover almost every facet of adolescence: sex, education, friendship. Do you usually build these stories of adolescence on your own experiences or those of people around you?

I'm kind of ashamed to say this, but for me to create convincing stories, I need to bring the characters as close to my own experiences as possible. So it's true that many of my characters have things in common with me.

Anyway, I try to make stories that are not based on the experiences of one single character. They are choral stories that rely on several characters with important roles based on outside reference from people close to me. I need it to be that way, otherwise I couldn't create stories that are able to breathe a sense of reality.

You've discussed using sex in your work to criticize Japanese ostracism on this issue, but what role does sexuality commonly play in your manga, and how do you involve different characters?

Especially at the beginning, when I started making manga, I thought about sexually related descriptions as completely normal, a natural part of our day-to-day life where we might get into sexual situations. For me, the most natural way to portray reality is to lean on these sexual characterizations, so someone can appear having lunch in one scene, and then appear later having sex just as naturally.

However, lately I've found myself in an unfavorable environment for further development of sexual issues in my manga. It's an element that gets criticism more often than I'd like, but Japan is starting to turn its back on these portrayals, and so are many manga readers. It's a turn that you can easily see in popular opinions of Goodnight Punpun and A Girl on the Shore. I think I did A Girl on the Shore at the right time, because I was able to reach the last point regarding sexuality I wanted to communicate as a manga creator. At the time, I thought I wouldn't be able to do it in the future. I preferred to make that statement in that moment, when I still knew I was going to be able to publish it.

Do you think you are being restricted by being discouraged from including sex, because it's seen as something taboo?

Not exactly. There is a tendency to separate everything into genre. I mean, if a manga is about action, it's just meant to be action, and there's no space for sex scenes in there. If you put sexual situations in the story, people will ask you something like 'what are you doing?'. It also goes the other way around; if you're doing an erotic or pornographic manga, you should be able to see that clearly on the front of the manga volume.

What bothers me is the question of why you can't put sex scenes in a normal manga, since it's the most normal thing in the world. But that's why I think it's going to be harder and harder to put those scenes in my manga, because editors and readers don't expect or don't want to find some kinds of content in a story when they think it's going to be something different.

Talking about Goodnight Punpun and the symbolism used in the series, like the bull horns or the pyramid transformation, did you want to make an impact with your manga by making things harder to understand for the readers, or were you just maybe showing some romanticism in the artistry?

When I did Oyasumi Punpun, I was making a manga about human psychology, which I could use to explore myself on a mental level by projecting my psyche into the story. Using manga as a form of expression, I decided on this kind of scrawled bird as a code that would allow me to experiment with the environment and let readers identify with him. Regarding the changing shapes of Punpun, it doesn't have any particular meaning, I just got tired of re-using the one bird form. (laughs)

While reading your newest work, Dead Dead Demon's Dededededestruction, the contrast between especially childish, almost moe drawings, and the more Asano-like adult script was particularly striking to me. What led you to this style of drawing for the manga?

Finally, someone asked me this question! That's one of the issues that worries me at the moment. When a manga author keeps working for a long time, his stories tends to develop in quality, but at the same time those stories can get more complicated too.

One of my ambitions is to maintain that young people read my work. I don't mind if they don't understand the story in its entirety. Years will pass, and then those readers will be older and more mature. Maybe then they will read the manga again and understand it in a totally different way. This is what I would like to see happen as a creator. But Japanese readers are acquiring more simplified tastes, they don't like difficult stories. Your work has to be eye-catching. If that means drawing characters with attractive designs, even moe designs, so people will be encouraged to read the manga, I don't mind doing it to avoid immediate rejection.

It's the same case for Goodnight Punpun. I think it's a very deep story, which has a lot to say psychologically, but the reason that Punpun and his family are these strange symbols is to give off the impression that it's a simple manga. People will start reading it thinking that it's some light lecture, and then they discover that actually, Goodnight Punpun goes much further than that.

Thanks to Sergio Sorlí for his help and thanks to Shogakukan and FICOMIC for providing the opportunity for this interview. Japanese translation by Marc Bernabé.


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