Masashi Kishimoto at New York Comic-con
Part II - An Evening with Masashi Kishimoto

by Deb Aoki,

Masashi Kishimoto's biggest public appearance at New York Comic-Con was his official panel discussion, which was held on Thursday afternoon on the main stage at the Javits Center. The room has a capacity of over 2,000 people, and this ticketed event was quickly filled to capacity.

Kishimoto was introduced to fans by Ken Sasaki, the CEO of Viz Media, the English language publisher of the Naruto manga, novels, and art books, as well as the Naruto anime TV series and movies, including the Boruto movie, which debuted at NYCC.

To put Naruto's incredible worldwide sales in perspective, Sasaki told fans that 220 million copies of Naruto have sold around the world.

"If you put them all on the floor, that would be 210 square miles – it would cover more than 12 Manhattans! If you put them next to each other on a bookshelf – the shelf would need to stretch from New York City to Austin Texas – that's 1700 miles!" he said.

He also spotlighted Naruto Volume 72, the final volume of the main series, and its special exclusive cover for NYCC, with art drawn by Kishimoto just for this event. Sasaki also reminded fans that a special one-shot manga story, Karakuri (which was Kishimoto's debut work) will be on the October 12, 2015 issue of Weekly Shonen Jump.

This event was probably Kishimoto's first taste of the huge crowd of fans who came to see him at NYCC, in addition to the various book signing events at Kinokuniya and Barnes and Noble, plus the Saturday morning premiere of the Boruto movie at the nearby Hammerstein Ballroom.  Naturally, when Kishimoto took the stage with moderator Christopher Butcher, editor Jo Otsuki and translator Mari Morimoto, the room exploded in cheers and applause.


Mari Morimoto:
I think he wants to say a brief greeting to the fans.

Christopher Butcher:
Oh that'd be wonderful, please go ahead.

Masashi Kishimoto:
My name is Masashi Kishimoto, I am really, really, really pleased to meet you today!

(audience cheers)

Christopher Butcher:
Did you ever imagine that Naruto would go on for as long as it did? 72 volumes, that's an incredible accomplishment.

Masashi Kishimoto:
Actually, I like never imagined it. In fact, I actually thought it might get canned after the tenth week. (laughs) That's actually a regular occurrence at Jump, that if the fan reaction is not very good, episode ten, the end.

Christopher Butcher:
Luckily, we all got 72 volumes!

(audience cheers)

Christopher Butcher:
72 volumes of Naruto. Did the editors of Shonen Jump want you to keep going? Some of the Shonen Jump series go for a hundred volumes or two hundred volumes. Did the editors want you to keep going on Naruto?

Masashi Kishimoto:
I would be lying if I said there wasn't some pressure from management, the powers that be as they were, but I had a pretty clear idea of how I wanted the story to come to a close, so I had to put my foot down and say, 'No, I'm sorry, this is it.'

Christopher Butcher:
In your very first English-language interview in 2006 for Shonen Jump Magazine's US edition, you said you had the ending for Naruto perfectly visualized, the layout, the text, the scenes. That was in 2006. Almost ten years later, were you able to execute the ending exactly like you imagined it would be?

Masashi Kishimoto:
Actually, it really was all in my head. I actually had envisioned that Naruto and Sasuke would make the seal of reconciliation in the valley of endings by the statues of First Hokage and Madara. I actually had visualized all that.

Christopher Butcher:
Oh, that's so cool that you had that finished at the very beginning and you were able to put it in at the very end too. That's very, very cool. I know you've been working on some of the stuff like The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring (now available in digital format from VIZManga.com) You've been working on a lot of stuff, the Boruto movie, the new manga, the side stories, the novels.

It seems like now you might be winding down a little bit and talking a bit better care of yourself? Is that true, or is your workflow still like it was when you were drawing the chapters for Weekly Shonen Jump?

Masashi Kishimoto:
I would say that life got a little bit easier when I finished drawing the series. On the other hand, it might not be obvious to the fans who don't know the timeline, but as I was drawing the last chapter of Naruto, I was told that I would be working on the screenplay for the new movie, Boruto. It was the first time I actually managed to work on an entire screenplay by myself. But on the other hand, that came right after the series. So it's only very recently that I was truly able to start relaxing just a teeny bit and spending more time with my children.

(audiences awwws, cheers)

Masashi Kishimoto:
It's only after I finished the screenplay and the production on the movie started that I was actually able to take a break.

Christopher Butcher:
I actually heard you got married while you were doing Naruto, is that correct?

Masashi Kishimoto:
That's the truth.

Christopher Butcher:
I heard you were actually so busy with drawing Naruto you were never actually able to go on honeymoon, is that true?

Masashi Kishimoto:
That is also the truth.

Christopher Butcher:
So this is your first trip to America, and this is like a honeymoon with all your fans in America!

(audience cheers)

Masashi Kishimoto:
You know, I have nothing against you guys, but unfortunately there's something called 'school.' My children have to go to school, so therefore my wife had to stay behind in Japan as well. So as much as I love you all, it's not really a honeymoon. That just means I have to come back to America again some day.

Christopher Butcher:
Now, in every good shonen story, there's the hero and there's also the rival who pushed the hero to achieve greater heights.

It's very clear that your rival is Oda-sensei, creator of One Piece. Your series started within a few years of each other, you battled to be the most popular manga in Shonen Jump magazine. How does Oda-sensei feel now that his rival has stopped making his rival manga series? Has he said anything to you about it?

Masashi Kishimoto:
Yes, indeed, I would say my rival is One Piece's creator, Eiichiro Oda. Honestly, it's interesting because I was just saying that on my own in the beginning, and then finally in the back of Naruto Volume 72, Oda-sensei acknowledged the fact that he considers me his rival as well. That felt so gratifying.

Of course, both One Piece and Naruto ran together for so long and ran, even in Japan, in Shonen Jump together, that sometimes we'd meet up and be like, "I wonder how long our manga series are going to go on." And then, One Piece kept going and going. So when I finally said, 'Well, actually Naruto's going to be concluding soon," it kind of gave him the awareness, like 'Ohhh, I guess One Piece may conclude sometime in the future too. It gave him awareness of an ending.

Christopher Butcher:
Naruto has been an incredible success story in North America, in Japan, and around the world. It's not just been THE best-selling manga, which is has been, it's not just been some of the best-selling comics, it's actually THE best-selling comic series. It's been one of the best-selling BOOKS of all time, outselling every other fiction, non-fiction, everything. Naruto is a genuine phenomenon.  How did you feel when you heard first heard this?

Masashi Kishimoto:
I just found that out, about it being a top-selling book, not just a comic or a manga, like just NOW. (laughs) I'm really happy, but I'm still having trouble processing it.

Christopher Butcher:
When did you first realize the impact that Naruto is having on fans around the world?

Masashi Kishimoto:
I guess I might've started realizing it when my first editor, Mr. Yahagi. At the Shueisha office in Tokyo, there's a specific department for Shonen Jump. Fan letters would be sent there. He came by and would give me a bundle of fan letters every time he'd see me. I started noticing that there were letters that I couldn't read. I'm Japanese and I only know Japanese, so any other language would look like, well, Greek to me. So that's when I started realizing, 'Wow, there are fans that don't live just in Japan!'

Christopher Butcher:
That's pretty cool. Do you ever feel like anything has surprised you about the reactions from international fans of Naruto?

Masashi Kishimoto:
I would say I think I really started to become more aware of it—I don't know about surprised, but it started sinking in more recently. I've been able to look at images or watch videos of cosplayers from all over the world. That made me realize how much passion fans have; not just how much you love Naruto, but how much passion you can express with my work.

There was a time I was really thinking about having to make heads or tails of all the foreign fan letters I'd received. I kind of gave up on that but I wanted to think that they were all positive. Especially seeing all the images of all the cosplayers out there made me truly realize what a global impact the work has had. Actually, that's something that just came to me as I looked out upon all of you.

Christopher Butcher:
Cosplay's always been such a big part of the Naruto phenomenon. Everyone's got headbands on today. I love the character designs of Naruto, they're so good. They're always fresh and you keep redesigning the characters as they get older as well.

Did you ever think about the cosplay-ability of the character designs? People love to cosplay Naruto maybe more than any other series! Did you think about that when designing your characters, that people would be wearing the character designs you create?

Masashi Kishimoto:
Actually not at all.

In fact, I actually feel like a lot of my characters might not be so easy to cosplay. In fact, to all of you out there who raised your hands saying you had headbands on, I feel really bad, because are you sure you don't have like a rash on your foreheads from wearing these headbands? I'm sorry!

Christopher Butcher:
You guys are all right with the headbands?

(audience cheers)

 I'd actually like to talk a little bit more about the manga. I know you greatly admire the work of mangaka Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of Akira, which is awesome. You also mentioned loving the work of Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball, but I wonder if there's any other manga you're fond of? I've heard about maybe Hiroaki Samura-sensei or any mangaka or manga that you really like?

Masashi Kishimoto:
I have to say that I've also over the years enjoyed, and also perhaps influenced by, Osamu Tezuka-sensei's Phoenix, especially the Karma part. Then I would say Takehiko Inoue's Slam Dunk. And finally—there's so many—but if I had to narrow it down the other person I would mention is Naoki Urasawa's Monster as well as 20th Century Boys.

Christopher Butcher:
All very good series. One of my favorite parts of the manga is, especially in the early volumes, the notes you would do to the readers, to the readers about your life, about breaking into the manga industry. A lot of readers found them very inspirational, you really worked and tried and finally made it in.

The thing is though: you tried a lot of different manga and a lot of different age groups, things like that, but ultimately I felt that maybe Jump was the most important to you. Was it really important to make a Jump manga, to be a Jump mangaka?

Masashi Kishimoto:
Yeah, I have to say that no matter what projects, what stories, I came up with, in the end, my dream was always to be part of, or succeed, in Shonen Jump. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that when I grew up I was reading Weekly Shonen Jump during its golden age; this includes series like Dragon Ball, Fist of the North Star, Saint Seiya. I read these in real time, week by week, when I was growing up. I think that's why it was always like this, you know. Sometimes it felt like it was far off, but it was always a goal I wanted to achieve.

Christopher Butcher:
That era of Jump that you're talking about is largely considered to be the golden age of  Jump. I read an interview between you and Oda-sensei where you both said you were both lucky to have read jump during that time.

But for fans today, especially in North America, that manga wasn't available in English. Shonen Jump started here in North America a little bit less than fifteen years ago. It included Dragon Ball for the first time serialized and Dragon Ball Z. It also included Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach; lots of long-running series that changed the face of comics, of manga, in North America. I think that maybe that era of Jump, YOUR era of Jump, would be considered a new golden age. What do you think?

Masashi Kishimoto:
You saying that resonates very happily with me, it reverberates very happily within me, even though I'm kind of embarrassed about it! I feel ashamed to say this in front of my mentors, the people that I consider the gods that came before me. Then again, they're not here in this room, so maybe I CAN say it. (laughs) Maybe it would be great to call that the golden age here for Jump.

Christopher Butcher:
Now as a special treat for everybody, Kishimoto-sensei has agreed to maybe draw for us. All right, so what are you going to draw for us today?

Masashi Kishimoto:
I guess I at least have to start with Naruto!

Christopher Butcher:
While Kishimoto-sensei is drawing here, I'm going to put Otsuki-san on the spot, he has to answer some questions. Otsuki-san, what do you think makes a hit manga?

Jo Otsuki:
Certainly an important thing is very appealing and attractive characters. But if we really knew the secrets of making hit manga, you wouldn't need us, I might not have a job! (laughs) It might not necessarily be a bad thing that we don't truly know (what makes a great manga). In fact, if any of you do know this secret, please let us know! (laughs)

Christopher Butcher:
This is for both of you: in the last chapter of Naruto, we fast forward to fifteen years later. Naruto's a dad now, he's with his son Boruto. We saw the trailer for the Boruto movie, it's crazy! There's skyscrapers in the world of Naruto now, and computers and stuff like that.

One of the things that I thought about the series is because it ended on such a peaceful note and it ended on "the end of fighting, was that great technological advancement, was perhaps possible because they had peace for so many years. Do you think peace brings about prosperity?

Masashi Kishimoto:
Yes indeed.

Christopher Butcher:
Otsuki-san, I'm actually curious because you came in towards the end of Naruto as the editor on the project. Was it intimidating to take over such a beloved series as editor?

Jo Otsuki:
At Shonen Jump, at Shueisha, we have a list of what series will be edited by which editors. When I first saw the list of series with my name on it I couldn't believe it. I thought maybe it was a typo or an April Fool's joke. (laughs) And then I looked at it again, that's actually MY name, it's actually on the same line as Naruto! Especially since this was a title that I'd seen and I'd watched and read as a kid too.

(Kishimoto completes the drawing of Naruto)

Christopher Butcher: (to Kishimoto)
Actually, other than Naruto, who is your favorite character in the series?

Masashi Kishimoto:
I'm going to go with Jiraiya.

Christopher Butcher:
That's a good answer. Me personally, I'm a fan of Rock Lee.

Masashi Kishimoto:
Maybe I should do Rock Lee instead…

Christopher Butcher:
The fans will turn on me!

(audience shouts "Jiraiya")

Masashi Kishimoto:
Okay, I haven't drawn Jiraiya for a while, so I just need to get a little reference. (checks his phone)

Christopher Butcher:
Another question for Otsuki-san while we're waiting. Naruto is a very, very unique take on shonen manga. In that series, even the worst character, no matter how bad they are, how evil they are, they get redeemed in some way. They're sympathetic, they're understandable. In some genre manga, some characters are just like bad to the bone and then they die, but everyone in Naruto gets redeemed in some way. I'm really curious about where that comes from.

Jo Otsuki:
It's kind of weird for me to answer this, it because it all comes from him. I think it's because these characters aren't just influenced by the story or do whatever they do in the story because of the story, but because when each character first appears, or even before that, sensei has very carefully laid out how he wants the character to be, what his personality traits are, what has he done, what is he about to do. He'll complete his personal history and background on each and every character, whether they be good characters or evil characters or villains. So by understanding the character, to make the character, he or she, a complete, well-rounded character, I think that's why they become relatable; because they're not just flat animations on paper.

Christopher Butcher:
I think everyone's got their own favorite character in Naruto. There's so many different characters. I feel like it's really easy to find somebody in the story who you really relate to. Otsuki-san, who do you relate to?

Jo Otsuki:
I guess Sasuke? And you Chris?

Christopher Butcher:
Oh, Rock Lee; he tries so hard. I know the last volume's only been out for a week or two, can I just get a—I was going to say show of hands, but you guys can scream—who HASN'T read the last volume of Naruto? <audience shouts> There are not that many, I'm definitely going to spoil things.

(audience screams)

So Sasuke keeps winning the character polls for most popular character. I always find it fascinating because Sasuke's got this pessimistic worldview. He thinks everything's going to fall apart unless he specifically holds it together.

Meanwhile, Naruto's like 'Nah, it's all good, it's going to be great!' But yet everyone's still like, 'No, Sasuke's got it, Sasuke knows what it's all about.' I'm curious because I think that's a pessimistic worldview. And I think Naruto's worldview is very optimistic. What do you think?

In the end, Naruto defeats Sasuke's worldview and brings Sasuke around. Do you think ultimately that by liking Sasuke you're more of a pessimistic person or more of an optimistic person? Actually I'm going to change it a little bit. I'm going to say: do you think it's easier for everybody to relate to a pessimistic character? How about that?

Jo Otsuki:
Some of it might just be even simpler than that, in the fact that Sasuke looks cool and is kind of cooler. You know, even in terms of his abilities. But whether it's Sasuke or Naruto, optimistic or pessimistic, there's everything in-between as well, they're all reflections of some personality that exists in the real world. Fiction is not reality. In reality, there's not always a happy ending, but because this is fiction I guess that's why we end up focusing more, or concentrating, highlighting more the optimistic worldview.

Christopher Butcher:
The Jump worldview of "you can do it!" That's a very thoughtful answer, thank you very much. So we've got time for a couple more questions.

(Kishimoto completes his drawing of Jiraiya)

Masashi Kishimoto:
Actually it's the first time in a while that I actually drew Jiraiya or any character from Naruto, so I did have a little bit of nostalgia, but also I have to embarrassingly admit, I don't quite remember how to draw Jiraiya! I tried to look it up but I couldn't connect to the wifi. So in fact I used the Jiraiya cosplayer in the audience as my model. So thank you, Jiraiya cosplayer, you saved me one!

Christopher Butcher:
Now as you all know, coming up this Saturday it's the Boruto movie premiere! When the original trailer was released for the Boruto movie, it had the line from you: 'This is the pinnacle of my career,' is the Boruto movie. I would love to hear from you why you think this movie, that we're all going to go see on Saturday, is the absolute pinnacle of your career.

Masashi Kishimoto:
As I briefly mentioned before, this is the first time I had actually been able to work on a screenplay from beginning to end. It's not the first Naruto screenplay I'd done, but certainly the one that I personally wrote the ENTIRE screenplay.

The story is essentially something that I wanted to draw as a manga, but didn't have the opportunity to. So I was really able to make the story and the characters everything what I wanted to see done, and then had the honor to have the anime come to life.

But it's also something that I envisioned as this is the last chapter of Naruto, the last climax scene, and so on.

Christopher Butcher:
I think we should watch the trailer for Boruto. Is that cool? All right, there we go.

(trailer plays to huge applause)

Masashi Kishimoto:
I am about to cry tears of joy.

Christopher Butcher:
Kishimoto-sensei, is there anything you'd like to say to the audience? One last remark.

Masashi Kishimoto:
I heard that there are many fans that couldn't even make it today. To hear that after seeing how many people are really here! This is just a little title that I started working on so many years ago without ever thinking about any impact that it might have, much less globally. All I can say is: to know how many of you, how many fans love my work and have followed my work, I'm just so grateful, the only thing I can really think of saying is thank you.


Boruto the Movie will be playing in theaters nationwide, and will be available soon on Blu-ray & DVD. The final volume of Naruto, Volume 72 is now available in print and digital on VIZManga.com, Kindle, Nook and Comixology.

The Naruto App is available now for free download from the iOS and Google Play stores. For more information on Naruto manga and anime titles published by Viz Media, please visit VIZ.com/naruto.

NARUTO © 1999 by Masashi Kishimoto/Shueisha, Inc.


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