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New York Comic Con 2013
Wikia [LIVE] Presents: The Masters of Animanga

by Todd Ciolek,
Wikia's Masters of Animanga is a rare collaboration, bringing together five esteemed creators from the ranks of anime and manga. Veteran animation producer Masao Maruyama co-founded Studio Madhouse and, more recently, started a new studio called MAPPA. Esteemed manga writer Kazuo Koike created hundreds of different titles, though he's best known here for the classic Lone Wolf and Cub., Illustrator Yoshitaka Amano's career includes designs for the Final Fantasy series, Gatchman, and his own N.Y. Salad. Artist Takashi Okazaki is the creator of Afro Samurai. Manga artist Sin'Ichi Hiromoto once adapted Return of the Jedi, but he's also the creator of original series like STONe and Hell's Angels.

Under Maruyama's direction, Wikia put up three story ideas. Okazaki provided illustrations for a vampire story called Red Bat, in which humans, werewolves, and humans clash. Hiromoto's illustrations fueled Tao: Rise of the Yin-Yang, a tale of warring goddesses. Amano drew the starting artwork for Deva Zan, one his multi-media projects, while Koike supplied the seeds of the plot.

There's one other contributor...well, a lot of them, in fact. The project was open to all Wikia contributors, who were asked to flesh out the three stories based on the starting materials.

Maruyama, Koike, Okazaki, and Hiromoto all appeared in Wikia's “Masters of Animanga” panel to discuss their contributions to the project. Eric Moro, director of programming for Wikia, began by playing a short promotional reel for the Masters of Animanga, describing how the project emerged as one of the site's collaborative writing projects.

The panel soon turned to questions. Moro had one for Koike, known in the U.S. primarily for his samurai tales.

“What is it about the samurai genre that appeals to you?” Moro asked

“Their mentality,” Koike said. “They're always prepared to die. There's a memento mori quality about it. Death could come any day, and that's what appeals to me.”

Moro then asked Maruyama how aspiring authors and artists could further pursue their projects.

Maruyama replied that “when making a story, you need to imagine things as wide as you can. When having a story, you need to have a vast imagination. We need that to be good liars...or, as a better way to say it, storymakers.”

Asked about a witch illustration that inspired the Tao story and a rat-bomb explosion , Hiromoto responded: “I wanted to have fun drawing it and I really wanted everyone else to have fun with it. The reason for the rat-bomb was a rat that appeared in my room while I was drawing it.”

Moro asked Okazaki about the inspiration for his Red Bat artwork.

“In terms of Red Bat, I tried to think of the coolest image that came into my head,” Okazaki said. “For the anarchist character, I definitely wanted something with ties to street culture.”

Moro then asked Koike about the collaborative process for works like Wikia.

“I'm not a big fan of collaborative storytelling, because you might start squabbling over the process,” Koike said. “Even if you had just two people working on it, you could have arguments over whether or not to kill a character. I feel that single storytelling is the best because you can do what you want to do. And in a practical sense, when you do a multi-user collaboration you have to worry about the legal rights and how you're going to split the money, so doing it on your own is much better.”

Koike added, “There is a big difference between manga creation and anime creation. I was talking about manga creation.”

Asked about a multi-armed Buddhist goddess he drew, Hiromoto responded, “When I design something, I think of the ending first, but I couldn't do that this time. In Japan, Buddhist statues are a common trend right now, so I wanted that trend to flow out to the world.”

There was another reason, as Hiromoto noted: “Maruyama-san told me to draw cute girls. Usually I draw very bloody stuff, so this was different. Why did you ask me to draw cute girls, Maruyama?”

“I'm actually a pedophile,” Maruyama joked, then corrected himself with aid from his translator. “Wait, the actual term is 'lolicon.' I like cute girls, so that's why I asked him.”

Once the laughter at Maruyama's remark died down, Okazaki discussed his own approach to the Wikia project.

“I usually start from a general concept which I expand into an overall frame,” Okazaki said. “So it was very new to design characters without an idea of where the story was going. I wrote my own story about Red Bat, but it was waaay too long to go into here. Maybe some day I'll share it.”

Asked about the introduction of werewolves into Red Bat's narrative, Okazaki replied that he was surprised at the addition.

“I was even more surprised that Red Bat was supposed to be the main villain while the skater was supposed to be the bad guy,”Okazaki said. “But the way it turned out, their roles were reversed.”

Koike was asked about his work on writing a previous Devi Zan story for Yoshitaka Amano to illustrate.

“I decided to launch a new project myself, but it was an interesting case where Amano created the art and I added the words after the fact,” said Koike, noting that the two of them recently completed a second Devi Zan story.

Hiromoto then discussed the origins of his Tao: Rise of the Yin-Yang illustrations. “Yin-Yang is my concept for most of the manga I've been doing, with the black-and-white ideal,” Hiromoto said. “So I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out.”

The panel turned to audience questions. The first one at the mic asked Maruyama about Satoshi Kon's The Dreaming Machine, the late director's final, currently unfinished film.

“The reason I left the company I founded was because I wanted to finish Dreaming Machine,” Maruyama said of his work at Madhouse. “If Satoshi Kon were alive, the project would've been finished one or two years later. The loss of the director leaves a big gap in the project, and to make that up we'd need a lot of talent and a lot of budget. But as long as I'm alive, I'm going to finish this project.”

Another audience question dealt with Koike's assistants.

“I've had many apprentices over the years,” Koike said. “But what really disappoints me is that they've hidden my swords. I think they're afraid that I'll cut myself. So my biggest problem with my assistants is finding out where they've put my toys. I'm good at drawing and slicing things very quickly, better than Zatoichi, in fact. So I'm very disappointed that I couldn't bring my swords and demonstrate my skills to you today.”

Told that he wouldn't get his swords through customs, Koike was reminded of a story.

“I was in the states this summer for the San Diego Comic Con, and I brought my katana with me,” he recalled. “So they took one Look at me and said 'Sir, you can't bring that into the country.' They called all these police officers. They asked me why I even brought it, and I said 'I'm the creator of Lone Wolf and Cub.' And that was it, they let me through.”

Asked if he will return to writing manga, Koike replied: “I'm seventy-eight, so my hand shakes a bit when I write. But starting October 19, a man of seventy-eight will launch a new serialization in a shonen magazine, so keep your eyes open for it.”

An audience member asked about the importance of emotion in work. Koike described the various neruochemicals that cause emotions, from serotonin to dopamine, and the difficulty of bringing out all of these feelings in stories.

“That was very interesting,” Maruyama remarked.

Hiromoto said, “When you're creating fun stuff in manga, there's a lot of pain and stress. But I hope that I'm able to create something fun and bring the emotion through.”

The last audience question was a familiar one for any manga author: how does an aspiring talent break into the manga industry?

“It's really up to you,” said Koike, who runs a 'cram school' for manga artists. “If you have the talent and ability, you'll have to pass a test, but it's really on your own shoulders. I do think that there's one bottom-line condition: you need to be fluent in Japanese, not just speaking it, but also in nuance and communication. I do get some foreign applications, and the language is the biggest barrier.”

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