Interview: Masashi Asaki

by Chih-Chieh Chang,
Born in 1970 in Osaka, Japan, Masashi Asaki-sensei acquires ideas from reading and watching movies, trying to create popular titles suitable for teenagers. Both Psychometrer Eiji and Kunimitsu no Matsuri have been adapted into live-action dramas, and the latter has won Kodansha's manga prize. Sensei's most recent title is the third installment of Ikebukuro West Gate Park (IWGP) – Denshi no Hoshi.

Kunimitsu no Matsuri is a political manga, common in seinen but rarely seen in shounen titles. The story is about a hot-blooded high school dropout Kunimitsu Mutou, who, in order to change corrupt Japanese politics, takes the first step by becoming a secretary of a mayor candidate.

This is the first time sensei has visited Taiwan. He learned that there are many hardcore manga fans here eagerly anticipating his arrival, and he'd like to experience the “heat.”

MC: Before the press conference starts we have a hardcore cosplayer dressed as Kunimitsu Mutou here to welcome sensei.

MC: Please say hi to your fans and media, sensei.

Masashi Asaki (A): I took a walk at the convention center a few minutes ago and discovered many youthful manga fans with “heat” in their blood. That's the most I wanted to see in Taiwan during this visit, so I'm both excited and a bit nervous right now.

Q: Two of your long series (Psychometrer Eiji and Kunimitsu no Matsuri) were created together with Yuma Ando-sensei. Please tell us about the difference between creating an original work and cooperating with a scriptwriter, as well as how you work with Ando-sensei.

A: There are many ways to create a manga. Some create them with one's own mind; some would take ideas from others around him, as well as using a multitude of assistants. I've been working happily with Ando-sensei for a long time.

Q: Is there any possibility you'll continue the story of Psychometrer Eiji?

A: Many people have asked whether the story of Psychometrer Eiji would continue or not. Sometimes I start composing the story, and then when I get busy with other stuff I often forget about it, before someone else mentions it again. This matter is always in my mind; I'd say it will be continued some day, but there's no proposed schedule in any form.

Q: We have an impression that common Japanese citizens are indifferent to political issues. Have you received any memorable feedback from your readers when you created this political manga?

A: Indeed. Most Japanese youths possess little interest in politics. I wanted to create something for youngsters to approach politics more easily when I started creating this shounen political manga. However, in the beginning I worried about whether this political manga in a shounen magazine could attract enough attention or not. The result turned out that many readers would send feedback to me. Therefore I'm glad if this manga can become a stepping stone for Japanese youth to learn the basics of politics.

Q: Could you tell us how you interact with your editor(s)?

A: It all starts with a discussion of the story, followed by determining camera angles, climax, etc., and then verify if there's any mistake in a chapter. Sometimes I would ask the editor to confirm the correctness of the content. And sometimes he'd treat me to dinner (laugh).

Q: After finishing IWGP – Denshi no Hoshi, what will be your next project and when will it be released?

A: It will be a story about police. We've been discussing the basic plot, but no concrete storyline yet. Might start working on it this winter.

Q: Similar to Psychometrer Eiji, the story of Kunimitsu no Matsuri ends at a mayoral election – far from his ambition to become the prime minister of Japan. Could the open ending mean a possible sequel?

A: I'd say Kunimitsu no Matsuri has been completed right now. However, if the disgruntled energy towards corrupt politicians starts accumulating again, I might revive the project a few years later.

Q: The content of IWGP – Denshi no Hoshi is much darker and heavier than your previous works. Would you try to open a new field in seinen manga?

A: My next project will still be serialized in Kodansha's Shonen Magazine
. There's no plan for serializing in a seinen magazine for now.

Q: What's your first impression of Taiwan?

A: After stepping off the plane, I found Taipei is a crowded, highly urbanized metropolis. I took a stroll around my hotel last night, seeing many beautiful young girls still wondering on the street despite of being late at night. I'd say the crime rate must be very low.
(Reporters giggling at the final comment)

Q: Do you want to visit places outside Taipei? Where and why?

A: With one hour of driving, I went to the hot spring at Wulia last night, and took a massage session at hotel this morning. Taiwan is a nice place for traveling.

Q: In your opinion what's the difference between Japanese and Taiwanese hot springs?

A: Taiwanese hot springs are more elegant and decorated, and not everyone would have visited a hot spring. On the other hand, almost all Japanese have visited at least one hot spring. Hot springs in Japan are more plebeian.

Q: What do you do for recreation when you're not drawing manga?

A: Although I love drawing manga very much, it could grow tiresome if I draw it every day. I would watch movies, listen to music, and watch others creating their artworks.

Q: Both your long-running titles have female protagonists older than the male counterpart. Was this because of the scriptwriter or your personal preference?

A: Well, there are only three types of age relationships between the couple: an older female, at the same age, and a younger female. The story evolved like that naturally, not because I have a personal preference to older females.

Q: Is it possible for Eiji or Kunimitsu to have a guest appearance in your new serialization?

A: Right now I don't think they'll appear, but in order to satisfy readers I might let them appear at the tiny corner of a panel, so please pay close attention to my artwork.

Q: Why do your titles often contain matsuri (祭り (religious festivals/rites)?

A: Because my characters often grew up in shitamachi (下町, old downtown) areas, which were once prosperous but have lost their former glory. The first impression of shitamachi would be matsuri, giving people a sense of power and vigor, so I added lots of matsuri scenes.

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