Interview: Your Lie in April Mangaka Naoshi Arakawa

by Deb Aoki,

Anime Expo 2016 was notable for having not just one, but several noted manga creators from Japan featured as their special guests. One such guest was Naoshi Arakawa, the award-winning creator of the drama series Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso). Your Lie in April is an 11-volume shonen manga series published in English by Kodansha Comics. It has also been adapted into an anime series, and an upcoming live action feature film.

Your Lie in April is the story of two young musicians who compete in the world of classical music. Kosei Arima is a shy high schooler who was once an award-winning piano prodigy as a child, but has since given up playing music partly because of the death of his demanding mother. His life changes once he meets Kaori Miyazono, an outgoing, free-spirited violinist who encourages Kosei to start making music again – this time performing on stage as her accompanist.

Your Lie in April has been adapted into an anime series, which was produced by Aniplex. It aired in Japan from 2014-2015 on Fuji TV part of their Noitamina block. The complete 22-episode series is currently streaming online, has been licensed for DVD/Blu-Ray release in North America by Aniplex of America. The live action feature film adaptation of Your Lie in April is scheduled for release in September 2016 from TOHO Pictures.

The Your Lie in April manga series has won several awards, including Best Shonen Manga from the 37th Kodansha Manga Awards in 2013, and a nomination for the Manga Taisho Award in 2012. The anime adaptation for Your Lie in April was also recognized by The Yomiuri Shimbun Sugoi Japan Awards in 2016 as a series selected by Japanese fans as outstanding content for overseas fans.

While he is best known abroad for Your Lie in April, Arakawa has created several other manga series, including sports manga such as Sayonara, Football, and his latest series, Farewell, My Dear Cramer, which is currently serialized in Kodansha's Monthly Shonen Magazine, with new chapters being simul-pubbed digitally in English by Kodansha Advanced Media via Comixology and Amazon Kindle.

Anime News Network met with Arakawa after his spotlight panel at Anime Expo in Los Angeles, along with his editors from Kodansha, Shiro Yamano and Shinichi Eda, one of his assistant manga artists, Mayu Kitajima, and interpreter Yae Sahashi from Kodansha. Arakawa talked about meeting his overseas fans for the first time, making the change from sports to music manga, and how he almost considered writing a different ending for Your Lie in April.

MEETING FANS AND REACTING TO YOUR LIE IN APRIL FAN ART

So first of all, welcome to Anime Expo. Is this your first time in Los Angeles?

Interpreter: It's his first time in the United States, his first time to be abroad outside of Japan, and even his first time to be in an airplane!

Oh my gosh! (laughs) Wow. That must be pretty exciting for you! What was your reaction when you heard that you were invited to be a guest at Anime Expo?

Arakawa: I thought, “You want me?” I was kind of afraid of being on the plane, but my editors and my assistant really wanted to go, so they were kind of pushing me… (laughs)

Well, it's great to see you here. So when you heard you were coming to Los Angeles, was there anything special you wanted to do while you're here?

Arakawa: I wanted to see a Major League Baseball game, because I love sports, like soccer and baseball. I really want to see pro soccer and baseball games, while I'm in the States.  I also wanted to see NBA basketball and NFL football matches, but it's the off season now, so that's not possible.

When are you going back to Tokyo?

Arakawa: On the fifth. (a day after the last day of Anime Expo weekend) We are going to go around to enjoy America. We're going to go see the Dodgers game tonight, and then we're also going to go to the LA Galaxy soccer game. We'll be going to Sequoia National Park too.

Ah, that sounds like fun. Now that you've got a taste of being in N. America, do you think you'd like to come back?

Arakawa: Yes, of course!

Your spotlight panel was today, you had autograph sessions this weekend, and got to meet a bunch of your fans. What did you think? Can you share your impressions of this weekend so far?

Arakawa: It was really fun, because the fans there were so excited. It made me feel excited too! With the fans out in the audience and us up on stage, it felt like we created the panel together to make it a fun experience.

Before you came to Los Angeles, did you have any idea that you had fans overseas that were that enthusiastic about your manga?

Arakawa: I didn't expect that there are so many fans of Your Lie in April here. I also didn't expect to see people wearing costumes to cosplay characters from Your Lie in April. It was surprising, in a good way. It was exciting to see that too!

Did you have any interesting conversations with your fans at your autograph session?

Arakawa: Yes, of course! But especially yesterday, when we took a walk around the artist's alley in Kentia Hall. There are some artists who were actually drawing fan art of Your Lie in April! That was a good moment for me when I met these artists. When I told them who I am, they were surprised and shocked.
                                                                                                                                                                                                    
What did you say to these artists?

Arakawa: I didn't really say much more than ‘I'm the creator of Your Lie in April.’ We just said hello to them.

As a published pro, would you want to give these up-and-coming artists any advice?

Arakawa: No, no, no. (laughs) I'm already happy with the fact that they drew my manga. It made me really happy to see this. I liked seeing how fans of Your Lie in April were so excited to see me. I was also really impressed to see the artists were drawing fan art of my characters.

That's nice to hear that kind of sentiments from you. In the North American comics scene, this situation has been a bit controversial lately. Some professional comic artists have had mixed feelings about fan artists drawing their characters and selling them at the same show where they are appearing as guests. (NOTE: For more on this, see this article written by a lawyer who specializes in Intellectual Property law)

Arakawa: Maybe the reason why I like those fan-art artists is because they're drawing really beautiful art.  Their art depicted the beauty of the world of Your Life in April; they kept the same atmosphere as what I had originally created.

Interpreter: When we were doing autograph sessions, some of the fans brought their fan art of Your Lie in April to him. They wanted him to sign their artwork —he was a little shocked.

Wow. That's bizarre. You've never experienced that kind of thing in Japan?

Interpreter: No, no. That kind of thing doesn't happen in Japan. In Japan, bringing fan art that you drew to the artist who created the original work… it's kind of… well, it's considered rude, or rather impolite. That's why such things don't happen in Japan.

Did you think it was rude of them to do that, to ask you to sign their Your Lie in April fan art?

Arakawa: No, I didn't feel offended by it. I told them I wouldn't sign fan art, and they were fine about it. They just said, ‘Oh, okay,’ and didn't make a fuss.

Interpreter:  Just to clarify, there was only one person who was really pushy about to get him to sign the fan art.

Yeah, I can see how that would be a kind of uncomfortable situation…

FROM SPORTS TO SONGS WITH YOUR LIE IN APRIL

As I understand it, Your Lie in April was a very different type of manga story for you. In the past, you've typically drawn sports manga stories, yes?

(NOTE: Sayonara, Football, and Arakawa's new series, Farewell, My Dear Cramer, two series focused on soccer, are both currently available on Comixology and Amazon Kindle)

Arakawa: Sometimes you get bored if you just stick creating just one genre of stories. At times like that, you just want to try different genres to challenge yourself to see things in a new way, take a fresh approach to storytelling. That's why I decided to explore the world of music instead of sports with Your Lie in April.

So what made you decide to write about music?

Well, it wasn't as if I dislike music, to begin with. The second thing is that I was inspired by seeing a picture of a person playing the violin. It was really beautiful.

Oh, which picture?

Arakawa: I think I saw it on TV, but I don't remember the exact program. Also, another thing was that I thought that not many people drew this sort of music manga, that focuses on the violins and stuff.

I also decided to focus on classical music because, at that time, it didn't make sense for me to draw a story about rock music or a rock band, because we had Beck (by Harold Sakuishi) running in the same magazine, Monthly Shonen (published by Kodansha). We didn't want the same genre of music manga being serialized in that magazine at the same time.

So we thought, ‘Okay, we can do a manga series about music, but we have Beck, which is a story about a rock band, so maybe we should focus on classical music instead.’

Before you started drawing Your Lie in April, were you a fan of classical music already? Or do you play music yourself?

Arakawa: I'm not a big fan of classical music. I'm not a huge, huge fan of rock bands either, but if I had a choice of what I like to listen to, I'd probably pick rock music. But if that's not an option, then my next choice would be classical music.

Did you have to do a lot of research about classical music to create this story?

Arakawa: Yes, we did some research. But even after reading some books and doing some research, I felt like I didn't have the depth of knowledge necessary to really tell this aspect of the story. So I decided to ask my editor, who knows more music than I do to help me out. So we decided that he'd do the music research, which would free me up to focus on the storytelling.

So Yamano-san, how did Arakawa-sensei pitch this story to you?

Shiro Yamano: A while ago, Arakawa tried to pitch another music manga series, but we turned it down. Classical music is fine, but at the time, we had Nodame Cantabile (by Tomoko Ninomiya, currently available in digital format from Kodansha Advanced Media) was being serialized in another Kodansha magazine. So with that in mind, we thought it would be kind of hard to find a unique way to go into depth with this subject.

So with Your Lie in April, Arakawa-sensei wanted to give it another second try. He drew the rough sketches and page layouts, then presented it to the editors. We thought, ‘Well, as long as it's fun to read and it's a good story, then we can go with this classical music theme.’ So that's how it all started.

Ah, wow. It's interesting to hear about what went into the decision-making process behind selecting music as the main theme for this series. Your Lie in April is a manga about music, but inherently, manga is a silent medium.  That said, though, you've drawn very beautiful and dynamic depictions of the sound of music in this comic. Is it challenging to draw what music sounds like in manga?

Arakawa: I didn't specifically think about how to depict the music itself. I was more concerned with the rhythm, as far as how the manga would be read. I focused on developing the panels and using the spread pages, keeping in mind how the reader can see and feel the rhythm of the story.

Did it surprise you when you heard the actual music accompanying your story when it was depicted in the anime version?

Interpreter: What do you mean by that?

So for example, when you read the manga, the manga describes Kosei or Kaori playing a song, the description simply says that they're playing the name of a certain song or composition. But when you watch the anime, you can see, hear and feel Kosei playing that actual song.

Arakawa: We can't simply compare manga and anime because they're different media. Anime has different strengths than manga. However, when I saw the anime version of Your Lie in April, I thought, ‘Wow, they really tried very hard to make the anime adaptation look and sound terrific.’

I thought it was fascinating how the anime captured a lot of your visual storytelling tics from your manga, like how your characters look when they look surprised or when the characters make a “che-che-che-che-che-che” face when they're nervous.

Arakawa: Yes, you're right. They tried to respect the manga when adapting it into anime. But when it comes to the music, I felt like the producer really got into it. For example, I saw the storyboards for a two-minute scene, and it was like this huge stack of story boards.

Oh really?

Arakawa: Yes, it looked like a dictionary! (laughs) Then that made all the staff of animation cry.

Well, maybe the animation studio staff were crying because it was a lot of work to animate it – but also, Your Lie in April is a very emotional story. It's really very moving – full of emotions and drama. In your own words, what are the main themes of Your Lie in April?

Arakawa: The theme is death and rebirth. I'm not sure, but I hope that message is carried to the audience somehow.

Death and rebirth? Can you elaborate a bit on that?

Arakawa: Did you read the manga all the way through?

Yep, I read all of it. All 11 volumes.

Arakawa: There is a contrast between Kosei, the pianist and Kaori, the violinist. Throughout the story—at the beginning, he couldn't listen, he couldn't hear the music. Then over the course of the story, Kosei was kind of reborn as a pianist.

But at the same time, while Kosei is regaining his strength and confidence as a musician, Kaori is weakening, weakening, weakening. So there's that contrast; in that way, the story talks about rebirth and also death.

I also wanted to depict the feelings of a person who envies someone else, or is jealous of what they have. I hope that comes through in this story, but I'm not sure if I succeeded…

I could definitely feel that while reading this story. Those ideas and themes you've just described definitely come through.

Arakawa: That was a bit controversial. On one hand, I want to make characters that are charming, that leave a good impression with readers. However, on the other hand, I'm telling a story about the dark side of human feelings. Meanwhile, I want readers to love these characters.

Speaking of dark sides, I was shocked at how strict Kosei's mother was to him, how harsh she could be to this young boy at such a young age.

Arakawa: Well, in Japan, in the real world, in the real classical music world, Kosei's mom is not that strict, relatively speaking.

Oh really?

Arakawa: Yes, there are people in that world who are way more strict and demanding.

So what inspired you to create a character like Kosei's mother?

Arakawa: As I was doing research to prepare for creating this series, I read interviews and did some research about real professional classical musicians and pianists. While doing this, I saw many parents and teachers who are like that, who were very strict and demanding.

You might also notice that in the story, there aren't any pictures of Kosei's father. It was really hard to get a feeling for Kosei's father. Of course, Kosei had a dad, but his mother has a very strong presence in his life. She's always pushing, pushing, pushing him.

While I was surprised at how cruel and strict Kosei's mother was in the story, I also thought it was interesting that you tried to portray her as a multi-dimensional adult, not just a pure villain. She wasn't strict and abusive to Kosei just for the sake of being strict, but she had reasons for her behavior. Different people saw her differently, and experienced different sides of her personality than Kosei did.

Arakawa: I want to make all the characters I create to be loved by readers. Of course that might be my artist's ego, but that's what I was trying to do.

As a matter of fact, most of your manga series have very strong, outgoing female lead characters. Sayonara, Football and your new soccer manga series, My Dear Cramer feature female protagonists front and center. While Kosei in Your Lie in April is a male main character, Kaori is definitely a main character, main focus of the story as well.

Arakawa: Yes, that's right.

Do you prefer to tell stories from a male or female point of view?

Arakawa: When I draw male characters, they tend to be… well, their personality tends to be kind of like me, personality-wise. I'm pretty shy and I'm not very aggressive. But you need somebody who can pull the story, lead the story, right? So that's why, often times, the surrounding characters in my manga become aggressive and pushy. Also, I like aggressive girls who can take the lead too. So that combination of factors contributes to the strong female characters in my manga.

Ah, that's very interesting. When you wrote Your Lie in April… well, let's just say that there's a very definite end to the story. Did you always know that would be Kaori's fate? Or in the process of drawing this story, did you ever waver from that decision and think ‘Well, maybe I'll do… this instead?’

Arakawa: Of course I wavered. But when volume three of Your Lie in April was published in Japan, we received an offer for the anime adaptation. At that point, I told the anime producer about the ending I had in mind, and the anime producer really liked that ending. That's why I felt that after that happened, I really couldn't change my mind about the ending because that would affect the animation production. At one point or another, almost everyone involved with this series felt like ‘Maybe we should change the ending…’ But at the end, we decided to stick with my initial idea for the ending of this series.

It's a very moving, emotional ending. It's pretty obvious that you put a lot into creating these wonderful characters -- was it hard to say goodbye to them?

Arakawa: Sometimes, once the characters are created and the story is set in motion, it kind of goes out of the hands of the artist who created them. There are times when I felt like I'm not sure how the characters will act; the characters are kind of leading the story themselves.  For Kaori and Kosei, by the end of the series, I felt like, ‘Okay, I'm done working with them,’ but maybe I did feel a bit sad to say goodbye to the side characters.

Have you considered telling new stories about side characters from Your Lie in April, such as Tsubaki and Ryota?

Arakawa: Actually, I just drew a collection of short stories to focus on those side characters as the bonus to the Your Lie in April anime DVD release in Japan. After finishing that work, I'm kind of now feeling pretty satisfied with it all.

ON TO THE NEW WITH FAREWELL MY DEAR CRAMER

So let's bring us up to your current projects. Can you tell me about the new series you're working on now, Farewell, My Dear Cramer (Sayonara Watashi no Cramer)? It started in May, and is currently serialized in Monthly Shonen Magazine in Japan. New chapters are being released in English the same time as Japan via ComiXology.

Arakawa: It's a sports manga about women's soccer.

Is it a comedy? An action sports series?

Arakawa: It's a manga where girls are putting in a lot of effort to play soccer.

To go from high school to pro? Or to compete while in high school?

Arakawa: Within the high school. I'm working really hard to make all the scenes really cool and fantastic looking, to make the players look like they're trying hard.

I know you're a fan, but do you play soccer yourself?

Arakawa: Never. (laughs) I only watch soccer, I'm not a soccer player.

So what makes soccer an interesting subject for a manga?

Arakawa: I enjoy watching soccer, but also I want to support soccer in Japan, so that it becomes more popular.

I remember how Takehiko Inoue's Slam Dunk manga made basketball really popular in Japan…

Arakawa: Yeah, it's like that. After Slam Dunk came out, everyone bought the basketball shoes—Air Jordans. (laughs)

Who's your favorite soccer player?

Arakawa: I have so many. Messi. Bailey. There are too many.

What qualities makes these athletes your favorites? What do you admire about them?

Arakawa: They're all funny. In a way, it's funny that sometimes these pro players are jerks, but they have some amazing moves…. Some other players, maybe they are not that good athletically speaking, but they are popular because they're adorable, or have loveable personalities. It's a combination of how they play and their personalities that make them compelling to follow.

REFLECTING ON HIS FIRST, BUT NOT LAST OVERSEAS COMICS CONVENTION

Obviously, since this is your first trip outside of Japan, this is also the first time overseas fans have had a chance to meet and talk with you. But, that said, not all of them could come to Anime Expo this weekend. Do you have any message for your fans around the world that you'd like to share with us?

Arakawa: I hope you enjoy reading my manga, although I'm not entirely convinced yet that my work is really popular here…  When we went to visit artist's alley downstairs, I saw a lot of One-Punch Man fan art, and a lot of shonen manga type art. I'm not all that confident that my manga has been very well-accepted here.

Really? Even after all that has happened this weekend? Wow, you really ARE a shy guy, aren't you?  (laughs) Well, maybe if you get a chance to see more of your overseas fans, maybe you might change your mind. Now that you've gotten over your initial hesitation about traveling outside of Japan, and you have a passport and all, maybe you should go to Europe and see some pro soccer games there! Did you thought about where you'd like to visit next?

Arakawa: I think I'd like to go to New York City. New York sounds like a really fun place to visit. A lot of films have New York scenery, so I'm interested in visiting New York to see it for myself.

Well, that's definitely all possible now, right? I hope you can come back again sometime soon. In the meantime, congratulations on your new series. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Thank you.

Your Lie in April is available in print in English from Kodansha Comics, and in digital format via ComiXology, Amazon Kindle, nook, Kobo, and iBooks

Also by Naoshi Arakawa: Sayonara Football and Farewell My Dear Cramer are available as digital releases from Kodansha Advanced Media on Comixology and Amazon Kindle.

Visit Aniplex USA's site for the Your Lie in April anime at http://www.yourlieinapril.com/ to see trailers, learn more about the story and learn about the cast and characters of this series.

You can also watch Your Lie in April now on Hulu, Crunchyroll, Netflix, and the Aniplex Channel.

You can see a video trailer of the live-action film adaptation of Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso at http://kimiuso-movie.jp/

 


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