Interview: The Creators of Pokemon Adventures

by Manu G.,

Norma Editorial, the publisher of the Pokémon Adventures manga series in Spain, invited its writer/artist team to the Barcelona Manga Fair this year. Upon meeting them, it became clear that Hidenori Kusaka and Satoshi Yamamoto are a valuable part of the Pokémon franchise because they have the kind of personalities that make everyone around them feel good. We had the opportunity to ask them what it's like to be involved in such a huge manga series.

What brought you to the world of manga and the Pokémon franchise?

Hidenori Kusaka: I've loved manga since I was a child, so I've always wanted to be a mangaka. I got into the Pokémon franchise thanks to being in the right place at the right time. I was 26 and the first Pokémon video games were just starting to get famous, so Nintendo wanted to make a Pokémon manga — at that time, The Pokémon Company didn't even exist. I was available at that moment, so they offered me the chance to start working on the series.

Satoshi Yamamoto: For me, it was a family thing. Everyone was a manga fan: my grandma, my parents, my uncles, everyone was an otaku. So at home, there was a lot of manga. My father also liked drawing, and he and my granddad were always telling me that I would become a mangaka. I got the Pokémon Special proposal just when I had finished my last work, and I had been getting rejected from new manga ideas.

Kusaka has been the manga series writer since the beginning in 1997, but it wasn't the same situation for Yamamoto, who started drawing Pokémon Special four years after its first release in 2001. How was taking the helm after the initial artist left?

Yamamoto: I had such a bad time that I even got depressed. Readers were completely against the change in artist. At that time, the internet already existed, and I made the mistake of reading what people was saying about me. There were a lot of people against me who said that my drawings were awful. Every time I opened a Pokémon manga volume drawn by Mato, my heart sank. So I started doing my best to change readers' minds with my art. After ten years, there were more positive messages than negative ones, and I could finally feel relieved. I've heard it said that when you're under a lot of rejection, you get motivated to do better. I've even heard that my best moments as the Pokémon manga artist were at the beginning. Some people even ask me to return to my old drawing style.

Kusaka: If I had to say the toughest moment of the last twenty years, it would doubtlessly be the moment when Mato decided to leave. But if I had to say the best moment, it was the opportunity to meet Yamamoto. When Mato got sick, I got two proposals: cancel the series or get a new artist. I insisted on looking for a new artist to continue the manga. Hardly anybody was on my side, but it was my goal, and I feel responsible for making this a reality.

Hidenori Kusaka

How complex is to work on a static franchise like Pokémon while introducing your own ideas?

Kusaka: Working on Pokémon is difficult. Maybe the most difficult part is that we have to follow the story of another product, which is a video game. We can't afford to create a manga that people playing the video games don't like. On the other hand, if everything was exactly the same between the games and the adaptation, the manga would be boring. When you're playing a Pokémon game, you put yourself into the character, whereas an established character has to drive the story in a manga. We have to create good characters and surprise people as they're reading. That balance between what we have to change and what remains the same is probably the most difficult part.

Yamamoto: Every time there's a new video game, there's also a design team responsible for the new Pokémon creatures and human characters. I receive their work and I have to follow and respect some guidelines, so I try to attach my own creativity to all that. But there's also some parts where I have more freedom, so that's up to my imagination. For example, there's an original idea in the manga devised by me, which is that every character has their own way of catching Pokémon.

Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon were recently released. How do you deal with a new video game? Is there any coordination for the manga adaptation?

Kusaka: Not at all. The only advantage we have is that we get the game like two months before release so we can start getting acquainted with the story and prepare new scripts. That's all. Later, while playing the game, I can ask if I have any doubts, but most of the time I don't ask, because I can get a response that make me lose part of my creative freedom. So sometimes I just pass on feedback. (laughs)

Is it hard? I mean, the first steps before starting work on the manga.

Kusaka: During the creative process, there's always some parts that are harder than others. Right now we're playing Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon but we haven't started working on the manga adaptation. What I've already seen is that if I create a script exactly the same as the game, it's going to be quite a cold plot. This one is probably the most difficult game adaptation we've faced.

Yamamoto: Every new Pokémon saga is difficult in terms of transforming the video game content into manga. In my personal case, I have to face the situation of “I'm so sleepy but I can't sleep now because I have to deliver this work soon.” It's my creative strength. (laughs) I love drawing, but sometimes I can't put everything I want on paper because of the short amount of time, and that can make me suffer.

Satoshi Yamamoto

Talking About... the video games from an adaptation point of view, what kind of things do you think are most appealing to the audience?

Yamamoto: Every new game is an evolution of the previous one, each more appealing and easy to play. That's something I think as a player, not as someone involved in the project. I also like the fact that the character designs are not extravagant, they're not disruptive nor too elaborate, but something attractive for both children and adults. They are never too risky from a design point of view, but they are rather nostalgic. An experienced player can always feel familiarity in them.

You're both part of one of the biggest franchises in the entire world. How does it feel?

Kusaka: It's wonderful. You can find tons of different opinions about the success of the Pokémon video games, but I think it's just because it's a really good and fun game. It's also a video game enjoyable for everyone: from boys to girls, childrens to adults. Every person can get some fun from it in a different way. It's great for the manga as well. People who started reading it as children are now adults, and we try to add some mature elements to the plot so that range of readers can also enjoy the story from a different perspective than the youngest readers.

Yamamoto: For me, it's a marvelous feeling. I feel grateful. Being responsible for a manga adaptation like Pokémon might seem exhausting, but I have quite a great deal of freedom and I usually get permission to add some feelings I'm actually experiencing in my own life to the story, like anger or distress. I consider myself very lucky and peaceful, and I think it's because people have gotten used to the fact that the manga rides a line where you can see the video games reflected while still discovering some new “crazy” plot twists.

What about the future? Do you see yourself doing something different from Pokémon?

Kusaka: If something terrible happens and the Pokémon manga gets cancelled, which seems improbable, I'd obviously look for a new project and I'd keep creating manga. But right now, my aim is to keep working on Pokémon with Yamamoto and do my best, as I think we still have room for improvement. Some people ask me if I get tired of Pokémon and the answer is no. It's an honor for me to be able to work on a title like Pokémon, I feel really good about doing this work.

Yamamoto: I have everything I've ever wanted in my life thanks to Pokémon. I have creative freedom to put into the manga, so I wouldn't say I feel any creative longing. When I was a child, I loved kaiju monsters, and I dreamed with a friend about creating a manga about them. If you think about it, Pokémon is kind of a kaiju manga, so I've got even that thanks to Pokémon.

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