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Interview: Hiro Mashima

by Rai Kelly,

The very first thing Hiro Mashima did when he walked into his press junket at New York Comic-Con was say, “Hello, I am Hiro Mashima. And I am a mangaka."

He might be a little more than that, though. His smash hit fantasy adventure manga Fairy Tail has enjoyed phenomenal international success as both in print and as an anime, with over 60 million volumes in circulation. The following is a complete transcript of Mashima's press junket at New York Comic-con, held shortly before his panel at the event.

How did you feel the first day you woke up and didn't have to work on Fairy Tail?

I was actually kind of lonely and sad, so I started doodling.

Fairy Tail is relatively new compared to other “classic” manga and anime series, but it is already considered a classic among fans. How does this make you feel?

I am really glad to hear that.

Both Rave Master and Fairy Tail are fantasy works. Have you ever considered doing something outside of the fantasy genre?

I personally just really love fantasy works in general, so if I do a new series, I would like to try to make it fantasy again. Rave Master was about friends saving the whole world, but Fairy Tail is about closer-knit relationships. So if I do another fantasy story, I would like to try a different approach.     

Have you ever considered revisiting Rave Master?

At the autograph sessions, I have been experiencing a lot of people actually requesting characters from Rave Master, but I realize that I have forgotten how to draw a lot of the characters from that series, so it might be hard to revisit it.

Many comic book artists have said that they know the last page of the series before they start. Was that the case for Fairy Tail?

I honestly didn't have any idea what the last scene of the story was like in my mind when I started the series. The fact that I didn't know what was going to happen next was actually the best part of working on this series. For example, when there is a cliffhanger where the characters are in a really tight spot, the fans wonder what is going to happen next? Well, that's actually my question and I really have to think about it.

You have traditionally used more Western influences in your work. What kind of Western work do you draw inspiration from?

About 30 years ago in Japan, there was a huge boom of RPG fantasy games, so those are where I got my inspiration from. For example, Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. 

In the world of Fairy Tail, are the magic powers something you inherit or can you obtain them if you work hard enough?

In the world of Fairy Tail, if anyone wants to learn a new magic, if they train themselves hard enough, they should be able to. There are a lot of characters who are training themselves to learn a different kind of magic. However, in the guild of Fairy Tail, everybody is collaborating and working together, so most of those characters work on their own talents and refine them so they are able to give more help to the others.

I find Zeref very interesting. He isn't your typical bad guy and he is sort of a tragic figure. Why did you decide to make him like that?

I didn't want a typical bad guy. I kind of combined all of the elements I had been cultivating and inserted edit into this character, and he became a really highly complex character.  

Everyone likes the female characters in Fairy Tail. They seem to be both strong and sexy at the same time and self-confident. How did you go about making such balanced female characters?

This is actually kind of what I like in females. This my personal taste so I inserted it into the character. It's kind of my wish.

Is there a particular character you wish you had more time to develop?

One of the characters that I think of is Acnologia. In my mind I had a deeper setting for this character. But the story is from the main character's point of view, so I couldn't really do that. I may have some time to explore the story of Acnologia at some point.

In terms of design, Fairy Tail is unique when it comes to designs.  A lot of the characters change their outfits throughout the series. How do you go about changing the characters’ clothes?

Every time I actually make a costume change, there's usually something that I didn't like about the character design so I refresh them. But sometimes I think maybe the previous character design was better so I kind of go back and forth.

What Fairy Tail character will you miss the most?

There is a character named Brandish. I wish I could draw more of her.

An illustration of Brandish from Mashima's Twitter account

In the American comic book industry, it is common for multiple people to work on the same comic. In Japan, one person entirely writes the whole thing. In America, the creators may have died and people are still writing the series. What are your thoughts on this process?

One of the great things about American comics is that so many people can work at once to turn it into a movies or different types of comic books or media and that carries over overseas. In terms of manga, it usually one person thinks of the story and everything is centered on that one storyline, so, if there is an opportunity to branch off, that's actually a good thing. In terms of Fairy Tail, a lot of people love the world view of Fairy Tail, so it is actually possible to expand the story into a spin-off taken over by another creator, so it is kind of diversifying the intellectual property.

In American spin-offs, they worry a lot about continuity. Did you worry about that over the 11 years you worked on Fairy Tail?

I was thinking about it a little bit, but it wasn't the highest priority. It is more important to me to make the story exciting and really portray the emotions of each character. So if the fans find some flaws in the continuity, I am actually excited to know that people are reading that much into it.

Sometimes in Fairy Tail characters die, but they always come back. Why did you decide to both this?

This has to do with the fact that in Rave Master, a lot of characters actually died and it turned out to be a sad story. When you are working on a manga in a magazine, it is up to the reader's polls and feedback whether you can actually stay in the magazine. To be quite honest, the chapters that have the death of a really important character get a lot of reaction. Knowing this, I really wanted to make sure that people don't die in my series.

You post a lot of drawings on social media. Are the fans supposed to take these as canonical, or are they just something you do for fun?

Those pictures that I post on my social media are just my doodles and have nothing to do with the main plot of the story. Of course I want people to remember these characters, but also it fun for me to draw these. I have the next set of characters in my mind, but I won't be able to post those on my social media, so that's why I post those doodles on my social media.

Fairy Tail was serialized in a weekly magazine. What was that like and would you have preferred more time to work on the chapters?    

I have actually worked on weekly and monthly series at the same time. As you can imagine, working on a weekly series is very difficult. However, you get the feedback from the fans right away and they say “I want to read the next chapter” and it makes me want to respond with the next chapter.

Since a weekly series has such a fast production pace, were you able to take care of yourself by eating and sleeping?

Of course! I have no problem eating and sleeping.

If you could go to a con and cosplay, what would you dress up as?

I really want to try it. I am really into Game of Thrones nowadays, so maybe I would cosplay one of the characters.

If you were in the world of Fairy Tail and you could have three people on your team, who would it be?

Lucy, Erza, and Juvia.

A lot of shounen characters seem to have the same characteristics. Like they are rebellious, but very skilled at what they do. What makes Natsu unique?

His pink hair! And the fact he gets motion sickness.

As you move onto your new series, what will you carry with you from Fairy Tail? What mistakes will you avoid or what things will make your life easier with the next series?

One of the things I learned, and feel that I succeeded with in Fairy Tail is developing lots and lots of characters with very unique personalities. I would like to apply that in my next series too.

Do you worry about the elements of Fairy Tail bleeding too much into your new series?

I honestly don't think it is necessarily a bad thing that my new work reminds people of my previous work. In Japan, there is kind of a jinx. After the first big hint, your next series is going to be a flop. I personally am not worried about it. I don't think Fairy Tail was a giant success.  In this way, I feel no pressure to work on a new series.

An anime adaption will add many more elements to the story. What do you like the most about the anime that is not in your manga?

I think the biggest contribution of the anime is the work of the voice actors. Even on the US side, the voice acting is really similar. It has the same kind of feeling as the Japanese voice acting. I am actually quite happy with the outcome of it.

Where would you get your guild tattoo?

Same as Natsu. On my arm.

When can we expect the new series?

The editor-in-chief is hustling me on it. I can't really say too much about it, but I am hoping that I can start sometime next year.

Can you describe how much influence your editor has?

One of the main processes is that I usually write the first draft of the chapter and I show it to the editor. The editor will give me feedback about whether it is good or bad. If the editor says it is not good, I was would ask the reason why so I can fix it. This creative process is very important. Sometimes we get in a conflict when the editor says one thing and I disagree and I push forward with what I believe in. If I don't succeed, I feel like I should have listened to him. Or sometimes when I am stuck on an idea he gives me very prompt advice, which really helps me.

What do you like most about the Fairy Tail fandom?

Everybody's eyes shining. I get really happy just looking at them.

Thanks to Kodansha Comics and New York Comic-con for the opportunity.


Editor's note: this article originally reported that Mr. Mashima entered the room and said "My name is Hiro Mashima, and I am a manga god". Our correspondent mistranslated what Mr. Mashima said and the article has been corrected. ANN takes full responsibility for the error.

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