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Takehiko Inoue at Kinokuniya NYC

by Justin Sevakis,

On November 16, 2007, famed manga artist Takehiko Inoue (of Slam Dunk and Vagabond fame) arrived at Books Kinokuniya's newly opened midtown location in New York City to begin work on a special mural. The mural, an expansive black inkwork on the wall and ceiling in Vagabond style, greets shoppers arriving on the second floor (dedicated to manga, DVDs, and art books) upon exiting from the escalator. A small "omake" piece also looks down on shoppers descending the stairwell.

Three days later, Inoue and Viz hosted a special press event at Kinokuniya to unveil the work. Inoue himself sat down with Anime News Network for a short interview.

ANN: Your seminal works Slam Dunk and Buzzer Beater are credited with increasing interest in basketball throughout Asia. Any thoughts on differences with American audiences, who are much more likely to be familiar with basketball and played it themselves?

INOUE: Well, while Slam Dunk is technically about basketball, I don't think it's essentially a basketball story. It could have been about soccer just as easily. Really, I just wanted to convey the feeling one gets from playing sports in general, and hopefully anybody can relate to that.

Where does your personal passion for basketball come from?

I was on my high school basketball team for three years. I wasn't so good back then. (laughs)

Have you been able to step it up since then?

Oh, absolutely nothing has changed since. (laughs)

You're involved with a new athletic scholarship for promising young Japanese basketball players. What are your thoughts on players like Yuta Tabuse trying to make it to the NBA and the future of Japanese players in American basketball?

I really have a lot of respect for Tabuse. He's opening up a path for others to follow, and he's had to make a lot of sacrifices in order to do that. But it's thanks to those sacrifices that others will be able to follow his lead in the future.

Your period works like Vagabond often reflect sumi-e artistic styles. Both the story of Musashi and sumi have deep roots in Japanese tradition. Are they linked symbolically, do you feel? Is there a relationship between brush stroke and sword stroke, for example?

I…haven't really thought much about that. Let's see…. I'm not really much of a history buff, so I couldn't say. Uh…When I was younger, I did some kendo. Does that help? (laughs)

Tell us about your book Sumi.

In Japan, when they bring out illustration collections, they're almost always in color. Not many of them are just in black and white. In the case of Vagabond, I have a color one already, called Water, but I wanted to express myself in black and white.

What about black and white is so important to Vagabond?

Well, manga is fundamentally black and white! (laughs) Similarly, using brush and ink allows me to convey the feel, or the atmosphere of that era. I'm able to show the dirtiness and the greasiness. The dirty clothes, the dirty hair…. It's similar in atmosphere to an [Akira] Kurosawa movie.

You've recently worked on your first video game, doing character designs for the upcoming Xbox 360 game Lost Odyssey. Could you tell us a little about it?

I'm really not a gamer myself, so to be honest, working on video games is something I never thought I'd be doing. However, I don't think Lost Odyssey is a game in the traditional sense of the word. [Creator Hironobu] Sakaguchi is a friend of mine, and he approached me to work on the game. The idea behind it was to use the game medium as a way to portray people. In that way, I think of it as an effort to expand the medium.

You've just unveiled a mural here at Kinokuniya's flagship NYC store. Tell us about it.

When you create manga, you basically sit at a desk for a long, long time, and I've been doing that for many years. This, however, is a big space! I had to come here on a plane to draw it. It's something different, and that's refreshing. It gives me more motivation. I'll be using that motivation for whatever I work on next.

After interviews concluded, a reception followed, where Viz Media's Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat Editor-in-Chief Marc Weidenbaum showed off the inaugural installment of Inoue's Slam Dunk in the December 2007 issue of the America's Shonen Jump in full color and two-tone print, identically to how the material was first presented in Japan's Weekly Shonen Jump. Weidenbaum also announced Viz's planned release of Inoue's wheelchair basketball manga series Real in July 2008, as well as Inoue's Vagabond artbooks, the watercolor Water and the black and white Sumi in 2008.

In a speech, Inoue commented that he was grateful to do the mural project, which was completed despite tight manga deadlines. He explained that after he finished working the mural each day he would return to his hotel room and continue working on manga, and that his editor had flown into New York from Tokyo for only a day to pick up the finished pages. Inoue concluded by treating the press to a glimpse of the work in progress, as he applied the finishing touches to the mural right then and there.

Visitors or residents of New York City can see Inoue's mural during regular business hours at the new Books Kinokuniya location on 6th Avenue between 40th and 41st Streets, facing Bryant Park.

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