Interview: Riichiro Inagaki & Yusuke Murata, Creators of Eyeshield 21

by Chih-Chieh Chang,
Editor's Note: This is a group interview, participated in by Chih-Chieh Chang for Anime News Network at the 2009 Comic Exhibition in Taipei, Taiwan.

Riichirō Inagaki and Yūsuke Murata, creators of Eyeshield 21, were invited to attend the 10th Comic Exhibition at Taipei on August 15 and give an autograph session. Like all other guests of the Exhibition, the two donated an autographed signboard to the charity auction, which raised money for the relief effort aimed at the victims of Taiwan's worst flood in 50 years. 

Q: American football is not a mainstream sport in Japan. Why did you choose American football as the main theme of this manga? 

Inagaki (I): I wanted to create a protagonist that was wimpy at the beginning, yet could perform outstandingly in a sports game. With that premise in mind, I decided that American football would be a very suitable material. 

Murata (M): After reading Inagaki-sensei's award-winning storyboards in Shueisha's “Story King” contest – which had many cool design concepts of uniforms and equipment – I thought it could be turned into a great manga story, and I'd be happy to take the challenge. Fortunately I was chosen by Inagaki-sensei to turn his concepts into a serializing work. 

Q: Had you participated in sports back in your high school days e.g. football? 

I: Baseball, soccer, basketball, etc.; I played just about any sport back then, but not football. 

M: Never played football either, but basically I like all types of sports. 

Q: Have you watched the anime version of Eyeshield 21? What do you think of it? 

I: I was deeply moved when I saw it animated. However, it was impossible to copy the manga verbatim into anime, so I told the animation studio to produce it as an anime should be. It would be rather boring for watchers anyway if everything is the same to the manga. I think the anime is an excellent adaptation, and I'm grateful to everyone working on it. 

M: The still images of manga are now moving and talking; that's a great driving force for me and my future works. I keep those DVDs right next to my working desk and play them whenever I'm around. 

Q: There are so many characters in Eyeshield 21; who is your favorite or the most well-designed character, you think? 

I: Well, every character we create is like a child, so I love them all, but if you really want me to pick one – this is like asking a father to pick his favorite child – I'd say Kengo Mizumachi. At the first glance he doesn't look like an important character, but I think he finishes his duties perfectly in his own way. 

M: Seijuro Shin. At first this character is modeled after Bruce Lee and is a cool, handsome character, but with the story progresses he becomes more and more like a real person. Furthermore, he works really hard to increase his skills. 

Q: You've mentioned that you love some specific scenes of senior mangaka (Inagaki: Slam Dunk, when Hanamichi Sakuragi snagged his opponent's clothes when the umpire didn't pay attention, and Murata, the Dragon Ball battles between Goku and Piccolo and Goku and Frieza). What is your favorite scene of your own manga? 

I: Now you force me to pick one out of many AGAIN (laugh). Haruto Sakuraba felt his talent in football is limited, although he tried to work hard. When he met Shin, who was both talented and hard-working, Sakuraba suddenly felt himself completely outclassed and knelt on the ground in the rain. This scene gave readers much to think about, plus Murata-sensei put a lot of effort in to illustrate it. 

M: To me it's also a raining scene. Sena Kobayakawa found himself not practicing enough before a game, so he kept practicing in the rain without protective gear, while Hiruma was watching like a hawk. A great individual stands up immediately whenever he falls to the ground, so I'm inspired by Sena's spirit to encourage myself. 

Q: Is this your first time visiting Taiwan? How do you feel when you see your works being translated to other languages? 

I: I've been to Taiwan once before but it was just a typical tour for travelers; I'd like to visit something different this time. I'm very proud to see the manga being translated; when I flipped through the overseas edition I can still feel the atmosphere, even though I can't read the text. 

M: This is the first time for me and I expect to see something exotic and Taiwan-exclusive. While different countries have different acceptance levels for American football, but Kobayakawa is a person who knows where his limit lies and knows how to do his best in order to play as a team. If a reader can realize it then s/he can enjoy the book regardless of his/her cultural background. 

Q: There are many, many players in Eyeshield 21; each of them has their unique character traits; they almost have their own stories. How did you find ideas and inspiration when creating such a large cast? 

I: Each team has its own style, such as Shin and his team are serious and well-organized. However, it's not like I've set up teams and then design players; rather, it is the other way around. I decide what kind of character should appear in the story before assigning him a team. 

M: Due to their heavy protective gear, it would be very difficult to identify personal characteristics in games, so the most work on character designs are on their uniforms. 

Q: What is your favorite team logo? 

I: Other than Deimon Devil Bats, all others were solely designed by Murata-sensei. At first Murata-sensei created six prototypes for Deimon Devil Bats, and the one we see today. 

M: Because Deimon Devil Bats would be the strongest and more prominent team in the entire book, I spent a lot of work on designing the logo, which bears a strong resemblance to Hiruma. 

Q: Do you have any favorite sports gear? By the way, there's a dog and a pig in the book; do you own pet(s) in real life? 

I: I like Sakuraba's sneakers; I've got a dog. 

M: Had a cat in the past. I jog because I would gain weight if I just sit and draw manga. My favorite gear is Nike Free, which follows the shape of my feet very well and are very comfortable. 

Q: Why did you choose comedian Jun Tamura to voice Hiruma? 

I: The animation studio is in charge of casting, but they did ask our opinions. We thought that Mr. Tamura is a perfect fit, both his voice and his style. 

M: I agree with what Inagaki-sensei said; furthermore, it would be great if Hiruma could have a devil-like appearance (laugh). 

Q: Please say a few words to the survivors of the flood to cheer them up. 

I: It is difficult to say something easily after witnessing such a terrible natural disaster. There are many typhoons and earthquakes in Japan as well so I more or less understand the depressing feel. I hope all survivors can be back to their normal lives as soon as possible. 

M: I haven't been following news lately so I'm not very familiar with the detailed extent of the disaster. However my parents live in Kyushu and have experienced severe natural disasters as well. I also hope people can get well soon. 

Fans and cosplayers posed for pictures with Inagaki-sensei and Murata-sensei at the end of the press conference. 

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