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Interview: Takeshi Obata

by Katriel Paige,

If you haven't heard of Takeshi Obata, chances are you have seen his work: he is an illustrator and mangaka, usually working with writers to help tell stories. He has worked on Hikaru no Go, as well as Death Note, Bakuman., and most recently the manga version of All You Need Is Kill – the manga based on the original novel of the same name, which inspired the Hollywood film Edge of Tomorrow. In the past, he has won a number of high-profile Japanese cultural prizes for his work in manga, such as the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize (awarded 2003) sponsored by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

We were grateful for the opportunity to talk with him about his work at New York Comic-Con.

ANN: In a series like Hikaru no Go – go being a game that we are used to seeing older people play – how did you maintain a sense of excitement for the game, through the art?

Obata: Yes, I actually had the same concerns – that go is sort of an old man's game, and how do I communicate it to young people. So I decided to make the main character a happy, sort of fun, kind of  rambunctious sort of person so that the kids would identify with him and be connected to it.  Also, because not a lot of people know about go, I did a lot of research into the really tiny details about the actual game, so that I maintain some sort of fidelity to the game.
ANN: So it would be similar to coverage of a chess tournament, for people not familiar with chess, in terms of providing the details?

[Obata nods.]

ANN: Speaking of chess, that's the next question. In Death Note there's a strong emphasis on watching the characters think their way through a cat-and-mouse, chess-like game; was it tough to make that visually exciting?

Obata: That's a difficult question!

Obata's editor Yoshida: Really, wouldn't you say that that's the original writer's responsibility, and Obata just has to make sure the art looks great?

Obata: Well, I know it's a very tricky question obviously, but I think one big difference is that in Death Note, a lot of the characters are borderline full-fledged villains, so it was important to capture those manipulative facial expressions so it looked like they were thinking diabolically, just because their faces looked manipulative.

ANN: Speaking of art, would you rather draw your favorite thing – even though it might be easy – or draw something new that might be really difficult?

Obata: If I trust the writer enough, definitely the latter – the challenge of it.

ANN: For All You Need Is Kill, we know it through the light novel, the manga, and the film: visually, what do you think the major differences are between your illustration work on the manga and the film?

Obata: There are certain things – certain expressions unique to each format, so film will do things only film can do, and manga likewise. I'm trying to exploit that manga format to the best that I can, and I feel like I've succeeded if I can stick to the benefits of working with that manga format. For example, some of the ships and templates that exist in the film and manga are very different – the spherical movement, it's a very quick movement, and I think it's captured much better in manga. And that's a detail that I think I like to focus on.

ANN: So, effectively, manga is manga and film is film, so the uniqueness of that manga format should be emphasized?

Obata: Yes, that's exactly right. Manga is manga. [nods]

DEATH NOTE © 2003 by Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata/Shueisha, Inc.

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