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Interview: Boruto Manga Artist Mikio Ikemoto

by Kim Morrissy,

Mikio Ikemoto has been involved with the Naruto almost from the very beginning; he was an assistant on the manga for fifteen years. In 2016, he began drawing the artwork for the Boruto: Naruto Next Generations manga, which is written by Ukyō Kodachi and supervised by Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto. Ikemoto was able to take time out of his busy schedule to talk to Anime News Network about his work on the Boruto manga and his mindset as a creator.

The latest chapters of Boruto can be read on MANGA Plus, a free app that allows users around the world to read Jump manga at the same time as Japan. For more information about MANGA Plus, please read this article.

Which of your favorite manga, besides Naruto, would you say have influenced your art?

I really like Kinnikuman. As for what influenced me a lot, I would say Dragon Ball. Akira Toriyama has a tendency not to use tones in his art. That makes it easier to draw.

What is your working relationship with Kodachi-sensei like? How do you get in touch?

We don't get in touch much at all, actually. We don't even email. We met for the first time in a year today.

Do you just meet at meetings?

We don't do meetings either. Our editor relays all the messages between us. All the meetings I have are just with my editor.

So you don't have input in the direction of the story?

I talk with my editor directly about it. When it comes to the finer details, I'm usually given free reign over how to depict things. I draw the name (manga draft), and Kodachi-sensei checks it. If there's an issue, it will get relayed to me. If not, then I go ahead with it. Things work out quicker that way.

Has there ever been a moment where you got the Boruto script and were surprised by a turn of events in the series?

Yeah, I've had that reaction before, like at the flash-forward to the future at the beginning of the manga, seeing the grown-up Kawaki. Also, the film contained a lot of surprises for me and I thought it was really well done.

You'd been working as an assistant on Naruto for such a long time. Were you ever surprised by the things that happened between the ending of Naruto and the start of Boruto?

Now that Naruto has grown up and had children, I think the way things have evolved has been quite natural. Rather than being surprised, I've thought, “So this is the passage of time.”

Which character is your favorite to draw?

Well, Boruto's a relatively hard character to draw…

Oh, why's that?

There are a lot of things I have to think about, like his facial features and expressions. His design is intricate. With other characters I don't have to think that hard about such things while drawing them, but if I don't do that with Boruto, it gets harder to distinguish him from Naruto.

How exactly is Boruto different from his father?

He looks like Naruto did when he was young, but because he's determined to get out of his father's shadow, he dresses differently, and so on.

Is there any of Hinata in Boruto, do you think?

Probably not. His little sister is more like Hinata.

How does Boruto's relationship with Kawaki compare to the Naruto and Sasuke in your opinion?

Naruto and Sasuke were on the same team at the beginning, but Boruto and Kawaki never had that kind of camaraderie. Naruto and Sasuke were also rivals; they might not have gotten along but “hate” is too strong a word for their relationship. In Boruto and Kawaki's case, they wonder why they even have to be around each other. But in the opening scene you see that they were allies at one point. So the order in which their relationship unfolds is different from Naruto and Sasuke.

How do you decide on the character designs of Boruto and Kawaki?

Boruto's design was decided on for the movie, but Kawaki… I designed him to make sure he didn't look like Boruto. Just like how Naruto and Sasuke are contrasts to each other, Boruto and Kawaki have to look different.

Are there any Naruto characters that have yet to appear in Boruto that you would love to have a chance to design in their older form?

It'd be a spoiler. But you have to wonder: why doesn't Kakashi-sensei get much screen time even though he's such a popular character? What a mystery. Not that I can say anything about it.

How involved is Kishimoto-sensei in the production of Boruto? Do you incorporate what you learned as his assistant for so many years into the manga or do you feel free to go your own way?

I don't think about it too hard and just do things my way. Only with Boruto's character do I need references.

What's the most important thing you learned from Kishimoto-sensei?

“Don't miss your deadlines.” Not that I've been the best at following that advice lately. There are times when I cause trouble for my editor by getting close to missing the deadline.

Your enthralling action sequences are truly page-turners. However, does it bother you that readers might be so engrossed by the action that they read too quickly to really take in all of your artwork's detail?

People often ask me about that, but I don't think the reading speed matters. For example, we don't pay attention to every frame within a movie. Also, even if you read it quickly the first time, you can go back and read it more slowly the second time. If anything, if people read the manga quickly, it makes me feel that I got the tempo right.

Do you enjoy drawing the manga's comedy moments?

I'm pretty bad at drawing comedy. Compared to Naruto, I don't think Boruto has as many tsukkomi scenes. It's probably because the way the story has been evolving doesn't lend itself well to comedy. Even the film's content isn't that light-hearted, and the manga continues that trend. There isn't really time to show people living their daily lives. The anime delves more into that.

Speaking of the anime, do you have time to watch it?

Yes, I make sure to watch it every week.

What do you think about the differences compared to the manga?

It has diverged quite a bit from the manga even from the beginning. I've stopped keeping track of the differences.

Are you able to watch the anime as a simple fan?

Not really. When the movie came out, I hadn't been drawing the manga yet, so I was able to appreciate it as a simple fan, but I haven't been able to do that with the TV anime. But I'm still really enjoying it. I watch it every week while working on the manga.

Do you ever get ideas for the manga through watching the anime?

On the contrary, I try not to get ideas from the anime. You see, the action in the anime is really good. But since it's so good, i sometimes get disheartened about my own work through watching it.

The way action is conveyed through manga is different from anime, huh. How do you convey movement through manga?

I still use the Dragon Ball volumes as a reference for action scenes. When I'm stuck, I just grab the books off the shelf and look at them. I check the Naruto manga for reference about the abilities and things like that. Dragon Ball is great at conveying speed and movement, so that's why I use it. I use Dragon Ball and Naruto for different reasons.

Is it normal for pro manga artists to use other manga as reference?

I don't know about other artists, but that's what I'm like.

Do you have any original manga you're in the process of developing if you ever have time to work on them?

At the moment, no. I might do something in the future, but right now my thoughts are just on Boruto. It looks like Boruto will continue for a while yet, so I don't know when that will be.

Finally, do you have a message for overseas fans?

Well, since overseas fans are now able to read the new chapters in real time thanks to MANGA Plus, I don't think there's much need to differentiate them from Japanese fans. Please look forward to the new developments and seeing how Boruto and Kawaki's relationship unfolds!

Thanks to Shueisha for the opportunity.

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