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Interview: Ranking of Kings Manga Creator Sōsuke Tōka

by Lynzee Loveridge,

The uplifting story of Ranking of Kings, which recently received an anime adaptation, has been a delight to fans across the world. ANN spoke to the manga's original creator Sōsuke Tōka about the story's inspirations and the artist's own unconventional path to success.

Left: Anime Key Visual © SousukeTOKA,KADOKAWA/Ranking of Kings animation film partners
Right: Ranking of Kings manga volume 1 by Sōsuke Tōka

While I was doing research for this interview, I discovered that Ranking of Kings is your first manga and that you made your debut at the age of 41. Can you discuss a bit your journey from picture book artist to salaryman to manga artist? Did you have any concerns about giving up a steady job for an artistic one?

Sōsuke Tōka: I am not a picture book artist. I just happened to submit my work to a picture book competition and received a prize. But after that, I got no attention and it didn't work at all (as a picture book artist).

I felt reluctant to quit my job at the age of 41. However, it is also true that I've had an easygoing life since I am single and have nobody to provide for. Besides, I've always felt uneasy about what I wanted to do and I didn't enjoy my life. It was inevitable that sooner or later I would go down the path of a manga artist.

This may sound like a plug, but I detailed how this happened in the essay manga, Datsu Sara 41-sai no Manga-ka Saichōsen Ōsama Ranking ga Bazuru made (“A 41 year-old Corporate Dropout Tries Again as a Manga Artist: When Ranking of Kings Went Viral”). It depicts my story for other aspiring manga artists.

I think Bojji has really caught fans' attention as a hero that is also deaf. Disabled characters aren't often the primary focus of fantasy series. Were there any experiences that led you to create this kind of character and was there any research or consultation you did to accurately portray a deaf character?

Sōsuke Tōka: The deaf character aspect often gathers attention, but honestly speaking, it's an extra thing. It's not the primary theme I was trying to grapple with in this manga. You'll see the reason for that in an upcoming episode of the anime, through the words of Bojji's master, Despa.

Another interesting aspect of Ranking of Kings is how it takes symbolic ideas from fairytales, like the naked king, the evil stepmother, and the magic mirror, and then surprises readers in such unexpected ways that do not fall upon the stereotype of the fairytales in the character's personality, the setting, and the story development. How do you decide which elements of a fairytale should stay and which elements to reinterpret in new ways?

Sōsuke Tōka: I'm a delicate-hearted person, so I love stories with happy endings. I'd like to make everyone happy if I can. But I can't do that for the bad guys. The core is as simple as that.

Were there any fairy tales or fantasy stories that you enjoyed or affected you as a child?

Sōsuke Tōka: There were many, but my most favorite in my childhood was The Neverending Story.

When Bojji is introduced, the other characters consider him “weak” because he isn't physically powerful, and do not think that he would be a good king for this reason." In your opinion, what makes a leader “strong” and what makes a leader “weak”?

Sōsuke Tōka: It is difficult to discuss what makes a “strong” king. It's complicated because it involves politics. Still, I do hope that through my manga, I can put weight on kindness and justice in a way that suits shonen manga….

While Ranking of Kings is a story of “fantasy world,” it still has the familiar problems in our real world in it, including how other characters see Bojji because he is deaf. In any way do you hope Ranking of Kings may change how readers' consider those with disabilities?

Sōsuke Tōka: Though I also have some hearing problems, I am not severely hard of hearing, so I cannot understand their suffering. But I hope that more people won't mind about disabilities. I believe that the development of technology will brighten the future.

Kage is also a very appealing character. What was your inspiration for his puddle-like design and claw mouth?

Sōsuke Tōka: It was originally a character in the picture book. Its shape used to be a lot different from the current one. When I made it appear in the manga, I arrived on that design.

When some people talk about the design of Kage, the character of Pride from Fullmetal Alchemist comes up. I also love that manga, but I only realized that Kage was unconsciously influenced a lot by Pride when it was pointed out to me. But my conscious inspiration was Backbeard from GeGeGe no Kitarō.

Is Ranking of Kings inspired by European fantasy? Are there parts of the story that you think are influenced by Japanese culture in which you grew up?

Sōsuke Tōka: Japanese culture was tremendously influential for me. Without Japanese manga and games, Ranking of Kings would not have been born. I believe that Japanese manga, games, and characters can contribute to world peace.

Have you had any input on the anime adaptation's story or designs? Were there any aspects that you were particular about?

Sōsuke Tōka: No, I haven't had any input on the anime. I am only grateful to the anime team for making a great anime.

In an interview in 2018 you said that your parents didn't know you were a manga artist. Now that your story is being adapted into an anime, I was curious if your parents now know about your new career?

Sōsuke Tōka: My parents don't know anything about it. They still think I am working as a salaryman. They are old-fashioned and conservative types who have no understanding of manga as a career. I am afraid that they will worry about me if they find out that I make a living by drawing manga, so I keep it secret from them.

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