Yuki Hijiri: a Mangakanversation

By Tim Eldred with assistance from Sword Takeda

The December 2010 update of this website was a unique one in many ways. For one thing, it was posted only a day after it was completed so that I could cover the premiere of the live-action Yamato movie in Japan. For another, it delivered one of the rarest Space Battleship Yamato artifacts of all time, the “lost” manga adaptation by writer/artist Yuki Hijiri.

"lost" is always a tricky word to employ with things like this; once it’s been recovered, dusted off, and placed back in the public eye, such an object ceases to be “lost.” In this case, the word is still fitting since this unique version of Yamato remains "lost" in Japan; it was never officially reprinted after it was serialized in Terebi Land magazine (Nov. 1974 to March 1975). The reason was simple; after it ran its course, Executive Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki decided it wasn’t consistent with his vision and he removed it from circulation. He acquired all the original artwork and locked it away from public view. In doing so, he unknowingly laid an irresistible challenge at the feet of the most tenacious Yamato collectors.

The whereabouts of the originals are currently unknown; reliable reports tracked them to public auction via Japan’s Mandarake stores around 2008, then lost the trail. Until someone comes forward with the goods, that’s a dead end. The next best thing is to piece together a collection of the original Terebi [TV] Land magazines that featured the strip. This is difficult and time-consuming–but not impossible, as our online reprint demonstrated. After a few years of diligent hunting, I managed to locate five of the six chapters and bring them back into the public eye. Since that time, the "lost" chapter of the "lost" manga came to me in a different way: by fanzine.

As elusive as the Terebi Land magazines are now, the fanzine is much harder to find; only 300 copies exist, which makes it exceedingly rare. It came about when members of the Hamidashi [Split off] Yamato Fan Club sought permission from Yoshinobu Nishizaki to make their own reprint for “research purposes." He agreed as long as they limited the circulation. Their club ‘zine was titled Zero, so this project was titled Supplement Zero Vol. 1. About the size of a standard paperback, it contained a complete photocopy of the manga (taken from Terebi Land) in 84 pages and was published in January 1978.

Flash forward to May, 2011: out of nowhere, a copy of Supplement Zero Vol. 1 appears in an online auction on Yahoo Japan. I go after it with Wave-Motion Energy at 120% and lock on target. A few hundred bucks later, I join the ranks of the 300.

Scoring such a unique collectible is one thing; sharing it on this website is another; for the first time since 1978, every chapter of the Hijiri manga is now back in one place.

Click here to read the entire manga, including the ‘lost’ chapter, easily the most original of the bunch.

That’s part 1 of this story. Part 2 gets even better. If you read my action-packed report of Yamatour 2010, you might remember that Sword Takeda was actually able to arrange a face-to-face interview with Yuki Hijiri himself. We agreed that the proper time to publish it would be when that missing chapter was found, and that time is now.

Mangaka is the Japanese term for a creator of Manga. As you will see, Mr. Hijiri is as Mangaka as they come.

Interview conducted in Tokyo, December 3, 2010.

How did you get the assignment for Space Battleship Yamato?

It’s a long story. At the time [1974] I was quite a novice. There were three different similar kids’ magazines that specialized in manga adaptations of TV shows; Terebi Magazine and Otomodachi from Kodansha, and Terebi Land from Tokuma Shoten. A friend of mine had an assignment for Terebi Land but he had to return to his hometown because of family matters, and suggested that I do it instead. It was Diamond Eye by Kohan Kawauchi, the creator of Gekko Kamen. This was my first time to work for Terebi Land, and Space Battleship Yamato started after that.

The editor asked Leiji Matsumoto first, and then he looked at a list of other candidates, and my name was there. He picked me and asked if I would do it, and I responded that I would.

At the time you did your Yamato manga, Leiji Matsumoto and Akira Hio also did theirs. Was it unusual for three versions to be made at the same time?

No, it was quite normal. Another example was Shotaro Ishinomori’s Kamen Rider. The original manga by him was in Shonen Magazine, and adaptations of the TV program sequels such as Kamen Rider X or Kamen Rider V3 were running in many different places; Terebi Magazine, Otomodachi, Terebi Land, Boken-Oh [Adventure King] and possibly more that I cannot recall. The artists, Mitsuru Sugaya, Toshiro Narui, Yuji Hosoi and Yoshiki Tsuchiyama, were members of Ishimori Productions and they all created their own stories.

Did you have any communication with the other artists, or was there any sense of rivalry?

Neither. But I thought my story was the most interesting. (Laughs) There was no comparison because of the different number of pages and the different ages of the readers.

Were you instructed not to construct a complex story because of the young age group of Terebi Land’s readers?

I think so, yes. It was for the lower elementary grades, except kindergarten, up to the first year of middle school.

Was everyone expected to stop reading manga and watching anime at that age?

No, they still consumed both. The target age was the same as Terebi Magazine. Otomodachi was for much younger readers, and still it is.

When you started your adaptation, did you have reference materials from the animators?

I was given model sheets for characters and mecha, along with TV scripts. But the page count was limited, so I wasn’t expected to develop it according to the script.

Your first chapter is a simplified version of the first three TV episodes. Were you given your own discretion for how to compress them, or did you have some guidance?

I had no guidance. It was completely up to me.

Is that how you like to work, or do you prefer to have some direction?

There were a lot of adaptations being serialized in Terebi Land at the time, and all the artists were allowed to use their own discretion. The editor said, “the Kamen Rider adaptation by Mr. Tsuchiyama [Kamen Rider Amazon at that time] is very popular with our readers, so why don’t you do it that way?” Suggestions like that were given.

When you began the project, were you told how many chapters to do?

No, I don’t think so. Usually a TV program only lasted 6 months, so I guessed that it would be only 5 or 6 chapters.

Did you know at the time how the story would finish?

I had no idea.

As you continued working on the manga, did you keep getting information from the studio?

Only scripts.

Weren’t you given new character sheets as the story advanced, such as General Domel [Lysis]?

Ah, there might have been such additions. It’s hard to remember now.

Did you watch the anime at the time for more reference?

No, not at all. (Laughs)

Your style in the Yamato manga is very consistent from start to finish. That sets it apart from the other versions, in which the shape of Yamato changed significantly over time.

That’s only because I used a plastic model for occasional reference, but it was the Japanese Battleship, not the Space Battleship.

During the time your manga was serialized, the page margins had notices about fan letters and drawings that were sent in, and a request to encourage Mr. Hijiri’s work. Did you ever get fan letters?

I have no memory of seeing fan letters.

So your only interaction was with your editor?

Yes.

Looking back now, what are your memories when you see your Yamato manga today?

It’s very nostalgic. I was poor. I wanted to do everything on my own, but I couldn’t so I asked friends for help. They did it for free as a favor.

In one panel in the second to last chapter we noticed an assistant’s name, Emi Hashimoto, and another name, hard to identify.

Ah, he is Tsukuru Oku. They both assisted me for free. And I think Oku is a bank clerk in Kyushu now! (Laughter)

When did you start drawing?

At age 16 or 17.

You studied engineering in tech college but then went into a manga career instead. What inspired your decision?

Simply put, I liked machines, so I was tempted to work on them as a job. I had to make blueprints in college and I wasn’t very good at it. (Laughs) I could never draw a right angle, so I didn’t feel that I had any intuition for it.

What was your inspiration to become a mangaka?

I used to draw manga before entering college. The first story of Locke the Superman was drawn while I was taking the entrance exam. I was approached in those days by Shojo Comic [Girls’ Manga] from Shogakukan to draw for them. And as a student, I already had a publishing career for my own manga but it was in single stories, not a serial.

Were you already drawing for girls, or was it the directive of an editor?

Since it was the comic magazine for girls, I was directed to draw it for girls.

Did you make your own manga as a hobby and then publish it by yourself?

No, nobody had any idea about how to do that back then. There was no environment for publishing doujinshi back in 1969.

Was there a mangaka who strongly influenced you?

Everyone! Osamu Tezuka, Shotaro Ishimori, Leiji Matsumoto, Mitsuteru Yokoyama, Satoru Ozawa…

What inspired you to create Locke the Superman?

I began to draw manga when I was 17, and I joined a group who wanted to become mangaka. I drew manga for them. The name was Sakuga Group. It still exists. It was the first group to publish doujinshi. I wanted to publish longer stories, so the first one I did in long-form was Locke. [Debut strip shown above]

And it’s still going today. Do you plan to continue making Locke manga for the rest of your life?

Yes, probably.

Other than Locke, what is the proudest work of your career?

I love all my works. Kuru Kuru PaX [comedy series] is well known. After that, I’m very proud of [SF series] TWD Express.

Are you aware that Locke is known in America?

No, I didn’t know that at all.

The anime version came to America with the first wave of imports on VHS, in the late 1980s. There weren’t many titles in those days, so everyone saw everything. Today’s younger viewers aren’t familiar with it, but it is known to most anime fans in their thirties or forties.

Is that so?

Do you consider yourself a creator of shojo manga (girls’ comics), or is it only a coincidence that most of your readers are girls?

It’s a coincidence. The editors at Shojo Comic said that my characters look cute and they perfectly fit the girl readers’ favor. I just naturally agreed. Later, I sometimes helped other female mangaka such as Sayuri Ichijo to beef up elements she is not very good at. Her MIB-like villain, an Agent Smith look-alike, as well as automobiles. Those are my speciality.

Since you know that most of your readers are girls, does that stop you from writing certain kinds of stories?

No, that doesn’t limit me. Locke the Superman was created before I drew for Shojo Manga magazine, so I do not consider my work for only girls, or even only boys.

We have a saying in America; either you go to the mountain or the mountain comes to you. It sounds like the mountain came to you.

That could be.

What is a typical day like for you?

When a deadline approaches, I get only about two hours of sleep a day. I get up in the morning and go to my office for work and I eat meals there. Sometimes I work until midnight, go home and sleep for 1-2 hours, and then start all over again. Fortunately, my home and studio are 10 minutes apart by bike.

How many pages do you draw in a regular cycle?

60-80 pages a month for two monthly publications.

Do you develop a story before you draw it, or as you go?

I decide the basic setting first, who the characters are and what the plot is. Then the characters drive it by themselves. Sometimes I feel manipulated by them.

Sometimes the author feels manipulated by the characters.

Yes. Seems like my characters saying to me, ‘No, that can’t be,’ as if I am being ordered or warned.

Do you ever write a script in advance?

If I had time I would, but I usually can’t afford the time and I have to work without it.

What steps do you go through to reach the ending?

I think about several different endings. Sometimes an ending will come to me along the way while drawing. It depends on the story.

Do you draw stories one at a time, or jump back and forth between them?

I have two series now. I do the first one from beginning to end and then the second. I used to do them in parallel, but now it’s impossible.

Do you work independently, or do you collaborate with others?

I use three regular assistants.

Do you ever get a vacation?

It’s possible to take one week off per year, but I haven’t taken one in the last three years. However, I don’t have to work every single day.

Is it difficult to have a manga career and a family?

Unfortunately the family is neglected much of the time. It’s unavoidable.

Mrs. Hijiri adds: I don’t like to go out much. I’m happy to stay at home and play games with our son. (The couple have a 9-year-old son who is a fan of his father’s manga.)

What is your advice to someone who wants to become a mangaka?

You shouldn’t. (Laughter)

If someone is very determined to become a mangaka, what’s the most important thing they should know?

All I can say is to be persistent. The most important thing you can have is motivation. If you have that, I think you can manage.

What is your view of the manga industry today, and how has it changed since your career began?

The number of magazines has increased. Therefore, although the number of interesting works has increased, they become harder to find because the reader can’t readily reach them. With so many magazines, it’s hard to know which one to buy. You have to discover them by word-of-mouth or the internet. But if you don’t have many friends to talk with about manga, you don’t hear rumors and if you’re not connected you can’t gather information. That’s the situation now.

Is manga in decline because of overproduction?

I think so. Prospective readers move away from manga toward anime and games. After all, there are too many manga to choose from. I don’t know…

Do you have another art career besides manga?

I do, but it’s still part of manga.

Mrs. Hijiri adds: He does some other illustration work. There’s an overnight anime titled Sore demo Machi wa Mawatteiru [Still Town Is Spinning] that’s currently on. The creator, Masakazu Ishiguro, is published in the same manga magazine, so he [Mr. Hijiri] draws the end title cards for the program.

Concerning anime, and using Locke as an example, do you enjoy the process of making a manga into anime?

I don’t have any knowledge about that process and I wasn’t very involved in it. They showed me character designs and asked for my approval. I was also asked to approve the script. At first I tried to give them some notes, but from my standpoint I didn’t feel that I could approve an anime work since it’s different from manga. So in the end, I decided to let them make their own decisions.

Was it a big surprise when you saw the Locke anime for the first time? Did you like the finished product?

I laughed a little, but there was no surprise since I already knew what it would be like. I didn’t like the quality of the animation very much. The personality of the writer didn’t come out. It didn’t go very far beyond the original manga.

What were your anime works in the 1970s?

There were only two; Super Electromagnetic Machine Voltes V (above left, 1977) and Fighting General Daimos (above right, 1978). We met in a conference room in a building in West Shinjuku. There was the Toei Producer Takashi Iijima, the Director Tadao Nagahama, and the script writer Fuyunori Gobu [A.K.A. Yoshitake Suzuki].

I was introduced to Mr. Nagahama by Makoto Aoyagi, the former chairman of the Shotaro Ishinomori fan club. We gathered around a table and Mr. Nagahama explained the basic settings. After that, we came up with names for the characters. He told me about the image of the character, such as a girl of twenty with wings growing out of her back, and I drew a picture on the spot.

So you did character design?

Yes. I would get instructions like, “she’s more of an adult so make her breasts larger.” An example of this was Erika in Daimos (shown at right).

Did you also do mecha design?

Just a very early stage to give general idea what it looks like. In the case of Voltes V, the now-famous Kunio Okawara designed the final version. As for Daimos, Kazutaka Miyatake at Studio Nue designed it throughout.

What about Tokusatsu [live-action special effects] programs?

I worked on Ninja Captor for Producer Toru Hirayama. I did costume design, the hero’s vehicle, and enemy designs. I took them over to Toei Studio every week. That was in 1976, and I also did the serialized manga. [Two volumes of the Ninja Captor manga are shown below left. The first volume of Kuru Kuru PaX is below right.]

After these three works for TV, you went solely into manga. Do you have any interest in going back to it?

I don’t think I want to do that very much. There isn’t much of a feeling that it’s my own work. But I was poor then, so the pay was good! (Laughter)

Is there anything you’d like to say to your American readers?

I didn’t know until today that I had any fans in America. By all means, please read my new works! The only problem is that they aren’t being translated.

True manga otaku absorb it as if they are Japanese.

The stories are quite complicated now, and they have a very Japanese sensibility. I make them first and foremost for Japanese readers, so overseas readers might find them daunting.

After this interview, maybe you’ll get more overseas fans!

It’s a good opportunity to open doors. My manga is in the same magazine as Trigun, which is quite famous. It’s very surprising to know that my manga is known outside Japan!

Last question, a three-parter: You are given a time machine that runs on 100 yen coins, and you have three coins.

1. What point in history would you visit?

I’m not very interested in the past, more in the future. I’d like to look 500 or 1,000 years ahead.

2. What advice would you give to your past self?

If I gave advice to my younger self, he wouldn’t listen. On the outside he would say “yes” and “okay,” but he wouldn’t really be listening.

3. What would you do with the last coin?

I’d buy a coffee from a drink machine. (Laughs)

The End

Visit Mr. Hijiri’s website here.

See more of his manga titles here.

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