When you think classic Space Battleship Yamato manga, Leiji Matsumoto is usually the first name that comes to mind. But Akira Hio should always be the next. Several artists took their turn at Yamato manga in the production years, but Mr. Hio was the record-holder by far, having adapted Series 1 and all the following movies. (Explore each of them in depth elsewhere on this website.) Unlike Matsumoto, however, interviews with him were practically nonexistent until very recently.
The long silence was broken by another manga artist, Keiichi Tanaka, who specializes in mimicking the style of others. He caught the attention of Yamato fandom with his doujinshis of Yamato 2199 gag manga drawn so precisely in Matsumoto and Hio’s styles that they boggle the mind. It was in a doujinshi titled Heartfelt Traitor (December 2014) that Tanaka presented this interview with Akira Hio as a bonus feature. It turned out to be the edited version of a longer conversation that he published in a separate volume titled SF Manga of our Youth (August 2015).
Fandom owes Mr. Tanaka a salute for his dedication to the subject, and it is with such a gesture that we present this translation.
Keiichi Tanaka (left) and Akira Hio (right)
Special Interview: A portrait of the SF manga heyday
The days of Space Battleship Yamato
Akira Hio: Nice to meet you. I’m Hio.
Keiichi Tanaka: I’m Keiichi Tanaka. I’d like to begin with Space Battleship Yamato. The anime has been remade and the boom has come again, but Leiji Matsumoto is not involved and Yamato 2199 was produced by a completely new staff. Everyone on the staff is a Yamato fan to the core. I was a Yamato fan too, but though I expected that there would be a manga adaptation by Leiji Matsumoto or yourself, it didn’t come to be for a variety of reasons. So last year I made a doujinshi called Yamato 2199 Thin Book in the style of Mr. Matsumoto. (Tanaka shows Hio a copy.)
Hio: Ah, this. (Laughs)
Tanaka: There are a lot of new characters in the new Yamato anime, and I drew them with the Matsumoto touch. It’s a parody, but I granted my own wish to see the new Yamato in the style of Mr. Matsumoto. (Laughs) So then I started to wonder if you had seen the new Yamato. My staff and my friends all definitely want me to ask you for your impressions.
Hio: I see.
Tanaka: So we’ll get to that, but first I want to ask you how you came to draw the three-volume Yamato manga for Sun Comics.[Translator’s note: the term “comicalize” is used frequently in the original text, which is Japanese slang for “manga adaptation.”]
Hio: At the time, an editor for Asahi Sonorama was looking for someone who could draw mecha for the manga adaptation, and he went here and there. He went to Ishimori Pro first and talked to Mitsuru Sugaya and Yuji Hosoi and Goro Yamada. I heard about it from Mr. Hosoi.
[Translator’s note: Ishimori Productions was the studio of legendary manga artist Shotaro Ishinomori, who is often thought of as second only to Osamu Tezuka in Japan. Find out more about the other artists by clicking on their names. See a gallery of Mitsuru Sugaya’s work here.]
Around the same time, I was drawing Getter Robo as a subcontractor for Shiranui Pro and Dynamic Pro. I originally wanted to get work directly from Mr. Hosoi, but now I was getting work through Shiranui Pro. Therefore, in the first Yamato manga adaptation, Shiranui Pro should appear after my name in parentheses.
Tanaka: Ah, I feel like I heard about that.[Translator’s note: this was a live-action Japanese TV series, unrelated to the 1981 Disney movie. See more here and here.]
This job came straight from Asahi Sonorama. So Shiranui Pro said, “Because Hio is on our staff, we’ll take 20% of the royalties.” I said, “I am?” I was surprised. At the time I got work through Ishimori Pro (without having royalties taken out), and when the direct offer came through for that work, I didn’t happen to be in the meeting so I heard the story after the fact. And so I negotiated, saying “If I took a job that Shiranui Pro was working on, then you taking 20% would be fine, but I think it’s odd that you’re getting a margin on work that I designate for myself.” Since then, I’ve cut my ties to Shiranui Pro.
Hio: It became a source of trouble after that. After I was done with Yamato, I did the adaptation of Symbol of Justice Condorman.
Tanaka: That’s common trouble for a cartoonist.
Hio: At the time, production had the sense of, “Once you work for us, you’re on our staff,” and the editor also knew it. But I wasn’t getting an exclusivity fee and it wasn’t a job that I had gotten them to do, so I couldn’t just say “Oh, I see” and leave. So after that I received work directly from Sonorama.
Tanaka: Is that so? By the way, do you remember if your three manga volumes were published around the same time the TV anime was on?
Hio: That’s right. When I started writing it, I went with the Sonorama editor to Office Academy (Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s private office). Around that time I had just resigned as Shotaro Ishinomori’s assistant. I lived in Nerima (a district) in Sakuradai (a Tokyo suburb), and Academy’s office building was in my neighborhood. Mr. Nishizaki was doing the planning for Yamato by himself. The first time I went, there were still just rough sketches by Leiji Matsumoto. He and [scriptwriter] Keisuke Fujikawa were nagging Mr. Nishizaki while he was making the story. Based on Matsumoto’s rough sketches, Studio Nue had done a three-view drawing of Yamato.
Tanaka: The character design is slightly different between the TV version and your manga. Is that because the manga was drawn in advance?
Hio: Yes. At the time, Mr. Matsumoto’s originals were not decided upon. It was sort of like that with the mecha, too. The designs weren’t done because the story still hadn’t been decided, and Mr. Fujikawa was working on a rough outline. So I made the manga plot from the first draft that everyone had discussed. At that time, Mr. Matsumoto was already planning to use Harlock. (Laughs) There was the idea that Mamoru Kodai would become Harlock and help out Yamato in a pinch.
Tanaka: Therefore, your manga contains the episode with Harlock that was originally scheduled for the TV series, but was cut when the broadcast period was shortened.
Hio: That’s right. The draft everyone talked about together ended up in Mr. Fujikawa’s script.
Captain Harlock and General Domel from the Hio manga
Harlock’s ship (based on Earth battleship)
Tanaka: One of the distinctive things about your manga version is that Domel wears sunglasses. That’s very cool, but did it turn out that way because you drew the character before Mr. Matsumoto completed Domel? Or did you add it to the original draft?
Hio: It was because Mr. Matsumoto’s draft wasn’t available yet.
Tanaka: I see. I can clearly remember that there was a long gap between the publication of each of the three volumes. I thought it was because they were hard to draw. Is that true?
Hio: Yes. As for me, my hand is slow, and that adaptation was tough. (Laughs)
Tanaka: No, even when I look at it now, the parallel lines in your art are not screen tone. Those intricate lines were drawn by hand. It blows my mind that they couldn’t have been drawn in the rough. You had to draw them so clean and precise.
Hio: That’s because I didn’t have the money to buy screen tone. (Laughs) The pay was really cheap. There were no royalties, just a purchase form. So I employed a cheap junior assistant from Ishimori Pro, but that didn’t work out very well.
Tanaka: You mean it didn’t pay well even if you drew so precisely? Even though it was so popular, the pay was still low?
Hio: It was back when you couldn’t get useable [photo]copies, so it was hard to draw.
Submarine Super 99, Zero-Sen Hayato
Tanaka: You said before they were looking for someone who could draw mecha, which is why they requested you. Had you enrolled at Ishimori Pro previously, or were you always a freelancer?
Hio: When I was a junior high student, I had often hung out with Mr. Matsumoto and Mr. Ishinomori. When I went to college, I made doujinshis which I passed around to both of them for review.
Tanaka: In other words, Mr. Matsumoto was already an old friend of yours at the time of Yamato?
Hio: That’s right. I’d quit doing doujinshi by my third year and became an assistant.
Tanaka: Then you had drawn mecha manga from the time you made doujinshis?
Hio: I liked it. I collected Mr. Matsumoto’s manga, such as Submarine Super 99 and imitated his drawings a lot.
Tanaka: The design of Mr. Matsumoto’s mecha in those days really brought out their density, didn’t it?
Yamato fans relied upon Hio’s Yamato comic
Tanaka: Yamato started airing in October 1974. The planning for the anime hadn’t properly solidified until the spring of that year, and so they had to rush to get it started in just half a year. I hear it was a pretty tight schedule.
Hio: That’s right.
Tanaka: Then, of course, you would have started to draw the manga prior to airing. Did you begin in the spring?
Tanaka: Didn’t volume 1 appear around the middle of the broadcast? We fans were looking forward to volume 2, but it didn’t appear for a while after that. And after Yamato finished airing, there were no reruns for a while. t the time, there were no anime magazines, or any kind of magazines or books that would feature it. I was a sixth-grader in elementary school at the time, and the image of Yamato was burned into my memories. So your manga was the only thing I could rely on, since I believe Matsumoto’s manga came later. That book was the only source of information I had on Yamato. Therefore, I couldn’t wait for the second and third volumes to come out.
By the way, there are several episodes that weren’t in the TV version. I remember well the story after the drill missile, that revolved around the crew being assassinated by the female spy. Did that disappear when the broadcast was reduced?
Gamilon assassin Iroze, disposed android soldiers
Hio: That’s right. I think it was in Mr. Fujikawa’s script…but there was no such woman in the story.
Tanaka: Or there was an arrangement where a beautiful woman appeared to deceive the men, but the story was changed. Then there was a story where they descend on a planet full of old men, but they actually turn out to be human machines and androids, right? They couldn’t communicate with the crew, but they could easily talk to Analyzer. In fact, in the episode they were disposable android soldiers made by the Gamilas army. If the TV version had aired fully to the end, I think that story would have been perfect for an episode.
Hio: I think that story was in the draft. However, I don’t think it was written as a script by Mr. Fujikawa.
Tanaka: In fact, could it be that the original stories of the female assassin and the android soldiers made it into 2199 last year? It is speculated that they were woven into the story. The older fans who read your version said, “That’s great! That’s wonderful!” when they saw it. And the twin Cosmo Zeroes in 2199 only previously appeared in your version. In the anime version, there was only one, used by Susumu Kodai.
[Translator’s note: to be precise, there were scenes in the original series with more than one Cosmo Zero, but Kodai was the only pilot who flew it.]
Twin Cosmo Zeroes attack the Gamilon base on Pluto. Akira Hio did it first!
Hio: I think that was also different in the script. In the beginning, all the planes were Cosmo Zeroes. But maybe it was too hard to put them in the anime. It was tough to draw, so all the others became simple Black Tigers. In the first episode, the plan was to have a formation of Cosmo Zeroes.
Tanaka: In your adaptation, there was a lot of power in your two-page spreads of the mecha. Even when you look at it now, it’s great that you didn’t cut corners on it.
Hio: I couldn’t use photocopies in the beginning, and since then it’s been written on the net that “Hio made Yamato into a football.” (Laughs)
Tanaka: Your drawings of Yamato had the image of a submarine. Such as in the attitude of the bridge. Do you like things of the sea, like ships?
Hio: Yes, I do.
Tanaka: When the third volume came out, a lot of time had passed since the end of the broadcast. Was it about a year?
Hio: That’s right.
Tanaka: So you kept on writing it after the broadcast was over, right? Was it still popular enough to sell books by then?
Hio: Wasn’t that after the rerun started? The books began to sell.
Tanaka: At the time of the broadcast, the feeling was that people in the know called it anime. But the first broadcast of Yamato didn’t get good ratings, so it was shortened.
Hio: But after the first edition of the manga sold out, it was reprinted after the reruns. Then it went to royalties.
Tanaka: In that way, it was the beginning of the Yamato boom, wasn’t it? After the reruns, it was edited into a feature film and shown in movie theaters. Then Farewell to Yamato was made, and you did the manga adaptation for it. Did you start drawing at the stage when the designs were completed?
Farewell to Yamato, volumes 1-3
Hio: Yes. And because in that case the storyboards had already been completed, the story was easy to draw. Just around that time, I could finally get usable photocopies. (Laughs) But there was still no enlargement or reduction, so I made drawings from the design images and scaled them myself.
Tanaka: There were places where you drew them from different angles than the design images. In the TV versions, they always showed them from the same angle. (Laughs) Would you consider yourself a finicky craftsman…?
Hio: I took drafting in school, and I’d draw solid three-sided illustrations of buildings. So I was good at different angles.[Translator’s note: in the original text, the term for “angle” is “pass.”]
Tanaka: So as a drafter you drew line art? I heard this from Mr. Sugaya, but is it true that, as a drafter, you were attracted to line art?
Hio: That’s right. I bought it when I was in school, and when I got into the habit of drafting, I also drew it in manga.
Hio’s rendering of the Yamato girls from 2199
When Yamato became restricted
Tanaka: You said that when you started the adaptation of Farewell, the designs were solidified. I think because you had the storyboard to work from, I was a little disappointed that there were no original Akira Hio episodes in it.
Hio: I was still plenty motivated and it was always a pleasure to draw powerful pictures, but that wasn’t the case with from there. (Laughs)
Tanaka: It sounds like you felt a sense of obligation, or maybe inertia.
Hio: That’s right. In short, since I’m slow, Sonorama hired other people to draw the Yamato III TV series, but it didn’t seem like many could do it, so I did all the other adaptations. But later, it was tightly restricted by Mr. Nishizaki
Tanaka: You mean, you couldn’t add episodes without permission?
Hio: I couldn’t change the direction of the anime. I was told to follow the storyboards.
Tanaka: That’s tough.
Hio: In that case, it becomes too much like a film comic, and I didn’t like it any more. It didn’t have the flavor of being drawn as a manga.
Tanaka: After all, Mr. Nishizaki thought carefully about Yamato and didn’t let others remake it very much. But it’s been said that after he died, there could be a story like 2199. I heard that he really disliked it when others made changes.
Hio: Parody books appeared when the first movie became popular in theaters, but Nishizaki disliked them. All the images of Yamato were unified and never changed. He was very stubborn about that.
Tanaka: Today’s manga goes the other way. Derivate works are expanding now.
Hio: I guess that wasn’t known yet.
Tanaka: I asked Leiji Matsumoto about Yamato the other day and he told me that everyone on the staff traveled to Hawaii to hold meetings there. When everyone got together, Mr. Nishizaki wasn’t there. It seemed he had collected a mistress, so they called his hotel room and said, “The meeting is starting” and he said, “I’ll be done soon.” I wonder what he was getting done? (Burst of laughter.)
There are a lot of legends about Nishizaki. When he’d ask you to do something, if talks weren’t going well, he’d just whip out a wad of cash.
Hio: I had something similar to that. Before Space Carrier Blue Noah was made, I wanted to know how the submarine transformed and I tried to do it, but I had no idea. We had arranged to meet at a coffee shop in Kudanshita, and I sketched out 10 drawings in a hurry over 30 minutes. He said, “Oh, thank you,” and bang – handed me 100,000 yen.[Translator’s note: about $500 US dollars at the time.]
Tanaka: On the spot!
Hio: My feeling was, “Huh?!” It was astonishing.
Tanaka: By that time Yoshikazu Yasuhiko was only working on Gundam, and he took on a bit of Yamato The New Voyage. He’d just had a child and life was difficult and Gundam was hard work, so Mr. Nishizaki’s money really helped. I heard that he was very grateful to Mr. Nishizaki.
Hio: I also heard later about his bad reputation, and I wondered if it was a necessary evil. (Laughs) He was generous, but he was also once arrested in Izu for stealing tangerines. (Explosive laughter)
He got a craving for tangerines, so be brought his cruiser to the shore and got caught stealing them from Mt. Mikan.
Tanaka: Morals change. (Laughs)
Hio: It’s a legend. (Laughs) It’s legendary. (Laughs) He was a hard man, in the odd sense of the word. Even when he was arrested for illegal arms possession, he’d test-fire them on that cruiser a lot. There were some famous people there, mixed with some politicians, but I’ll take their names to my grave.
Tanaka: Certainly there’s a wide variety of rumors and the truth is unknown. To get back to the story, when I watched 2199, which was created by people who were fans, I felt that “This Yamato is the true Yamato.” For those who watched it in the past, although it’s a new Yamato that incorporates new things, it’s a work that properly holds onto its core. Therefore, I looked forward to things from your adaptation to appear in 2199.
What has Akira Hio been doing for the last twenty years?
Tanaka: By the way, though we’ve been talking mainly about Yamato, there must be other manga adaptations besides that. Since they take you so long to do, you must have had to turn them down, right?
Hio: That’s right. It wasn’t possible for me to overlap them. But because work was slow, I had no choice but to ask my manager at Sonorama for work. I hated my manager, and asked the company to cut him loose, but all the other editors didn’t want him as their manager, either. (Laughs) Even in-house they told me “You’re the only one who can handle him.” That’s how it felt to me after Yamato when I did Condorman and Combattler V.
Tanaka: Still, even saying it takes time, it was time taken by you drawing punctually, right? You wouldn’t slack off on the job, would you?
Hio: No, sometimes I blew off work…
Tanaka: Oh, you did! (Laughs)
Hio: Sometimes drawing my manga was a painful process, and I’d procrastinate ‘till the deadline got pretty close. As the deadline started to approach, I’d draw in a cold sweat. There wasn’t enough time. (Laughs)
Tanaka: Was it a better fit for you to work on a staff as a professional assistant who drew only mecha?
Hio: That’s right. It’s a lot more fun. It’s much better when people ask me to do mecha design.
Tanaka: When you do mecha design for a manga, it really is just the mecha. You don’t have to think about the story, so I can see how that might be your favorite field. Let’s talk about your other mecha design. For toys, and for Lightspeed Electroid Albegas.
Hio: I did mecha for Adventure Family Here on Planet Zero.
[Translator’s note: this was a 1977-78 live-action SF adventure show in the vein of Lost in Space. See the opening title here.]
On-screen and toy mecha, both designed by Hio
Tanaka: Ah! That was certainly Hio-style.
Hio: That was tough. I had to draw triple orthographic views.
Tanaka: It had the feeling of live-action SF mecha that worked well. You had to incorporate gimmicks into the mecha that could be made into a toy, right? Succeeding as a toy and succeeding as a show aren’t necessarily linked. The show could be popular, but the toys don’t sell, but on the other hand there are cases where the show gets low ratings but the toys sell wonderfully. Naturally, when a toy maker is the sponsor, they request interesting mecha for both the show and the toys.
Hio: The sponsor for Planet Zero was Takatoku. Mr. Iijima was the producer. For some reason, he was at Ishimori Pro for a long time. He loved mahjong, and if he was short a player, he’d even call em in to play. (Laughs) We’d play mahjong instead of doing work.
Adventure Family DVD collection
Tanaka: Changing the subject, have you ever talked about trying to do an exhibition somewhere for your original art and illustrations?
Hio: I don’t have any of it any more. I donated all the manga materials I had to Kyoto Seika University. (Laughs) All my doujinshis, too.
Tanaka: Is that so?
Hio: There’s nothing left at all. I don’t even have an eraser in my house. (Laughs) When you asked me to draw something, I had the feeling of, “Huh?”
Tanaka: Haven’t you drawn anything recently?
Hio: I haven’t drawn for about twenty years.
Tanaka: I see. What have you been doing for the last twenty years?
Hio: Hmm, what have I done. Occasionally, I’ll act as legs for someone. With Keiko Takemiya or Yumiko Igarashi. I do that on occasion. Beyond that, I usually work a part-time job. I like food and I have a chef’s license. I worked in the family restaurant.