Michio Murakawa, Manga Master

Born in 1964, Michio Murakawa was a comparatively somber child who found little of interest in the anime directed at his age group…until a comparatively somber anime appeared and changed him forever. He starting drawing early on and published his own doujinshi [fanzines], but his hobby didn’t become his career until after college when he entered the “real world” as a graphic artist for an advertising agency.

He pursued personal projects on his own time until the death of his father when he was compelled to take over the family business, manufacturing electrical equipment. That ultimately pushed him to instead follow his passion and dedicate himself entirely to art and manga–a decision that has enriched all of us.

Having gained editorial experience from his days in advertising, he conceived a project that would bring together the most accomplished Space Battleship Yamato fans (who, like him had turned their passion into their career) to create a book of interpretive illustrations. He sold the idea to a publisher named Studio DNA and watched them evolve it into a manga anthology tie-in to the 1999 Yamato Playstation game (which included a contribution of his own).

Determined not to abandon his original idea, he returned to the self-publishing world and created a series of Yamato doujinshis that have since become regarded as the finest ever produced. And now, as a direct result, he is single-handedly adapting Yamato 2199 into manga form. Serialization began in the April 2012 issue of New Type Ace magazine and will continue into the foreseeable future.

Here, Mr. Murakawa speaks at length about this amazing project for the first time anywhere.

The Interview

Conducted by Tim Eldred with Nobuyuki Sakurai, translation by Rina Lee
Wednesday, May 9 2012

What was your first encounter with Yamato?

I lived in the Kanto area as a child, and I saw the first series from Episode 1 when I was 10.

(Nobuyuki Sakurai mentions that a lot of the fans in their generation were that age at the time.)

What memories stand out for you?

First I saw the Battle of Pluto, where they lost. Around that time I wasn’t a very cheerful boy. Most of the anime then had a very positive attitude, so I was really surprised to find a more negative outlook where they lost.

Were you an artist in your childhood, or did you start later?

I started early, in the first grade, copying Godzilla and Ultraman. I loved pandas, so I drew them a lot. The first manga I drew was called Panda-Chan.

What were your greatest influences as you developed your art?

When I was young, of course I was greatly influenced by Leiji Matsumoto and Kazuo Komatsubara, and the girl’s manga artist Hideko Tachikake. She was published in a magazine called Ribbon.

What was it about her style that appealed to you?

Her color paintings were really pretty, and the themes of her stories were very clear.

How did you develop your Yamato doujinshi series?

I started drawing doujinshis in college and sold them at Comiket. Before that I drew manga as a hobby. I published my Yamato doujinshis in 2006 and 2009. The reason I did that was that in 2000 the Yamato playstation games came out, and I talked to a publisher about doing them. The publisher changed the idea into a tie-in manga, and I was really frustrated by that, so I did the doujinshis on my own so I could draw what I wanted.

It looks very professional.

I worked as an editor before that, so I knew how to put a book together, and all my friends who participated are also professional manga artists. But we didn’t do it for money, just out of our love for Yamato. These days the doujinshi industry is more about pursuing the money, but I’m sort of an old-fashioned person, so it was more important to me to make it like a fan magazine.

What do you consider to be the highlights of your manga career?

Right now is the highlight. I love Yamato very, very much, so I’m really happy to have the opportunity to do the Yamato 2199 manga.

One of Murakawa’s pieces from his doujinshi series,
based on the first
Yamato novelization
featuring a secretly robotic Shima.

Your passion comes out in every drawing.

My manga career goes back about 20 years, but I used to have another job at the same time, and through that business I met a lot of people. I’m gathering all those experiences together now as I draw Yamato.

How did you get the assignment to do the 2199 manga?

I heard a rumor that Yutaka Izubuchi recommended me to the editor of New Type Ace when it was decided to do a manga, and said they had to hire me. One of the editors had worked with me before and called me in to do a presentation, and I got the job.

Nobuyuki Sakurai: When we heard about that, everyone knew how much Murakawa-san loves Yamato and we all said that if a 2199 manga would be done, he had to do it.

After you got the assignment, how soon did you have to start working?

Before I started, I was helping with the animation designs for 2199. I finished that in January, and I only had a month and a half to do the first episode. The animation scripts were done by then, but I haven’t read all of them.

Trying to save some surprises for later?

No, I just didn’t have time. Another reason is that they’re very well-written, so if I read them I might end up just following them, and I don’t want to do that.

You want to add some of your own touches?

That’s right. But now I know how I want to handle the whole story, so maybe I’ll go back and finish reading the animation scripts.

Over the long run, will the manga have a different story than the anime?

It will be basically the same, but the feeling will be different, especially the personality of the characters. They’re a bit different from the animation. Kodai will be a bit more aggressive in the manga. His character is more unique. In the anime he’s more settled down and easygoing, but in the manga his personality is deeper.

It sounds like he’s a little closer to the original Kodai.

Sakurai: The original Kodai was very passionate and straightforward. The Kodai in 2199 is more passive, like boys in Japan today. Murakawa-san’s Kodai is a little more manly and tough.

In the animation, they have voices and emotional tones, so it’s easier to get their personality. But in comics the pictures don’t move and the words are all written, so if the characters don’t have strong personalities, it’s harder for the reader to understand what they’re like.

It helps them to stand out.

2199 has many more characters than the original Yamato and they’re each supposed to have their own stories, so I have to make up more details about them. In the original, Kodai was always in the spotlight and the others sort of faded out. In 2199 there are many more characters and much more drama, and I have to focus on everyone.

Could you write stories about some of the background characters who don’t get the spotlight in the anime?

Murakawa’s script pages for the first 2199 manga chapter.

It could happen.

How did you become involved in the TV production?

Xebec studio called me up in July 2011, but I had never worked in the anime industry before, so I was worried about whether or not I could do it. So I agreed to meet and told them if it seemed like I could, I would take the job. The director [Izubuchi] introduced me around and said I was going to do it, so I had no choice–I had to do it! (Laughs)

When I started work, I didn’t know what I was doing and I wasn’t sure I was doing it right. When I worked on a design, I gradually started thinking that it wasn’t for the core fans. I tried to make something that “normal” people could see and think was cool. I think that’s how my experience as an editor was useful for that job.

As of now, I’m finished with TV production, so I work on the manga and a few other small projects.

Your first chapter covered all of Episode 1, but the later chapters are shorter. How long do you think it will take to cover the entire series?

I went to the studio the other day and Mr. Izubuchi asked me how long it would take to finish. If I keep this pace, it will take three or four years to finish, but I’m not sure the editor will agree to that. Mr. Izubuchi thinks it’s going to take me six years.

I don’t want to follow and cover the anime series and make it exactly the same, or there will be no meaning to the manga. So maybe I’ll get rid of some episodes and put some original stories in. So actually I don’t know how long it will take. Nowadays editors are strict about it, so if it’s not popular, they’ll cut it. So I have to give my best all the time.

Well, I hope you don’t have to do an emergency ending. You don’t need to end your manga the way Leiji Matsumoto did! (Laughs)

I’ll do my best! (Laughs)

What are the stages you go through to make each chapter?

(At this point, Murakawa brings out samples of his work to show his process; his thumbnail drawings are extremely small and intricate; 8 pages of comics on a single A4 sheet of paper. Photos are shown throughout this page.)

I start out by thinking about the animation, imagining shots as I write the plot. I send that to the editor, and when it gets approved I write the script and draw a thumbnail version.

This is very detailed. Much more than I expected.

It’s my style to draw it at this size, then enlarge it and redraw it. If I just traced it, there would be no life in the drawing, so this is just a reference.

Do you redraw it in pencil and then ink, or go directly to ink?

I don’t use a pen. It’s all in pencil. I darken it in Photoshop. I used a pen in the pre-Photoshop days, but every time I did the atmosphere didn’t match my image. The pencil is much closer. Now that I have Photoshop I can get it exactly the way I want it.

Chapter 3 goes on sale tomorrow [May 10]. Does that mean you’re now working on chapter 4?

Yes. My deadline comes up at the end of the month. I draw about 30 pages in 20 days. It takes three days to write a script and week to do the thumbnails. Then it takes ten days to do the finished pages and two more days to do the screentones.

Are the screentones also done in Photoshop?

Photoshop and scanned artwork. [At this point he presents a watercolor image that gets scanned and color-adjusted to make space backgrounds.]

Do you get all the reference material you require, or do you have to invent things on your own sometimes?

When I need references I ask editorial for them and they ask the studio. I can’t ask the studio directly unless it’s an emergency, then I call them up and say, “HELP!” (Laughs) For example, I didn’t have any color reference for the Yukikaze bridge [from Episode 1] so I called the studio. But sometimes I make things up on my own.

When you look at the history of Yamato manga by different artists, does their work influence you?

Leiji Matsumoto’s work does, of course. Junichiro Tamamori doesn’t draw manga, but his mechanical detail is very close to my image, so I borrow from that.

Is it possible for you to still enjoy Yamato 2199 as a fan, or does your position change your point of view?

I can still enjoy it as a fan. I wasn’t able to see the first movie in a theater because I was working, but I did go to a preview and enjoyed watching it with the staff. Of course, I watch the animation from the point of view of an artist, but before that I just enjoy it as a Yamato fan. I was involved in the animation a little bit, but others like Mr. Izubuchi and Mr. Tamamori are much more involved. It came out even better than I thought it could, so I really enjoyed it.

There’s probably a moment coming up in your future where you’ll see something and say “Oh, no, I have to draw that??”

(Laughs) The manga comes out much later than the episodes, so I need to keep up, but maybe I’ll just do my own work by myself, to my own image. One thing I’m being very careful about is not doing exactly the same thing [as the anime]. That’s my policy, so that the readers can have more fun with the differences.

What is different about drawing a Yamato manga compared to any other manga?

In my original works I can design everything and just draw it, but in the case of Yamato, there is the animation and the older films, so I try to respect the original works and preserve their feeling. Other people designed everything, so I have to follow it. I don’t actually trace it, but it’s hard to do since I didn’t design it. That’s the biggest difference, drawing things that other people designed.

When I draw original comic stories, I will be the director myself, so I can decide on the pace and the mood. But with Yamato the pace is sped up and I have to draw the psychological side as well, so that’s the most difficult part.

Not all of my fans know that I’m a big fan of Yamato, so some of them might really be surprised now that I’m doing 2199.

Is your work approved at some stage, or are you allowed to work independently?

When I do a script I don’t need permission, but it does have to be checked by the copyright owners. I send all my work in just in case, but everyone trusts me. Sometimes when I can’t think of something, I’ll ask my manga friends for advice.

Where can we look for your previous works?

There is an original three-volume manga of mine from Media Factory called Kyosurei [Imaginary Spirit]. There’s also a free webcomic named Ringlet at J-Comi. And I did a manga for some volumes of Strike Witches Formal Comics a la Carte, an anthology by Kadokawa.

To see the free Ringlet web comic, click here for its page on j-comi.

Clicking on the main image takes you to the front cover. Click the left arrow to advance through the book

Do you have the ability to do any other project now, or does all your time go to Yamato?

I only get three days off a month. I usually get up at 8am and start working at 9. I take breaks to eat, but I keep working until about 3am. I work for about 20 days, then I have a week to do other projects.

What is your ambition after Yamato is done?

I’d like to do some original comics. Four years ago I had another job and I was drawing manga at the same time, but I quit that other job so I could concentrate only on drawing. After Yamato is done, I want to concentrate only on original manga. Drawing takes a lot of time and mental energy. I’m getting older and I don’t know how long I can keep going, so I want to draw as much as I possibly can.

Good luck to you! We’ll be watching!

Postscript: the first two episodes of Yamato 2199 were adapted and serialized over five consecutive issues of New Type Ace, then collected into a single paperback volume by Kadokawa Publishing on July 7. The cover art was painted by Murakawa’s longtime friend, mecha designer Junichiro Tamamori, and the book actually went on sale three days before it was originally announced. Amazon.jp’s initial stock sold out instantly and had to be reordered, which is as good an indicator of success as any at this stage.

Murakawa created two pieces of promotional art for postcards that were given away with purchase in bookstores.

Concurrently with this, he mentioned in his blog that he was compelled to appear on the weekly YRA (Yamato Radio) internet radio show, exactly the sort of public exposure he’d shied away from since leaving the family business. But he’d previously said to the Kadokawa editorial department that he’d “do anything for Yamato,” so there was no way out.

One more example of such dedication was a brief essay published in issue #0 Yamato Ship’s Log. Since there’s no better way to end an article like this one, we’ll close with the words of Mr. Murakawa himself.

The Feelings of a Fan for Yamato

Michio Murakawa

For a long time, when those who liked Yamato didn’t seem to be around any longer, I thought about it and became convinced that they had moved on. That may have been due to my being alone originally.

Although my memory is vague, I should usually have been watching Heidi on Sunday night at 7:30, on the color TV in the living room. But for some reason on that particular day, I saw the Battle of Pluto on a black and white TV in the kitchen. It was a great shock, but when we talked about TV manga in school the next day, nobody else had seen it.

It became important, like a treasure just for me, so I continued to watch all 26 episodes with such intensity that I got a pain in my back each time. It was Yamato, which only I liked.

Afterwards, there were reruns, a movie, a radio drama, and the boom that lead to LPs like the Symphonic Suite, and a second series became possible. I was able to talk about Yamato with other people, but they stopped talking about it after the final film. I felt like I’d just gone back to square one, and spent my time feeling alone and keeping my thoughts to myself.

Actually, there were many people who didn’t lose their passion for Yamato even at that time, but for myself who was a student living in the country without even a local bookstore, there was no way to know this.

Ten years went by. I continued to spend my days thinking alone about Yamato as I graduated from school and became an office worker, then even when I was able to get work as an artist. I learned that many creators valued Yamato in their hearts, including Mr. Izubuchi, who I had an opportunity to speak with.

In 1999, I had become an editor and wanted to publish a book that anticipated Yamato‘s launch in 200 years. I made a plan and applied to several editors at publishing companies. It became an anthology collection of comics, and when I myself drew the Battle of Pluto, I felt a mysterious connection.

As I touched the art and the words I gathered for the book, I became convinced that Yamato wasn’t just some old classic. And, like I was drawing them into myself, I called out to surmise this feeling. Although it would only be carried out in a small way as fanzine activity, all the people who I met through it had not lost their passion. They’re all like my flesh and blood now, kindred spirits who keep Yamato alive.

By coming into contact with those feelings, I stopped being alone at last and was able to throw out my chest and say “I love it” in a loud voice.

Thumbnail art for the final pages of 2199 chapter 1. At his editor’s behest,
Murakawa changed the last scene from a single page to a double spread.

Related links

Michio Murakawa’s blog

Murakawa’s art via Google images

Murakawa’s works on Amazon.co.jp

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