Report from Anime Expo: An exclusive interview with Naoshi Arakawa

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Interview by Misaki C. Kido

Naoshi Arakawa was the Guest of Honor at Anime Expo 2016 in Los Angeles. And while Arakawa’s best known work Your Lie in April has gained recognition from the popularity of his manga and its anime adaptation, there’s not much public information about the man himself. But during a rare Stateside appearance, Arakawa spoke candidly about himself in front of a large audience there for his highlight panel, hosted by Kodansha Comics.


Your Lie in April volumes 1-9 are available in print and digital editions from Kodansha Comics.

Kodansha Comics (KC): How did you come up with the story of Your Lie in April?
Naoshi Arakawa (NA): It was actually one of the scrapped story ideas I had after debuting as a mangaka. When I got a spot in a monthly magazine to start my own series, I brought up one of my old ideas. I think I just saw a girl a playing violin on TV or something. I thought it was cool, so I wanted to do that. Originally, I was going to make it a story about a boy and a girl violinist. But it’s hard to keep drawing scenes with two violinists. So I decided to make the girl a violinist and the boy a pianist.

KC: Why did you pick the subject of classical music for your manga?
NA: At the time there was already a really popular rock manga called BECK. So no one dared make a manga about music that went head-to-head against that manga. There was also a manga about classical music called Nodame Cantabile. But it was focused on the orchestra and not so much on playing a single instrument, like violin. So if I were to draw a manga about music, I definitely wanted to focus on the violin. I wanted to make sure my own music manga didn’t seem second string.

KC: Did you play any instruments when you were growing up?
NA: Actually no, I didn’t play any instruments.

KC: What? Then how can you draw scenes like this one?
NA: People often ask me that and are surprised to know I’ve never played an instrument myself. But I did other things like kendo when I was growing up. So I’m familiar with the tension in the air at competitions. I drew these scenes based on those experiences. My editor was the one with the experience of playing music, actually, particularly violin. So I often asked any questions about classical music to him. I also went and did research myself.

KC: Beside the music, romance is another big theme in Your Lie in April. Why is that?
NA: When I first became a mangaka, I worked with a storywriter to make a slice-of-life manga about teenagers. My next manga was about soccer, but it was also in a slice-of-life style. When I got a chance to make my own series, the editors told me to do the same thing, but I’d already started to get bored of that, since I’d drawn so many of those in a row. So I started to think, “What if I did a shonen manga with some romance, like in a shojo manga?” Eventually, though, I even got bored of that, so I decided to make the musical performance scenes more like in a shonen manga, so I could blow off some steam.

KC: Why did you decide to become a mangaka?
NA: I think I wanted to be a storyteller. I have an older brother who was into reading Shonen Jump and Shonen Magazine. So I remember being surrounded by manga all the time. I also joined a manga club in college because my friends wanted to. But I never told anyone I wanted to become a mangaka. I grew up in the countryside where people are bit conservative. So if I told anyone I want to be a mangaka, they’d definitely look at me funny or tell me to “get a decent job with the government.” I was a rare breed. I was super-shy, so I didn’t want to get involved with people and just wanted to get into making stories. Only later I found out you need a certain level of communication skills and to involve yourself with other people to make manga.

KC: Do you have any hobbies?
NA: Hobbies? Hm … I collect figurines, like Iron Man. I actually like three-dimensional objects more than just pictures. I like statues over poseable figurines. I don’t know if you would call it a hobby, but I definitely have a collector tendency.

KC: What’s your zodiac sign?
NA: I’m an Aquarius.

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New chapters of Farewell, My Dear Cramer is available from comiXology and Kindle.

KC: After you’ve completed Your Lie in April, you’ve started to a new manga, Farewell, My Dear Cramer. Could you tell me a little bit about your work?
NA: Personally, I’ve been calling it “a manga that supports women’s soccer.” The world of women’s soccer is pretty rough, because they don’t get much funding. Even the American team, which is the best team in the world, they’re treated so differently compared to the men’s team. So there’s a talk about them boycotting from the Olympics. Japanese team seems to be the same way. Most of them are in business group team, so all the players have to work regular hours, then go to practice. I just wish that by making this manga, there will be more awareness about women’s soccer.

KC: The characters in this manga is not really typical girly-girls.
NA: I’m not interested in drawing girls who are just cute or “moe.” I want to draw girls who are cool and awesome. Of course later down the line, I would like to introduce more unique characters. But for most of the part, I want to focus on the three main characters. It’s a story about them working together. One of them was actually a lead character from my old work, Sayonara Football. So if you read Sayonara Football first, you’ll understand Farewell, My Dear Cramer even more deeply.

KC: Could you show us your work process?
NA: Here’s a rough sketch storyboard. We call it the “name” stage.

NA: And here’s the same page after linework. I do most of inking with G-pen. All the human characters are hand-drawn by me. After this stage, the assistant draws in the backgrounds and effects like speedlines.
 

NA: This is the same page, but fully inked. Sometimes I do this process myself, but I like to leave it up to the assistant. After it’s fully inked by hands, I scan it and make minor adjustment on the computer.

KC: Could we watch you actually draw?

KC: Thank you!

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