Masashi Kishimoto and Yoshihiro Togashi reveal their creative secrets! Two of Shonen Jump’s biggest creators come together for an intense discussion of their craft. For fans, artists and aspiring artists, this is a can’t-miss feature!
On the JUMP GIGA Twitter in June, over 500 questions were submitted from fans concerning the theme of “creation.” Both artists then drew questions at random and discussed the topics for three and a half hours. Let’s see what these giants of the industry have to say about this theme!
Togashi Sensei: This is our second time doing this, right?
Kishimoto Sensei: Yes. I’m nervous…
JUMP GIGA: The first discussion can be read in the Naruto Fan Book: Kai no Sho. Thank you both for being here. Let’s get this started with a question from Keita. “Kishimoto Sensei and Togashi Sensei, you both create such interesting characters. Do either of you have any rules you follow when it comes to creating characters?”
Kishimoto Sensei: Uh-oh!
JUMP GIGA: Did we already hit on a tough question? [laughs] This is a great question though. Are there things you decide on beforehand or things that you vow never to do?
Kishimoto Sensei: The stuff that I would never do is ingrained in me now, so I don’t even think about it.
JUMP GIGA: There are a lot of questions about characters. Like how do you come up with the names?
Togashi Sensei: If I get stuck on names, I’ll base it off whatever’s on TV at the time.
Kishimoto Sensei: Yeah, it can be random like that. There was a time when I just started using adjectives as names.
JUMP GIGA: Oh, that’s right.
Kishimoto Sensei: Darui (tired), Omoi (heavy), Karui (light), etc. Readers were like, “Are you even trying?!”
JUMP GIGA: They got mad! [laughs]
Kishimoto Sensei: I actually did put a lot of thought into coming up with some of those names though…
Togashi Sensei: I admire Toriyama Sensei, so I think it’s fine to pick names like he does. You see bloomers or trunks and just say, “There’s the name!”
Kishimoto Sensei: That’s kind of in the DNA of kids who grew up on Jump.
JUMP GIGA: What about the character’s visuals?
Kishimoto Sensei: Not every time, but I often do a super-rough sketch on some B5 paper. I need to get it down on paper before I feel anything for the character.
JUMP GIGA: And where do you get the inspiration for what the character looks like?
Kishimoto Sensei: I try to visualize the type of person I want to create. Like how do they talk, what is their personality? I don’t have a specific order that I follow.
Togashi Sensei: When creating a new character, I first come up with the setting and story. Though sometimes I’ll sketch the character and come up with the personality based on that.
Kishimoto Sensei: Yeah. And how much leeway you have in your schedule can also change how you create characters. If I’m up against a deadline, I know I have to keep pushing forward, so I’ll decide things while I’m drawing. Then it’s like I only understand the character when I’m done.
JUMP GIGA: So you make it up as you go along.
Togashi Sensei: If there’s one tip I could give—when people are creating characters, they often come up with the personality. Doing this can make it hard to move the character around later if you pick a vague one like “cheerful” or “gloomy.”
JUMP GIGA: What do you mean?
Togashi Sensei: You need to be able to communicate with yourself about the character. For example, you decide a character has a short temper. So you ask yourself, “When does he get angry?” but there’s no answer. But if you come up with specific situations in which the character gets mad, the character becomes really easy to write.
Kishimoto Sensei: I have a character exactly like that. Choji gets angry when he’s called fat.
Togashi Sensei: Even for characters that are incomplete, you still need to place them in as many specific simulations as possible to see how they’d react. Otherwise, you’ll get stuck later.
JUMP GIGA: Is that a habit that you’ve developed?
Togashi Sensei: Yes. It’s also a big advantage when you think about serialization or, and this is much later, if the series becomes an anime or someone else is going to take control of the series.
JUMP GIGA: So the character works even in someone else’s hands?
Togashi Sensei: Yes. However, I basically like to break down everything that I create. So I like to place them in situations that are out of character to test how they’d react.
Kishimoto Sensei: It can be interesting when you find that the character has multiple dimensions to them.
Togashi Sensei: I end up wanting to put them in extreme situations that force them to take actions they normally never would.
Kishimoto Sensei: One thing I’ll do is determine a weakness. Giving a character a flaw makes them feel more human. I personally don’t like people who are too perfect. In Doraemon, I liked Nobita more than Dekisugi. And it gives the character space to grow.
JUMP GIGA: Kishimoto Sensei, where do you start with a character—the personality or the ninja techniques?
Kishimoto Sensei: I basically just go with the flow. Like this guy would probably use ninjutsu like this… It’s great when you can link their personality and techniques together. Like if their abilities are connected to their childhood. Wouldn’t Kurapika be a good example?
JUMP GIGA: That’s right. The chain abilities.
Kishimoto Sensei: That links the character’s personality and their childhood experiences.
Togashi Sensei: In terms of abilities, it really matters who the character is. In terms of extremes, there are the abilities you give a boss-class character and those you give to the small fry who lose in the first round. And the important characters besides the hero fall in between these two extremes. In terms of choosing who gets what type of abilities, I think it basically comes down to instinct. An easy-to-understand way would be that the important characters get stuff like fire or earth powers from the five Chinese elements or stuff like that. You can divide characters by color too. Like “This guy’s red, so he gets fire.” But you want to save some abilities.
You better stock them up. You don’t want to waste any and run out.
JUMP GIGA: Right. Don’t reveal them all at once.
Togashi Sensei: It’s also tough coming up with the rules of the abilities and staying within them. Since, you know, there’s gonna be intense scrutiny online.
JUMP GIGA: You better not miss anything. [laughs]
Togashi Sensei: Even when I’m aware that fans are going to scrutinize it, sometimes I’ll just continue with the story not worrying about it. But then I start worrying if the story has too many plot holes. It becomes a battle against fear. And these ability battles get harder and harder as the years go by. It’s gonna be even tougher for those in the future.
Kishimoto Sensei: This is something that I realized talking to you last time. I was asking you questions about this in the taxi. Just like the people sending in these questions, I figured I should take the opportunity to learn from you.
Togashi Sensei: And what was my answer?
Kishimoto Sensei: It was “Basically…hmm…instinct?”
JUMP GIGA: What?!! [laughs]
Kishimoto Sensei: Well, he’s obviously putting a lot of calculations into his decisions. It’s like you’ve gone so beyond a level of planning things out that you then have to go on instinct. When you think something will be good but have no guarantees…how do you decide? At that point it just comes down to instinct. I think that being able to choose the right answer in those situations is Togashi Sensei’s talent.
Togashi Sensei: In the arc right now, I’m adding a ridiculous amount of character while also stressing out about it. This is also instinct. [laughs]
JUMP GIGA: Can you really rely on instinct?
Togashi Sensei: Before you get to that stage, you obviously need to rely on an internal manual or a set of rules you’ve created. But it’s hard for me to stay within those boundaries. It’s not so much about staying within my rules or not—I just like advancing the story in directions that I cannot predict.
JUMP GIGA: You want to break even your own rules?
Kishimoto Sensei: You have that self-destructive side to you. Like you know going that way is dangerous, but you can’t help it.
Togashi Sensei: That’s why this time I just simply increased the number of characters by a ton to see what would happen.
Kishimoto Sensei: That makes drawing the chapter so much harder…
Togashi Sensei: There are a lot of artists who have done it in the past—Oda Sensei, for example. I just figured if I could do it on purpose and not ruin things, it would make for an interesting story. So getting back to the stage you create that allows you to rely on instinct, what matters is all the media you’ve been exposed to, whether it be manga or novels. By reading so many classic works and also bad ones, you can better arrange previously used ideas. You just have more options. And this isn’t just with the story—I believe it also helps with character creation.
Kishimoto Sensei: So that’s not really what someone would call instinct. It’s more that you have all the relevant data in your head.
Togashi Sensei: They say that to become a pro at something, you need about 10,000 hours of practice. I heard that the table tennis player Ai Fukuhara said she’d need 30,000 hours to be able to compete for a medal. But people who read a lot of manga would actually have surpassed that a long time ago. That’s enough reading to be a specialist. I read a lot and do analyze the work from an artist’s point of view. So with all the experience supporting you in the background…you rely on instinct.
JUMP GIGA: I’m not sure if that’s the standard definition of instinct…
Kishimoto Sensei: It basically boils down to data. [laughs]
Togashi Sensei: Though there are people who don’t read manga who seem to be able to create stuff that is fresh. You just can’t beat that kind of talent.
Kishimoto Sensei: I know! People who don’t have experience are able to break the rules. They usually fail, but sometimes it’s the path to discovering something completely new.
Togashi Sensei: So this isn’t aimed at people who create in that way, but if you read for fun, then my advice would be to read a lot, analyze and then trust your instincts. But you also have to make the time to read series you don’t like. That’s one of the great things about manga anthology magazines. If you read the entire magazine, you’ll be exposed to what you like, what you don’t like, what’s popular and what’s not. That helps you develop an objective view of things.
JUMP GIGA: How much manga or movies do you take in, Kishimoto Sensei?
Kishimoto Sensei: Not a lot of variety. I tend to rewatch or reread things over and over.
Editor: Something I’ve been wondering lately is how we always advise people to expose themselves to as much stuff as possible. That you get better output the more entertainment you come in contact with. I think that’s correct for an editor, but I was wondering if it might be more beneficial for the artists to see the same work multiple times.
Kishimoto Sensei: Yeah, I think so.
JUMP GIGA: What are some of your favorites?
Kishimoto Sensei: I’d have to go with Akira. Also, Ghost in the Shell, The Usual Suspects, Forrest Gump, Little Miss Sunshine… I watch stuff like that over and over.
JUMP GIGA: What about you, Togashi Sensei?
Togashi Sensei: Yeah, I have some. My favorite is Alien, but I’ve actually watched John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness more times.
JUMP GIGA: Okay.
Togashi Sensei: The movie has some awkward parts that will make some people laugh, but I really like the actress. I also like 28 Days Later. How the characters get eliminated one by one.
JUMP GIGA: Oh yeah, you like those kinds of stories.
Editor: I remember you getting all excited for Lost because you thought it was a story where people would get eliminated, but then you were surprised that they added characters. [laughs]
Togashi Sensei: It’s a survival story of people crashing their plane on an uninhabited island, and it’s called Lost. I just assumed!
This feature originally appeared in JUMP GIGA 2016 volume 2.
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