Togashi x Kishimoto Discuss Worldbuilding

Masashi Kishimoto and Yoshihiro Togashi continue their discussion and reveal their creative secrets!

By John Bae September 06, 2016

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On the JUMP GIGA Twitter in June, over 500 questions were submitted from fans. Both artists then drew questions at random and discussed the topics for three and a half hours. Let’s see how these giants of the industry view worldbuilding in manga!

To Gx Kishi Int2 1JUMP GIGA: And now on to the next question from Sandman. “I would like to ask both artists which they prefer more—working on the story or the art?”

Both: Ohhh…

JUMP GIGA: I remember Togashi Sensei once saying in the comments for a manga contest, “If you want to be a manga artist, just know you won’t have time to draw.”

Togashi Sensei: That was just me being negative. [laughs] Your art will improve as you work on a serialization. You’re forced to draw every week. Plus, we all start creating manga because we like drawing, right? What about you, Kishimoto Sensei?

Kishimoto Sensei: I was a kid who really enjoyed drawing. And being a manga artist was what I came up with when I thought about a job I could do where I could draw. And then I tried to study up on how to create the story. So I’m the type of person who became a manga artist because I like to draw.

Togashi Sensei: I’ve always thought that your art is really amazing. Very impressive that you can draw that level of composition in the limited amount of time afforded by a weekly serialization.

Kishimoto Sensei: You really don’t need to think about a camera lens when you draw, but I can’t help it. I enjoy drawing long-distance and wide-lens shots and experimenting with depth of field. But most readers don’t notice details like that, so it’s kind of wasted work for a weekly series artist. Plus there are those who are much, much better than I am. Like Katsuhiro Otomo.

JUMP GIGA: Oh! You’re bringing up Akira again!

Kishimoto Sensei: Plus, I believe that in terms of pure illustration ability, a manga artist cannot beat an animator.

JUMP GIGA: What do you mean?

Kishimoto Sensei: First off, there’s a huge difference in the amount of material they have to draw. And they have to worry about the lens, about the angles. What a genius animator can do is out of this world.

Togashi Sensei: Seriously. And even though they can’t put as much into each piece of art, it’s so good. It’s like they just fly through them. It’s a different type of amazing compared to someone who spends so much time on one drawing.

Kishimoto Sensei: For manga, you don’t need to worry so much about quantity, so it really is a different process… But Satoshi Kon’s art was so good! Talented animators can tell by eye how many millimeters the perspective is off by. I like to think of myself as someone who has studied art, but they are on a whole other level.

JUMP GIGA: It really is a special talent…

Kishimoto Sensei: So yeah, I love drawing but… Well, I’m pretty worn out from 15 years of weekly serialization, so right now, I don’t want to draw at all. [laughs]

JUMP GIGA: Here’s a question from Kukai. “What do you add or pay attention to when trying to bring reality into a series set in a fantastical world?”

Kishimoto Sensei: Good question…

JUMP GIGA: For example, Naruto chapter 1 featured electric poles in the background. I felt that that linked the series to the real world.

Kishimoto Sensei: Yes, it is true that I used the method of throwing in a few elements from the real world into the story. Making a fantastical world feel real is not easy.

JUMP GIGA: So what should you do?

Kishimoto Sensei: Well, this is just one example, but I think it becomes easier to fathom if the fantasy world is connected to the real world in some way. Like how they use the train stations in Harry Potter.

JUMP GIGA: I see. So the two worlds are contrasted.

Kishimoto Sensei: However, you can’t do this if the story takes place in a completely fantastical world. So what do you do then? You can make the characters in the fantasy world face the same types of problems we do in our world.

JUMP GIGA: So in Naruto’s case, not having parents or friends?

Kishimoto Sensei: I believe the reader will think about how they have the same type of issues in their lives while they read the story. A common mistake is to give the characters the kind of struggle that can only occur in their world. If you can’t relate, then it’s hard to be interested.

JUMP GIGA: That’s true. It feels a lot more relevant if the problem isn’t just “the demon king is so strong” but rather something like “my beloved’s been kidnapped” or “my family will be killed.”

Kishimoto Sensei: The way to bring reality, or rather, to allow the reader to enter the world you created is to make them feel empathy. It really is.

Togashi Sensei: Yup. Yup.

Kishimoto Sensei: Once you make an emotional connection to a character, even if something totally fantastical happens, you can still feel reality in the story. That’s why you don’t want to start off with a fantasy world and fantasy themes right off the bat—the reader will be lost.

JUMP GIGA: Like explaining the whole world on the first page? Like “The surviving humans divided their society into four parts and battled each other over control of the new energy resource…”

Togashi Sensei: Oh! I like those! [laughs]

JUMP GIGA: What?! [laughs]

Togashi Sensei: I love it when the first page is packed with caption boxes that explain the world.

Kishimoto Sensei: I did that for my one-shots.

Togashi Sensei: And then the next two pages are the spread. Man, that’s my favorite! [laughs]

Kishimoto Sensei: My editor warned me against that.

Togashi Sensei: Me too! I was also warned about it.

Kishimoto Sensei: It’s something they list as a negative in those manga-award judging comments. [laughs]

Togashi Sensei: Like “Too much text at the beginning will stress out the reader.” Well, I like it. [laughs]

JUMP GIGA: This is a dilemma! [laughs]

Togashi Sensei: For YuYu Hakusho, I was creating a realistic world with fantasy elements, so it was really easy. Basing it off reality makes it easy for readers my age to get into the story. An example would be when Sensui’s partner Itsuki mentioned “Jun Togawa will be on Hit Studio tomorrow.” This was something I actually experienced, so people who watch TV like I do would be like “Oh!” By adding in your own experiences, I think you can shorten the distance between the story and the reader.

JUMP GIGA: That’s true. When you mentioned things like the comic duo Downtown or the video game Momotetsu in the story, I did feel a lot closer to it. I see…

Togashi Sensei: And because I had already created one series that was based on the real world, I decided to try something new next. That’s how Hunter x Hunter started.

Kishimoto Sensei: Hunter x Hunter starts with Gon fishing, right? That’s a connection to our world right there. And Gon has an issue with his father. And other small details, like receiving mail.

Togashi Sensei: Exactly. In the end, you don’t need to think too hard about it. Even when creating a fantasy world, by basing it off the world you’ve experienced at a certain age, you can link it to reality.

JUMP GIGA: So not something that’s completely original.

Togashi Sensei: When I began Hunter x Hunter, I based it off when I was in elementary to middle school. But as the serialization continued, it got linked to the current me. I put in cell phones, then smartphones. So I didn’t worry about it too much. I guess I can’t say this is the best advice to those who like complete fantasy stories.

JUMP GIGA: By complete fantasy, that would be like something that takes place in medieval Europe with swords and magic?

To Gx Kishi Int2 1Togashi Sensei: What’s dangerous is when people who like video game fantasy worlds try to express them in manga. I think it’s very difficult to express reality when you can’t get out of the feeling of a video game. So be careful about that.

JUMP GIGA: Why is that?

Togashi Sensei: What makes each fun and interesting is different. If you try to express what makes a video game fun in a manga, you’ll fail. I love games too, so I understand the desire to make a manga based on a game…

Kishimoto Sensei: In video games, you have fun by moving around a character who is an avatar of yourself. In manga, you have fun by watching a character who is not you move around. So they are very different. When you like a game so much, your view can be very subjective. Like “I love this game, so it’d be great as a manga!” But you’re entering it from a completely different place. In manga, the creator has to choose how the story unfolds while allowing the reader to empathize.

Togashi Sensei: There’s a big difference between participation and empathy.

Kishimoto Sensei: In video games, you can always reset things. You can change your gear or party members or other aspects however you want, so there’s drama in the actual play of the game. But with manga, it’s not about you, it’s drama about others. So you need to create it in a way so that the reader can relate to the story without feeling distressed. You can’t have a complex fantasy world that obstructs the reader from understanding the character’s motivations.

Editor: That’s a good point. There are a lot of submissions from new creators that are like, “I’m in a video game world!” Most of them are terribly boring.

JUMP GIGA: Do they feel like they’re stuck on your typical fantasy format?

Editor: It’s hard to give advice to them. I could feel that the story was lacking…but now I finally know the reason!

Togashi Sensei: When I play a video game, whether I like it or not is usually based on the game-play system. So it’s a totally different type of enjoyment.

Kishimoto Sensei: Yes. Games are made fun by their game design.

Togashi Sensei: It would be nice if you could bring that system into manga, but manga first needs to be interesting based on character relationships. So even if a manga was like a game, it would be meaningless because you couldn’t interact with it. What makes a manga great is whether or not you can relate to the characters that the manga artist creates.

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Kishimoto Sensei: I do think it’s important to expose yourself to different types of entertainment. It should help you see what kinds of things bring people joy. So this question itself is a little off… I know that’s rude, but…

Togashi Sensei: Oh, he’s scolding you, Kukai. [laughs]

Kishimoto Sensei: No, no. [laughs]

Togashi Sensei: If the characters are lively and the manga looks fun to read, the world doesn’t even matter.

Kishimoto Sensei: I feel like I once said something similar somewhere. [laughs]

Togashi Sensei: I understand how fun it is to create your own world though.

Kishimoto Sensei: I’m sure I would have asked the same question when I was a student. I’m not mad at Kukai, I relate to him. The question is asking about fantasy, but perhaps what he means is “a world that you can’t relate to.”

JUMP GIGA: “A world that you can’t relate to”?

Kishimoto Sensei: Take sports as an example. Pretty much everyone knows baseball, so I believe it’s easy to relate to.

JUMP GIGA: That makes sense.

Kishimoto Sensei: But if you bring in a niche sport, people don’t know the rules, so they can’t even tell what’s going on. So…and I apologize to people who play it, but something like kabaddi, the game from ancient India.

Togashi Sensei: For someone who’s never seen it before, kabaddi would be a fantasy world.

Kishimoto Sensei: Yes, they wouldn’t recognize it. So they can’t relate to it. So how do you suck someone into a story about kabaddi? You focus on the players. Why are they playing the sport? The drama of their motivations will interest the reader, and I think they will eventually learn the rules of the sport.

Togashi Sensei: It’s amazing how you can enjoy anything as long as there’s drama. You don’t need to know the rules. That’s one of the greatest strengths of storytelling.

Kishimoto Sensei: So first focus on the players, then the rules. Get that far, and the reader will enjoy it even if they didn’t know about the sport before.

JUMP GIGA: You’re right. Sports manga usually save the rules for after you’re interested in the characters.

Kishimoto Sensei: The Downtown comedians have a skit where they do strange sports, and that is actually a very useful reference. The comedians are funny, so it’s enjoyable to keep watching. It’s the same for fantasy. Even if the creator is excited about the world, unless there’s interesting characters there, others won’t care. It’ll just be something they don’t understand.

JUMP GIGA: Let’s move on to the next question. Fu asks, “Were you good at drawing when you were little?”

Togashi Sensei: I didn’t think I was any good, but I remember the moment when I started to think maybe I was. It was when I was told my work would be submitted to an exhibition.

Kishimoto Sensei: Yeah, the same for me.

JUMP GIGA: You too?

To Gx Kishi Int2 1Kishimoto Sensei: I think it was during elementary school. A poster I drew for homework during summer break was submitted for some kind of exhibition. There were a bunch of awards, but I thought just being entered meant I was the best. But all I won was some kind of cultural award that was just one step above being in the exhibition. I was really shy back then but agreed to accept the award. That’s around the time that I thought I might be good.

Togashi Sensei: When classmates look at your scribbles and say “Wow!!” you can’t help but think that you’re good. It comes down to the opinions of others. I didn’t actually think I was good, but when others tell you that you are, you start to think that you might have talent.

Kishimoto Sensei: When I was in first grade, I drew a goldfish. I drew the folds in the goldfish’s tail as it moves. I thought that was normal, but a girl said it was really good. I still remember that.

Togashi Sensei: You’re so good at that! Like the same level as Hayao Miyazaki drawing the folds in cloth!

JUMP GIGA: You were able to draw three-dimensionally since grade school?

Kishimoto Sensei: I don’t know about that… Maybe others would say that. Though I have a story about another artist, Ikemoto Sensei, who draws Boruto. When he was a kid, he couldn’t afford the Bikkuriman stickers, so he would draw his own. Then his friends would buy them from him. That’s when he started to think that his art had value. [laughs]

Togashi Sensei: Oh! Mikio Ikemoto Sensei! He used to be your assistant?

Kishimoto Sensei: Yes, he was.

Togashi Sensei: Interesting. He’s really good.

Kishimoto Sensei: Yeah, he seriously is.

JUMP GIGA: You’ve worked with him a long time, right? I think I saw his name in volume 1.

Kishimoto Sensei: Yes, for all 15 years.

JUMP GIGA: Next we have a question from Kan-san.

Togashi Sensei: Nooo woooories!

JUMP GIGA: No, it’s not the singer of “Love Wins.” [laughs] The question is “Does Kishimoto have a next series planned? Does Togashi Sensei have any ideas for a series besides Hunter x Hunter?”

Togashi Sensei: Hmm… I’m not sure how much I should say, but I have so many new things I want to create. I never imagined I’d be doing Hunter x Hunter with so many breaks in between.

Kishimoto Sensei: I have my next series planned. I’m already doing research for it.

JUMP GIGA: Whoa, you guys are dropping bombs…

Kishimoto Sensei: I can’t really say much though.

Togashi Sensei: Yeah! That’s what makes it tough. I can’t say anything!

Kishimoto Sensei: Plus I’ve even kept this a secret from my current editor. This is the first time I’m mentioning it. I didn’t want anything leaking out. I’ve only discussed it a little with my original editor, Yahagi-san, who isn’t a direct hands-on editor anymore.

JUMP GIGA: Will you be announcing it by the end of the year?

Kishimoto Sensei: Well, yeah. Probably by then.

JUMP GIGA: Whoa!

Kishimoto Sensei: Hopefully! [laughs] It’s still in development.

This feature originally appeared in JUMP GIGA 2016 volume 2.