BONUS: Interview with Taiyo Matsumoto from 2011, on the digital publication of No. 5
The first time Deb and Christopher worked together, on an old interview
[Christopher:] Hi everyone! We’re doing something a little different today. While searching my email for some information about Ping Pong for our podcast episode last week, I stumbled across the thread containing my first interview with creator Taiyo Matsumoto, all the way back in 2011. Y’see, in a somewhat-revolutionary move, especially for 2011, Matsumoto’s No.5 manga was getting an all-in-one digital edition release as a stand-alone iPad app! It’s no longer available today (delisted a few years back), but to commemorate the release Shogakukan worked with none other than Deb Aoki at her former website to release a preview of the book and an original interview! Deb, knowing I was a super-fan, reached out to me to see if I wanted to put together some questions for Matsumoto-sensei, and an introduction to his work, and my mind was blown.
[Deb:] Wow, what a blast from the past! As some of you might know, the first website I wrote about manga was About.com Manga. It launched in 2007, and ran until 2013, when About.com was bought by some other company. Some of the original content and interviews I posted on About.com Manga are still there today as part of a site that folded together the About.com Anime site with my site, but a lot of it is no longer live on the internet, except via the Internet Archive site.
Christopher digging this up brings up an interesting idea — maybe I should bring back some of those interviews / articles from About.com that are now in internet limbo, like my interview with Moto Hagio at San Diego Comic-Con, and a lively discussion about gay manga featuring Gengoroh Tagame from Toronto Comic Arts Festival. What do you think, Mangasplaining Extra readers? Would you be interested in seeing something like this? Add a comment below!
Also, for many years, No. 5 was one of those manga that had an incomplete print run — I believe VIZ published perhaps two volumes, then stopped — most likely because of things like the overall crash of the manga publishing market in the mid 2010’s when the recession hit, and Borders Books closed. At the time when this interview was published, the iPad version was the only way to read the complete No. 5 manga series.
Fortunately, we now live in much more prosperous and enlightened times for manga publishing in N. America — as VIZ has been releasing a new print edition of 4 volumes of No. 5, and it is gorgeous. Go check out a preview on VIZ Media’s website.
[Christopher:] Please go out and get all four volumes of the VIZ Media No.5, it’s a wholly unique manga and deeply weird and interesting!
Where was I. Oh yeah, writing the interview questions was a bit tough, because I wasn’t allowed to duplicate another interview that would be included with the app, and because I wasn’t really allowed to do follow-up questions. There are a few threads I would love to have pursued… Also, and I kind of can’t believe this, but in 2011 when I wrote these questions, Matsumoto-sensei didn’t own a computer. All of these questions were faxed to him, and then he wrote out his answers by hand and faxed them back to the office, who relayed them to Deb and I. It’s probably why his answers are a little shorter. ;-) Here’s a quick crop of part of the fax, which I kind of can’t believe I kept.
[Deb:] Omg, I so didn’t know that’s what happened with how this interview came to be. Fax machines! That’s how long ago this was…
[Christopher:] When the No. 5 manga app was released, the first chapter/book was free. Buying the remaining four books would unlock not only the manga, but also bonus material including that interview between Matsumoto and his editor, and a cool video animation that was commissioned when the No.5 manga was initially launched, back in 2003. Luckily some awesome fan managed to save that video and upload it to Youtube, and you can see it below!
[Christopher:] It’s actually SO GOOD, especially for CGI in 2003. Someone show this to Masaaki Yuasa!
[Deb:] Wow, I didn’t know that the No. 5 iPad app came with all those extras. I didn’t have an iPad at the time, so I didn’t get it!
[Christopher:] I think it might be why I bought an iPad? I was… quite the fanboy. Lol. It’s a funny thing, that both the No.5 iPad app has been delisted, and the website that Deb worked for where this interview appeared has been taken down. There’s no easily-accessible version of this material online anymore really, other than the Wayback Machine. Digital is fleeting, in a surprising way.
Still, obviously, Deb, thank you SO MUCH for the opportunity to interview Matsumoto-sensei back in the day. That interview led directly to him coming to TCAF, doing a small art exhibition, and eventually what would become our friendship. It means a lot to me that you did that, thank you. :D
[Deb:] Also, thanks goes out to Misaki Kido, who helped bring this project to us, and helped with translation and other details that go into interacting with manga creators from Japan.
[Christopher:] Also, while Deb and I knew each other from ‘the circuit’, I think this is the first time we worked together. Deb actually edited my questions and work here, a little like what she does with me each week on Mangasplaining’s show notes. Natsukashi! :D
[Deb:] Haha. And now, the long-lost interview with Taiyo Matsumoto!
AN INTRODUCTION TO TAIYO MATSUMOTO
By Christopher Woodrow-Butcher (2011)
I first came across the work of Taiyo Matsumoto in PULP, VIZ Media's manga anthology magazine aimed at mature readers. A collection of gritty, sexy seinen manga titles (complete with newsstand distribution!), PULP introduced a lot of unique, surprising adult manga at a time when properties geared to kids and teens like Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and Dragon Ball ruled the roost.
Serialized in PULP a chapter at a time, Matsumoto's Black & White (Tekkon Kinkreet in the original Japanese) was unlike any manga I'd ever seen before. Loose, angular, aggressive, and unafraid to be downright ugly and brutal. I have to admit... I didn't like it very much at the time, as it was so far different than my other PULP favourites like Banana Fish and Strain. It wasn't until the first collected edition of Black & White was released in 1999 that I went back and gave the series another chance, and I'm so very glad I did.
While the brutality of Matsumoto's world was too shocking for me at first, interspersed with other, cleaner narratives — in its own collected edition it was perfect. The trade paperback of Black & White allowed me to be fully immersed in the dense, twisting world of Matsumoto's 'Treasure Town.' The darkness, scratchiness, the insanity leaping off the page became de rigeur— normal — and that allowed me to see deeper into the story, into the ideas that he had so expertly woven into the work. It was only when I could come to Taiyo Matsumoto's manga on its own merits, in its own context, that I fell in love with it, and it is a love that has stayed with me ever since.
While Taiyo Matsumoto's creations have always been favourites amongst hardcore manga fans, the Japanese public 'discovered' Matsumoto-sensei through a film adaptation of one of his most endearing works, Ping Pong, a 5-volume series that expands on the fraternal themes of Black & White/Tekkon Kinkreet. The film adaptation of Ping Pong was a massive hit in Japan, spurring huge displays of his manga in bookstores across the country.
Matsumoto again came into the national — and then international — consciousness with the animated film adaptation of Tekkon Kinkreet, which cleaned up on the festival circuit taking many top awards in Japan and internationally. Both films (as well as a third based on his Blue Spring short story collection) are available in North America now, and I highly recommend them.
But as great as the films are, it is Matsumoto's manga that most captivates me. VIZ Media has also released Blue Spring, a collection of short stories inspired by Matsumoto's youth, Go Go Monster, an original graphic novel of 400+ pages (a true rarity in Japan!) detailing a Shining-esque haunting of two young boys at an aging elementary school, and the sci-fi superhero thriller No.5 (Number Five). While I count Go Go Monster and Blue Spring amongst my favourite manga, it's No.5 that has made my soul ache since its original release in 2002.
Like all manga fans, I have always wanted what I couldn't have, and the 8-volume epic serial No.5 was discontinued in English immediately following its second volume. For roughly 10 years, I have agonized over the series, not knowing what happened to the characters I had just begun to know, not knowing where the insane world-spanning series would take me, and knowing that it would never be completed in English (due to poor sales, alas). My only options to complete the series were to improve my terrible French language skills (the series has been completely translated into French by publisher Dargaud) or learn Japanese from scratch — neither were terribly likely options.
Today, however, No.5 is newly, completely, finally available in English.
In a unique move, a brand new No.5 stand-alone app has been released for the iPad, where you can download a bilingual edition of the complete series of No.5 in Japanese and English. I am very pleased to report that the app is great, and more importantly the work itself is everything I wanted it to be and so much more. No.5 is even more sprawling, even more epic, and so completely different to what I thought it would be when I started that I'm happier than I had imagined having finished it.
Finishing a great manga series is very often bittersweet, the joy of completion mixed with the regret of something you love ending, and with no more to come. I'm quite happy to say that it was an incredibly fitting conclusion, and I'm looking forward to reading it again. And again.
Having finished reading No.5 I was granted a very special opportunity — to interview No.5 creator Taiyo Matsumoto about the work, and to share that interview with all of you. As you might be able to tell from the above, I've had questions in my head for Taiyo Matsumoto for more than 10 years, and I have had such a deep appreciation for his work that the opportunity was a little daunting.
Moreover, the iPad app version of No.5 comes with an excellent, very informative interview between Matsumoto and Hideki Egami, Editor of IKKI Comics Magazine (the monthly magazine that serialized No.5) and I didn't want to step on their toes.
In the end, I'm quite happy with the interview and while I could talk to Matsumoto-sensei for hours about his work and career, the insight into his career and work was very valuable, and I appreciated it a great deal. I hope this interview and this short appreciation will entice you to read all of his works available in English — Tekkon Kinkreet, Blue Spring, Go Go Monster, and of course, the newly released No.5. He truly is one of the greatest manga auteurs working in the industry today, and while I might not have picked up on that on my first exposure to his work, I sincerely hope you won't make the same mistake.
Interview with Taiyo Matsumoto
Christopher: Hello, my name is Christopher Butcher. I’ve been a very big fan of your work since the publication of Tekkon Kinkreet (Black & White) in English in 1998, and I have followed your career closely. It is an honour to be able to ask you these questions. I apologize that there are so many!
Questions about No. 5:
Q: It’s very exciting to see your work No.5 completed in English. I wonder if you have any thoughts on the work now that it has been finished for five years, but will be newly available to your English-speaking fans?
Taiyo Matsumoto: It will make me happy it will help to reach as many readers as possible.
Q: You chose a very unique format for No.5 when it was originally created, with the tankoubons being roughly similar in size to a monthly magazine (like IKKI) or a North American comic book (‘graphic novel’). Can you talk about why you made this decision? How did your readers (and Editors) react?
TM: It was because back then, I used be influenced by comics from overseas a lot. I don’t remember getting much reactions from the readers or the editors though.
Q: In all of your work that I’m familiar with, particularly Tekkon Kinkreet, Go Go Monster!, Blue Spring, and the film adaptation of Ping Pong, it seems that a deep competitive fraternal relationship between two male characters drives the story forward. In No.5 the story is very different, with a paternal relationship between Papa and his children driving all of the action. Can you talk about this change? Was it a conscious decision?
TM: In my manga, I used to like creating a balance between ying and yang by bringing the two aspects closer. But it got redundant after awhile so I decided to change it up.
Q: Also in your works, I’ve noticed that there are rarely female characters … but the actions that set the story of No.5 into motion—and bring it to its conclusion—come from your central character, Matryoshka.
TM: I wasn’t very good at drawing a female character, but at that point I finally felt ready, so I decided to challenged myself to create a female character.
Q: I feel like in your works, the setting of the stories is incredibly powerful—The imposing and twisting city of Tekkon Kinkreet and the oppressive and graffiti-laden school of Blue Spring or the ominous school of Go Go Monster!, for example. I feel that these settings often become characters in the story themselves, interacting with other characters and determining the flow of the narrative—and speaking to the reader sometimes. Would you say this is accurate?
TM: I do enjoy drawing the buildings and cities as if they are living objects. I think it makes a manga more vigorous.
Q: You have in the past mentioned being influenced by comics artists including Moebius, Enki Bilal, Katsuhiro Otomo, Shotaro Ishinomori, and Tsuchida Seiki. I felt that your work on No.5 showed an influence from Moebius’s Arzach, particularly the dreamlike desert sequences and characters riding through or flying over them. Was this a deliberate influence?
TM: Moebius is the creator who I respect the most in the entire world. I did not deliberately try to make the scene look like Arzach, but his influence must have shown in my work.
Q: With regards to No.5, I feel there are three different philosophies that are in conflict: the idea of unfettered progress and control, espoused by Victor, the idea of absolute peace at any cost espoused by No.1, and the idea of conscientious objection raised by No.7. In the story it seems that Victor ultimately wins, that mankind must continue to progress and do so militarily, though No.5, No.7, and some others remove themselves from the conflict entirely. I wonder what you personally believe—if No.1’s attempt at a Utopia would have ultimately been more harmful than human militarism?
TM: I always wish that different philosophies could coexist together, because that may put an end to different conflicts in the world.
Q: I have followed your art style since your debut on Straight and Zero up through your recent work on Takemitsu Zamurai, and I feel your work has changed dramatically during that time. Would you say it has been a natural progression, or do you actively change your art and storytelling style to reflect the type of story you are telling?
TM: I always try to draw in style that I feel like it suits the world of that manga, and also something that looks cool.
Q: You are a favourite creator of many North American comic book creators, and they would be fascinated to know how you create your original art. Could you briefly describe your working set-up and which tools you use to create your comics? Please be as specific as you like, with regards to brush types, pen-nibs, paper, etc.
TM: Ever since I started to draw manga, I’ve been using a type of pen called “PIGMA.” The pen nibs varies in line weight from 0.1mm to 3.0mm, and I change the thickness of the line depending on the panel. Also recently, I have been using thinned down ink to make the contrast instead of using screen tones.
[Deb:] Just as an aside - Pigma Micron pens are my go-to for drawing comics too. They’re available in N. America through Sakura Pens.
Q: I was amazed when I learned that you completed Go Go Monster! entirely on your own, without serializing and without the use of assistants. It’s such a huge and detailed work! For No.5 the release pace was much quicker so I assume you must have gone back to working with assistants? Do you prefer to work on your own, when possible?
TM: For the last 15 years, I have been creating manga with my wife. We always talk about different things together, and come up with the art and writings.
Q: I’m fascinated by your use of different tools in comics creation. In No.5 you use ink, pens, pencil, crayon, pastels, and paints. It makes for a very unique reading experience.
TM: I really like the episode that I drew with just pencils. One day, I want to try to draw an entire manga with just pencils.
Q: Many popular manga-ka will have multiple serials running in different magazines, but throughout your career you’ve only worked on one manga at a time. Is there a reason for this?
TM: It’s because I can’t make multiple stories at a time.
Q: Are there any comics creators today whose work you actively enjoy? Are there any comics coming out now that you are excited about?
TM: I’ve been re-reading works by Jiro Taniguchi-sensei, who I love and respect. It make me wish that I can also draw manga that grows with the age like he does.
Q: Your works have been adapted into live action films, animated films, plays, toys, figures, etc. Is there a particular work of yours that you would like to see adapted into another medium? Do you have any interest in doing work for television, or video games?
TM: To be honest, I am not interested in it compare to when I was younger. Though it is still exciting to meet some talented people in different industry.
Q: You seem to be interested in comics all over the world, and the idea of an international readership. I know you went to Paris early in your career—do you still travel? Do you do comics events in Japan or elsewhere in the world?
TM: I went a comic event that I was invited to in Spain last year. It was awesome.
Q: Your last published art book was 101, in 1999. It’s been a very long time! Have you considered compiling another art book?
TM: Recently, the editors, designers and I have been talking about publishing a new art book. But I’ve been very busy with my current serialization, so it might take a little while, but I will do my best to make it happen.
Taiyo Matsumoto’s No.5 is now available in 4 volumes, print and digital, from VIZ Media.