Nisio Isin and Araki Hirohiko talk about Jojo, shounen manga, inspiration, and writing vs. drawing. Published in Nisio Isin Chronicle, a mook about Nisio Isin’s books. Contains some Jojo spoilers.
Nisio Isin: Author of Monogatari Series, Katanagatari, etc. At the time, he just concluded his Zaregoto Series. The first few arcs of Bakemonogatari have been published in a magazine, but not yet as a separate book.
Araki Hirohiko: Author of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures. At the time, he’s in the middle of Part 7, Steel Ball Run.
Points in common between Araki’s and Nisio’s works
Interviewer: So apparently, Araki-sensei made his debut in the same year that Nisio-san was born.
Nisio: I was born in 1981.
Araki: I made my debut in the 1981 New Year’s issue [of Weekly Shounen Jump].
Nisio: It feels like fate…if you can call it that, haha.
Araki: That’s amazing. At 24, you’ve already written so much in 4 or 5 years.
Nisio: I’m not sure how long I can keep writing, but for now I’ll keep writing as much as I can. I’m on my 15th book now.
Interviewer: Araki-sensei, did everything go smoothly after you debuted?
Araki: Not at all, it feels like I only started polishing my skills after I debuted. They let me debut before I had any style or originality as a manga artist. I had to learn a lot then, and it wasn’t until Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures that I really got started.
Nisio: I also loved your manga before Jojo, like Mahou Shounen Biitii, Gorgeous Irene, and Baoo Raihousha. Your manga all feel like my roots, there’s so much I’ve learned from them.
Araki: Oh yes, your novels do seem to have some points in common. I’ve started reading from Kubikiri Cycle [first book of Zaregoto Series] and haven’t read your latest books, but your characters all seem modern. It might also because a lot of them are geniuses, but they all think they’re superior and don’t respect others. It was interesting how the main character tries to confront those geniuses despite feeling inferior.
Their dialogue sounds like advertising slogans. I like that. Like those lines at the beginning of each chapter. The main character keeps banging out lines like that. That was very fresh and interesting.
Nisio: Thank you. My hands are trembling. I’m so happy that you’ve read my books.
I think Jojo is a wonderful manga, and I wish I could have all of humanity read it. It’s so good that it makes me want to recommend it to other people…somehow it feels like I have to go out of my way to say how much I like it.
Making characters seem powerful using powerful lines
Nisio: Earlier you said that I write lines like advertising slogans, but I think that’s partly because of your influence. It’s more than a verbal tic, it’s a single line that encapsulates a character. A line that only that character could say…
Araki: I try to include a character’s personal philosophy in what they say. Their unique way of thinking.
Nisio: That might why you’re different. Even in another story, no one else could say those lines. Even if somebody else used your lines, they wouldn’t become famous quotes. “Road roller!” only leaves an impact because it’s Dio who says it.
Araki: You have some great ones, too. “There’s always someone better, but at the top they’re all below you.” and a lot of others. Those are really good. They make you think. I think everyone likes those. They make you stop and think ‘that’s true’.
Interviewer: They’re cool and hook you in, and they’re convincing.
Araki: Lines like that make characters seem more powerful. It makes you wonder what would happen if that character was the culprit. It’s hard to stop reading.
Nisio: Jojo had a big influence on that. The enemy characters in Jojo all have depth.
Araki: Yes, I was going for that.
Nisio: There are no throwaway characters. Especially after Stands come into the story, there are Stands that seems weak but can be strong depending on how they’re used. Like (Stand: Bad Company. Only 10 cm tall, but 500 in number!) might just be the strongest.
Araki: That’s right, haha. Well for manga in the eighties, the enemies always keep getting stronger and stronger. But there has to be a limit somewhere, and it gets tremendously exhausting.
Nisio: Like when they go ‘the one you just defeated was the weakest of us.’
Araki: To break through that, I tried to have characters that are strong from an alternate point of view, or who are only strong in a single aspect.
Nisio: So like ‘There’s no such thing as strong or weak.’
Araki: It’s so exhausting to write manga where the enemies keep getting stronger and stronger. It’s like, “they’re already this strong, and they’re still getting stronger!?” and every week you worry about what you’re going to do. And then you get to the height of the bubble and it’s like, what now? It’s a very scary writing method. It’s fine if you do it once. When the strongest enemy gets introduced, you’ll get so popular that the publisher tells you not to stop. But as a writer, you can’t go any further.
Nisio: I wonder who started this inflation of power. It must have been a really crazy idea at first… Whoever it was, using this technique is like reaching a dead end or slash-and-burn farming. I think Jojo was a revolution in that area.
Araki: It was more like an escape route than a revolution, haha. But I think that’s how people work.
It’s like how someone with a strong punch isn’t necessarily strong.
Nisio: Someone you could beat depending on your strategy, I guess.
Interviewer: If you’re fighting Bush and he has nuclear missiles, you still might beat him with a bat. For example, Hara Tetsuo wrote Fist of the North Star so that whoever says the most powerful lines wins.
Nisio: That makes sense.
Araki: That seems like something you’d be familiar with.
Nisio: Novels are only words, after all. The main thing is dialogue. So characters that say powerful lines do become stronger.
Araki: I’ve also noticed something unique about your characters. They’re mentally strong somehow. They’re complete geniuses, but also lacking things or searching for things. That’s something refreshing, and it makes the story’s world interesting.
Nisio: Thank you. I have no words. Speaking of characters, I like Part 4 of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures because it has so many unique characters. I like Tonio the most, but it’s such an all-star cast.
Araki: Thank you. I hear that the writer Otsuichi-san [mystery/horror writer] also likes Part 4 the most. I wonder if it’s a generational thing.
The appeal of Jojo and its impact Nisio Isin as a grade schooler
Nisio: When I read your manga for the first time, it was when Ebony Devil, that doll from Part 3, slices off a hotel worker’s face with a razor. I remember it being really scary.
Araki: That must have been tough to read as a kid.
Nisio: Of course, I didn’t understand what Stands were, and that made it even scarier. I was creeped out by this weird armored warrior, but thought Jotaro was really cool. I didn’t understand the logic or style of it so it was completely mysterious, but I could tell that it was in a different vein from the other manga being published at the time.
Even now, Jojo hasn’t fallen behind to imitators. Nowadays Shounen Jump has more manga with Stand-like abilities, but Jojo still sets itself apart. It’s not that it’s the original, but there’s something clearly different about it.
Why Nisio Isin became a writer
Araki: What made you decide to be a writer? How did you get started writing?
Nisio: To be honest, I originally wanted to be a manga artist. But I quickly realized that I couldn’t draw. No matter how I practiced, I wouldn’t get better. Then thought that since writing gets printed, it doesn’t matter if my handwriting is bad or anything. So in a way, I’m writing the novelization of a manga that’s in my head.
Araki: So you might get your novels adapted into manga?
Nisio: That’s true. There are many scenes in my head that I have an image of. Like someone standing in front of the sound effect “ゴゴゴゴゴ.” I think Kadono Kouhei-sensei said something similar. [author, mainly known for Boogiepop series]
Araki: So you start with an image and replace it with words. The desire to write feels like something that comes welling out, but I wonder how that works.
Nisio: When you read something good, it makes you want to try it. Of course, reading your manga gives me motivation. It’s something like that.
Araki: Like ‘I could make something a little better’.
Nisio: When you see something wonderful, you can’t help but want to try doing it.
Araki: That’s true. Drawing is like that for me, like when I see a drawing that makes me wonder how it was drawn. It’s like a riddle I want to solve.
For example, there are manga artists who can draw lines in unbelievable directions. Normally you go from top to bottom or right to left, but they’re clearly doing it differently. Like Hara Tetsuo. I don’t know how he draws those lines, if he does them upside down or what.
For painting too, I wonder about things like how someone made a color. It fires me up somehow.
Interviewer: Did you solve Hara’s riddle?
Araki: Not quite. I tried to draw beautiful smooth lines like him, but it wasn’t the same.
Nisio: I’ve thought something similar when reading your manga. When I read Janken Kozou for example, I was surprised at how you could portray Rock Paper Scissors. I thought that I couldn’t casually play Rock Paper Scissors anymore. To me, you’re not just a manga artist, you’re an artist.
Araki: I can’t really see that, haha. I’ve always felt lacking as a person somehow, and I want to become a full person. I’m not sure exactly what a full person is, but I’ve always wanted to become one since I was young.
Interviewer: Nisio-san, when you finished your Zaregoto Series after 9 volumes, you’ve said that “after finishing this piece of work, I’m not a rookie anymore.” Araki-sensei, with which manga did you feel like you’ve finished a job?
Araki: I don’t think there is one. My publisher keeps telling me I should write something new besides Jojo, but it feels weird to start something new before finishing Jojo. So I might keep writing it.
Nisio: For your entire life?
Araki: I don’t know.
Nisio: As long as there are Jojo stories, at least.
Araki: That’s true. But I’m writing about human relationships, so it never ends. Until humanity dies out.
Interviewer: How about when you stopped feeling like a rookie?
Araki: That would have to be when new manga artists come out. Before I knew it, the only one who’s been in Jump longer was Akimoto Osamu [author of Kochikame, the longest-running series in Weekly Shonen Jump, running 1976-2016], and I thought, “Huh, there’s only Akimoto-sensei?”, so I definitely couldn’t think of myself as a rookie anymore.
Interviewer: That’s quite some time since you debuted. [8 years?]
Araki: Yeah. I was trying to write with a youthful feeling. But then at like parties, when I looked around everyone was younger than me, and I went “Wha-?”. They would say “we can’t get started until you drink”, and I thought “Oh, this is bad”. Nisio-san, a time like that will come for you, too. It’s a lonely feeling. It really is nice to have some elders around.
Defeating enemies without inflating power levels
Nisio: Before, I said that Part 4 was my favorite, but sometimes it’s Part 1 or Part 2…
Interviewer: You like all of them, haha.
Nisio: I like how the enemies were defeated in Part 1 and Part 2, before Stands were introduced. They were mental, tactical battles, and it might just be because I like mystery books, but I love those kind of strategical tricks. Even after Stands came into the story, the mental battles were the most captivating.
Araki: Ah, yes. In shounen manga, there’s this pattern of beating enemies using willpower. I couldn’t accept it. I thought, “Are you really going to use willpower here?”. There is that amazing strength people that have during fires. That makes sense, but I still couldn’t accept it. Like, “If you’re going to do it with willpower, show it in your attitude.” I wanted some kind of logic behind it.
A long time ago, Shirato Sanpei-sensei used to write ninja manga (such as Sasuke, Ninja Bugeichou, and Kamui Gaiden), and they don’t defeat enemies with ninjutsu or magic in those. They used these kind of tricks, things with logic behind them. Like digging a hole in the ground and setting off gunpowder. It made me go “wow”. That influenced me.
Nisio: Like this thing you have to explain.
Araki: It won’t seem interesting unless there’s some kind of reason.
Nisio: In Part 2, did you just come up with the idea for the battle with Wamuu to be on chariots?
Araki: No, I think I was inspired. In shounen manga, I like when the battles are one-on-one in some kind of arena. This arena could be a narrow clifftop, or one where you lose if you leave the arena, and it’s fun to make a lot of rules. I think that’s where the idea for that chariot battle came from. Having some restrictions, so it’s not everything goes.
Nisio: In Jojo, the fights are one-on-one, or at most two-on-two, aren’t they?
Araki: That’s true. If there’s too many people, it’ll become like one of those old war manga. That seems tiring to just to write, so two-on-two is the most for me.
Backgrounds in manga vs. having to describe in novels
Interviewer: As a writer, is there anything you’re jealous about Araki-sensei for?
Nisio: I’m very jealous that unlike novels, you can draw backgrounds in manga. It’s hard to portray backgrounds in novels.
Araki: But even if you don’t write anything, the reader can imagine something.
Nisio: Drawings have incredible persuasive power. There are things that you can draw, but when you write about it, it turns into an explanation.
And then, you go “oh, I wrote an explanation” and feel intense regret… It won’t be a slogan anymore. I have this obsession that once I write an explanation, it’s all over, and it’s hard to deal with. So when I have insert illustrations in my books, it makes me feel that I can’t match the strengths of visual information.
Araki: I once read a story about a beautiful picture. There wasn’t any description about the picture. But the readers can imagine something. If you wrote a manga with that story, you would have to draw the picture. Even if it was Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, it would just be a copy. It’s something that gets ruined if you draw it. But if you don’t describe the picture like that story did, if you just say it’s amazing, then the reader will believe it.
Nisio: Purposefully not writing something.
Araki: I think it’s better if you don’t write about it.
Nisio: I’ve used a technique of writing something that’s impossible to visualize a few times. I think that’s the only way to explain something that isn’t there… You can write about things that you can’t even draw.
Oh yeah, I’ve used that technique in Shin Honkaku Mahou Shoujo Risuka, which is illustrated by Nishimura Kinu-sensei. I wrote about a ‘jacket like a safety pin.’ It was supposed to be clothing from a fantasy world, and then Nishimura-sensei ended up drawing it. I thought ‘oh, it got drawn.’
Araki: That’s impressive. I’ve also drawn a few insert illustrations. There was a character who has an arm injury throughout the book. So I drew an injured arm, but then at the end it said that the injury was on the left arm, and I had drawn it on the right arm. I thought, “do I have to redo the whole thing?”
You really have to read carefully. Insert illustrations are hard to draw, too. That’s why it’s impressive. Figuring out what a jacket that’s looks like a safety pin is like…
Nisio: When I know that there will be insert illustrations, I try to make it easier for my illustrators to draw them.
Araki: The illustrations for Zaregoto Series have an atmosphere to them too.
Nisio: Take-san is the one drawing them. I remember at first, when I was talking to my editor, I asked for them to be ‘Jojo-ish’, haha. That was supposed to be about the level of realism or reality in the illustrations…and then they came out like this.
Araki: It’s nice to see that the Jojo-ish part came through. When you line up the 9 volumes like this, you can really see an improvement in skill. I like these pop-style backgrounds, too.
Which writer is the biggest Jojo fan?
Araki: Nisio-san, which authors do you like?
Nisio: I’d have to say Kadano Kouhei-sensei. He’s famous for being a Jojo fan. He’s the biggest Jojo fan among writers.
Nisio’s editor: Just a while ago, when I told him that you were going to see Araki-sensei, he went silent for a few seconds and coldly said, “Oh, is that it so”, haha.
Nisio: A long time ago, when I read an interview between you and Otsuichi-sensei in Yomu Jump [magazine associated with Weekly Shounen Jump], I was so jealous that he got to meet you.
Araki: Otsuichi-san was writing for Shueisha [company publishing Jump], after all.
Interviewer: Nisio-san, if you were going to write a novelization of Jojo, what would it be like?
Nisio: I would write about Part 2, or maybe Part 1. Where the enemies are vampires and ultimate lifeforms.
Araki: Not violence.
Nisio: I would choose not to use Stands. That way there wouldn’t be anything in common with Otsuichi-sensei is doing. [Otsuichi’s Jojo novelization is set in Part 4]
Araki: You don’t want to do the same thing as him?
Nisio: I really don’t to do the same thing as anyone else. If I did, it would turn into a contest with Otsuichi-sensei. What if I lose? If winning makes you the bigger Jojo fan that’d be terrible.
Interviewer: You can’t stand losing, not as an author, but as a fan?
Nisio: They might say “you call yourself a Jojo fan, but that’s all you can write?” or “you don’t love Jojo enough”, and make fun of me, haha. So if that happens I’ll say “Oh, my favorite part is Part 1” to get away.
Interviewer: For Part 1 and 2, there’s the issue of viewpoint. Whose perspective would you write from?
Nisio: Part 4 is Kouichi-kun. For Part 1, it’s Speedwagon. Part 2 was…did he have a name? That pickpocket boy at the beginning…ah, I can’t remember. This is bad.
Araki: He was there, haha.
Nisio: Otsuichi-sensei and Kadano-sensei are laughing right now, haha.
Interviewer: When did you understand how Stands worked?
Nisio: I somehow figured it out as I was reading. Like how when Stands get injured, their users also get injured. There was an explanation of what Stands were at the beginning of one of the volumes, and it all made sense after that. That was really helpful.
Araki: It’s a good thing I wrote that, haha. Most people said they didn’t understand Stands.
Nisio: I liked the battles with the D’arby brothers. That’s how I learned how to play poker. I was in elementary school and didn’t know the rules of poker, so I didn’t know what kind of battle that was, haha. So I went to a bookstore and browsed through a poker rulebook.
Araki: Oh really? When I was writing that I assumed everybody knew how to play poker. It seemed like everybody at least knows poker.
Nisio: I was in elementary school, after all. After that I really wanted to play poker, haha. I wanted to say things like, “I bet all six chips.”
Interviewer: You’ve learned a lot from Jojo.
Nisio: That’s absolutely true. I want to keep learning more and more.
Araki: Thank you. I can tell how strong your feelings are.
[Note: Some of the mentioned writers later wrote Jojo novelizations. Nisio Isin wrote Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Over Heaven, Kadano Kouhei wrote Purple Haze Feedback, and Otsuichi wrote The Book: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure 4th Another Day.]