Manga Artist

Junji Ohno

The comic "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN MSD: Cucuruz Doan's Island" (hereafter referred to as "MSD: Cucuruz Doan's Island") is currently being serialized in Monthly Gundam Ace magazine as an official side story of the anime "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" (hereafter referred to as "THE ORIGIN"). The story revolves around the character Cucuruz Doan who appeared in one episode of "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM," and depicts "THE ORIGIN's" history of mobile suit development, which was not shown in the original anime. We talked to the manga's author Junji Ohno about his behind-the-scenes experiences related to its creation, and how it came into being.
- How did "MSD: Cucuruz Doan's Island" first begin, and how did you become involved?
Ohno: Originally I was serializing a series called "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM Side Story: Missing Link" in Gundam Ace. While that was running, the deputy editor-in-chief at the time said to me, "It would be good if we could do a side story for THE ORIGIN soon." At first it was kind of half-hearted, like, "We'd like to do it if the opportunity arises." But around the time that serialization of "Missing Link" ended, I got a message that "We have a meeting at the 'ORIGIN' studio," and the talks progressed from there. When I was talking back and forth with the Gundam Ace editorial department, from the very start they had been saying that the atmosphere of my manga art resembled Mr. (Yoshikazu) Yasuhiko's, and it might be one of the reasons why this job for the side story came to me.
- "MSD Cucuruz Doan's Island" is a somewhat unique story, but how did you go about planning it?
Ohno: That also started from an idea by the deputy editor-in-chief, who said, "For the 'ORIGIN' side story, how about looking at Cucuruz Doan?" Building on that foundation, the "ORIGIN" studio requested that we plan our project in accordance with "MSD," which Mr. Hajime Katoki was developing for the plastic models. Putting those two lines together, I started thinking about what kind of story it could be. Personally, meeting with everyone and then putting things in order afterwards is not my preferred working method. So I put together the plots for two or three chapters first, took those in to get everyone's opinions, and then made adjustments to the whole. This method brought depth to the story, and it made drawing the layouts easy for me.
- With regards to how the story unfolds, the character of Cucuruz Doan is at its heart, but it's also about the thoughts of those who were his comrades in the past. The way it's told is unique. Was it hard thinking up the structure of it?
Ohno: It was hard. And we had to work in tandem with the development of the MSD plastic models, but as the protagonist Doan's story progresses, it’s more likely to leave behind the sense of its relatedness to MSD. I felt, if possible, the development of the story should follow the connection with the plastic models and the story of Doan and his subordinates. I put effort into maintaining that as much as possible. If the audience began reading thinking that Doan was the real protagonist and he'd pull the story along, I think they may have been confused and wondered, "What's going on?" to find that the story began from the perspective of his soldiers. And I wonder if, now that volume 1 is on sale, everyone can finally read it as a manga about Doan without any confusion, since all the subordinates are introduced and the world surrounding Doan is put in place.
- With regards to the art, it's even closer to Mr. Yasuhiko's style than "Missing Link" was, isn't it?
Ohno: When I actually began drawing "Missing Link," I told myself I was "drawing a Gundam manga," so I was exactly imitating Mr. Yasuhiko's style. But the editorial department told me I didn't need to make it so close to Mr. Yasuhiko's drawings, and bit by bit the art style became my own. Certainly, in Gundam comics, there are a lot of art styles beyond what Mr. Yasuhiko draws. But "MSD: Cucuruz Doan's Island" is positioned as a side story to "THE ORIGIN," so I remembered how I had begun drawing Gundam as a manga artist, and the approach I chose was to try to make it close to Mr. Yasuhiko's work. But as for making the art style closer, I needed time to shape the story and characters of "MSD: Cucuruz Doan's Island," so I didn't spend any time practicing copying. The way I drew it was I looked at the "ORIGIN" comics once for reference, and then I drew straight onto the paper while thinking, "Is this how Mr. Yasuhiko's art would have looked?"
- Looking at the work, one gets the impression that you deeply studied the atmosphere of Mr. Yasuhiko's original art.
Ohno: I read "THE ORIGIN" when it was being serialized in Gundam Ace, and of all Mr. Yasuhiko's works, I felt the incredible power of this one. It might have been the strength of my own personal attachment to Gundam, but the comics of "THE ORIGIN" influenced me even more. Then I thought I would try to imitate it, little by little. This was when "THE ORIGIN" first began serialization, so it was about fifteen years ago. Since then, I've looked at his art in the collection books and as serialized in the magazine, and imitated a variety of Mr. Yasuhiko's qualities that don't usually get noticed, from his sound effects lettering to his panel lines. In that sense, having an ongoing serial right now while approaching Mr. Yasuhiko's style is "fun hard work." You could compare it to an athlete who competes and practices with a pained expression on their face, but they feel fulfilled. It's probably different for different people, but in the same way, if all you need to do is finish up the work by drawing smoothly in your own way, then I think there are other methods. But by staying conscious of Mr. Yasuhiko's art, I can well understand how difficult it is to draw and be aware of my own shortcomings. It's specifically because I still have shortcomings to overcome for this project that I'm able to immerse myself in the work. In that respect, the hard work and the fun are mixed together in the process.
- "MSD: Cucuruz Doan's Island" features a lot of mobile suits. Was depicting the mecha hard work?
Ohno: There are some difficulties with mecha. When I look at the incredibly beautiful way the mecha is drawn by other artists being serialized in Gundam Ace, I think, "I'd like to draw that way, too." But I don't have the speed to be able to make such detailed drawings in a serial, so I simply have to draw it the way I feel I can handle. The thing I pay attention to when drawing mecha is that I ruminate in my mind on the movement of the mobile suits as shown in the anime of "THE ORIGIN," and then work out how I have to substitute things so that when I represent the way they move in the manga, I don't lose the sense of speed you get in the anime. With the mecha, I want my art to approach Mr. Yasuhiko's, and I want it to approach the anime. But then I draw in a way that's easier for me, and without being overly conscious of those things.
- Mr. Ohno, what kind of relationship have you yourself had with "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM"?
Ohno: When "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM" aired, I was in around first grade, but I watched episode 1 the day it was broadcast. In that first episode, the scene where the Gundam rises up from the trailer made an impression on me, and when my sister was putting me to bed, I even tried to imitate that scene of the Gundam getting up on my futon. So the images from episode 1 have been stuck in my head forever, and even now just by visualizing that scene, I remember the thrill I got from the motion. After watching that first episode, I wanted to see the next one. In previous robot anime, the story tended to be resolved at the end of each episode, but "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM" was clearly different. It felt like something I'd never seen before. Maybe I was attracted by that feeling of "What is this?" I was in first grade, so at the time I didn't remember the more difficult aspects of it, but even so it presented things which left an impression in the heart of a child. It was also a series which had grown-up aspects, so watching it again, it's enjoyable to be able to now see those aspects which I couldn't understand before. Seeing "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM" in different ways, first as a first-grader, then as an older elementary-school boy, a junior-high and high-school student, and as an adult is a fun part of it.
- And had you been reading Mr. Yasuhiko's manga from before, too?
Ohno: I didn't originally think I would become a manga artist, so I wasn't the type that went around specifically buying lots of manga. After graduating from high school, I didn't have any particular ambitions, and I thought about joining the Self-Defense Forces. But on some occasion I learned that if you like to draw they have schools for that, and I decided to go to a technical college. Because I knew very little about how to complete manga, I chose a school for manga, which was rare at the time. I got in, and the manga I submitted in my first year won the monthly encouragement prize at a certain publisher, and that became the incentive for me to seriously aim to become a manga artist. I made my debut, and then I gained an interest in Mr. Yasuhiko's manga. I'm embarrassed about the cover of the collected volume of my first serial, for which I tried hard to mimic Mr. Yasuhiko's style. When I heard about "THE ORIGIN" being serialized, I couldn't help but look forward to it.
- As a fellow manga artist, what's your impression of "THE ORIGIN"?
Ohno: It really is sublime. I'm amazed by it every time I look at it and read it. I'm supposed to be checking the art for reference, but then I end up absorbed in reading it. It's that captivating. When I heard that he would be involved in anime again with "THE ORIGIN", I couldn't wait to see it. The thing that's attractive about the original manga of "THE ORIGIN" is the sense of tempo. When you see the flow of the panels, you're carried right along with them. Just like being on a train, once you're on board you can't get off until you get to a good stopping point. I'm not sure if he's able to create such an effect because he has experience as an animator. I don't know if I'm capable of that kind of effect, and it's really hard for me to learn. It's like every day I'm training myself to be able to do something that amazing.
- What are your thoughts on the "ORIGIN" anime?
Ohno: As a fan, I feel like, "How far can we continue watching this?" I don't want it to end with only the prequel arc of the "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield." I want to see it go on and on. In terms of story, it follows Char as the lead character like the original manga, but in episode 3, it also adds original subplots like Lino's. Each time I'm amazed at how it comes together, and I always enjoy it. Meanwhile, I imagine that as the anime is being produced, they have preliminary discussions just like I do for my own comics and talk about things like "What should we do if we change this from the comics?" with several of the staff, so I also enjoy seeing it from the perspective of the creators.
- Volume 1 of "MSD: Cucuruz Doan's Island" is finally on sale, but please tell us about how things are going to unfold, as far as you are able.
Ohno: When I work on it, I consider each and every character to be the lead. Those protagonists don't exist as separate, scattered points, but have intersecting points of contact somewhere, and that perhaps makes it different from standard manga construction. How will they come together or be scattered apart? That sort of ensemble drama is what I hope to produce in this work. Also, I'd like more collaboration with Origin Studio and Bandai Hobby, so the connection between the MSD plastic model kits and my manga can be tighter. The starting point of the story is the Dark Colony, where the mobile suits were developed, and I think it'll be interesting if I can skillfully show the concurrence between what happened here and what will happen in the future, and spin out the history of mobile suit development. I work hard on that every chapter.
- Finally, do you have a message for fans who are enjoying the serial?
Ohno: It's possible a lot of characters will take part in a massive Zeon operation. Doan and his comrades will be there on the battlefield, and I expect they will have their individual conflicts, and falling-outs, and new alliances. That aspect is a main theme of the work, so I want to depict it even more solidly. I'd also like to make the connection stronger with the MSD plastic models, of course, and with Doan's new aspects and the anime's upcoming "Chronicle of the Loum Battlefield." So please be sure to read it.

Author: Junji Ohno

Mechanical Design: Hajime Katoki
Character Design: Tsukasa Kotobuki
Original Concept: Hajime Yatate & Yoshiyuki Tomino
Source Manga: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko