Q: When was the first time you considered becoming a mangaka, and why?
Masashi Kishimoto: In the period between second and fourth grade, I was obsessed with the Dr. Slump anime and the Dragonball manga by Akira Toriyama sensei. I loved his characters. I was especially fond of Arale from Dr. Slump and Goku from Dragonball. Plus, his work attracted me. There was something about his cartoonish drawing style that felt right, more so than realistic drawings. I told myself, “I want to be like Toriyama sensei.”
Q: Where do you get your inspiration? Do you listen to music or watch movies when you are working?
MK: I have a DVD player with a small screen on my desk and I sometimes watch movies and listen to music. I used to do that more often when working, but not so much these days. After drawing manga for 12 years, I learned that it does affect my art. For example, if I was listening to a song with sad lyrics, my manga would begin to reflect that sadness. And then, when I look back at the drawings, something felt off. Therefore, I decided to turn off anything that could affect my art. But I do love movies and I get a lot of inspiration from them. In my free time, I go to the movie theater to catch all the blockbuster hits. I also look for hard-to-find movie titles in the stores. I like to watch epic trilogies like Star Wars, horror movies, such as Vi, romantic movies like 500 Days of Summer, and classics like The Sting. My favorite movie of all time is Akira, but I love Hollywood movies in general. My favorite was How to Train Your Dragon because the script was fantastic. As a fan of the original comics, I liked Tin Tin. I thought the movie was faithful to the comic and the CGI animation made it appear more real than a live-action film.
Q: A mangaka’s schedule is incredibly exhausting. What is the secret to endure so many hours while maintaining an incredibly high level of quality in your work?
MK: The only reason why I can continue drawing manga for so long is because I love to draw manga. I really feel that this job is a good match for me, and it has really worked. If you weren’t born with a love for drawing, it would be impossible to draw manga. You want to run away or have an allergic reaction or something. When I was a baby, I drew on the walls by impulse, even before I was able to hold a pen. So I remembered I always loved drawing.
Q: You have drawn and written Naruto for more than 10 years. Compared to when you first began, how do you think you’ve grown and changed as an artist and as a person?
MK: During my career as mangaka, I got married, had kids, and became a father. This directly influenced the story of Naruto. From these experiences, I discovered the things that are important in this world. Being a father gave me an entirely different perspective that I didn’t have when I was single. Naruto’s personality represents a bit of me and a bit of my son’s. It was after my children were born that I wanted to write about Naruto’s parents. The way Naruto’s parents felt about him is very close to what I feel about my kids.
But I don’t want to sound too preachy because manga should always be entertaining. It has to be told from the child’s point of view. Even if I die one day, I want to leave behind a piece of work that lets my children understand what I’ve always wanted to tell.
Q: Naruto’s history is no longer a secret and he knows that his parents loved him. How will you keep changing the perspective of Naruto in the world and his relationship to the nine-tailed fox?
MK: From the start of the series, Naruto had no parents and the only thing he had was the nine-tailed fox inside him. He was treated like a troublemaker or a loser. He had so much hatred and anger toward the world because he had no identity. At first, I was going to draw a short flashback of Naruto’s parents, but his parents’ teachings became essential for Naruto to be aware of his identity. Although his parents were no longer in this world, they were able to use their chakra to tell Naruto how they felt about him. His parents sealed the nine-tailed fox inside him to bring peace to the world. They believe in him so strongly that they think he will be capable of handling the responsibility.
When Naruto found out the truth, he became more aware of his purpose in life. He realized who he needs to be and what he has to do in order to make his dream come true along with the hopes of his parents.
Love is a great thing. Ever since I became a father, I sincerely believe (although, there could be some exceptions) that all parents in the world always love their children. When children can truly understand the love of their parents, it greatly helps them find themselves. So I really wanted to give Naruto that experience.
Q: Currently, there is a great, severe war going on in Naruto with a multitude of characters from the past and present. How do you feel about the war? And, what are the challenges of representing such an epic event in the manga?
MK: There are many characters that are involved in the current war in the world of Naruto. I want to pay a lot of attention to all the characters while I draw, but I have to leave out some points. For the most part, it is difficult to judge what stays and what goes.
Moreover, the war is a difficult theme to write. I grew up in Okayama, which is right next to Hiroshima. My grandparents lived through the horror of the war and I know from their stories that the war was built on the bitterness of the people.
But you can’t simply look at our current state and criticize it as wrong because every little thing in our history makes it so that it leads up to war, and when it reaches its limit, it breaks. So even in the manga it wouldn't be credible unless I carefully elaborate the background of the war.
Like my grandfather taught me, I believe that “war is not the answer”, but I also understand that there will always be war. I feel fortunate having grown up in a generation that didn't live through the war. However, there are certain things that only my generation can tell in a story and that I can tell from my own perspective. Although it is fiction, I want people to feel like there is still hope.
Q: Who are you current favorite characters?
MK: My favorites are Choji and Killer Bee.
Q: Then we have to ask about one of our favorite characters, Killer Bee. How did this character come about?
MK: My former editor really loves professional wrestling and wanted a character like a professional wrestler. All of Killer Bee’s movements are related to professional wrestling despite him being a ninja. He aims to hit, but does it at any cost. I wanted to make him an interesting character and one of the most powerful ninjas in the Naruto world. I have a hard time writing Killer Bee’s lines because they always rhyme. But that is the person who gave me his character. Even if it’s difficult, I will always challenge myself to make him a rich character.
Q: What is your feeling toward Sasuke now that he has gone through a drastic change in the entire series?
MK: Sasuke is always in the back of my mind. Naruto and Sasuke progress as a pair. Whenever I write about Naruto, I always have to think about Sasuke. They are on opposite sides of the spectrum, like yin and yang.
Q: The Akatsuki are one of the most colorful and fascinating villains in any manga. Why make the Akatsuki? Do you have a favorite?
MK: Sasuke’s brother, Itachi, is my favorite. Akatsuki is a group of anti-heroes that confronts the main characters in Naruto. But I didn’t want them to just be villains because I thought there should be different reasons as to why they became outlaws against society. I wanted to explore their origins like I would do for the heroes.
Q: Which one of your favorite ninjas would you bring back to life as a soldier in Kabuto’s army?
MK: People brought back to life by Kabuto through Edo Tensei are like zombies, except with a conscience and their memories intact from when they were alive. It allows the characters from the past to talk with the characters from the present. It’s a fantasy element in the series.
During the creation of the war’s history, I started to think there must be a reason why there is war, and I wanted the characters of the past to talk about themselves.
Outside of Kabuto’s army, Deidara is my favorite character. Honestly, I think the Edo tensei reanimation jutsu could be done since he could come back to life after using his special power to explode himself. I love Deidara as a character.
Q: When people read the manga, what do you expect they will take away from it?
MK: In real life, it’s difficult for people to understand each another for things like differences in culture or education. As you grow, you start to see that sometimes things in life don’t go well, but I created Naruto to tell the younger generation that even though there are difficulties in life, you can do fine. Besides that, I prefer to let the public itself discover what they can take from Naruto.
Q: Digital manga, like Shonen Jump Alpha, is taking off in the United States. What are your thoughts on digital manga?
MK: I think it’s fine, but I don’t really understand it yet. There are many people who use tablet devices nowadays, which means it is more convenient to access and download the content you want. In the U.S., the system of buying and selling manga is very different from Japan’s. It is sometimes difficult for a library to contain all physical books on the shelves. So if going digital makes manga more readily available, I think it's a good thing.
Q: Last, but not least, what do you want to say to the fans of Naruto in the United States?
MK: It’s getting closer to the culmination of the series and it’s going to get very hot from here on out, so keep following Naruto until the end. That would make me very happy.
The fact that among Kishimoto's favourites characters there is Bee now shows a lot, since I think he's the better wrote (and drawn) characters among the new ones.
About the manga general developing during the latest years, I feel that Kishimoto becoming a parent didn't do it any good, since he writes with a more "preaching" attitude now and that made the manga less enjoyable for many people. The desire to leave positive messages to younger generations is a good one, but the creator of a story should leave things more subtle, more to the readers to grasp by themselves; children and teens aren't stupid, they can understand most things even if you don't throw them at their faces as the Naruto manga does lately. Also, some choice were clearly adopted as a second thought (for example, Naruto talking with their parents, and Gaara's second flashback about his childhood too, I bet), and they fell out of place compared to how the story was before the time skip. The tone of the manga is completely different now, and despite we are in the middle of a war, the very first Naruto story arc felt much more dramatic (remember Haku and and Zabuza's story).
Other than this, I think he should have kept listening to music while drawing; I know music influences the mood of artistic creations, but that's a good thing, since they feel more "alive" that way; the trick is to use the right music for what you need to express in each chapter.
As a closing note, I would like to say that growing up and becoming a parent influences a person greatly, I'm sure of that even if I'm not a parent myself, yet; but in order to write a shounen manga with a "heart" and for it not to become a boring preaching story, an author should always write from the point of view of a teenager (even if with the maturity of an adult). Oda perfectly knows this, and always says in interviews that he create his manga to please his own 15-years old self. The result is a manga that feels much more mature and, most importantly, much better plot and screenplay-wise than how Naruto is nowadays... and it's a shame, since Naruto started really great, and remained at really good levels for several years. Maybe, it should have just be completed many years ago, instead than arriving to the point it is now. Letting go if his great characters and interesting setting will be hard, I'm saying this as a Naruto fan, but a story needs to end when it's time, and Naruto has been dragged for way too long.
Thanks for the translation, it was really interesting even if I'm not personally satisfied with some of Kishimoto's choice, lately.
I couldn't agree more... I miss the heartfelt experience I had reading early Naruto chapters so bad. Lately, everything feels emptier, and too often illogical. Resulting in a quite boring phantasmagoria of exaggerated situation. And above all, bringing back all the dead to life on a whim, again and again, so that they can solve all your problems, is NOT the best way to depict and teach hope, in my humble opinion. Exactly like you, I write as a fond Naruto fan who couldn't quit reading it even if I wanted to. But the glory of the old times is long gone...