This is an interview I did with an Italian tv company this year (2010), about who I am, and how I came to be. They are planning to broadcast it in italy on the discovery channel or with the bbc.
□In Japan are you seen as a “hentai” artist or a cult artist?
Us manga artists dont think of ourselves as “hentai” artistｓ. I am just doing what I like, that’s it. Socially, actually we have a long history of such things from the Edo period, the wood block prints, as we call it; ukiyo-e, we call it the makura-e, the art of ‘in the bedroom’,- pillow art. So it’s a part of our culture, so probably, society is just willing to accept it.
□First can you introduce yourself?
I am manga artist Maeda Toshio, in the world, my name is known for the use of tentacles, but ive never really been conscious of that genre, per se. I’m not really all that concerned about how regular people see my work, but I’m known for being the first person to have done that in manga.
□For you, how would you describe your genre of manga?
In anime, I am considered an erotic, adult, artist but I’m not trying to make adult manga, but I am just doing a genre that I like to do, and that happens to be adult.
□What comics did you read as a child?
As a child I was I was reading really dark manga, and the other children were reading quite fun, amusing manga, while I was reading manga that focused on the darker elements of life, and I feel that that is an influence on my work now.
□Did you have any formal art education?
I taught myself how to do manga, and I did have a sensei, but my style was already developed, and so it wasn’t a case of going to school, and learning off other people. I was illustrating for fun, and learnt like that.
I was really influenced by the American comics, such as Marvel and DCs that is typified by the superhero style. In terms of content, I really liked books since I was a child, and read cultural books, and was influenced by this.
□Where did you get the technical skills to do drawings?
Actually my brother is a designer, and he was older, and I learnt naturally by looking at him. Manga itself was a kind of text book, so unconsciously I was probably gaining influence from various manga artists by looking at their work.
□So you moved from Osaka to Tokyo, was that to become the assistant of your teacher?
Firstly, when I was in high school, I really hated going to school. I didn’t like school work so much and had already decided that I wanted to be a manga artist.
There are no publishers in Osaka, -there were two or three, but they went bankrupt, and by the time I wanted to debut, there were none left.
In order to debut, I had to go to Tokyo, school was boring, so I left home at 16 and came to Tokyo. I had nowhere to live, so I wrote a letter to the manga artist, and asked to be his assistant.
The probability was 1 to 400 as that many people had sent letters and illustrations, and through a stroke of luck, I was the one that was chosen. I had a lot of self confidence, as I was drawing since I was a child, so in my heart I really thought I would succeed, if I didn’t succeed, who would? I was quite an arrogant kid, but to the teacher, I told him that I had looked at immense amounts of work, and that it was really optimum work.
□Were you doing adult content at the time? When did you start that?
I started doing kid’s manga, but the kids genre is quite exhaustive, in that they survive for say ten years, as kids get sick of things quite easily.
My dreams did involve doing kids manga too, but I thought, if I’m doing adult from the beginning I can keep doing it for 20, 30 years.
□What is the appeal of erotic manga to you, personally, and how did you start drawing adult manga professionally?
When I first started, I didn’t really know women’s skin so well, as I only became experienced around 20 years old, and I didn’t really know that much about women, and then I’m trying to do adult things!
So it was a question of, how should I bring the bed scene into the story, and I didn’t really know the story. I had no experience, so I didn’t know how to go about it. So I went to clubs and listened to hostesses about various relationships, and went to places like brothels and played with the women to garner ideas. It was quite difficult in the beginning as I didn’t know the adult world.
□What was your first erotic comic and what was the idea behind it?
I don’t really remember my first adult manga, I think it was something along the lines of a manga orientated towards children but had a bed scene in it, something quite regular like a guy likes a girl and picks her up, I don’t really remember.
But I was just happy to have debuted.
□What was the culture in Japan like at the time? Is it true that you weren’t allowed to draw a penis?
It’s quite strict now with the restrictions in regards to erotic work, but at that time it was even more strict, and to have to woman and man together was not allowed, the censorship was really strict. For example even if they are in bed, they mustn’t be on top of each other, or in underwear, but using those restrictions by covering up, you could somehow give the impression to the readers, as they are adults and can figure out what is going on.
□At what point did the culture change?
In the beginning when adult comics began to impact the people, I decided that it became apparent that regular scenes were a bit lacking. Some SF manga, or ones that expressed different preferences came about, a bit like space opera, where people would have sex in space but seeing that, I thought that the readers would accept these strange themes.
□How did you come up with the idea for Urotsukidoji?
When I was thinking of Urotsukidoji, there were so many adult manga, but not so many with violence and fixated on evil. So I thought if I did something like that off the bat, the readers would be really surprised.
□Some of the scenes are extremely aggressive, how do you want the readers to feel?
My work has a lot of violence, and it’s according to how people want to read into the stories, but many go along the idea of love and ai shitei suru/
Actually, there is a strong notion of focusing on the dark side of humanity, and conversely I want people to feel love. I felt a bit embarrassed with manga that confronted love and peace so brazenly, so I tried a different approach.
□How did you feel about the film version of Urotsukidoji?
As for the anime version, I didn’t really touch it. It is based on my work but in the beginning we had meetings and decided to basically follow my story and decide as we go, so the director used his interpretation according to his sensibilities as an anime director. The anime and the original work is quite different.
□Were you happy with the results and are you surprised at how famous it became?
The director did a good job, and I am very happy with it. The director’s originality and my work had a good symbiosis, and was hence a hit overseas.
□Would you say in the Japanese comic market, there is no concept of heroes and bad guys?
In America, there is a viewpoint of righteousness, like there is a black and white concept of the good guy and the bad guy. But this is not just confined to manga culture, - Western culture in general has a strong notion of 1 or 0, black or white, but Asian culture is vey grey.
American culture is pyramid shaped, in that there are various reasons and finally a conclusion. In Asian culture it is more like a circle, black and white is really mixed. Say, with a coin, and the decision making of flipping a coin, the Asian way of thinking is to determine how to see both sides of the coins, by spinning it.
With manga, it isn’t a case of who is good and bad, the concept of whether the guy is good or bad doesn’t really exist within us. But that is the Japanese way of thinking where things are quite vague.
□With Urotsukidoji, you are credited with starting hentai, do you agree with this?
The advent of my manga overseas has lead to the word hentai being recognized overseas, so I would say that my work started the genre.
□As a creator of erotic images, do you get turned on by your own work?
I get asked this a lot, but totally not! As I’m doing this for work, if I get turned on every time I draw, it’s not really feasible. If you are talking about my sexual preferences. Sometimes I don’t even want to see these kinds of scenes, but it’s my work, so I can draw it.
□How did you start using the tentacles in your work?
I get asked this a lot too, but there were a lot of censorship issues if a girl and guy was in physical proximity, so according to these restrictions, the question was, if the bodies weren’t together, and the protagonist isn’t a human, what then?
If men’s sexual organs and female sexual organs can’t touch, what if a tentacle that looks nothing like a human is used, -it doesn’t provoke the legal restrictions.
So the tentacle came about from thinking about these things.
□With that idea, were you influenced by the work of Hokusai?
Many overseas people say that I got the idea off Hokusai, but actually before I was told that, I didn’t realize it at all. I like him, but seeing his work later on, with the octopus attacking the girl, I realized that that was what people were referring to. It’s not a direct reference to him.
□Why would you say tentacles and fish are a big part of Japanese culture?
The tentacles that often appear in my work,…well actually I don’t have anything like fish violating the girls…but if you ask if that is Japanese culture I would totally not agree. There is the traditional culture within Japan, but Japanese people now aren’t really conscious of that culture within themselves. If you ask if they are conscious of a traditional sexually, I really don’t think so.
□What would you say are the main differences, generally between Japanese manga and the rest of the world?
Japanese cultures had a lot of western influences in the begging, and much of it was copying overseas comics. It is a different path to that of Hokusai and those Edo period artist. There is a manga culture from the Edo period with Hokusai manga, but going into Meiji, Taisho and Showa, when Western culture really permeated Japan, there was a lot of western influenced manga.
But it gradually took a different shape, and transformed, as Japanese manga culture developed.
Western Manga is basically for children, so according to this, the concepts are really simple. America is a country made of immigrants, so if there are multitudes of cultures, the most basic concepts are more understandable for children, for example using comedy such as someone slipping, and falling over- really simple concepts that anyone can understand.
In Japan those simple concepts got more complicated, and it became something for adults. There are philosophical manga, educational manga, it diversified, and there came to be progression based on the readers needs.
This kind of progression is really different to the western world, where comics are originally seen as something for children, so they are bound by the thought that, ‘you can’t do this in comics! In Japan, when the children grow up, they become adults, so there are manga in accordance to this, and then why shouldn’t there be manga for grandpas and grandmas?
□What does manga represent in Japanese society?
It is a really common scenario that a salaryman, who could be 40 or 50 is in the train reading a manga, and for Westerners they see that and think, ‘Oh how ridiculous!’, but for us, manga artists they are precious clients, so we are grateful for them!
The role that manga plays is a part of culture, as is the arts, magazines, and music,- just another genre, so when Japanese adults see that, we do not see it as weird. If we are researching something and it is difficult to understand, we might get a manga on that topic, and use it as an entry point.
We don’t try to understand everything using manga, but if we gain an interest in a topic, we will pick up a manga, and then if our interest is manifested further, we will go out and buy a book on the topic, so I think it’s quite useful.
□For yourself, having so much literature, do you prefer to read books or manga?
I am a manga artist, but to be honest, I don’t really don’t read manga often. In fact I barely read them. Other manga artists often look at other manga artists to see what is “in”, and then they can decide on what they should draw, but I really don’t.
I am the type of person of that just draws what I want to, so for me, it is pointless to see what other people are drawing. Since when I was a child, I liked really cultural books, so I didn’t have such a habit of reading manga.
I like reading English language books, as I like to ascertain how different the Western way of thinking is to the Eastern and also it’s better to read the books in their original language, as I can feel that the communication is more direct.
If I just read Japanese books in this small country, I will really have a partial view, so I try, even with youtube and whatever to look at English sources.
□Seeing you are one of the most famous manga artists, what do you feel makes you stand out, and what makes your work appealing?
I hear that my work is quite famous overseas, but even now, I really have no idea. I’m just drawing what I want to draw, and doing what I want to do, and while I think that the use of tentacles had some kind of impact on western people, it’s not like I was trying to shock people. I really don’t know my own reputation, when people tell me I’m having an impact on people, it’s really like,… ‘Is that so?’
□Do you see many female fans, or do you try to appeal to female readers as well?
Actually, when my manga came to be known overseas, I got a fan from a female reader saying I want to start a fan club, with only female members. I found this perplexing, as I was making manga to appeal to the male readers, and I have no idea where it appeals to females. I was really surprised, as usually the female is getting violated.
□Can you describe the women’s hentai magazine, and your contribution to it?
I had a traffic accident and thought that maybe my career as a manga artist was over, as I couldn’t move my right arm. Even if my right arm won’t move, I can still type with my left, so I thought I’d write a story. When I had my accident, erotic, hentai manga was really popular, and I had an interest in the stories, so I made the stories,- as in the script -and a female artist did the manga specifically for female readers.
□In Japan, the victims are often school girls, why is that?
In my manga quite often they are the victims, such as scenes where they are raped by the tentacles. But really it doesn’t really matter if they are school girls, or university students, or whatever, but for whatever reason, Japanese people have a real fantasy with school girls and sailor uniforms.
At the moment say, most of the people go to university as well, but all the people have been to high school. For adult readers, they would probably have started to gain sexual experiences during high school. Japanese men are quite shy, so they might have thought, they wanted to flirt, and wanted to have sex, they had these dreams that weren’t fulfilled, so people can use these high school fantasies to bring them back to this time.
In this way Japanese school girls are used for sex scenes.
□Do you feel that your work portrays a message of violence?
Actually my manga is fraught with violent scenes, and I get asked often, ‘How do you young people will react?’, and I ask, ‘How about movies?’
It doesn’t matter how explicit the film is, society doesn’t blame the films. Computer games are becoming a bit of a problem, with opinion that they should stop really violent homicidal scenes, for example with American high school mass murders, taking influence from games. But are games, manga, anime and movies responsible? I would say yes, partially, but it is entirely the responsibility of the viewer, it’s just entertainment.
I am not making manga for children, I am not considering that young children are viewing my work, as it is intended for over 18s. I do recognize the influence of manga, but if you ask whether I feel any guilt, I really don’t.
□What are the rules on adult manga at the moment?
In Japan the restrictions are really tight and there is a problem with the government now, where they are saying if children are the target, if the main protagonist looks under 18 let’s try and regulate it, and it’s a really dangerous way of thinking.
Say a manga artists work, all his protagonists look young, if he gets told, ‘They look 15’, that artist can’t work. Each artist has their own individuality, so it’s not like in a film where the actors are under 18, it’s just that characters might look under 18. It’s really vague and strange, you can say ‘This is wrong’, and ‘You can’t do this’, and it will apply to everything, so all us manga artists are really against that.
I’m actually against the trade of manga where they purposely use extremely young characters, aimed for fans of people who want to attack young people, but in reality, you can say my work has young girls being raped, and so what is that artist thinking? That is just weird. On a personal basis, I’m against really young looking female characters in manga being raped.
□Are there trends in hentai, and what should we expect next?
I don’t really know, cause I don’t really know what people are expecting next. I didn’t really know that my work was so popular overseas, so in June, I will open my website, and I really want to hear the voice of westerners. Japanese anime has already become recognized overseas, so I want to communicate with international otaku, in order to make the next work. So I’m actually really thinking to make a guest house, so manga fans from around the world can come, and we can go to Akihabara.
□How do you feel about the popularity of hentai in the west?
Usually people seem to focus on things like tentacles and the weird aspects of my work, so they don’t seem to look at the concept too much. For me, I want them to see what is there, but tentacle rape seems to be so sadistic that it is the only point that is focused on. I’m glad, but realistically I would like them to look at the story too.
□For you, what is the piece of work you are most proud of?
I’m just doing what I want to do, so I’m not really conscious of popularity. I’m just living quite modestly.
□La Blue Girl is described as a hentai parody, would you agree with that?
I see as part of the ninja genre- a female ninja, ‘kunoichi’, I’m not really conscious of it being a parody of hentai.
□What actually happened when you had your accident?
In the year 2001, I had an accident on a motorbike. Up until then I was racing really often. I had a lot of confidence on my biking ability, but I was on a crappy 150 cc scooter, and if I was on a racing bike, I’m sure I wouldn’t have had an accident, but a truck cut into me and I went straight into the side. As a manga artist my whole life changed instantly.
I couldn’t move my arm, even pick up chopsticks, let alone draw. For a manga artist it was a situation of complete despair. Up until then I was progressing smoothly, but when I couldn’t move my arm, I really thought it was the end of my life.
I thought, ‘What can I do as a creator?’ I divorced and lost everything, and in that instance I had to decide what I could do, and personally it was a good chance for me to get a better look at my life.
□What’s the most pleasing reaction to your work and what is the most satisfying thing about being an artist?
I get fan letters and the like, the other day, I got a letter from an English man who drew a tentacle for my birthday. As a manga artist, when you are in magazines, you can’t tell the audience reaction, or the viewers face, so you really wonder if people are looking at your work!
Sometimes I get phone calls, I got one person asking if I can stay at my house…! I was like, ‘Ok! Let’s talk about manga’. When people make contact individually, and we can converse, up until now, I don’t have that much experience with that. So that is why I want to put up a website, and see how people really think about my work, or if they want me to do something, I can hear their voices directly.