Hiroaki Samura Interview : Quick Japan 38 (August 2001)
Text by Masaki Kojima, Photo by A-Chang, Translation by Clint Moulds

("What I'm saying is, women's bodies are attractive, don't you think?")

----- During a break from his genre-busting period piece Mugen no Juunin, we talked with a manga artist of incredible skill - Hiroaki Samura. He talks about his work not only as author of Mugen~, but also as love-comedy author as well as his side interest in drawing torture pictures. Not having spoken to the media until now, prepare to wade into a depth of feelings as you read this long interview!


[Background]
A half-naked woman with both arms tied high above her head stands with her back to a pillar to which she is bound tightly with rough straw rope. On her pure white skin run countless scars, sticky with blood. Both breasts are pierced with a sharp iron skewer, and if that wasn't enough there are a pair of jumper cables attached to the skewers. The woman lethargically stares into space with a facial expression that could be either resignation or ecstasy, arousing an uneasiness at seeing something that goes beyond carnal desire... . That illustration adorns the cover of KousaiShobou's publication, Hageshikute Hen Vol 1. With that description it probably won't surprise anyone to hear that it is an ero-manga magazine. The dry tone and elaborate details achieved through his persistence in drawing with pencil really set it apart from the restrictions of color. Hiroaki Samura. His debut came with Mugen no Juunin in the August 93 edition of Kodansha's Afternoon magazine. That title is still running with 11 tankoubons already published that have sold a total of 2,400,000 copies. This accomplished author is now announcing his plans to continue his ero-manga illustration work alongside his work on Mugen no Juunin. Why? How come? Is this a good thing!? As for this and more we asked this artist of uncommon skill, Hiroaki Samura, to disclose his heart of xxx in broad daylight. So begins this long interview.

[I] :
Samura-san graduated from the Tama School of Art, which is now the setting for Ohikkoshi, but during your exam days did you feel the same way about drawing manga as you do now?

[HS] :
In my student days all of my drawings were dark and sloppy. In those days it was the age of Katsuhiro Otomo. His work was very adult and almost pornographic, it had a big effect on me.

[I] :
Was this your first connection with manga?

[HS] :
As for using a pen, the first time was when I entered college. But ever since I was in grade school if you asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would always answer, "Become a manga artist." As a result I didn't make any effort to find employment. In any case if I had been drawing manga in those days all the profits would have been plunged into mahjong. My graduation from the oil painting program became very uncertain.

[I] :
Well, thinking back to that kid who wanted to become a mangaka, did you see studying real design and entering art school as a step towards that goal?

[HS] :
Yes. When I was in preparatory school and was asked, "Why do you want to go to the Art School?", I would answer, "There's lots of talented artists in their manga club." They would usually make a bad face at that. (laughs) So I studied nothing but real design principles, but I hated oil painting straight away because the ingredients of the picture stink.

[I] :
But if you think about it, your drawings wouldn't have the same power if you couldn't draw people in such accurate detail. It seems like everything went according to plan, didn't it?

[HS] :
The world is my oyster, yeah.

[I] :
Indeed.

[HS] :
In reality though, when I entered college it fell flat, as expected since I couldn't do oil paintings. For my graduation project in fact I had to pay someone to paint it for me.

[I] :
(Laughs) I'm going to write that.

[HS] :
That's fine. Uh, as I was saying I was paying this guy money, but actually it was even worse, I had to treat him to meals as well. It was the worst process. I would do one page, then he would do another page I couldn't handle, but later I would go back over his work. At least I had a splendid new friend who would say things like, "Sorry, there's a little bit of me in that one." It was just at that time that I had come up with the story for Mugen no Juunin and sent in the debut work to the editors.

[I] :
That turned out to be most important, didn't it?

[HS] :
It was very important. In fact, just before graduation I decided it would be best for me to drop out of school.

[I] :
Since a degree isn't really necessary anyway, right?

[HS] :
Yeah, and besides, I like to think of myself as a decent guy. So when I added "paid money" and then "prepared meals" to my college resume, I realized I was no better than a beggar. (laughs) "Please! Please help me!", I was saying.

[I] :
That's a great story. Getting back to what you said about the manga club, that was a big part of your student life, wasn't it?

[HS] :
Yes. I remember one school festival where [professional mangaka] Yamada Reishi, manga club alumnus, came and looked at our club magazine. He told me, "You there, you've definitely got what it takes to get into a magazine like Morning or Afternoon."

[I] :
So you didn't bring anything in during your student days?

[HS] :
Mugen no Juunin began, remember?

[I] :
But it seemed like your debut still hadn't happened, during that time what were some of the hurdles you had to overcome?

[HS] :
I guess I haven't thought about it very much. It would have been great if I could debut while I was still a student, but as you know my drawing pace was slow. After classwork I couldn't even write a manuscript. I thought, "Oh well, I'll have time after graduation." When Afternoon accepted me as I was before graduation, I felt that my drawings must be skillful enough that all would be forgiven. (laughs) Yeah, it was that kind of atmosphere in those days. So, I went. That's how I got where I am today.


[Background]
This may be an abstract way of saying this, but in my experiences piecing together Hiroaki Samura's works, I consider myself a "knowledgeable" person. In amassing experience my only conclusion is that I can never find enough of it, only odds and ends floating about. That follows from the natural confidence of someone who says, "I'll be a mangaka." It's not, "Want to be," or "Definitely gonna be!" but simply, "Be." Is it that kind of feeling?

[HS] :
Well as I was saying I came out of the generation influenced by Otomo Katsuhiro, but at the same time I didn't want to be just another new face following the same patterns. Even if it was stylish I thought if I debut that way I'll be locked into using a style that I couldn't escape from. When Mugen no Juunin first came out I could draw 40 pages a month. These days I can only manage 30. You see at the start I felt like Otomo creating a masterwork and could spend many hours drawing. As Mugen no Juunin picked up steam I began to realize I was working in "serial mode". If I told myself, "If you can't work in serial mode you can't be a mangaka," then I can draw 40 pages. But gradually, as you might expect, I'd end up taking shortcuts and spend less time on each frame, to the point where entire pages get blown off and were almost entirely white. It was the worst state of affairs. At least I had the time to fix them before the tankoubon came out.

[I] :
As a mangaka, your drawings have surely changed in the 4 or 5 years since your debut, have they not? Discuss the course of those changes and how they differ from the usual pattern one sees.

[HS] :
How are they different?

[I] :
I never get the feeling that your drawings have come to be naturally simplified. For there to be simplification you'd have to draw the pattern quickly, but you said you take great pains in this. If it was the usual changes, the artist would want to take the easy course and pound out a frame in a few strokes. But from what you just said I thought, oh I get it.

[HS] :
As for that I was really only referring to the very beginning. But I think if you look at the recent tankoubons you'll find my nervous energy is still at its peak. I do feel that a great amount of detail is a pain to draw. Now I'm probably a little more rough or wild with my drawings.

[I] :
About what volume do you plan to go with Mugen no Juunin?

[HS] :
Originally I said, "I'll end it at 5 volumes." Now that I've already done 12 I don't really know, but it's true that I want to finish it within the next 3 years.

[I] :
Can you see the last scene in your head, and are we heading there?

[HS] :
Just last month I finished a long section of the story. After that all that remains is the build-up to the very last story. I didn't at all want to think I'd be past 30 and still in my commencement days.


[Background]
So that's his debut work, the hit Mugen no Juunin which continues to come out monthly. But Mugen is not the only serial work he has put forward. There is also his latest work, Ohikkoshi, an ensemble piece based on student life in art school. A manga about youth, a love-comedy, with trackless and violent gags stuffed into the mix. This is a strange work, if you haven't read it I don't think I'll be able to explain it. But for all that, the story design unfolds around a group of familiar friends. Though you're not sure where it's going at first.

[I] :
Do you consider Ohikkoshi a gag manga? I don't think that's quite right, do you?

[HS] :
For me, it was my intention to draw a love-comedy. And while on the surface I'd say I was aiming at an 80's style love-comedy, I thought they were too common these days to do it straight. The ultimate comment I get from everyone is, "This is a love-comedy?" But I think you have to read it twice and not skim over it once or you'll miss it.

[I] :
I didn't think it was an 80's style manga. Rather I said, "I've never seen anything like this before." It's so outrageous, I'm taken in from cover to cover while reading!

[HS] :
Well, um, no seriously... it's a serious story but I also wanted to tug at the reader's heartstrings. After the 2nd chapter when everything was in disorder I got letters from readers saying, "Is it going to go on like this forever? When do we feel the excitement of love?" Somehow from here I have to take it into love. Just now with the 4th chapter it finally becomes the love story.

[I] :
No, no, it really does work! Definitely there are those feelings there, in the impatience of the main character.

[HS] :
That's very kind of you to say.

[I] :
In any case you thought of it as something "new". While you can't help classifying it into a genre I suppose, as I've said I haven't seen anything like it before. Please give us your honest thoughts on this.

[HS] :
It's something I wanted to do while I was still young. So then after I'd turned 30 I thought, "I'm not going to be young forever, perhaps the time is now?" So I drew Ohikkoshi. Now someone might say, "This is what you wanted?" (laughs) As for it not resembling anything else, I think almost everything I do is a mismatch from the pattern. On top of that, I didn't think I had the ability to draw a gag manga. When I asked myself if I could draw one I realized for the last 8 years I truly hadn't done anything outside of Mugen no Juunin. So when I read the letters on this new one I feel like I'm wearing work clothes and really earning my livelihood! You see, I'm really not that kind of person.

[I] :
I guess wearing a Jittarin Jin (*) t-shirt wouldn't count!
// * - [Band] Name on t-shirt Samura was wearing

[HS] :
Right, no it would be some t-shirt with "Wind God" written on it, (laughs) or something like that, get it?

[I] :
I get it (laughs), kind of.


[Background]
Neglecting the main character while sub-characters run wildly, a succession of proper nouns that can be appreciated only by people who know them well, parts that tug on your heart a bit, parts that are completely ridiculous, an over-genre and hybrid situation with a bit of everything. Yet for all that, the story is backed by the power of delicate design. If any one of the elements were removed the balance would collapse. This is the realization that comes out of the masterpiece, Ohikkoshi. It is this balance of feelings that really characterizes Hiroaki Samura, I think. No longer will he be referred to merely as, "That Mugen no Juunin guy." When asked about his favorite bands Samura gave 1st place to Queen and 2nd place to Black Sabbath and Jittarin Jin, 3 bands with almost nothing in common. As expected this capsule's broadness is just like him. If he can draw both a period piece and a love-comedy with a gag touch, why not torture pictures and even a (planned...) ero-manga to add to his unbelievable range? With these, only the peerless tone of Hiroaki Samura can take them from the base to the beautiful. Like the illustration described in the opening paragraph. I call it an illustration but more precisely it's from a collection of torture pictures that surprisingly was announced back in April of 1998 in Manga Kurisutei. Since then there have been several changes (An ero-book sometimes collapses during summer vacation and sometimes magazine names change), but the torture picture series Hito de Nashi no Koi continues to be announced.