interview with Nobuhiro Watsuki, author of Rurouni Kenshin: The Manga. Abit spoilery

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Feb 11, 2003
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This is part of an interview with Rurouni Kenshin's creator, Nobuhiro Watsuki, translated from a Chinese version of the Kenshin Kaden. I tried to translate meaningfully where I could not translate literally (and revised the structure of the questions and answers). What you will read still lacks 100% accuracy.

...

Q: When Rurouni Kenshin was being serialized in JUMP magazine, did you think it would end up being a 28-volume manga series?

A: Not at all! *laughs* Originally, I planned to finish the story in about 30 chapters. I never realized I would be able to tell the entire story—everything—that was in my head. After all, I was new in the industry. If I'd been asked to end the story prematurely, I would not have protested.

Q: According to your original idea for a 30-chapter serialization, how would the story have progressed?

A: The story would have been the same, up to Volume 7, and it would have ended with Kenshin leaving the Kamiya dojo for Kyoto.

Q: And the rest of the story would have been the same?

A: No. I would have omitted the Kyoto arc and gone straight into the Jinchuu arc. The gist of it is this: a group of people in Kyoto bear a grudge against Kenshin. They send an assassin to Tokyo. After dealing with the assassin, Kenshin leaves Tokyo for Kyoto.

Q: And what about Kaoru?

A: Honestly, from the very beginning, I had planned for Kaoru to suffer the pain of rejection. *laughs* But, thanks to everyone's support, the serialization went on a lot longer than I'd anticipated, and I was able to write the Kyoto arc. As it turned out, we let Kenshin and Kaoru carry on... and by that point, if Kenshin had dared to leave Kaoru for real, he would have become a villainous character! *laughs*

Q: Is Rurouni Kenshin, from the very beginning, meant to be a story about the search for self-redemption for Kenshin?

A: Yes. That's the gist of it.

Q: Isn't this theme a little mature for a manga story targeted at young readers?

A: When I was in school, I read shoujo comics. Apart from JUMP, I read mostly shoujo manga and other comics meant for young readers. Naturally, I am influenced by what I read! *laughs* But, just as naturally, when it comes to telling a story, I try to avoid telling one that is typical of these comics.

Q: Was this how you felt in the entire course of the serialization?

A: Actually, no. I feel that the theme took on a more adult tone from the Kyoto arc—which has more serious conflicts and confrontations—and thereafter.

Q: Would it be right to say Rurouni Kenshin sets itself apart from other manga because it uses a historical background to tell the story of good and evil... where it is not absolutely clear what is good and what is evil?

A: That's right. I have always wanted to illustrate a story that is different from other comics, that is about the unclear nature of good and evil. Kenshin himself is not a person of a purely good character. He has a past as the Hitokiri Battousai. It's hard to say if he was an absolutely good or absolutely villainous character. That's what Rurouni Kenshin is about.

Q: What is the reason for challenging yourself with such a complex character?

A: It wasn't a conscious decision to challenge myself. By the time I realized it, the story had taken on its own life. I guess my intuition was responsible.

Q: The symbol of Kenshin's philosophy not to kill is the sakabato he carries. What was the inspiration for coming up with a reverse blade sword?

A: The sakabato is something original that I came up with. The reason for it is very simple: I didn't want my main character killing anyone. But a bamboo or wooden sword isn't intimidating enough, so I came up with the idea of a sword that has its sharp and blunt edges on reversed sides. That way the main character is able to fight the way he always does, and still be able to refrain from killing anyone. *laughs*

Q: Let's backtrack a little. You said you had planned for a 30-chapter story. In that case, at what point did you realize you could write a much longer story?

A: That would be around the time Aoshi appeared and the story began to involve the Oniwabanshu. At that time, my editor thought, having completed the introduction of Sanosuke's character, having introduced all the main characters—Kenshin, Kaoru, Yahiko, Sanosuke—that the conditions for a longer story are set.

Q: Did you intend, from the beginning, for Sanosuke to be a main character?

A: That is right, that was my intention. However, with Aoshi and Saito—even though I had these characters in mind prior to the serialization—I had not decided if I wanted to introduce them into the story.

Q: Does this mean, until Chapter 8, the writing was focused on setting the stage with the main characters, and the real story starts only with Jineh's appearance?

A: That is right. That's one way of looking at it.

Q: This means Jineh's story is an important one?

A: Yes. Very important. This is where Kenshin's back story first comes to light, where we learn of Kenshin's resolve not to kill again. At that point, I was still unsure of how long the serialization would eventually be, so I introduced Kenshin's philosophy of not taking any human life quickly. It was timely because Jineh is a stark contrast to Kenshin's character. This helped to determine the direction of the story.

Q: Let's backtrack a little once more. You said after you introduced Aoshi and the Oniwabanshu, you realized you could tell a much longer story than you'd originally planned for. What was the reason for this?

A: The reason was simple. We had done a readers' survey and Rurouni Kenshin was popular. Around that time, Megumi made her appearance, and the story flowed, so it seemed right to develop the plot. The only snag was, at that time, I had yet to determine Aoshi's character traits properly, and that caused me some worry! *laughs*

Q: Did you consider Megumi one of the main characters from the start?

A: In the beginning, I didn't plan it that way. Because she had a background as someone with medical skills, however, her character was easy to pin down. Her part in the story developed naturally.

Q: Among the cast, Aoshi seemed like a particularly flawed and complex character?

A: Yes. Aoshi had a lot of weaknesses. In the Jinchuu arc, Kenshin lost his confidence and himself. But Aoshi had, even before then, already experienced a similar situation. As a result, at that point in the story, Aoshi became the one character who remained the most stable and reliable.

Q: Let's talk about the CD drama. Is this the first time you find your story being developed into a different medium?

A: Thanks to everyone's support! *laughs* The serialization of Rurouni Kenshin drew a lot of attention. As to exactly why, I have no idea.

Q: A CD drama is a purely audio experience. Did you feel odd about it, listening to your characters speak?

A: When I started illustrating the story, I never thought about how they would sound. No, I didn't feel odd about it. After listening to the CD, I thought, so this is how they sound... the seiyuu are doing a wonderful job! I was unfamiliar with seiyuu and their work. But after the CD drama was made, I developed a greater interest in this medium.

Q: With the serialization and the CD drama, would you say Rurouni Kenshin entered a "stable" period of storytelling?

A: But it wasn't as stable as one might imagine! *laughs* For instance, telling Raijuta's story made me uneasy. *laughs*

Q: Why is that? Was Raijuta's story hard to tell?

A: It went out of control. Initially, I wanted to draw an intelligent and heroic albeit antagonistic character. But it was hard. Until today, I still cannot figure out why. It could have been a problem with the orientation of his martial art skills.

Q: Wasn't Raijuta's special skill the "Matoi Izuna" ?

A: Yes. And I realized, given the nature of his specialty, there was no real confrontation to be had. Eventually, all Kenshin had to do, sparring with Raijuta, was to avoid his deadly strokes. *laughs* Even when Raijuta used the ultimate form of his technique—"Tobi Izuna"—it became meaningless because, prior to that point in the story, when Kenshin fought with Sanosuke, he had used his sword to stop Gohei's bullets. If he could stop bullets, then Raijuta's skills are no threat at all to Kenshin! *laughs* It was terrible!

Q: When Raijuta's story was being told, wasn't it around the time of Rurouni Kenshin's first year anniversary of its serialization in JUMP?

A: That's right. I have asked other manga artists about this turning point. A year into the serialization of any comic is the time when you feel most tired. Yet, with a sense of stability, there is a danger of complacency... thankfully, a lot of readers liked Yutaro. I was glad about this.

Q: Right at the end of the story, on the Kamiya dojo wall, there was a plaque with Yutaro's name!

A: Because he returned from Germany. I'll take this opportunity to clarify this: Yutaro's trip to Germany to seek medical treatment for his arm was fruitful and he recovered from the injury! But it may have been too much for him to practise swordsplay. Let's assume he had taken up fencing. *laughs* As for his character, let's say he became used to foreign ways in Germany and, after returning to Japan, he acted like a flirt! *laughs*

Q: Er... does that mean he vied for Tsubame's affection with Yahiko?

A: Why not? That sounds interesting!

: The "Kyoto" arc that begins with Saito's appearance right up to Kenshin's fight with Shishio is a fairly long one, isn't it?

A: At that time, it was my editor who suggested writing a longer story arc. The original plan was to serialize the story for a year, but we ended up doing it for a year and a half.

Q: Apart from being lengthy, what would you say is special about the Kyoto arc?

A: I botched the job with Raijuta, so when it came to the Kyoto arc, I made sure to do it right! *laughs* Although the Rurouni Kenshin story entered a period of "stability" after the introduction of the Oniwabanshu, I realized, with the continuing serialization, the story needed to be developed to the next level. That's the objective of any manga story targeted at a young readership.

Q: What exactly are you referring to?

A: Prior to the Kyoto arc, Kenshin's character was far too "perfect". The story lacked an element of development and maturity that is the hallmark of any good manga. *laughs* So, apart from understanding that the main story theme is one about the ambiguous nature of good and evil, I wanted to develop Kenshin's character further, to show his maturity as the story progresses. Emotionally, he matures from coping with his battles. As a warrior, he grows stronger when he completes his training in the Hiten Mitsurugi school of swordsmanship. This is very important. The main character does have a master! *laughs*

Q: Did you experience any difficulty doing this?

A: Rather than call it a difficulty, we should maybe regard any snag as an anecdote: I realized, that if I put my mind to it, I could illustrate anything I really wanted! *laughs* I've said it before. I honed my skills as a manga artist by illustrating the Kyoto arc. *laughs*

Q: How was your readers' response?

A: Following the Kyoto arc, the percentage of young male readers went up again. As it was, a large proportion of JUMP's readership are boys although, when compared to other manga magazines, there was a bigger base of young female readers. In fact, for a period, there were more girls reading than boys. *laughs* After the Kyoto arc, the ratio became less atypical.

Q: Do you consider Saito a main character in the Kyoto arc?

A: Yes. It was hard going at first, but then I realized I shouldn't be trying to illustrate Saito the historical figure but Saito the character in Rurouni Kenshin! It became easier after that. *laughs* As for the introduction of Sanosuke and consequently the introduction and depiction of Sagara Suzo, because I tried too hard to be true to historical fact, I feel my characterization has failed somewhat. But I had to include the story of the Sekihoutei, even if their sudden appearance caused the non-history buff among the readers to be surprised. As the creator, I have deep feelings about this. As a casual reader, you may not.

With Saito, I decided to make him different from the historical figure he is based upon, to be special to the story of Rurouni Kenshin. It's okay to deviate from historical fact, after all, Saito is not mentioned in educational textbooks! *laughs* Saito became a real and believable character in his own right and I am glad about that!

Q: Apart from Saito, there were many new characters in the Kyoto arc. Which ones are your favorite?

A: I liked Misao best. She was exactly the way I wanted her to be. I enjoyed illustrating her and developing her character very much. I have heard about characters "coming to life" from other manga artists but had never experienced this, until Misao. This became an inspiration in itself. And it really mattered that the readers found Misao very lovable too. *laughs*

As for other characters I enjoyed illustrating, well, Shishio has to be one of them! Shishio is the embodiment of my own perception of evil—the part of me that is bad—so he was fun to characterize! I really didn't want to kill him off... I wanted to continue drawing him! But, if that happened, the story would never end. So I had to grin and bear it, and eventually killed him. *laughs*

Q: On the other hand, what characters didn't you enjoy?

A: Oh yes, there was a character like that, but he wasn't a new character—he was Kenshin! *laughs* The more I drew him, the harder it got.

Q: Why was that?

A: Kenshin was a character I admired for his strength and moral uprightness, but I also disliked his vulnerable, angst-ridden, often tragic side. The transition from one state of mind to the other was difficult to illustrate.

Q: Among the new characters, did you find Soujiro easy to characterize?

A: Fairly difficult. *laughs* Although his appearance is easy to draw, I find it hard to empathize with his personality, and that caused me a lot of worry!

Q: Was he supposed to be a hard-to-understand character?

A: Yes. Comparatively speaking, my editor had no problem understanding who Soujiro is. In resolving a crucial scene, he would have the answer I don't! *laughs*

Q: While you were illustrating the Kyoto arc, Rurouni Kenshin was adapted into a TV anime series. How did you feel about it?

A: On the whole, it was good. I especially liked the Kyoto arc (in the anime). The director said he wanted to do justice to Saito, and the result was exceptional. Then there is the part where Kenshin and Kaoru say goodbye... this is an important scene, and the director did it very well, I'm happy each time I see it. The series on the whole is good!

Q: In the Jinchuu arc, we get to see Kenshin's past when he was the Hitokiri...

A: Originally I wanted to do a shorter arc, but it turned out to be a fairly long one. *laughs* Nevertheless, I couldn't present the story in too simplistic a manner.

Q: It's a tough story to tell!

A: Before I started, I discussed it with my editor. He did mention this story is rather unlike anything else that has been done before. *laughs* But I was prepared for that.

Q: What was the reader's reaction?

A: Most readers were all right with the story and Tomoe was fairly popular... it was too good to be true. *laughs*

Q: And Kenshin's cross-shaped scar was eventually explained. When did you decide to do this?

A: Even before the start of the serialization, I had already decided. Even though the details were not worked out, I had the idea about Kenshin's scar being inflicted by a star-crossed lover.

Q: I understand that you did not initially mean for Tomoe to be an "enemy"...

A: Not in the sense of an active antagonist or rival.

Q: You eventually decided to let Kaoru survive the Jinchuu arc. But if she had died, you would probably have received a greater response from your readers?

A: Definitely. Actually, the readers responded very strongly! Some approved of the story, some did not like it.

Q: At what point did you decide that Kaoru must not die?

A: When inspiration hit... right about the end of the Kyoto arc, I think! At that time, I was still worried about the story. But I thought, if Kaoru died, there was no way you could have a happy ending. Even if we gave Kenshin a way of accepting this outcome, there was still no happy ending to be had. So I decided to let her live. This particular time was a trying period for me. If I had not created the Kyoto arc, perhaps Kaoru would have already been killed. That's why I think, in drawing and writing the Kyoto arc, I first realized what creating a manga for a target audience of young readers is all about. I realized there should be a happy conclusion. Entertainment is, after all, about feeling happy.

Q: Has this been your philosophy all along?

A: No. In fact, I like stories with tragic endings. *laughs* But what I meant was, a happy ending was the "basic" ingredient. Of course, there are other points of view. A tragic story can still be an entertaining and good story. But I wanted to try the "basic" formula... I believed I needed to do it.

Q: I understand it was your own decision to end the serialization of Rurouni Kenshin. At what point in time did you consider this idea?

A: Around early autumn of 1998. I brought up this issue with the editor. My proposal was accepted by the end of that year. So in spring of 1999, the decision has been made to end the serialization.

Q: What were your reasons?

A: There were many reasons. One of them is the fact that what I wanted to draw was no longer, in fact, what I was doing with Rurouni Kenshin. As I have mentioned earlier, I realized I wanted to make Rurouni Kenshin an entertaining, happy story. But the Jinchuu arc was a continuation of the original story. It was stressful for me.

However, I never once thought drawing and writing Rurouni Kenshin wasn't worth the stress.

Q: Other reasons?

A: I'm 29 this year. I feel I should try new challenges, even though I have no immediate plans for my next project. But I don't want Rurouni Kenshin to mark the end of my career.

JUMP continues to attract younger manga artists. I also feel the industry is on the brink of a new era. All this means I should not drag out Rurouni Kenshin. As a manga artist, I want to try something new, create something distinctive and unique... I want to reset the counter! It's time for a fresh start. *laughs*

Q: You've said that Rurouni Kenshin's main theme is about Kenshin's search for redemption. But, the Jinchuu arc not only deals with this, its other theme seems to be the "forging of a new generation"...

A: That's correct! It's about the future.

Q: Do you mean to say, from this perspective, that Yahiko is the main character in the Jinchuu arc?

A: Yes. The story comes full circle, and the focus returns to Yahiko, and we see how he matures. The Jinchuu arc is not typical of manga stories for young boys but Yahiko serves as the identifying character for the readers.

Q: So Kenshin, the real main character, got sidelined! *laughs*

A: Anyway, he no longer looked like a main character! *laughs* Maybe I've given him too much exposure!

But even when the main character languished, it was hard for Yahiko, I felt that myself. I had wanted Kenshin to cope better and quicker... now you know! Never allow your main character to wallow in angst. *laughs*

Q: About the biggest villain in the Jinchuu arc... Enishi...

A: Come to think of it, perhaps Enishi was a failed character. I wanted him to be more angst-ridden, more introspective and less predictable, but I guess I was influenced by Shishio's character... *laughs*

Q: Shishio found his own "escape" in the end, but Enishi was destined for self-destruction?

A: Not really. When they fought their last battle... because Kenshin had already found his answers, he was the one who'd won. It was a battle between the man who knew and the man who didn't.

Q: Are there reasons for the setting of their last battle? On a secret island?

A: Yes. One reason was so they would not be discovered easily. Another reason was because I wanted Kenshin and the rest to have a battle under the hot sun. Kenshin rarely fought in such circumstances! And I'd discovered that most boys' manga feature fights in the sun, so I thought, why not? *laughs*

Q: Did you change your style drawing the Jinchuu arc?

A: My lines had a softer look. Before that, people said my lines were sharp and angular *laughs* so I told myself to draw gentler lines.

Q: Do you mean other people's opinion has changed you?

A: Yes! I am very concerned with the way my characters look, especially proportion. For instance, when Aoshi became cruel, I gave him a physique worth all of 10 heads! Later, I thought that was too much of an exaggeration, so I switched to 8 head lengths. (Webmaster's note: artists determine body proportion by "head length". Average adult male characters are typically drawn with a height of 6-7 head lengths. "Models" have 7-8 head lengths. Old people are 5-6 head lengths and very young children 3-4 head lengths.)

Q: I see. *laughs* My next question is: how did you feel when you eventually finished Rurouni Kenshin?

A: In retrospect? *laughs* I hope to start on a new project using what I have learned. I've analyzed Rurouni Kenshin's strong suits and weak points, and I want to improve the good and minimize the bad in my future work.

Q: What is it about your completed work that you feel you should have given more thought to?

A: The most important element in being an artist is developing your own creative sense and your own unique style. Even though it's fine to be inspired by a particular event or subject in your own life, you need to keep the source of your inspiration from being the focus. You need to create a mature piece of work, something the reader can identify with and feel strongly about.

Q: What about Rurouni Kenshin gives you the greatest sense of satisfaction?

A: That would be the serialization, which took five and a half years, and the opportunity to write and conclude the story the way I wanted. This is not something particularly easy to do with serialization, so I am very happy with the outcome. I don't know if my readers are as satisfied as I am, though!

END
 

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