Animecon 2012 Interviews with Yoshihiro Takahashi

This is an archive of interviews with Yoshihiro Takahashi during his visit to Finland in 2012 for Animecon. Originally shared on Ginga Board.

Q&A at Helsinki's Academic Bookstore

July 12, 2012; translation by Kretari

You were in Finland last year, what kind of memories do you have of that visit?
Last year I was surprised that Finns were so quiet and calm.
What were your thoughts when you heard you had a lot of fans in Finland?
I was definitely surprised. Series like Ginga aren't that popular in Japan. The Japanese don't seem to appreciate friendship in a series nowadays. I am glad that Ginga is popular in Finland.
Why is it that the dogs are in the central role in your mangas?
Ever since I started drawing manga I wanted to draw dogs. After GNG I drew a lot of sports manga, like baseball, but the readers wanted more dogs.
You mentioned baseball manga, what else did you draw?
Soccer, karate, fishing and golf mangas.
Currently Weed is being translated into Finnish, what do you think of it?
I was able to plan and draw Weed like I wanted. There are 60 volumes of Weed and currently 18 volumes of Orion, so you have a lot to buy.
What is the theme in Weed?
The name "Weed" comes from the English word "weed"; even though it gets stomped it will always get up. The theme in Weed is perseverance.
Do you have dogs yourself at the moment?
Yes, I have. A black Labrador Retriever called Liz.
Would you like to say a couple of words of Orion?
The main character, Orion, resembles more Weed's grandfather Riki than Weed himself. Orion has two brothers and a sister.
Is coming up with ideas difficult?
Yes. Coming up with ideas for characters and story is harder than drawing them. Usually the story goes as planned, but there are occasions when the story gets sort of out of hands.
I am grateful for Finnish readers.

Fan Meeting at Helsinki's Academic Bookstore

July 12, 2012; translation by Kretari

Takahashi: Thank you for coming here in the midst of your vacations. There are 60 volumes of Weed, and Orion is still an ongoing series with 18 volumes released. Ginga's popularity in Finland surprised the Japanese publishers.

Each of us were given the chance to ask a question from Takahashi.

What did you think of the gifts you were given last year?
There were a lot of pictures, they are all in my archives, and I have the clock on my wall. Kiitos. (Finnish for "Thank You")
What were your thoughts on the Weed anime?
I liked the beginning and the ending. The drawing was at times very rough, though.
Would it be possible to get some merchandise of Orion to Finland?
The plushies were my personal favorite, but there were problems with the production.
What do you think of Finland's Ginga fangroup?
That didn't take long. Last year the first official Japanese fangroups were formed.
Would you like the honour of accepting the first Guest of Honor membership?
Yes, I would.
What was the name of your soccer manga?
There were actually two soccer mangas; Goal and J. League no Kaze.
What were your thoughts when you heard for the first time that almost every Finnish kid had watched Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin?
I was deeply surprised. When the Nordic countries were discussed I thought of Sweden. I was corrected later, and I was surprised. Someone compared Ginga's popularity with Disney's, but I thought it had to be a lie. I didn't think Ginga would sell as well as Dragon Ball. Speaking of it, the creator of Dragon Ball, Akira Toriyama was reviewing my works.
Are you only visiting Finland or are you on a tour?
I am only going to visit Finland since I have received invitations from here. But there was an American* at last year's fanmeeting, so I think there are fans outside of Finland as well.
Will the Weed anime be made any further, and will there be an anime of Orion?
It is possible. We haven't decided anything, but there have been some discussions around it.
Last year you promised to create a Karelian Bearhound character in Orion, is Andy this promised dog?
No, he is not.
Why are so many female dogs white?
It is not something I've done on purpose. Maybe the females' calm nature had some sort of effect.
During the planning, when do you decide the main character's characteristic?
Usually when I look up a breed for a character, the breed's qualities and nature are decided there and then.
Which one of Gin's siblings is the father of Yuki?
I don't remember that much of them.
Is Joe alive?
No, he died saving Orion. He resembled Weed a bit too much. Also his death was to give Orion motivation to the story. It would have been pretty weird if he still was alive.

At the end of the interview we were given one badge we could decide. The badges were made after the 2011 Sendai earthquake. After everyone had taken a badge, we went outside and Yuji Saka, Takahashi's publisher, took group pictures with Takahashi using our cameras.

*This American was Ginga Board's retired administrator, Flann!

Q&A at Animecon

July 14, 2012; translation by Kretari

Takahashi: Päivää (Finnish for "Good Day"). I was in Finland last year, and I am grateful to be here again. If it weren't for all of you fans, I wouldn't be here today, so thank you very much. Kiitos. (Finnish for "Thank You")

You were at last year's Tracon as well. What brought you back so quickly?
Finland is my second home country.
There are a lot of dog breeds in your series. How much do you study their backgrounds?
I look them up on book on dog breeds. There is a lot of information in the books considering the breed's nature and attribute. Depending on what the book says of different breeds, the bad guys are determined by the book's information. Sure, it is a bit unfair; there are small and cute dogs which are fierce by nature.
What is your favorite dog breed?
My favorite dog breed outside the manga are different Shepherds. But their faces are hard to draw.
What are you drawn into when it comes to human's and dog's relationship?
Dog is the only animal that can be referred to man's best friend. I draw mostly Weed and Orion, but there are also stories that describe human's and dog's relationship and life, for example Sh┼Źnen to Inu.
In the Weed manga, humans turn against dogs in the beginning of the story, and therefore are thought as enemies. Where did the idea come from?
There is a problem in Japan when hunters' dogs don't return to their masters. The humans leave their dogs to the wilderness, and they in turn become wild, and may attack humans. There are some groups that capture these kinds of dogs.
What kind of research have you done about bearhounds' techniques?
Actually, I have never seen bearhounds in action. Dogs can't really attack a bear head on, instead they can slow the bear down. If the dog would attack a bear, it would get killed.
There are dogs with the same names in your mangas; in Shiroi Senshi Yamato there are Musashi and London, and there is a wolf in Fang called Hakuro. Is this a coincidence or are they related?
No, there is no specific meaning with the same names. They just are the way they are.
Where do you get ideas for the characters' names?
When the Russian dogs came to the series I did some research on Russian names, and picked up some. For most of the time I decide the names by how they sound. There are dogs that have the names of my friends.
People have watched the Ginga anime twenty years ago, what are your thoughts about it?
think it's great. I wasn't impressed when the anime was made since I wasn't there drawing them. But because the anime was made in the first place I am here today.
The Finnish interviewer asked everyone who had watched the Ginga anime as a kid to raise their hands. Takahashi thanked them in Finnish, "Kiitos".
How did the series end up becoming an anime? How were you approached?
Actually, they didn't ask me a thing. Instead the publisher decided that Ginga should become an anime. Back then, when a manga had become quite popular, it would become an anime.
Was it the same way with the Weed anime?
Well, they approached from the publisher's side. Back then the publisher had a lot of Ginga fans.
What were your thoughts of the voice actors?
I was actually choosing the voice actors as well. I was brought samples for various characters. I think it was a girl on the 9th grade who was given the role of Weed.
Were you watching the anime's progression?
Not really.
When the GNG and GDW became an anime, did the manga gain more readers?
Not really. Some series gain a lot of readers when the series becomes an anime, but that was not the case with my series.
Where did the idea for different clans, such as the three Kai-brothers, fighting dogs, Igas and Kogas come from?
I actually don't look at the characters as dogs. I see the characters as humans. It could be in my nature, but if you look at the characters as dogs, the story doesn't seem to go on.
Are there stories in your series that are based on a real life event?
In Weed there are characters who are a part of a motorcycle gang, in a way. There are also parents who abuse their children. When I draw these characters I think of these people.
What about humans? Are there any real life related stories with them?
Actually Gohei Takeda is based on an acquaintance.
Who is your favorite human character?
My favorite human character is Daisuke's girlfriend. Hmmm, I haven't seen her for a while in the series, I wonder what happened to her.
How much did the publisher affect in the wolf saga?
After Akakabuto's defeat I was exhausted. I was told to keep on drawing, and I didn't have a clue what to do, and someone suggested wolves. Actually, after Akakabuto was defeated the publisher suggested a new enemy; Aokabuto. I told them that I wouldn't draw it.
Why did the wolves drop out of the story?
I think the wolves should had never appeared in the series. I did not like them, and the arc wasn't as popular as the Akakabuto arc.
Is there a specific scene in GNG that was memorable?
Benizakura's and Kurojaki's death scenes were something I do remember. Particularly scenes where a character dies for their mission or for a greater reason are something I remember.
Do you have a favorite bear in the series?
Akakabuto. He's nearly unbeatable, and he's something like Godzilla. If he fought against Godzilla I doubt he would lose.
Do you ponder about Gin's siblings?
Not really. A lot of people ask me that question, but I haven't really thought about them. If you have suggestions, I would like to hear them.
Where did the idea of Gin's son as the next main character come from?
There had been a 15 year old break between GNG and GDW, so I thought that Gin could use some rest. Even though there's no mention of the break in the manga, I thought that 15 years is a long time, and that Gin would be a bit too old for an action series.
I think it's better for the series to start with a child, so that the story would show how he grows up.
How did you decide the characters of which you would tell more in the sequel?
Mostly from how I felt at the moment; Smith, who had been a strong fighter in GNG had become famous, and had built up courage and confidence between the two series.
Where did you get the idea of the ape arc?
The truth is, if there is no proper enemy, the story won't progress. While I was drawing, they just appeared the way they did, sorry. Actually, the arc wasn't about the apes, but instead Weed's brother, Yukimura.
Where did the idea of Weed's nature come from?
If all the characters are like the other, the story becomes a mess. There are usually several types of characters in the story; the one who becomes angry very easily, the crybaby and the one with a strong sense of justice.
What is it like to draw cowardly characters, like GB?
They are actually very important characters. Since there are a lot of strong characters, there has to be cowardly characters as well so that the strong characters could stand out of the lot.
Will there be a "main villain" in GDW:O, like Akakabuto in GNG or Hougen in GDW?
Yes, a ninja-dog character stronger than Hougen has appeared in GDW:O. He has the name of a famous samurai.
Who is your favorite main character; Gin, Weed or Orion?
I can't decide. They're all precious to me, but out of the three Orion is the most hardest to draw; he's a boisterous character. Since I'm gentle by nature it's hard drawing such a rascal character.
If you met Gin, Weed and Orion in real life, what would you say to them?
That's a tough question; I don't know if I should say "Well done" or "Good boy" or "Thank you", but they're as precious as all of you here.
Do you know how long the Orion manga will become?
I will probably draw until the day I die. I hope it is not anytime soon, but for as long as I can draw, I will. As a matter of fact, two of my mangaka friends have died recently, and that's how a manga ends. Next year I will be 60 years old.
Would you tell about your ordinary day of work?
I wake up at nine and I drink coffee in the morning. By twelve I start to draw in the upstairs office. I eat a couple of times a day, and at the end of the day (usually around 10PM, sometimes later) I take a shower and go to sleep.
How much time do you have for story planning before actually drawing it?
Not too much. Currently there are ideas for the story spinning around in my head.
What kinds of things do your assistants draw?
They draw mostly backgrounds; mountains, rivers, forests and sometimes snowstorms. I draw almost everything else myself. Sometimes they draw minor characters in a scene with a lot of characters.
What are the differences when you draw another's story and your own?
It is really easy to draw your own stories; it is completely up to oneself to decide what to put in the story and how to draw the scenes. While drawing for others it is very precise.
How would you like to keep on working as a mangaka?
I think my hand will get tired in the near future, but I want to draw for all of you.

Questions from the audience:

Where did the idea of hybrid bears in GDW come from? And what was the idea behind the Battouga?
The Battouga came from the editor. The bears are so big and strong, and we wondered how they could be defeated.
As for the hybrids, it was also the editor's idea to bring back the bears, but I refused to draw Aokabuto.
What was the idea behind Akakabuto's growth to a giant?
Actually I had seen Jaws and I thought "That shark is enormous. Why couldn't a bear grow so gigantic?"
The Finnish interviewer then asked if there would be a shark in GDW:O. Takahashi replied "Most definitely not."
Out of the three Kai brothers, why it had to be Akatora who died in the fight against Akakabuto?
He was the most uncharacteristic of the three, (Chutora missing an ear and Kurotora an eye) and I thought he would be a character who would have a cool death.
Do you think you had or will improve your drawing technique?
Surely there has been improvement in my 40 years of drawing. I think I will improve over the years. Sometimes in Japan, once you have drawn a series to the end, the mangaka teaches their assistants to draw like they had drawn.
Has there been any event in your series that you regret?
Yes, there has. The ape arc was one, for example. If the story had been all about the apes the story wouldn't have made any sense. That's why I put Yukimura in there to switch the focus of that arc.
Where did the idea for the character Tenka, who killed a seagull by simply looking at it, come from?
First of all, why do you all know these kinds of things? I wanted to show what kind of a character Tenka was. He killing the seagull by looking at it was simply a special effect, completely irrelevant to the character.
Do you have dogs of your own?
I have a black Labrador Retriever.
Have you ever owned a dog called Gin? The English Weed volumes implied that you have had one.
No, I have not. That was a lie, but I have had a dog called Riki.
How come the Siberian Huskies are mischievous villain-like?
I actually have a friend who owns a couple of Huskies who are completely out of control. Huskies are big and strong dogs, and a short evening walk is not enough for them, and that's why they learn bad habits. But they won't bite humans or do things like that. And since they are pretty cool-looking dogs they become sort of mini-villains.
Have you ever seen the Finnish dub of GNG? And what is your opinion of it?
Yes, I have seen it. The editing was all wrong; Toei had cut the story wrong, and it didn't make any sense. I personally think it's not good.
... You all have probably seen it, sorry.
GNG manga has also been translated into Korean and Chinese. What kind of reception did GNG get in these countries?
Actually Weed has also been released in Korea, and the reception there was fairly good. However, in China Ginga is a perfect pirate product.
How come there are a lot of dog main characters and not human main characters in your series?
Dogs are easier to draw than humans. And I think I am better at drawing dogs than humans.
How did Gohei Takeda become an iron grandpa?
I would like to know as well. I think he has been like that since his birth.
To put it in another words, as bearhound's blood runs in Gin's veins, bearhunter's blood runs in his veins?
Exactly.
What do you think of the Gin! The Musical?
Actually there has been a Ginga musical in Japan which I saw about ten years ago. The musical I saw last year here in Finland was better; the Japanese one didn't have the same zeal as the Finnish one.
How long do you practice the characters' postures before drawing them?
As a matter of fact not too much.
In Ginga, the Kai-dogs are often fierce dogs. Do you have personal experiences with the breed?
The Kai breed is used to hunt boars, and their nature is fierce. If you fail training them, they will become impossible to handle. I don't have experiences with the breed.
Akatora died in GNG, Kurotora is still alive, but what happened to Chutora?
... I wonder what happened to him. Chutora... Chutora... I will find out later.
Where did the idea of Kogas' weapons come from?
The idea came from my dog; he carried a large stick in his mouth, and ran around the house with it. (Takahashi didn't mention which of his dogs did this, but since GNG was released in the 1980's, I presume his dog back then was a male.)
Will there be an anime of GDW:O?
Don't ask me, the publisher takes care of these kinds of things.
Will there be a series of ninja dogs?
The main villain of GDW:O is a ninja dog.
Where does Weed's name come from?
Weed comes from the English word "weed"; no matter how many times you burn and cut it, it will always come back.
How much are the fans in contact with you? How much mail do you receive from the fans?
Mostly I receive fan letters. There are some fan clubs in Japan where I attend to give autographs once a year.
Who do you look up to?
My mentor, Motomiya Hiroshi.
Will there be some sort of drama and romance in your mangas?
Well, there is always Daisuke's girlfriends, though I am not good at drawing women.
Is there a curse in Gin's family? Shiro died when Riki was just young, and Riki didn't see Gin's birth nor did Gin see Weed's birth.
I wouldn't say there's a curse, I think of it as destiny instead.
What would you say if GNG would become a movie?
If it uses CGI technique I would approve of it.
Did Sakura die due to a specific illness?
No, but undernourishment, caused by breastfeeding her children.
There has been a couple of different opinions of Hyena's character, what do you really think of him?
I didn't like the original character, but when he switched sides I took a liking of him.
Did you like Gaia?
Not so much, I didn't like the arc at all. He was an emperor, and that's why I drew him so strong.

Thank you very much. The fact you're all here and read my manga so enthusiastically gives me strength to keep on working. Thank you.

Lecture on Takahashi's New and Lesser-Known Works

July 15, 2012; translation by Kretari

Takahashi: Huomenta. (Finnish for "Good Morning")

Out of all your short stories, what is your favorite?
Shion no Kaze.
Could you tell about it?
The story tells about dog who has been abandoned by humans. The story starts with the owners.
There are two boys in the story who live with their father. Their mother is in a hospital. The boys meet a dog called Shion. The younger brother becomes attached to Shion, and later in the story Shion defeats the boy's bullies. Some time later Shion beats up a larger dog, and the younger brother decides to stand up to himself, and manages to fight back when his bullies come.
The boys' mother dies, and at the same time Shion doesn't come down from the mountain he usually comes from. The boys go investigate, and they find Shion fending off ravens. It turns out Shion was defending his mother, but when the ravens have been scattered, the boys find out that Shion's mother is dead.
The story's themes are love and courage.
What about a story included in Shin Gaiden, Lonely Ron?
Ron is a big but fearful and kind dog. During a typhoon he manages to escape, and starts his own journey. During his travels he finds a shed, and inside he discovers a Kai-dog. Ron immediatly apologizes; "Oh dear! I'm Sorry! I'll take my leave now!" but the Kai says that he doesn't have to leave.
Even though the story is about the dogs, the characters could be seen as humans as well.
Would you tell us about the Shin Gaiden story of the three Kai brothers?
As small cubs they were thrown into a river in a box. They get carried over far away, and end up in a mountain. The brothers are afraid to leave the box, and fist they are attacked by a snake, and then by a marten. Ben comes to their rescue, and takes care of the three brothers. Some time later when Ben visits the three, he finds the brothers doing fine by themselves.
By overcoming difficult situations they became stronger and stronger.
Will there be a Shin Gaiden story of Riki's training?
Ginga Densetsu Riki has already been released, and that's all of him. It wouldn't make sense to continue Riki's story since he died in the fight against Akakabuto.
Would you tell us about Orion's plot?
The story begins from Ou. There's no villains, and peace has fallen to the paradise. However, the sky is ominous and days later there's a massive earthquake and Ou's volcanos erupt. The Ou army is separated and the paradise was lost. Joe manages to save Orion.
Shortly after the catastrophe an enemy group desides to use the opportunity and take over Ou. Date Masamune is a ninja dog and he controls the Kurohabaki army which he brings to Ou in hopes to conquer the lands.
Date Masamune was from the Sengoku era, a famous northern warlord. Since the real human had only one eye the dog shares this trait.
Currently the Ou army is still seperated, and the number of enemy grows stronger. I'm currently at a point where I can decide the next move for some time. I hope you'll be waiting the story's progress eagerly.
Who are the good and the bad guys in Orion?
Naturally Orion and his siblings are the good guys. It is harder to define the bad guys; there are several sorts of characters on the opposing side. For example, there are good characters on the bad side, but all they can do is follow their leader's orders. Then there are characters who don't want to be on either side, and kind of follow their own side.
Why is Orion more full-hearty than either Weed or Gin?
Orion is more like Riki. There has been good main characters until now, I think Gin and Weed were a bit too kind. Orion, on the other hand, doesn't really think what he says. I wanted to create a different kind of main character.
Sirius, Orion's big brother, is more like Weed; while Orion was willing to beat up Kamakiri's kids; Akakamakiri, Kurokamakiri and Kamajiro, Sirius stood up to them even though they were bad guys. For Orion the three brothers are enemies, but still Sirius saved them.
Where did Andy's name originate from?
Well actually, I wanted to bring John back by some mean. He has family members in Finland. When Andy appears in the story, he is like a young John. And about his name.. While I was visiting Finland last year, I was introduced to Antti Valkama, and back home I thought "Well, that's an awesome name for a character!", so I named Andy after him.
Even though Andy is the same age as Orion, he is exactly like John.
Would you tell about the newest Ginga Shin Gaiden story?
I want to bring out minor characters' stories in the Shin Gaidens. There are a couple of Shin Gaidens; one of Benizakura and of the three Kai dogs. The third and newest Gaiden is called "Karadaki no Tomon".
The main character, Tomon, was in the fight against Akakabuto with a friend of his who died on the battlefield while Tomon survived. His friend asked Tomon to take care of his cubs in his stead, and he returned to his village he was originally from before being called to the Ou army. The story is about Tomon getting along with the children, and him making sure no one attacks them.
'Karadaki' means dried waterfall; when Tomon leaves for the fight against Akakabuto, his waterfall dries up and when he returns his waterfall doesn't fall anymore. Only after one of his friend's kids become the leader of the village does his waterfall begin falling again.
One of Tomon's friend's kid sees Tomon as his enemy, stating that Tomon was hiding when his father was killed. The son is mischievous, and humans shoot dogs because of this son. Tomon stands up to this son despite his actions, and thanks to this he becomes a hero.
If you have the chance to read the story, please do. It is a powerful, yet interesting story.
Kiitos. (Finnish for "Thank You")

Interview at Helsinki's Suomalainen Kirjakauppa

July 17, 2012; translation by Kretari

Takahashi: Päivää (Finnish for "Good Day")

You were in Finland last year as well, what kind of memories do you have of that visit?
It was a pleasure to see how many had come to listen, and thank you again for coming.
What was this year's visit like compared to last year's? Was it somehow different?
This time I got to see the Gin! The Musical. I think it had become even more amazing. During fanmeetings there were tough situations when fans asked some questions regarding parts of the story I didn't quite remember. The readers remembered them very well.
Weed manga is being translated into Finnish, how would you describe the story?
I've done the story using same kinds of methods I used with GNG, stressing things like courage and friendship in the story. I am happy that these values are well recieved by Finnish readers.
The characters are dogs, but you can see them as humans.
What is the reason that you use dogs as main characters instead of humans?
I drew a lot of stories after GNG with humans as main characters. I recieved a lot of mail from the readers, asking why I wasn't drawing animal mangas.
GNG came to an end in Japan 25 years ago, but as I drew other stories I didn't get the same feeling I had when I drew Ginga.
What are GDW's themes?
Courage, love and friendship. Also the differences of good and bad.
What kind of other stories have you drawn?
Before Ginga I drew about soccer, fishing and all kinds of adventure mangas which all featured humans. They didn't sell as well as Ginga. After Ginga I drew sports mangas; boxing, karate and golf mangas. The readers' comments were not about the ongoing series, but they asked why I wasn't drawing about animals.
What kind of manga are you drawing currently?
Weed's son, Orion, is the main character. There are 60 volumes of GDW, and currently 18 volumes of GDW:O.
How does Orion differ from Weed?
Orion resembles more Riki than Weed in both nature and looks.
Do you have an own dog?
Yes, a black Labrador Retriever called Liz. We had her mother, but she died three years ago. When we took Liz's mother to the vet where she passed away, Liz had waited in the lobby for a long time for her mother to come back, it was truly sad.
We've had one Akita dog in our family. As a matter of fact, there's sad story related to this dog; when I had left to study and came back after a couple of yers the dog had completely forgotten me. As kids we spent a lot of time together, and it was sad seeing the dog in that state.