Interviewing Animecon's guest of honor: Yoshihiro Takahashi

Original article in JapanPop 6/2012 by Helena Lipponen

Translation by Sandy on Ginga Board.

Yoshihiro Takahashi is Finland's best known mangaka despite the fact that the Finnish translation of his works only started a few years back.The Anime version is well known, though: Ginga Nagareboshi Gin aka Hopeanuoli is a series that practically every 20-year-old in Finland knows, whether they are into anime or not. The story about Gin's son, Ginga Densetsu Weed, has in turn lured in a whole new generation. Even in Japan Ginga shows no signs of ending: after Weed ended in it's 60th volume, the story continues with his reckless son Orion.

Takahashi himself was not aware of the popularity of his series' in Finland until last year. “I had heard rumors that Ginga was popular in the Nordic countries, but that was about twenty years ago”, Takahashi says. The Nordic, edited version of the anime is something he has not seen, but a similar fate happened to Ginga in Japan, where the 21-episode long series was cut down to about two hours.

"It was really unclear, you couldn't make heads or tails of the plot", Takahashi says, slightly disappointed. In general, the creator of the series' is slightly suspicious of the anime versions. "In both animes the drawings look really different from my own, so they looked a bit strange in the beginning. But a great thing about anime is that it reaches different people and you are out there with other big series' like Naruto."

This is Takahashi's second visit to Finland and he says he's once again surprised about how warmly he was welcomed. It's tough for a mangaka with an on-going series to take trips like this. Takahashi, however, laughs and says that he'll happily make the trip again – if his back can take it.

Finnish Ginga fans are devoted to their cause and the oldest of the fans have been involved for over ten years. However, Takahashi can't point any major differences between Finnish and Japanese fans. Surprisingly, even in Japan Takahashi's works are followed by a large female audience. Even though Ginga Densetsu Weed and Orion are published in the Manga Goraku-magazine (that's directed at male readers), about 80% of the readers are female.

"Female fans seem to like it when the characters die a heroic death, fighting for their cause. Apparently men like this can't be found in Japan", Takahashi explains with a smile.

In the violent world of Ginga lots of characters do meet their death, as war wouldn't seem realistic if everyone survived it. Some deaths have not been pleasant for Takahashi, either. "In the end of Weed I killed one of the main characters and in retrospect it has been bugging me."

However, Weed and Gin are safe as when asked about their possible fates, Takahashi gives a negative answer. The old heroes can live on in peace, it seems. The new lead dog Orion, however, is not so safe. Ginga Densetsu Weed: Orion is a direct sequel to the Weed mangas and the paradise the dogs live in is once again in danger when a volcano erupts and separates packs and families from one another. The main characters Orion and his brothers Sirius and Rigel do their best to re-unite their families and to defend their home against invaders.

"I've been thinking about Orion's fate. He lives a fighter's life like his grandfather Riki and his uncle Yukimura, so he may die during the series", Takahashi ponders. He has not made any final decisions and lets the story flow on on it's own. He hasn't even decided how long the story will be. For example in Gin the story started focusing on dogs and they started talking only after the publisher had suggested it.

The Orion manga offers Finnish fans lots of interesting things, other than with it's Ginga theme. In the 19th volume, a new character named Andy will appear. His name is derived from Antti. "I considered Antti has a dog's name after the publishers from Sangatsu Manga and the Punainen Jättiläinen (Red Giant), Valkama and Grönlund. However, the name is too hard to pronounce in Japan", Takahashi announces. Andy is dedicated to the Finnish fans, as he is originally from Finland. In addition Andy has a family roots in Finland: he is the nephew of the German Shepard John.

"Andy's role will be similar with the one John had," Takahashi reveals. But is John Finnish then? "I haven't really decided on it,” Takahashi chuckles. "Many people here in Finland have been excited about the possibility, but I need to think about it."

Last year, at Tracon, Takahashi mentioned putting in a karelian bearhound into the story. Is Andy the result of this promise? "No, the Karelian Bearhound will be a character of it's own. I could possibly write it into the story next year. Maybe Andy could bring it with him from Finland? Then again, it may be that it may appear in a different story entirely, rather than Orion", Takahashi continues. The Ginga stories are so popular in Japan, that Takahashi works for two different publishers. That brings additional rules into using the characters.

Takahashi reveals other little pieces of information. "The other main characters from Ginga will not have a really big role in Orion. They are so old by already...then again, Akame is a ninja. He might have a few surprises left." Cross's background story may get some more light shed into it as well. "Cross has known Unsai, but she left him after meeting Ben." Unsai is one of the new characters who are there helping Orion in his battles.

Even though Orion is published weekly, Takahashi also has other plans. He has so far published multiple works describing the past of different characters. Along with Riki's childhood he has also made stories for the Kai brothers and Benizakura.

"I would like to draw stories for Ben, Cross and Akame, too", Takahashi says. He doesn't plan on continuing Riki's story despite the interest many fans have shown for it. "It would be centered around the time when Riki has lost his memory, and that wouldn't be very interesting."

Takahashi thinks for a moment and then grins. "How about a story about Akakabuto's childhood? Or would that be too unfair towards the dogs?"

Takahashi regards his own works with humor and knows how to laugh at the mistakes he's made. "The story arc in Weed where the villains are monkeys... for that, I would like to extend an apology to all the fans."

The Ginga mangas have continued exceptionally long in Japan. Over 100 books and additional stories have been published already. Other Ginga merchandise is harder to find. "The Ginga merchandise is expensive in Japan, and I bet it's even more expensive here in Finland," Takahashi adds. "Some Weed figures were made in China, but they were pretty bad." Most of the Weed merchandise has been made due to different events and accomplishments. And, for example fabric book covers about Orion were made and given out as fan presents when the series had reached it's 100th chapter.

"No solid decisions have been made as it's hard to decide what sort of products to make and what the quantities should be," Takahashi's reporter Yuji Saka says. Just making Orion keeps Takahashi very busy so he doesn't have a lot of spare time to focus on merchandise, even though he is involved in planning them. Just deciding on the breeds and appearances of the characters takes a lot of time. The breeds Takahashi chooses are ones that he himself has owned or would like to own. The appearances and colors for the dogs he mostly does based on how he's feeling.

"The most fun characters to draw are GB and Smith." Hardest to draw Takahashi names Gennai and Masamune. "Masamune's drawing style actually changes during the series. For a little while, I drew him differently and didn't notice it until a while later." And while he can name favourites among the characters, it's hard to pick his favourite story.

"I can't really pick a favourite among stories because they – Ginga, Weed and Orion – are essentially parts of the same story. Ginga had more action and Akakabuto was great, so it may be my favourite. On the other hand, Weed and Orion have a wider selection of villains: Hougen, the russian dogs, Sanada..."

Takahashi has spoken about his visit to Finland in Orion's back cover, and in a short story about John that is dedicated to his Finnish fans. This has gained some attention in Japan. "Many people have gotten interested about the story, because it's so popular in Finland", Yuji Saka tells us.

The popularity in Finland is on-going, as the fanbase that has existed for over ten years grows and evolves. For example, Finland's first official anime organization, Hopeanuolifanit ry (The Ginga Fan Society of Finland), was founded not long ago, of which Takahashi is an honorary member. Lots of rumors about Takahashi's other works being translated into Finnish also circle around – and not all will remain rumors, either.