But where did you get your real start? I imagine it must have been sometime around the publication of your story ‘Kikai’ (‘Machine‘) in 1984.
Kishiro: That’s right, and even thought I turned down offers to become a professional manga artist after I was nominated for the ‘Shounen Sunday’ “Best New Artist” award, I was always experimenting with ways to shape a story and with techniques of expression. In order to practice my art to the fullest, I started making my own doujinshi (self-published manga or fan-comics). And then, in 1988, I had my second debut.
Did it feel different to you, the second time around?
Kishiro: Well, I felt as though I was through agonising over my work. I finally has enough confidence to try for recognition again. I drew a story called ‘Kaiyousei’ and entered it into the Shogakukan contest again.
…Where it received an “honourable mention.” What happened then?
Kishiro: That fall I entered another ‘New Artist’ contest, this time for Kadokawa’s ‘Comic Comp’. There wasn’t much time before the deadline so I hurriedly scribbled a story called ‘Hito’ (‘A Man’) When I was finished I thought proudly to myself, “Now this is my best work!” (laughs) I ended up with another honourable mention.
You must have been very disappointed.
Kishiro: Later I heard that almost all of the judges had rooted for me, but there was one judge who complained that the story was “too didactic.” That’s how it ended up with an honourable mention. It’s still a good story, I think, and it’s received well by anyone I show it to, but then again, at the time I’d thought ‘Kaiyousei’ was a masterpiece, too (laughs).
I’m sure it was a valuable learning experience.
Kishiro: Oh, yes. The best thing to come out of those honourable mentions was that I began working with an editor at Shueisha to improve my only ‘long’ story at the time, ‘Reimeika’. I really sweated over that one, drawing and redrawing pages. It was never published. Near the end of the summer of 1990, I was asked to draw a story for special manga compilation Shueisha planned to publish in the fall. The editors at Shueisha had liked the female cyborg police office in ‘Reimeika’ and so they suggested I use her. Her name was Gally (‘Alita’ in the U.S. version). Of course, the Gally in ‘Reimeika’ was completely different from the Gally in ‘Gunnm’, but that’s how she was born.
How did you develop the story from there?
Kishiro: Usually when I start a story, I tend to work on the plot and theme first – typically, my characters are developed later. This time I was trying to draw something based on one character from a 45-page story. The story itself was pretty run-of-the-mill, actually; in the future, it’s the corporations who see to the arrest and detainment of criminals, etc. Like I said, nothing out of the ordinary.
Kishiro: …And then, around November, I was contacted by the same editor about making ‘Gunnm’ into a serial. At first I couldn’t believe he was serious, but I went ahead and wrote the script for the first instalment anyway. The settings in my short story weren’t enough for a potentially long-running serial so I brainstormed for a while and that’s when I came up with the idea of Zalem (‘Tiphares’ in the U.S. version). I had no idea what kind of future – if any – the story had, so I drew ‘Gunnm’ in such a way that it could be more fully developed later.
How long was it until you saw your story published?
Kishiro: Not much more than a month between finishing the script and seeing it begin as a published serial. I don’t think I realised it was a reality until I saw the actual magazine itself (laughs).
And how long has it been since ‘Gunnm’ started?
Kishiro: It’s been two and a half years.
Tell us more about the world of ‘Gunnm’. How did you come to create this particular story?
Kishiro: I grew up in a place where a forest had been cleared and only a few houses stood. My father was an eccentric who was into dune buggies. He was always digging around at the junkyard looking for parts he could use. He used to take me with him sometimes…I still like spending time at the junkyard. I’m sure most people don’t feel that way, but I was always happy to spend time along there. Sure, I liked being alone anyway, but there was also something comfortable about being alone with the wreckage of things people had abandoned. I guess on the opposite extreme of this feeling is the very real terror I feel when confronted by a brand-new, shiny car. I honestly get the feeling that it’s consciously trying to run me down. Old cars, though…they’re different. I truly believe there’s a kind of nostalgic comfort about being cradled inside the empty shell of an old car.
Let’s talk about the cyborgs.
Kishiro: Ah, yes… the cyborgs (laughs). My relationship with them dates back to the toys of my childhood. I remember this ‘G.I. Joe’-type figure manufactured by Takara. It was called ‘Cyborg One’. It was made of clear plastic; the internal mechanisms were easily visible. And its limbs were removable – you could attach different gears and parts in their place. I loved that toy…it’s too bad it’s been discontinued. That little guy had a profound effect on me. I guess that’s why I feel so strongly that cyborgs should always have detachable limbs.
And that’s why Gally comes from the junkyard.
Kishiro: I think it’s the basis of it, yes. That kind of imagery seems to come to me subconsciously. As for Zalem, I’m not sure what it’s supposed to actually signify. In some ways I’m an anarchist – I hate a managed world. There’s a certain part of me who thinks that the world of ‘Mad Max’ would be a fun place to live (laughs).
I feel as though I’m really coming to understand your manga.
Kishiro: Urbanites of the modern world are a lot like cyborgs, you know. They become immediately incapacitated when you cut off their juice. Isn’t that what being a cyborg is all about…? From an ideological point of view, I’m against the idea of cyborgs. But I guess the world’s come too far for token resistance and half-hearted pleas against technology. In ‘Gunnm’, what I try to do is focus on the benefits of scientific advance, rather than making some sort of political statement.
Where is ‘Gunnm’ headed? What directions will the story take?
Kishiro: If the series isn’t cancelled, I’d like to take my story to Zalem and then do a space story. And even though I don’t have the particulars yet, I’d like to reveal Gally’s origin in the grand finale.
(The interview continues in the next page. You can find the page numbers below the ‘related articles’ section.)