Animerica Archives: Interview with Yukito Kishiro | The Beginnings of Alita’s Mangaka (and His Hollywood Dream)

alita 2018.jpg

How directly were you involved in the production of the animated ‘Gunnm’?

Kishiro: I met with the animation staff right at the very beginning and talked with them about how I’d like to see the story done. Later, at the stage where plot and script decisions were made, I gave them my feedback. When the storyboarding and direction was done, I met with the staff again and talked over a few ideas with them.

How do you rate the finished animation?

Kishiro: Well, back during the storyboards I’d say things like “This part is bad” and “Fix this,” but it never did get changed (laughs). Later, after I’d given up all hope, I saw the finished video and thought to myself, “Whoa, it’s moving!” and “Whoa, it’s in colour!” (laughs). And then I thought they did a pretty good job.

But it took you a while to arrive at the conclusion.

Kishiro: I think part of the problem is that pacing for manga and animation is so different. I just couldn’t see how the storyboarding for the anime should work. I had to keep reminding myself that these were professionals working on my story and that I’d have to convince myself that they knew what they were doing.

Do you feel it was made well?

Kishiro: I could go off the deep end on lots of little details, but yes, I think they did a good job (laughs). You can never be satisfied with everything, not unless you’re willing to do the whole thing yourself. I did have quite a few of my own ideas…’so-and-so’s voice wasn’t like that’, that sort thing. You know what I mean (laughs).

True. For complete satisfaction, an artist has no choice but to draw and produce everything personally. Let’s say you’ve got the opportunity – and the actual time – to do it yourself. Would you…?

Kishiro: I would like to. My ultimate childhood dream is a make a live-action movie. Sometimes I think I’m only drawing manga because I can’t be making films. In junior high I really wanted an 8mm camera. There was no way for me to scrape up the $3,000 or so it would have cost back then, though (laughs).

Battle Angel Alita OVA - 01

What about if someone else wanted to do ‘Gunnm’? If Hollywood called and said they wanted to make a ‘Gunnm/Battle Angel Alita’ movie, would you give them the go-ahead?

Kishiro: Of course I would (laughs). It’s my childhood dream, after all. I’d love to see the whole spectacle of Motorball brought to life. I’d love to see those special effects. For the sake of a live-action film the overall plot could be set aside; the main character wouldn’t have to necessarily be Gally. It would be okay with me to make something a little different than the manga version. I think it might be difficult to make the original ‘Gunnm’ the way I envision it in live-action. There are several parts to the story, but I think the Motorball segment by itself could make a great movie.

Okay, let’s say the ‘Battle Angel Alita’ movie is being made in the U.S. Who would direct?

Kishiro: Paul Verhoven of ‘Robocop’ fame, maybe. Some might say his style is over the top, but I prefer to think of it as ‘super realism’ (laughs). If only for the visuals, ‘Highlander’s Russell Mulchay might be good.

I see you’re acquainted with American cinema. What about American comics?

Kishiro: In a small way I’m influenced by them. I was particularly impressed by Frank Miller’s ‘Batman’ – now that made an impression. That close-up on the Joker’s face, with that insane laugh and all those teeth showing…I guess I’m influenced not by the big picture but by the little details – how an eye or a wrinkle might be drawn, for example.

What’s your feeling on your comics being read overseas? ‘Gunnm’ is very popular in the U.S., in Italy, even in Spain.

Kishiro: Up until ‘Gunnm’, all my works had been hard-boiled; rather than showing what the characters were thinking, I’d just dryly imply it from the action and dialogue. It’s possible that the style of ‘Gunnm’ is more like shoujo manga than I’d like to admit (laughs).

Now that ‘Gunnm’ is such a success, do you feel as though you’ve finally ‘made it’…?

Kishiro: Well, my father never was a big believer in manga. He never seemed to think I could go pro. He’d say, “If you’re going to draw manga, draw something they’ll like all over the world” (laughs). Sure, nowadays manga and anime are getting international recognition, but in the past it was nothing more than a subculture unique to Japan. It was though enough just trying to make it in there! Now that ‘Gunnm’s been translated for foreign editions, I’m not exactly sure how I feel. It is my first serial, after all. In many ways it’s still and immature work that I’m making it up as I go along. If I had my way, I might have waited until my skill was a bit more polished, and I’ve earned the reputation of someone like Frank Miller. That way, people would come to me from overseas with the attitude “Let’s go see that great manga artist Yukito Kishiro!” (laughs)

Finally, do you have a word for your American fans?

Kishiro: I’ve often wondered what my overseas readers thought of ‘Gunnm’. I’m not all that confident in my communication skills; ever since I was little, I’ve fretted over whether people were understanding what I was saying or writing. I was a shy child, you know. People are always complimenting me on my penmanship…I think it must be a symptom of me being high-strung (laughs). I’d like to talk with my fans about how well I’ve communicated with them, if I ever get the chance to go overseas and visit.

Left to Right: James Cameron, Jennifer Connelly, Keean Johnson, Jon Landau, Yukito Kishiro, Rosa Salazar, Robert Rodriguez and Christoph Waltz


As it turns out of course, ‘Gunnm’ was never cancelled. In fact, it only recently ended its run in publisher Shueisha’s manga mag ‘Business Jump’. In its U.S. and other ‘foreign language’ editions, the story lives on, although at least in the case of its English publication, the dramatic end – the ‘grand finale’ Kishiro mentions – is definitely in sight.

Ends can also mean new beginnings, and ‘Gunnm’ follow-up ‘Gunnm Gaiden’ (literally ‘Gunnm Side-Story‘) has begun appearing in ‘Young Jump’ spin-off manga mag ‘Ultra Jump’, where it replaced the previously published ‘Gunnm’ sorta-sequel ‘Haisha’ (literally ‘Ashen One‘). Giving readers an extended, Gally-less look at the world of Motorball as portrayed in ‘Gunnm’, ‘Haisha’ is nevertheless drawn in a completely different, even Miller-esque art style. ‘Haisha’ has only just concluded serialisation.

The currently running ‘Gunnm Gaiden’, on the other hand, does feature Gally, although not in the guise you might expect. Because it jumps around so much in the established ‘Gunnm’ universe (some stories take place right after Doc Ido leaves Zalem; others chronicle Gally’s adventures during her ten-year span as a ‘Tuned’ agent, adventures not covered in the original series itself), time is measured one of two ways: BK or AK, as in ‘Before Koyomi’ or ‘After Koyomi’. As readers will no doubt remember, Koyomi as the baby Gally/Alita saved in the first part of the story, who later returns as a teenager. In one story, Doc Ido even has a little black cat named Gally…

As of writing, neither ‘Gunnm Gaiden’ nor ‘Haisha’ has been licensed for U.S. publication. However, given the tremendous popularity established for its first work as a true manga professional in its diverse foreign editions, the possibility of foreign-language editions of one or possibly both sequels seems inevitable. Also in the ‘not yet but probably’ category is the long-rumoured sequel to the animated ‘Gunnm/Battle Angel’, which many fans are hoping will focus on Gally’s Motorball days.

Just like the scrapyard denizens of his stories, and junkyard days of his own youth, Kishiro has a reputation among his Japanese editors for being something of a packrat. It’s never enough for him to jot down just a few notes of info; for even the most minor of gadgets or characters. It’s said that he’s got to have stacks of precisely detailed technical info and backstory. If only one could simply organise and collate these notes of his, editors say, just think of the new stories that could be published. If you consider that both ‘Haisha’ and ‘Gunnm Gaiden’ grew out of the detritus of Kishiro’s studio, the saying “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” takes on added significance.


Some Finishing Notes from ‘the editor’

It is admittedly quite wild, to read conversations more than two decades old, from a humble ‘unknown’ artist with decidedly grand dreams of seeing his stories on the big Hollywood stage, just months after that very dream materialised in the form of a blockbuster action-adventure film with special effects and action sequences he must’ve never dared dream of seeing back in 1993.

As this blog transitions further still into being a resource for behind the scenes conversations, artist interviews and academic-focused articles, I believe that among the stacks of old magazines that I recently acquired at a used sale, sits more illuminating conversations such as this, which I will be more than happy to share with my readers, alongside my continued quest to publish interview translations of more recent subjects.

My usual channels are open, for readers who want to see more long-form interviews like this with artists they respect.

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