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Naoki Urusawa Talks Pluto, 20th Century Boys & Career at Lucca 2023

Manga creator Naoki Urusawa (Pluto, Monster, 20th Century Boys) discussed his career, adaptations & more at a Lucca 2023 press conference

Article Summary

  • Naoki Urusawa, acclaimed manga creator, discusses his works and inspirations at Lucca 2023.
  • The author shares his views on creating manga and how appreciation for his art has grown over the years.
  • Urusawa reveals his preferences for certain scenes in his work and explains the recurrent "eating" theme.
  • He ends the press conference disclosing his experience with the anime adaptation of "Pluto" now on Netflix.

Naoki Urusawa is one of the greatest creators of manga right now, creating not only Pluto, a darker, more political retelling of a classic Astro Boy story by Osamu Tezuka, but also classic series like Pineapple Army, Happy!, Yawara, Monster, 20th Century Boys, Billy Bat, and the current ongoing Asadora. It made sense that he would be a Guest of Honour at Lucca 23 this year. Alas, this press conference was interpreted into Italian and had to be revised from the English transcript.

Pluto Creator Naoki Urusawa Talks about his career at Lucca 2023
Naoki Urusawa at Lucca 2023, photo credit: Gavin Sheehan

Naoki Urusawa on Beginnings as a Mangaka

The moderator kicked off by asking him what he drew as a child. Urusawa said he drew a comic about a rich kid who decides to go live in the mountains alone but falls into a hole and discovers an ancient civilization on a mission to enslave the people in the world above. He tries to save the world from this underground army. Looking back, he wondered why he chose to tell this story and thought it was influenced by a French movie he watched on TV called Le Trou, directed by Jacques Becker. The other movie was The Wages of Fear, directed by Georges Cluzot, about men going into the jungle. Those two films probably influenced him the most.

Urusawa originally didn't want to become a professional mangaka (comics creator). He thought a mangaka would have to make what the publisher demanded. When being an illustrator became a job, he created his own stories and occasionally showed them to manga editors. The publishing house with whom he collaborated with during the second year of his career asked him, "Why do you make these manga? You know they will never sell." He thought the same; he knew he was drawing manga that wasn't popular, but continued to draw those manga. After 10 years, an editor asked to see his work and brought it to Big Comic. The editors at Big Comic liked his comics. He couldn't believe it. He stood in front of the Big Comic team for a whole hour, listening to their praises. A week later, he received a call from Big Comic asking him to see more. He didn't know what to bring for the meeting the next day, so he put on a record and listened to it in silence for 20 minutes, then he declared to his parents, "I would like to try to become a mangaka." In 40 years, the idea he initially had never changed: making manga that don't sell and aren't popular.

When Dayna Eileen from CG magazine in Canada asked Urusawa about the animated adaptation of Pluto premiering on Netflix, bringing a whole new world of people into manga, he said he had no interest in making people passionate about manga. However, he found the Lucca Comics and Games saloon a very fun and joyful environment. It's a big party. It's a great way to introduce manga to the rest of the world.

Pluto Creator Naoki Urusawa Talks about his career at Lucca 2023
"2oth Century Boys" by Naoki Urusawa: Viz Media

Naoki Urusawa on "20th Century Boys"

Bleeding Cool's own Gavin Sheehan asked him what inspired 20th Century Boys. Urusawa said that when he finished his six-year run on the 23-volume Happy!, he was glad he didn't have to draw a weekly series anymore because those were always demanding. But the moment he relaxed, inspiration struck. He heard a voice that said, "Thanks to them, we could see the dawn of the 21st century." He immediately sketched the drawings and faxed them to the Big Comic editor, who responded immediately with "On the last page of Happy! we immediately put 'the next Urasawa: 20th Century Boys'". That was how it started.

One bizarre question (not asked by Gavin) was what Ursawa thought the international manga boom meant for Japan. Urusawa said he didn't understand how Japanese images are interpreted abroad. Manga existed in completely different genres, and in Japan, the manga boom doesn't really exist as a concept since it was always a big part of life there. How manga is seen in the West is not the same as how it's seen in other countries.

From the moment that the inspirations in his works are so many, from music to cinema, what are the directors that he likes the most, and which ones inspired him the most?

Urusawa said he liked Fargo –  the film and the TV series. Looking at that type of work, he always thought, "I would like to make a manga similar to these works." He was very struck by the message that appears at the beginning of Fargo: "This is a true story." The directors were clearly lying to the audience! This was fantastic! It excited him so much that he, too, would like to start a manga with the phrase: "This is a true story."

Pluto Creator Naoki Urusawa Talks about his career at Lucca 2023
"Monster" by Naoki Urusawa: Viz Media

What Urusawa Likes Most in His Work

Dana, again from CG magazine, mentioned that Monster is many people's first introduction to manga and holds a special place in their hearts. Did any of Ursuawa's work hold a special place in his heart, or did he love it all equally?

Urusawa replied that there were scenes in his work he liked when the characters experience strong emotions and still find time to eat. One thing he always thinks about – it happened with Master Keaton but also with Monster – when he draws, he suddenly stops and asks himself: how many hours has this character not eaten? Even during the dramatic events in Monster, he made sure his characters stopped to eat.

Naoki Urusawa Talks Pluto, 20th Century Boys & Career at Lucca 2023
"Asadora" by Naoki Urusawa: Viz Media

On "Asadora"

Sadly, there was no chance to ask a question about Ususawa's most ambitious and trippy series Billy Bat, but Gavin did manage to ask one about what inspired Asadora, where he has taken a more subtle look at how Godzilla and Kaiju have had an impact on Japanese culture.

Urusawa said he grew up with Kaiju, who are fundamental elements in all his stories. There was a moment when Godzilla became a little bit cuter and more human, but that wasn't the real Godzilla. In the past, twenty typhoons a year hit Japan, and people boarded up their windows at least 20 times a year, and Urusawa thought it wasn't the typhoons but the Kaiju. That became the inspiration for Asadora.

Naoki Urusawa Talks Pluto, 20th Century Boys & Career at Lucca 2023
"Pluto", Netflix

Ending on "Pluto"

Urusawa talked about the Pluto anime series at the end. Pluto was a work that began more than 15 years ago when the producer said, "We absolutely must start a work dedicated to Pluto." So Urusawa and the producer called an artist who had already adapted the 1966 version of the Astro Boy manga story, a name that Urusawa recognised in the credits when he was 8 years old and watched the anime produced by Mamooshi Productions. "My producer always encouraged me," said Ususawa – closing the press conference on a high note.

Pluto is now streaming on Netflix.

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Adi TantimedhAbout Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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