Michael Moccio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor-in-Chief
Official Description: The creator of the global phenomenon known as Naruto makes his first appearance outside Japan! The legendary Kishimoto Sensei will discuss his career and creative process and answer questions about his work. Attendees will also have a chance to win some very special prizes. This Panel of a lifetime is brought to you in partnership with the Japan Foundation.
The President and CEO of VIZ Media Ken Sasaki came out onto the stage at New York Comic Con to chorale the fans. At least 220,000,000 copies of the manga have been sold in the United States alone, staggering the crowd. It’s clear throughout the room how popular this series is to so many people. There’s a diverse group in the packed mainstage with people still filing in. Kishimoto hasn’t even gotten in the room yet and people are already going crazy. After the rousing introduction, Sasaki left the stage to make way for Kishimoto.
VIZ Media also has a special, unique cover for the last volume of manga available at the VIZ Media booth.
The fans are showing nothing but love to Masashi Kishimoto as he enters the room. With a bow, he sits down and his impact on the world of graphic storytelling has become clear for anyone who doesn’t necessarily understand how popular this series is.
“Actually, you know, I never imagined. I imagined it might get canned after the tenth week,” Kishimoto admitted when asked if he could believe it’s over. “That’s a regular occurrence at Jump. If there’s not a good fanbase after episode ten, then you’re done!”
On whether or not the editorial staff wanted him to continue, Kishimoto said, “I would be lying if there wasn’t some pressure. I had a pretty clear vision of how I wanted the story to close and I put my foot down.”
“I would say life got a little bit easier after I finished drawing the series,” Kishimoto said. “As I was drawing the last chapter, I was told I’d be working on the screenplay for Boruto. It’s the first time I was able to work on a screenplay by myself, but I had just finished. It’s only been recently I’ve been able to relax and spend more time with my children. It was only after I finished the screenplay and the production started that I was able to take a break.” He wasn’t even able to take a honeymoon with his wife because of how busy he was with the series!
The moderator turned to how in every Shonen pieces, all protagonists have a rival. The moderator likened Eiichiro Oda, creator of One Piece, as Kishimoto’s rival and asked how he took the ending of Naruto. “Yes indeed, I would say my rival is Eiichiro Oda. Honestly, it’s interesting that I was saying that on my own in the beginning,” Kishimoto said. “On the back of Volume 72, Oda-sensei acknowledged he considered me a rival as well and that felt so gratifying. The two series ran concurrently and we would see each other occasionally and wonder how long our mangas would go. Over course, One Piece kept going and going. It gave him the awareness that maybe One Piece needed to end and gave him awareness of an ending.”
Of course, popularity doesn’t happen overnight. Naruto took the world by storm and Kishimoto “just found out” that it was a bestselling book and not just a comic or manga. “I’m really happy, but I’m still having trouble processing it.”
And with its popularity, it obviously affected its fan base strongly. “I guess I might have started realizing it when my first editor came by and gave me a bundle of letters every time he saw me. There were letters I couldn’t read! I’m Japanese and I only speak Japanese and that was when I realized there were fans who didn’t live in Japan. More recently, with the iPad, I’ve been able to see images and watch videos of cosplayers from around the world. That made me realize how much passion my fans have expressed with my work. One time, I was trying to make heads and tails of all the foreign fan letters, but I wanted to think they were all positive. Seeing all the cosplayers made me realize how much of an impact the work had on a global level. And that’s something that’s come to me as I look on at all of you,” he said, referring to the amount of cosplayers in the room at the moment.
“Not at all,” Kishimoto said about designing characters in Naruto with cosplayers in mind. He asked the crowd if anyone’s foreheads were chafing with the headbands, leading to laughter in the room.
Mentioning Akira and Dragon Ball, the moderator asked Kishimoto what manga he really enjoyed. “I have to say that I’ve enjoyed and been influenced by Phoenix, Slam Dunk, and there are so many, but one more I’d mention is Monster and The 20th Century Boys.”
Just like the American comic book industry, there’s a wide audience for manga. Ultimately, Naruto became a success with the Jump audience and Kishimoto said, after being asked if it was important to him to reach that audience, “I have to say, no matter what projects or stories I came up in the end, my dream was always to be a part of and succeed in Shonen Jump. When I grew up, I read Shonen Jump during its golden age, reading series like Dragon Ball. I read these in real time, week by week, and that’s why it’s always been a goal I wanted to achieve.”
That age Kishimoto described is often considered the Golden Age. When asked if he would consider now to be another Golden Age, Kishimoto responded, “It rings very happily within me. I’m kind of embarrassed because I’d be ashamed to say this in front of my mentors—the people I consider the gods who came before me—but maybe it’d be great to call that the Golden Age here for Jump!”
Kishimoto then revealed that he would be drawing for the audience.
The questions then turned to Kishimoto’s editor and the new technologies shown in Boruto, if the peace time was what facilitated those advances in technology. “Yes, indeed,” he said with a chuckle. He came in towards the end of the series as the editor. On the subject of feeling daunted by the task of editing such an established series like Naruto, he said, “We have a list on who edits what. When I saw my name next to Naruto, I thought it was a joke! Especially since this was a title I had seen and watched as a kid too.”
Kishimoto, of course, drew Naruto first and the moderator prompted the audience to suggest a second. The sound in the room was deafening, to say the least. He then decided to draw popular Naruto character Jiraiya due to a cosplayer in the crowd.
After finishing his drawing of Jiraiya, Kishimoto began to talk once more. “This is the first time in awhile that I drew Naruto and any character from Naruto. I have to embarrassingly admit that I don’t remember how to draw Jiraiya. I used the Jiraiya cosplayer in the audience as reference!”
When the Boruto movie came out, Kishimoto said it was the pinnacle of his career—the moderator wanted to know why. Speaking on it, Kishimoto said, “Honestly, as I briefly mentioned before, this was the first time I had been able to work on a screenplay from beginning to end. Certainly not the only one I’ve worked on, but the only one I wrote from beginning to end myself. I was able to make the story and characters what I wanted to see done, because I had wanted to do it as a manga. I had the honor to have the anime come to life. It’s also the last chapter of Naruto.”
In closing, Kishimoto said, “This has brought tears to my eyes. I heard that there are many fans that couldn’t make it… After seeing how many fans are already here, it’s astounding. This is a little title I started working on years ago without thinking the kind of impact it would have. To know how many love my work, the only thing I can think to say is: Thank you.”