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How did the characters of Mazinger and Grendizer come into shape in your imagination?
Having read and watched many Manga in my younger years, my first inspiration was the series Astro Boy about a robot in the shape of a young child (1963) by our master Osamu Tezuka and the series Gigantor (Tetsujin 28-go, 1964) about a remote-controlled robot by our master Mitsuteru Yokoyama. Five years after I decided to work as a professional Manga artist, my challenge was to create my own robot stories without imitating these two masters and their work of creation. One day, I was driving along the streets of Tokyo in the middle of a traffic jam where all drivers were sharing a common feeling of anger because they cannot move at all. At that, an idea clicked and I started to imagine that my car generated arms and legs to surpass all the other cars with man controlling it like a car from a space inside its head. I returned to my studio and started to draw and design the first prototypes for Mazinger, three times bigger than humans with its conductor Koji Kabuto riding a flying Spazer that settled down on its forehead. After six months of its first publishing as a Manga, Mazinger was acquired by TV producers to become a successful and popular series of 92 animated episodes that ran from 1972 to 1974. I think that one of the reasons for which young children loved Mazinger and Grendizer that they gave them the imagination of growing up very fast and accomplishing astonishing things.
Do the names of your characters have certain significance from Japanese culture?
In Japanese language, Mazi means magical supernatural powers like those described in One Thousand and One Nights. There were inspiration from other mythologies too; Dr. Hell’s robots were made of ruins of pre-Greek titans on an Island similar to Rhodes. Because I favored non-Japanese films, namely American and French, I chose a universal non-Japanese look for the characters although they were Japanese. It also is easier to show facial reactions on the aesthetics of such characters. Moreover, their names reflected what they do: In Japanese, Koji means helmet of samurai. When I came to Egypt, I noticed Egyptian looks similar to Koji and Daisuke (laugh).
In your more adult work, you introduced sensuality into Manga and Anime. Later on, this has acquired a cult status worldwide. Can you elaborate on this topic and also on the rise of graphic violence and erotica in Manga and Anime.
This is another difficult question. I know that many Manga works are often labeled as “erotica” in non-Japanese cultures, but once again we must keep in mind some peculiarities of my country’s culture.
In Japan, we believe that “nudity” and “erotica” are two totally different things. The Japanese people have no problem with the first issue: as you probably know, in Japan we have a lot of hot springs and public baths, and we love them. In these places, we have no shame to get completely naked in front of people we don’t even know; before the war, which means before western culture was largely imposed over the Japanese population, it was normal for men and women to get completely naked and share the same hot spring or public bath with complete strangers. In other words, during centuries for Japanese people it was totally normal to show their nudity to strangers of the other sex, and even today it is normal to show it to persons of their same-sex, because nudity is considered a natural status of the human being. I know that it can sound a bit peculiar to non-Japanese, but I guess different societies have different attitudes toward particular aspects of the human body. For instance, in China they would not share this Japanese view of nudity as natural, but their public toilets are not separated by walls, and people would line up together and chat with each other while defecating. Even if for the rest of the world this sounds extremely strange, for Chinese culture it is normal, just the same way that nudity is normal for Japanese culture.
So, some of my comics deal with nudity, but it must be considered under this point of view: they are a product of my Japanese culture and targeted to Japanese people who share the same culture, and I would never dare to diffuse them or, worse, try to impose them to cultures who have a totally different point of view on nudity. I know that in such cultures, which usually do not distinguish between “nudity” and “erotica”, they would be labeled as “erotica”, but this would be a total misunderstanding of their real essence.
Of course this doesn’t mean that in Japanese arts, including comics targeted to adult audiences, there isn’t a wide market of erotica, as there is in most countries of the West and of East Asia; it is also true that more and more, Japanese publishers try to impose erotic elements in normal comics, even when they’re targeted to young readers, hoping that such elements would help the comics to sell more. I do not agree with this policy of inserting erotic elements in stories where there is no need for them, because I strongly believe that an author should always be totally free to develop his story without being imposed any restriction by a publisher; but at the same time it is also true that at the basis of Japanese culture there is the concept that any person is free to choose what he or she wants to watch or read. There is an incredible variety of genres in Japanese comics, including erotica, but at the very end it is only the reader, upon his own responsibility, who chooses what he wants to watch and buy and to decree the success or failure of a comic book.
In the same context, you have introduced the dual masculine/feminine villainous characters like Baron Ashura. I want to know what inspired him to create such neo-Frankenstein creatures and if you would like to explore these creations in more adult work.