Source: Jujutsu Kaisen Official Fanbook (Mar 04, 2021)
This exclusive interview was arranged at the ardent request of Gege Akutami, who was motivated by Tite Kubo’s works. We are pleased to present this hefty 10-page transcript of their first long, heated discussion about manga.
Contains spoilers for Chapter 120 of Jujutsu Kaisen and Chapter 639 of Bleach.
Born in 1992 in Iwate Prefecture. Debuted in 2014 with the one-shot Kamishiro Sosa. His current series Jujutsu Kaisen has been serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump since 2018.
Born in 1977 in Hiroshima Prefecture. His previous series Bleach, which started in 2001, was a massive hit that received universal acclaim and numerous multimedia adaptations. His current series Burn the Witch began serialization in 2020.
Learning About “Mangaka” by Reading Bleach in Fourth Grade
Is this your first time talking to each other?
Akutami: This is our first proper conversation, though we did greet each other once at a Jump Exhibition.
Kubo: Briefly. Back then you told me, “I started a new manga that’s inspired by Bleach,” and I replied, “Don’t you mean ‘by Togashi-san’?” [laughs] (TN: Yoshihiro Togashi is the creator of YuYu Hakusho and Hunter x Hunter.)
Akutami: I was too wound up at the time to say this, but Bleach was actually what introduced me to the concept of “mangaka” (manga artists).
Kubo: Oh really?
Akutami: When I was in fourth grade, my older brother would always buy Weekly Shonen Jump. However, he never let me read the issues he bought since he was very possessive of his belongings. One day when he wasn’t around, I secretly opened an issue and it happened to be the one Bleach debuted in. That first chapter was so impressive, it made me realize just how incredible mangaka are. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Kubo: Did you start following Bleach on a weekly basis after that?
Akutami: Nope… I could only manage to sneak a peek whenever my brother was gone…
Kubo: You had to read in secret every time? [laughs]
Akutami: Yup. [laughs] And soon enough, something happened that pushed me to become a mangaka myself. When I was in fifth grade, we moved from Iwate Prefecture to Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture. I was surprised to find out that one of the friends I made at my new school drew manga-style art. I was blown away, like, “Are you telling me art isn’t just fun to look at, it’s fun to draw too?”
Kubo: Wait, did you not love drawing as a kid?
Akutami: I didn’t draw anything outside of school assignments, and frankly, I couldn’t care less about it. I neither loved it nor hated it.
Kubo: Yet you grew up to be a mangaka, huh.
Akutami: I-I guess… Anyway, I started to mimic my friend by drawing my own manga, and that’s how my dream of being a professional mangaka was born.
Kubo: Amusingly, I was the exact opposite. When I was in second or third grade, I loved the GeGeGe no Kitaro anime. Then I became an avid reader of the GeGeGe no Kitaro manga, which influenced me to draw nothing but pointillist art—I even added dotted shadows to yokai sketches. The whole reason I got into drawing was to become a mangaka.
Akutami: Whoa… Sounds like you had it all figured out…
The Whereabouts of Kumo no Kyojin
In a bonus chapter of Jujutsu Kaisen, Akutami-sensei made a bombshell reveal—he wrote and compiled a Bleach-inspired poem anthology called Kumo no Kyojin (The Cloud Giant) in middle school.
Kubo: This I gotta see.
Akutami: I was young… I’m sorry!
Kubo: Did you bring it with you today?
Akutami: Well, the truth is I don’t have it anymore. And the scariest part is… I have no idea who does.
Kubo: Nooo!! [laughs]
Akutami: Poems aside, there were also a bunch of sketches in that notebook. I ended up giving it to one of my juniors who wanted it. Back then, I didn’t have the crisis management skills to recognize it could be used as blackmail, so I handed it over without a second thought…
Kubo: That sucks!! Do you have their contact info?
Akutami: I do not. I hope they threw it out for recycling…
Digital with an Intentionally Analog Touch
Kubo: Akutami-sensei, what kind of digital pens do you use? I recently made the switch to digital. My goal is to make digital art with an analog flair, but I’m not sure how to achieve that.
Akutami: Did you go full digital?
Kubo: At least for coloring.
Akutami: I’m no expert at digital art either. I can’t even create my own custom brushes…
Kubo: Uh, neither can I!
Akutami: I just give every feature a whirl, and stick with whatever’s most convenient for me.
Kubo: Same here. Though I have to say, your designs have a very analog texture to them. I asked if you’re a traditional artist during our introductions earlier, and was shocked to learn that you draw digitally.
Akutami: I intentionally draw with an analog touch, so I’m happy to hear that from you!
Kubo: In that case, do you deliberately roughen up your art too?
Akutami: That part’s not deliberate… I draw as carefully as I can, but I guess it just doesn’t come out right.
Kubo: Got it! I thought you were purposely going for that style.
Akutami: No matter how much effort I put in, it doesn’t seem to come across in my designs…
Kubo: It’s still amazing how analog your art looks despite being digital. Have you ever drawn manga the old fashioned way?
Akutami: All the one-shots prior to my first serialization were drawn traditionally. However, I switched to digital once I realized I’d never qualify for a weekly series unless my art improved. I genuinely wanted to keep drawing on paper, but I was so stressed out from not being able to control a G-pen that I abandoned my existing manuscripts and worked only on new storyboards for a while.
Kubo: Yeah, G-pens are a pain to use!
Akutami: I was like, “Seriously?! Do people seriously enjoy using this thing?!” Since it was taking me forever to master the G-pen, I figured I definitely had room for improvement! [laughs]
Kubo: Some of the art I see in Jump makes me go, “Were these lines really drawn with a G-pen?” They’re extremely tricky. I once ditched them in favor of markers, so I would know.
Akutami: My thoughts exactly. In the past, I also heard that a decent amount of people draw with fineliner pens. But when I tried them for myself, I drew the most un-Jump-worthy art I had ever seen, so I gave up.
Series Oozing with the Creator’s Personality
Akutami-sensei, what’s your impression of Kubo-sensei?
Akutami: His series and designs always struck me as stylish—and when I met him for the first time, I got the impression that he himself was equally stylish. I was astonished that a mangaka could have so much in common with their series.
Kubo: Hahaha. [laughs] From looking at your series, I assumed you’d have an evil personality. I mean, don’t you get a sense of an author’s disposition or temperament by reading their work?
Kubo: But our interactions today made me go, “Huh? He’s behaving nicely.” [laughs] It’s almost terrifying to see the person behind a manga such as THAT acting in a manner such as THIS.
Everyone: [bursts into laughter]
Akutami: It’s precisely because I’m a mangaka that I try to behave myself. You see, my generation has a rather negative perception of a mangaka’s occupation. [laughs] So I want others to view me as a respectable adult.
Kubo: In other words, you want to set a good example. [laughs] I notice you’ve been using “watashi” (gender neutral, formal) as your first-person pronoun this entire time—what sort of image are you trying to project?
Akutami: Back when I attended an all-boys middle school and high school, I tended to use “ore” (masculine, casual). (TN: “Ore” is Kubo’s pronoun of choice.)
Kubo: ‘Cause you’d get teased if you used “boku” (masculine, formal)?
Akutami: Exactly. Later on, when I got more opportunities to speak with superiors in college, I switched to “boku.” Then before my series went weekly, I decided to act more respectably and defaulted to “watashi.”
Kubo: Do you use “watashi” even when chatting among friends?
Akutami: Basically. Sometimes I let an “ore” slip if I’m in a good mood.
Kubo: Fascinating… Although you’re certainly careful with your words, I still feel a darkness emanating from your series. [laughs]
The Ins and Outs of Characters: Hidden Lessons From Bleach
Kubo-sensei, who’s your favorite character in Jujutsu Kaisen?
Kubo: Kento Nanami. I began to grasp the meaning of the story once he was introduced.
Akutami: I also consider his introduction to be a turning point in the series.
Kubo: The powers got more interesting around then. Early on, I wasn’t sure if Megumi Fushiguro’s technique had anything to do with shadow puppetry. I was growing impatient while reading ’cause even though he was fighting at night in a place with windows, he didn’t utilize shadows the way I expected him to. But after Nanami came along, the direction took a sharp turn; even the strangest techniques became easy to understand, and more standout characters like Aoi Todo joined the fray.
How did you feel when your dear Nanami was killed in action?
Kubo: I was like, “Aw man, he died.” But I wasn’t shocked, since this is the type of manga that doesn’t shy away from killing off characters.
Akutami: Bleach taught me a lot about when to retire characters and how to make use of them until their time is up. The Arrancar arc in particular involved a huge cast, and even though some characters obviously weren’t around for long, you got to learn the bare essentials of who they were before they left.
Kubo: It’s true that I started to actively kill more villains during the Arrancar arc. However, those weren’t calculated decisions. I mostly relied on my gut, which I suppose was for the better.
By the way, have any other Jujutsu Kaisen characters piqued your interest? Among the girls, for instance.
Kubo: I hate to say this in front of the man himself, but none of the female characters in Jujutsu Kaisen are my type. They’re all pretty formidable, aren’t they? When characters of the opposite sex get preferential treatment, they usually reflect the creator’s tastes, so that must be Akutami-sensei’s type.
Akutami: No, that’s just me dodging the issue… I’m aware I suck at drawing women. Therefore, I’ve put the brakes on creating so-called “ladylike” characters.
Kubo: While your male characters come in all types, I feel like your women largely fit the same mold. Could it be that you have an aversion to creating female characters who conform to gender roles?
Akutami: That’s not quite the case…
Kubo: For real? And you don’t have a preference for the “strong female” archetype?
Akutami: Well, it’s not as if I prefer any archetypes in particular. If you were to ask me about my favorite female characters, I’d freeze up. Besides, I don’t know if the readers even want to see any ladylike or seductive female characters from me.
Kubo: I’m sure Jujutsu Kaisen readers are perfectly content with the current roster of women in the series.
How would you two respond if Todo asked what type of girls you like?
Akutami: I wouldn’t. He’d probably beat me up.
Kubo: I’d answer, “Busty ones.” Ah, that’s not my type in real life though. I only prefer big boobs on fictional characters.
Next question is for Akutami-sensei. Who’s your favorite character in Bleach?
Akutami: Either Mayuri Kurotsuchi or Kenpachi Zaraki—if I had to pick one, Kurotsuchi. He was the earliest to perform Bankai, after all. I loved how utterly disgusted I felt when I saw him for the first time. His Bankai’s final form, Matai Fukuin Shotai (Demonic Recumbent Womb), made me scream “Yes, yes, that’s my man Kurotsuchi!” in excitement.
Kubo: Mayuri’s pretty popular among mangaka. Perhaps they relate to his inventiveness and creativity. Speaking of which—Akutami-sensei, I can tell from Jujutsu Kaisen that you must be a fan of the grotesque as well.
Akutami: You’re right. I enjoy series that depict scary things in a genuinely scary way, and I strive to practice what I preach.
Surprises Regarding Favorite Scenes and Quotes
Akutami-sensei, what’s your all-time favorite scene or quote from Bleach?
Akutami: I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I love the Kido spell “Raikoho” (Fiery Lightning Howl).
Kubo: Due to its incantation?
Akutami: In my opinion, what sets your incantations apart from the other magic chants I’ve heard over the years is that yours evoke the strongest sense of impact. That’s what I love about them.
Akutami: On that note, even though everyone seems eager to do the full incantation for Kuro Hitsugi (Black Coffin), I personally prefer the incantation-less version. First of all, Sajin Komamura getting wrecked and Gin Ichimaru saying “A level 90 unspoken Hado! Now that’s scary! When did you achieve that?” are such an iconic duo. They really made Kuro Hitsugi shine. How, you ask? By highlighting that it annihilated Captain Komamura in an instant, for goodness’ sake! To put things into perspective, Kubo-sensei routinely fills the “opening songs” of his volume releases with walls and walls of text, followed by a brief verse like Kurotsuchi’s “Born and then fall is the same as death” or Grimmjow’s “Break down, every single one of you.” The transition from long sentences to short phrases creates a sharp dichotomy that brings to mind a Kuro Hitsugi with no incantation. (TN: Those verses are from Volumes 35 and 24 of Bleach, which feature Mayuri and Grimmjow on the cover, respectively.)
Kubo: Wow, you’re a hardcore fan. [laughs] Nobody’s ever referred to my introductory poems as “opening songs” before. Maybe I should call them that from now on. [laughs]
Kubo-sensei, what’s your all-time favorite scene or quote from Jujutsu Kaisen?
Kubo: Since the Jujutsu Kaisen manga is still ongoing, I believe its best scenes are yet to come. But if had to choose from the existing material, I’d say Junpei Yoshino’s “Don’t you think that whoever first said, ‘The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference’ must be rotting in hell?” It’s the quote that left the deepest impression on me. Some of the references you make, and the ways you make them, are familiar; I feel a certain affinity for Jujutsu Kaisen when I read it every week.
Akutami: Thank you…
Kubo: I love incorporating Buddhist concepts as well, so I was pleasantly surprised to find someone else covering obscure topics like Death Paintings. If you recall those rings that appeared when Tosen used his Bankai, they actually had the names of the nine types of Death Paintings written on them. (TN: Jujutsu Kaisen’s Death Painting Wombs are based on kusozu art that depicts human bodies undergoing nine stages of decay.)
Akutami: Are you serious?! That’s awesome! Bleach was my initial source of inspiration in elementary school, then Hunter x Hunter and Evangelion were added to the mix in middle school… Since Evangelion was steeped in mythology, I concluded that I should take a different approach by turning to Buddhism instead.
Kubo: Which is basically Japanese mythology.
Akutami: Be that as it may, I haven’t been able to do it justice… My approach is bound to fall apart at any moment.
Kubo: You’ve done well enough in my book. As long as you understand the terms you’re using, it’s fine!
Akutami: If you say so! Kubo-sensei, did any other series influence you besides GeGeGe no Kitaro? When I read your early one-shots that were included in the Zombiepowder. volumes, I had a feeling they were heavily inspired by certain anime. (TN: Zombiepowder. was Kubo’s first weekly series. It ran from 1999 to 2000 and was collected into four volumes.)
Kubo: Saint Seiya comes to mind.
Akutami: Saint Seiya!!!
Kubo: I started with the GeGeGe no Kitaro anime and manga, then my parents showed me the Saint Seiya anime in fourth grade, and then I started reading Weekly Shonen Jump in sixth grade because Saint Seiya was being published in it. After that, I was probably influenced by Bastard!!: Heavy Metal, Dark Fantasy.
Akutami: Bastard!! also inspired Togashi-sensei, if I remember correctly.
Kubo: I might’ve taken inspiration from Bastard!!’s anime-style art. It’s just, I didn’t know how to apply screentones, so I would frantically draw all my effects by hand. [laughs]
Akutami: That answers another question I’ve had for years.
It’s Not Recommended for Rookie Manga Artists to Copy Bleach
Akutami: Personally speaking, if a newbie manga artist were to say to my face, “I plan to use Kubo-sensei’s Bleach as a reference,” I’d stop them right then and there. After all, that’s something only Kubo-sensei could have produced. Everyone tells me all the time, “You must’ve been influenced by Bleach.” Of course I’m influenced by the things I read, and sometimes they affect my work in ways I don’t notice until I look back on it later. In that sense, yes, I’ve been influenced in a major way. However, I think it’s dangerous to methodically analyze Kubo-sensei with the intention of imitating him.
Editors often pay attention to the quirks that make up an author’s “identity”—the traits that are indicative of a person’s writing style, so to speak. For instance, my identity revolves around my ability to not be bogged down by “whys” or “hows”—my ability to craft a story without having to explain every little detail. I consider folks like Kubo-sensei and Chainsaw Man’s Tatsuki Fujimoto-sensei to have strong identities, and it’d be unwise for commoners like me to carelessly imitate authors of their caliber. Since their creations are products of the instincts and talents that come with having such a strong identity, I’d only hurt myself if I tried to copy their methods. That’s why I go out of my way to avoid this pitfall. I’ve always loved reading Bleach, but I know that imitating it would be the death of me. Ultimately, I can’t copy it because it’s too unique. So whenever I hear people say that my series reminds them of Bleach, I hesitantly reply with something like, “Well, sure, I guess… But…”
Kubo: That’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten. I’m flattered. Ah, can I have your LINE I.D.? (TN: LINE is the most popular messaging app in Japan.)
Akutami: O-Of course! My pleasure!
Special Grade Art Exhibit
Following their talk, we had Akutami-sensei and Kubo-sensei each draw one of their favorite characters from the other’s series. Feast your eyes on these exquisite illustrations.
|Mayuri Kurotsuchi (Bleach)|
By Gege Akutami
|Suguru Geto (Jujutsu Kaisen)|
By Tite Kubo