CCI Xtra: Spotlight on Kazuo Koike

Acclaimed manga author Kazuo Koike ("Lone Wolf & Cub") received an Inkpot Award in recognition of his contributions to comics at Comic-Con International in San Diego on Saturday. The presentation was made at the beginning of the "Spotlight on Kazuo Koike" panel. Describing him as "one of the greatest guests we've ever had," CCI Director of Programming Gary Sassaman presented the award while introducing Koike. Smiling happily, Koike, who greeted the audience with a traditional bow upon entering the room, accepted the award to the cheers of the appreciative fans in attendance.

Jeremy Atkins, Publicist for Dark Horse Comics, served as moderator for the panel, which was made up of Koike, Dark Horse staffer and translator Riko Frohnmayer, and Eiichi Kurokawa and Eisuke Suzuki from Koike's new US company, KK Tribe.

Asked about his reaction to his first US convention, Koike said, "This is my very first time. It's a surprise. So impressive, the whole event. We have a similar event in Japan, but it's only about one-tenth the size. Nothing comparable to Comic-Con. I'm so happy to be here."

Atkins asked Koike to describe his first impressions of Dark Horse and explain why he chose them as his English-language publisher and Koike said that he is a "good friend of Mike Richardson through golf." He then explained that Richardson "understands the heart of the samurai spirit" and because he can relate to and appreciate the samurai, Koike can rely on him to convey the story properly. Atkins then asked Koike to discuss his experience playing golf with Richardson, and to elaborate on an alleged dispute as to who actually won a particular game they had played; Koike responded, "To protect Mike, I won't say anything."

Kazuo Koike is somewhat unique in the manga world; most manga is created by a single writer/artist, but Koike has succeeded while working exclusively as a writer and allowing others to provide the artwork. Along the way, he has built up a reputation as a teacher of writing for manga, counting among his students Yuji Horii ("Dragon Quest"), Tetsu Hara ("First of the North Star") and Rumiko Takahashi ("Ranma ½"), and others in many countries.

Koike explained his philosophy of writing by saying that everything revolves around the characters. Their personalities drive the story; if you have a strong character, that will shape the story. To create his characters, Koike draws inspiration from places he visits and people he meets. He explained that his characters come from the outside world rather than from inside his own imagination. "Being alone in my office, inspiration doesn't come. Right now, people in this room are inspiring characters. I'm having a lot of ideas based on the people I see here."

"In my world, the whole world is the character." Koike said. "You're more familiar with Superman, Spider-man, Hellboy, Batman; there are many, many stories, about them, but the character is what stays with you." Readers may forget the specific adventures and plot points, but they remember the personality of Batman, for example. "In any media, the character development is super-important. Create the character and everything else follows from that."

Moving on to discuss some of his projects, Koike confirmed that the Lone Wolf and Cub story will continue. He is working on the second series now, and noted it should be arriving soon. He also indicated that in "Lone Wolf & Cub 3", the child Daigoro grows up and "follows his father's path on his own." Discussing the Lone Wolf story, he explained that Daigoro was inspired by a doll his mother gave him when he was a child. Asked whether the Yagyu family had any objections to the negative way their ancestors are portrayed, he said "Yagyu's house has been erased; it is no more." There are some people who claim to be family members, but most of them can't prove it. "There's no proof, so there's nothing to say." He said he has no relationship or contact with them, and they have no involvement with the book.

While "Lone Wolf & Cub" has been adapted as a live-action film, there has never been an anime version, and most of the licensed merchandise has been based on the film rather than the original art from the manga. When asked why the story has not been done in animated form in the style of the book, Koike explained that he thinks animation limits the story. He feels that readers understand what he wants to say through the book. "I love anime, but not for Lone Wolf." As an example, he describes a sword-fight as it would appear in manga, and the differences in timing and action that would result from the animation process; "It's completely different; it limits the power."

An audience member then asked his opinion of the anime films that have been made from his work, citing "Crying Freeman" as an example. Koike reacted in mild surprise, saying "'Crying Freeman' was animated?" Reminded that it was, he went on, "Oh, that was so long ago I forgot about it." He reiterated his opinion, saying that he's not really against animation, "…but I prefer the book; it's more powerful. But if you enjoyed the animation, I'm happy about it."

Another question concerned the format used for US reprints of manga: does it affect the story or take away from the art when they flip the pages for American readers? Laughing, Koike held up a book, pointed to the cover, and said, "I thought this was the back." Atkins then explained that Dark Horse sees "Lone Wolf & Cub" as a particularly effective "gateway book" to get English-language readers into manga, and as such they feel that the left-to-right reading format is more familiar and accessible to those readers. They may consider issuing the story in the Japanese format, but there are currently no plans to do so.

"There was no permission given for 'Kill Bill'," Koike remarked in passing. He enjoyed the homage to his work in the animated sequence, but would have liked if he had been asked for permission by the producers. He says he would love to give permission for that sort of thing if the producers would ask him.

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