Hi, everyone. It’s Mokugyo, your MANGA.TOKYO writer who loves anime and manga. I like drawing and I actually made my own manga once. If you have any experience as an amateur mangaka, you know how difficult it is, even to just make a single volume, let alone make a manga with fine, detailed illustrations.
Many manga artists are trying to break into the industry, and a few of those lucky mangaka went on to create many successful manga with unforgettable illustrations. His name is Takeshi Obata, and he is most famous as the illustrator of Death Note and Bakuman. In this article, I’m going to write about the reasons his manga captivate us so much.
You can also check my article on the live action adaptation of Bakuman:
6 Points about the ‘Bakuman’ Live-action Movie: The Reality of Manga Artists in Japan
Who is Takeshi Obata?
Obata, one of the best manga artists in Japan, was born in 1969 and is currently 48 years old as of May 2017. He has been active as a manga artist since the 1980s. He was quite good at drawing from the onset of his career. However, he had a long way to go to before becoming a successful manga artist with smash hits.
‘Cyborg Jii-chan G’: Obata’s First Manga Series with a Comical Flavor
Obata started his first manga series, Cyborg Jii-chan G, in Weekly Shonen Jump in 1989 and Obata continued to have works serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump right up until Gakkyu Hotei: School Judgement in 2014. Although he is famous for his suspense manga, like Death Note, his first manga series was a comical one. He wrote it under the pen-name Shigeru Hijikata.
It’s a wild fantasy manga about an elderly man who augments himself as a cyborg in order to increase work efficiency on his farm. Its detailed depictions of the mechanical parts demonstrate Obata’s meticulousness.
His first manga series was canceled after 31 chapters. It was the so-called golden age of Weekly Shounen Jump with many popular manga including Dragon Ball, Dragon Quest: Dai no Daibouken, and Saint Seiya, topping the charts at the time, and it was difficult to compete against them in the popularity vote. After his first series, Obata concentrated on drawing while collaborating with other writers.
‘Karakuri Zoushi Ayatsuri Sakon’: His First Attempt at a Detective Manga
Obata serialized the detective manga Karakuri Zoushi Ayatsuri Sakon (Puppet Master Sakon) between 1995 and 1996.
In the middle of the 90s, Japan’s economic bubble had burst and a dark cloud was looming over its economy. People were searching for ways to help ease their insecurity. Perhaps it’s this desire that drove people to read detective stories, and a couple of detective manga in shounen manga magazines became hits. The Kindaichi Case Files of Shonen Magazine, a fully-fledged detective manga which was unusual at the time, and Detective Conan (Case Closed) of Shounen Sunday, continue to be popular even now. Shounen Jump jumped on the bandwagon and, thus, Karakuri Zoushi Ayatsuri Sakon was created.
It depicts Sakon, a puppeteer, solving various mysteries with his puppet. Obata’s gorgeous illustrations complemented the story, though the series was eventually canceled and only four volumes were published. Not many people knew about the manga, even though it was adapted into an anime series.
‘Hikaru no Go’: Obata’s First Hit Manga Series
Obata’s first hit manga series is arguably Hikaru no Go, serialized in Weekly Shounen Jump between 1998 and 2003. Its total circulation exceeded 25 million and its TV anime adaptation was well-received.
The Go in the title is the name of a board game which is popular in East Asia, including Japan, China, and South Korea. Like chess, two players pit against each other but use black and white stones as pieces. The rules are quite simple and the color which secures the largest territory on the board wins.
The manga became popular, even with people who didn’t know anything about Go. Many Go clubs sprung up at elementary and middle schools nationwide. By focusing on a subject which had never really been seen before in a shounen manga, Hikaru no Go fought against the stereotype that Go was for old men.
The story revolves around main character Hikaru, who doesn’t know anything about Go but is possessed by the spirit of Heian-Period Go genius Sai Fujiwara. It’s a coming-of-age story from the viewpoint of Hikaru.
The manga’s author Yumi Hotta brought us a brilliant story, but Obata’s illustrations are one of the reasons for the manga’s popularity. For instance, Hikaru has a strange hairstyle with dyed bangs, but the strangeness doesn’t bother readers at all. It’s possible because of Obata’s ability in creating unique character designs. He managed to depict an image of ancient Japanese culture and how the entrenched, strategic mentality of Go has thus remained unchanged.
‘Death Note’: The Record-Breaking Manga
Death Note is unquestionably Obata’s masterpiece. The original manga series, which was serialized between 2003 and 2006, became a mega-hit, selling 30 million volumes and being adapted into a variety of media: an anime series, three live-action movies, a TV drama series, an American adaptation, and a musical.
The story was written by Tsugumi Ohba and revolves around the eponymous Death Note, a notebook that can bring death to a human by simply writing the person’s name in it. Light Yagami, a high school prodigy, was given the Death Note by a Shinigami (a grim reaper) and embarked on his journey to become the god of a new world by killing criminals with little regard. It captured readers with its battle of wits between two geniuses, Light and L, the latter of whom approached Light to uncover the secrets of the Death Note.
Although his first detective manga Ayatsuri Sakon was discontinued, Obata finally succeeded in producing a record-breaking manga with a talented detective. It combines the mystery of a classic detective novel with fantasy elements. Obata created charming Shinigami characters and enchanted the brilliant story with his superb drawing skills. The facial expressions of Light when he’s thinking his wicked plans demonstrate Obata’s ability in depicting deep-rooted thoughts as facial expressions.
‘Bakuman’: A Story of Boys Who Are Aspiring Manga Artists.
Obata collaborated with Tsugumi Ohba once again and created Bakuman, a manga about boys who aspire to become mangaka. The manga, which was serialized between 2008 and 2012, also became a hit and was adapted into an anime series as well as a live-action movie.
It’s the story of Moritaka Mashiro, who is good at drawing, and Akito Takagi, who is a great storyteller, as they set out to become a manga artist duo together. The Jump editorial department was faithfully recreated in the title and that gave a realistic feel to the manga. While Obata drew dark illustrations in Death Note, here he uses a different style to depict a lively and cheerful teenage story. The various different manga manuscripts that appear within the narrative were also drawn by him in differing styles to reflect the different manga artists in the story.
He drew many new manga pages for the live-action movie as well. The movie also demonstrates Obata’s drawing skills as it features many of his illustrations. Obata himself is a fan of the movie and has watched it many times.
‘All You Need is Kill’ illustrated by Obata
Edge of Tomorrow, a 2014 Hollywood blockbuster starring Tom Cruise, was based on the light novel All You Need is Kill. It’s about a soldier who lost his life during a battle against aliens but found himself caught in a time loop in which he was repeatedly killed and resuscitated. It’s one of the best time loop novels, a popular subject in recent years.
Its manga adaptation was drawn by Obata and was serialized in Weekly Young Jump in time with its movie premiere. The main character in the movie was a middle-aged man played by Tom Cruise, whereas in its manga he was a young adult, just as in the original novel. The story is slightly different in the movie, so it’ll be interesting to read the manga if you have already watched it. Obata is excellent at depicting a feeling of tension and the manga is thrilling.
‘Platinum End’: Obata’s on-going manga
Platinum End is Obata’s third collaboration manga with Tsugumi Ohba and has been serializing in Jump Square since 2015. Since it is being published in a monthly magazine, the release of the manga volumes is quite slow.
In contrast with Death Note and its Shinigami, in Platinum End an angel plays an important role. The story revolves around a boy who committed suicide but was brought back to life by an angel. He was given two special powers: wings and the arrow of an angel. It’s an exciting suspense manga that is very different to Death Note. The unique character designs of the angels enhance its appeal.
Tribute to a Thrilling Mangaka
Takeshi Obata has been producing various popular manga through the years. His detailed illustrations captivate readers. He has brilliant drawing skills which enable him to create manga in different styles. I hope more people will read and enjoy his manga.