As a Tokyo-based writer, I will introduce you to various aspects of pop culture such as manga, anime, movies and music. I want to spread the joy of Japanese pop culture around the world.
Hi, everyone. It’s Mokugyo, an anime and manga-loving writer from MANGA.TOKYO. The second season of Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) came to an end with a cliffhanger episode and the next season has already been announced for 2018!
In this 2-part article, I’m going to write about Hajime Isayama, the creator of Attack on Titan,. In this first article, I’m going to introduce more personal information. In the second part, I will tell you behind-the-scenes stories from the production of Attack on Titan. Although this article is spoiler-free, Part 2 will contain some spoilers so be careful. There are a lot of charming points regarding this quiet author, for example, Isayama has an official blog and takes time off his busy schedule to update it frequently and communicate with his fans. This is one of the reasons for the popularity of his manga.
Attack on Titan is a dark fantasy manga serializing in Bessatsu Shonen Magazine, a monthly manga magazine. It spread via word-of-mouth and immediately became the manga for which the magazine is best known. It was adapted into an anime series and a two-part live-action movie. Furthermore, an attraction based on the manga was opened at Universal Studio Japan in Osaka, as well as the Attack on Titan exhibition which took place in a couple of cities across Japan. It can be said that Attack on Titan became a social phenomenon.
The gripping storyline depicts the battle between humanity and Titans. It has a unique battle style that utilizes vertical manoeuvring equipment, and the plot has so many foreshadowing elements and fantastic characters; The series is still going strong.
The rough outline of the story is like this: in a world where Titans stride, humans live in fear behind humongous walls. One day, a part of the wall was breached by a Titan and let others invade inside the wall. Titans gorged on a multitude of humans. The mother of protagonist Eren was one of the unfortunate ones and so Eren vowed to take revenge on the Titans. Years later, the older Eren enlists in the Survey Corps to challenge the difficult task of eradicating the Titans. The battle against the Titans to save humanity continues with his two childhood friends. One is Mikasa, who is always worrying about Eren, and the other is Armin, who is a brilliant tactician. Also featured in the series is Levi, the country’s most powerful soldier and member of the Scout Corps.
Hajime Isayama was born in 1986 and he is 30 years old as of July 2017. Surprisingly, Attack on Titan is his first manga published as a professional manga artist. He managed to create a record-breaking mega hit manga as his debut series.
He was born in Oita prefecture, which most Japanese think of as being a rural and remote place. (I’m sorry, people from Oita!) Take a look at a map of Japan. A long journey from Tokyo towards the west takes you to the cities of Osaka and Kyoto, and you need to travel much further west to get to Oita.
The area where Isayama was born is a structural basin surrounded by mountains, which reminds me of the town surrounded by walls in Attack on Titan. The imagery of Titans surging in from between mountains must have developed in him while he grew up there. Oita was chosen as one of the venues for Attack on Titan exhibition, since he was born there. The people in Oita must be proud of him.
There are so many manga artists in Japan, and many of them don’t disclose their faces. For instance, Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball and Eiichiro Oda of One Piece don’t publish their faces now, though they did in the past.
On the other hand, Isayama isn’t hesitant to show his face in public. He gave a speech to his fans at the screening of Attack on Titan at Tokyo International Film Festival. He seems to be a kind of person who appears in public if he has an opportunity. Readers of Attack on Titan would have imagined him to be a person who is hard to please because of the seriousness of his manga. However, the real Isayama is young, slender, mild-mannered, and a nice guy with good looks. The gap between the readers’ original image of him and his real self furthered his popularity.
Isayama appears in the official video for the second season of Attack on Titan. He is the one on the left. From about 01:30, he talks about his expectations about a certain confession scene from a comrade in the 10th volume of the manga. (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve watched/read AoT) He shows how he draws characters from about 02:40. His editor asks him to draw ‘the most popular character’ but Isayama draws a less popular character, Marlo. The scene shows Isayama’s sense of humor. He demonstrates the signature pose, ‘dedicate your hearts’ at 04:55 for fans. He made the coverage team laugh by saying ‘I came here by bicycle’ instead of ‘dedicate your hearts’. Although he creates dark manga, he himself seems like a lovely guy with a great sense of humor.
Isayama is renowned for being a fan of Japanese idol group Momoiro Clover Z. The group is popular among Japanese for their cheerful and hyper songs. It’s interesting as the feel of the songs is polar opposites from the world of Attack on Titan. He actually often listens to their songs while creating the manga.
The Attack on Titan Wall Tokyo exhibition was held in 2014 at The Ueno Royal Museum in Tokyo. Exhibitions of manga works are on the increase in recent Japan. However, this exhibition was in a different league. There was a long queue to enter the museum every day and the numbers of visitors broke a record. A manga exhibition is rarely this busy and it’s a great thing to happen. Isayama’s personal belongings were exhibited at the exhibition as well.
The photo above shows young Isayama’s pictures at the exhibition. He started to draw pictures of humans fighting against massive creatures in his childhood. Attack on Titan is an embodiment of his fantasy indeed. You can even see his name ‘Hajime’ signed at the top of the picture.
There was a 3D model of Going Merry from the popular Weekly Shonen Jump manga One Piece, at the exhibition. I was impressed on the quality of the finish.
There were clay models of a skull which is reminiscent of the head of a Titan, and a realistic hand. They must be one of his initial images of Titans which I felt were the same in a sense as the Titans in Attack on Titan.
You can see some Japanese calligraphy in the top-right. It says ‘I can at least defeat a dog.’ Isayama is good at inserting funny bits within a serious storyline and this childhood calligraphy showed his sense of humour.
As you can see from the model of Going Merry, Isayama was originally a reader of Weekly Shonen Jump. He brought his manga to the editorial department of Weekly Shonen Jump, which is one of Japan’s most popular manga magazines and it is known for many iconic manga such as One Piece, Naruto, and Dragon Ball. The editor of Jump advised him to change his manga style because it wasn’t suitable for the readers of Jump.
Isayama didn’t follow the editor’s advice, as he didn’t want to change his manga style to make it fit in elsewhere. Consequently, his manga was published in Bessatsu Shonen Magazine, which was less popular at the time, and therefore was able to use his dark and brutal style. Because he didn’t change his style and kept on creating his manga, he managed to produce the mega-hit manga Attack on Titan.
Hell Teacher Nube is a popular manga that was published in Weekly Shonen Jump in the 1990s. It was adapted into an anime series in 1996 and a TV drama series in 2014. It’s a story about an elementary school teacher named Nube who possesses a demon’s hand . He fights against yokai, supernatural creatures in Japanese folklore.
The cannibalistic Mona Lisa in the manga scared Isayama and the powerful image remained in his mind. The designs of the titans were inspired by this image. The creepy image of a strange, humanlike, gigantic creature that eats humans is derived from a manga he read when he was a child. It’s inspiring that he recreated his childhood fear with his own hands.
Desert Punk is a manga which has been adapted into an anime series. The action scenes in the manga make use of wires, and these influenced the idea of the Vertical Manoeuvring Equipment. The users wear the equipment around their waists and fire wires with hooks which are grappled onto walls or trees. It enables users to move freely in 3D spaces. The idea of the fighting style in the air utilising wires comes from Desert Punk. Isayama often mentions things by which his ideas were inspired. I think it’s great that he didn’t just copy the idea but made his own action scenes with wires.
Click below for Part 2 and 7 more interesting points regarding Isayama-sensei!