Kazuki Takahashi at MAGIC 2019, Part 3: Interview

April 10, 2019 at 2:00 pm | Posted in Duel Monsters, Japanese, Konami, Series 1, Yu-Gi-Oh! | 2 Comments
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Sahé Cibot and Kazuki Takahashi at MAGIC 2019 at Takahashi's Q&A panel

Kazuki Takahashi did more than judge a manga contest and sign autographs at MAGIC 2019. He also participated in a question-and-answer session where, for 25 minutes, he entertained the audience with candid insights about himself and his creations. Takahashi spoke about his start as an artist, the importance of creating dramatic cards and moments, the origin of the Blue-Eyes White Dragon, and even about a game he invented that failed to take off.

At MAGIC, all panels were conducted on stage in French. For attendees who only speak English, this wasn’t a problem if the guests were also English speakers. But for a panel like Takahashi’s, which was conducted in French and Japanese, the convention’s technology came to the rescue. Attendees could rent a pair of earphones and a receiver that allowed them to listen to an English interpretation of all the French dialogue spoken on stage.

Takahashi’s panel was the last one of the day, scheduled for 6:00 p.m. Sadly, it started very late and the auditorium, which could seat 400 people, was only about a quarter full. Nevertheless, the true fans in the room were all very enthusiastic. They made sure Takahashi could hear their cheers when he arrived on stage, even as the French Yu-Gi-Oh! theme song thundered from the loudspeakers as he entered.

Takahashi was accompanied on stage by his interpreter, Sahé Cibot, the general manager of Shibuya International and one of the manga contest’s judges. They were joined by Naoki Kawashima, deputy editor in chief of Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump and fellow manga contest judge, although Kawashima did not speak during the panel. The moderator was Matthieu Pinon, a journalist and author who specializes in manga and anime topics.

This post contains a full transcript of Kazuki Takahashi’s Q&A panel.

Matthieu Pinon, Sahé Cibot, Kazuki Takahashi, and Naoki Kawashima at Takahashi's Q&A panel at MAGIC 2019
Left to right: Matthieu Pinon, Sahé Cibot, Kazuki Takahashi, and Naoki Kawashima

Matthieu Pinon: Good evening, everyone. Thank you for waiting for this grand moment, this extraordinary meeting with Mr. Takahashi, the author of the manga Yu-Gi-Oh!, whom you all know because you are all passionate about manga and Japanese pop culture. To begin this conference, we will first ask Mr. Takahashi, what manga did you read when you were a child? What manga did you like to read?

Kazuki Takakashi: Honestly, I liked to watch Japanese tokusatsu [special effects] TV shows where kaiju appear, like the Ultraman series and Kamen Rider. These are what led me to want to draw.

Pinon: So drawing is all well and good as a hobby, but at some point you decided to become a professional. What motivated you to move in this direction?

Takahashi: Since I loved to draw, I wanted to make it my career. Before I was a manga author, I was an illustrator and also worked on video games. Then I started developing manga.

Pinon: You just talked about video games. At the time Yu-Gi-Oh! launched, video games had exploded in popularity in Japan. Then you came along with Yu-Gi-Oh!, which was a table-top game, something that might seem a bit old-fashioned compared to the current trend. Was your editor surprised when you presented this project?

Takahashi: No, not at all. Back when I was working at a game company, it was an era of martial arts video games where players could take control of characters and make them fight. So, it was less interesting to create a manga about martial arts. It was more special, more different to make a manga about table-top games, which are analog and more traditional.

Pinon: There are many table-top games in the world. And when Yu-Gi-Oh! first debuted, the manga included several categories of games. When you launched the card game, that’s when the manga became a success. This success is thanks to you [the audience] and the editors. How did public interest in the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game manifest itself?

Takahashi: When the manga began, the original concept was to show various ways of battling using games each week. At first, I wasn’t even thinking about a card game. Cards were just one of those games. After drawing them for two weeks, there was such an overwhelming reaction from the readers that I decided to make the manga into a series about cards as a response to their request.

Kazuki Takahashi speaking at his Q&A panel at MAGIC 2019, with Sahé Cibot and Naoki Kawashima

Pinon: To first explain how readers can express their interest, we have to remember that the magazines contain a small postcard in that back that readers can mail to the publication to specify which series they prefer. And it was right at the moment that the card games appeared in Yu-Gi-Oh! that the manga climbed further and further into the top 10. Speaking of cards, you didn’t just make these cards by happenchance; you actually developed rules for the game. Could you explain to us your process of creating a card? How did you determine its characteristics while taking into account the increase in the number of cards as the game progresses?

Takahashi: First, I created the story and decided how a character would play an active role in that story. Then I asked myself, what card would be the most dramatic when used by the protagonist while fighting against an opponent? Are fan-favorite characters playing an active role? From there I created each card.

Pinon: Could you tell us, briefly, how many cards you created for the game? Do you remember?

Takahashi: I’ve… Never counted before. Quite a lot, I guess. Like… A thousand.

Pinon: Around a thousand! I think that deserves a round of applause because a thousand cards is so–

[The audience applauds, drowning out Pinon.]

Pinon: And among these one thousand cards, the most famous is the Blue-Eyes White Dragon. But why a white dragon with blue eyes? Why not, say, a black phoenix with red eyes? Why did you choose this animal with this color and specifically this eye color?

Takahashi: I wanted to design a mystical and cool monster for Yugi’s first rival, Seto Kaiba, when he appeared for their first battle. That monster became the Blue-Eyes White Dragon. In a black-and-white world [of manga], I wanted its name to evoke a feeling that would allow readers to conjure up its colors. Ultimately, the Blue-Eyes White Dragon turns out to be a woman — a woman with white hair, white skin, and blue eyes who is revealed in the story to be a spirit.

Pinon: Does anyone out there have the Blue-Eyes White Dragon card?

[Many people in the audience raise their hands.]

Takahashi: Ah. [Nods.]

Pinon: Congratulations, you can show off to others.

[The audience laughs.]

Pinon: And when you watch Game of Thrones, you will get to see your card.[1]

[A few more chuckles from the audience.]

Pinon: Quite often, a duel in Yu-Gi-Oh! is more than a simple face-to-face confrontation between two players. Through the strategy of the opponents, players get to know one another better. It’s almost as if they are communicating through the cards. Was this important to you in your manga?

Takahashi: Yes, that’s right. Because the protagonist, Yugi, is a character that readers are rooting for, I always thought about how to give him a dramatic victory. For example, his trump card gets destroyed and he needs a come-from-behind win. I always thought about how to make such dramatic developments possible in narrative terms.

Kazuki Takahashi speaking at his Q&A panel at MAGIC 2019, with Matthieu Pinon and Sahé Cibot

Pinon: As we all see, MAGIC invites not only famous manga authors but also authors of [non-Japanese] comics. We know that you are a particular fan of this medium. What comic series do you read? Which do you follow with great interest?

Takahashi: I really like Mike Mignola. When it comes to BD, I really like Moebius.[2]

Pinon: Those of you who have been to Japan before might know that production of Japan’s own homegrown comics is quite important, so much so that foreign comics, whether French or American, are not well represented. Where did you find them, and how did you enter the world of comics?

Takahashi: There actually are places in Japan that sell American comics and I occasionally visit them to shop. I’ve always been a fan of American comics, especially stories about superheroes. I love the impactfulness of the artwork, a style that can’t be found in Japanese manga.

Pinon: You mentioned Mike Mignola. You had the opportunity to meet him and exchange drawings. He drew Yugi and you drew Hellboy. Could you tell us a little about this meeting? Because, when we see the drawings, it must have been quite the interesting encounter.[3]

Takahashi: I actually haven’t met him. I was excited to meet him at a comic convention but it didn’t work out. But we did end up collaborating. I drew Mike Mignola’s Hellboy while he drew Yugi.

Pinon: [You exchanged your drawings] through your publishers?

Sahé Cibot: Right.[4]

Pinon: For those of you who don’t know how Yu-Gi-Oh! ends, we aren’t going to spoil it for you, but you really should read the manga to the end because it’s quite exciting. The conclusion of Yu-Gi-Oh! is particularly successful. There are many manga that will simply stop, with publishers stating that their popularity is declining and that this is where they would draw the line. But you took great care to make a well-prepared ending. How did you plan this with your editor? Without revealing the ending to the reader, could you tell us how you prepared this well-developed, thoughtful ending?

Takahashi: When serialization of Yu-Gi-Oh! began, I had already decided that Yugi would meet the other Yugi — that he would meet his, umm, double — and that the two would fight in the end. I decided from the very beginning that Yugi would win.

[Cibot translates Takahashi’s answer into French, but leaves out his last statement that Yugi would win.]

Cibot: This is a huge spoiler, isn’t it?

[The audience laughs.]

Pinon: The ending is from 2004 so those who got spoiled are 15 years behind. We won’t blame you.

Cibot: Well, I didn’t say who won.

Pinon: This is so– Anyway.[5] Why was it important to you that he meet his double?

Takahashi: Well, it’s kind of like a multiple personality. The idea is that when the protagonist finds himself in trouble, a stronger version of himself appears. As the story progresses, he learns more about that other self and realizes that he must defeat him in order to become independent. Eventually, he does defeat his other self, grow, and become independent. This is the theme of the story.

Pinon: Sometimes, our greatest adversary is none other than ourselves. Two years ago, I believe, Yu-Gi-Oh! was developed into a smartphone mobile app. There was a monstrous promotional campaign in Tokyo where you could see billboards all over the Yamanote [railway line], the likes of which is completely unimaginable over here.[6] How did it make you feel seeing the analog game that you had designed shift into a video game?

Takahashi: Sure enough, in the manga, there was a rule that the game should absolutely not be taken in a digital direction. But we’re talking about Konami Digital Entertainment here, so…

[Takahashi and Naoki Kawashima laugh.]

Kazuki Takahashi glancing to his left and laughing at his Q&A panel at MAGIC 2019

Pinon: Time has moved on of course and video games are now available on smartphones that everyone can have in their hands. So time passed and in 2004, you stopped the manga. And for ten years, you supervised everything that was developed after that. Then, in 2013, you returned with a one-shot called DRUMP. What motivated you to create this manga?

Takahashi: I had the opportunity to do a one-shot. I thought of making the theme about card games. The Yu-Gi-Oh! card game is incredibly extensible, with rare cards and powerful cards constantly being introduced–

Pinon: It’s quite the catalog. I think some people have one or more binders that are stuffed full of cards.

Takahashi: On the other hand, I thought I could make an interesting game using playing cards, which are limited to 52 cards, so I created a manga based on that concept.[7]

Pinon: So in DRUMP, if you have a deck of 52 cards and a pencil, you can build and rebuild a [DRUMP] deck. You will only ever need 52 cards. Did this constraint help you create a crazy new concept? Or was it a barrier?

Takahashi: I did a lot of play-testing and found it to be a well-rounded game, so I created a story around it. I had fun drawing it and making the cards. It was interesting to play. I really wanted it to become popular, but compared to the power of Yu-Gi-Oh!, it paled in comparison. [Laughs.]

Pinon: As you may have noticed, we’re running a bit late so we’re going to have to cut this short. However, to finish, Mr. Takahashi, you don’t often have the opportunity to meet a Monacan or French audience. Perhaps you have something you would like to tell your fans, who have come and waited until the end of the day to see you. So if you have anything you would like to say, now is the time. Seize the moment.

Takahashi: More than 20 years have passed since Yu-Gi-Oh! began serialization. I am so grateful to be able to come to Monaco to interact with fans. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for supporting Yu-Gi-Oh!.

Sahé Cibot and Kazuki Takahashi looking at the audience at MAGIC 2019 at Takahashi's Q&A panel

Interview Notes

1. ^ See Game of Thrones, season 7, episode 7.

2. ^ BD (bédé) is short for bande dessinée, a term describing comics of French or Belgian origin. Jean “Moebius” Giraud was a famous creator of BD.

3. ^ Takahashi’s and Mike Mignola’s illustrations were printed in VIZ Media’s September 2004 issue of Shonen Jump magazine.

Kazuki Takahashi's Hellboy artwork and Mike Mignola's Yugi artwork from VIZ Media's Shonen Jump, September 2004

As described in this issue, VIZ Media had asked Takahashi to draw his favorite American comic book character with Yu-Gi-Oh!-style hair, so he created the Hellboy drawing on the left. VIZ then contacted Mignola and he agreed to draw Hellboy clad in Yu-Gi-Oh! apparel. The two artists then exchanged these drawings.

4. ^ In this awkward exchange, the interpreter, Cibot, did not translate into Japanese the first part of Pinon’s statement about how Takahashi had exchanged drawings with Mignola. Instead, she asked if Takahashi had ever met Mignola before. That’s why Takahashi repeated the same information in his response.

5. ^ Another awkward exchange. Nothing was lost in translation here though. Takahashi ignored the no-spoiler request, hahaha.

6. ^ The mobile app that Pinon mentions is of course Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links. The Yamanote Line is a circular railway loop that connects Tokyo’s major city centers. The Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links billboards described by Pinon appeared in March 2017 and were well documented on social media and in Konami’s own video ads.

7. ^ The game Takahashi created is called DRUMP and uses a standard deck of 52 playing cards. The manga, also called DRUMP, was published in 2013 in Shueisha’s 49th issue of Weekly Shonen Jump magazine. It was not published in English or French.

(Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and readability.)

* * *

Next:
Kazuki Takahashi at MAGIC 2019, Part 4: Live Drawing

Previously:
Kazuki Takahashi at MAGIC 2019, Part 2: Autographs

2 Comments »

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  1. Interesting to know his thoughts on how the manga wasn’t supposed to be taken in a digital direction.

    Kind of figured he’d be the kind to mention a spoiler, but all things considered I’m glad he did. That and I’m sure most of if not all members in that audience were aware of the ending either through manga or anime.

    It was hilarious how so many people raised their Blue-Eyes cards and he just nods in acknowledgement. I love Takahashi!

    A little sad it wasn’t asked if he has any plans for future works but he probably wouldn’t have said much anyway.

    Thanks for the entire interview!

  2. Thanks for reading! The Q&A was supposed to be around 40 or 45 minutes long but ended up only being 25 minutes because they started late. I’m sure there would have been more great questions for him instead of ending the way they did, talking about one of his failures lol.


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