MNS Exclusive Interview: Battle Angel (GUNNM) Creator Yukito Kishiro
By: Jonah Morgan
Yukito Kishiro was born in 1967 in Tokyo, Japan. His debut as a popular Manga artist came in 1984 when his work “KIKAI” won the best newcomer manga artists award sponsored by weekly Shonen Sunday magazine. His work ‘Kaikosei’ followed and in 1991 the series for which he is best known was first released. Titled ‘Gunnm’ (‘Battle Angel Alita’), the story of the manga combined intense action with cyborgs, and a post apocalyptic world. On the serious side, Kishiro touched on topics in his stories that our own world may face in the very near future as the line between man and machine blur. A portion of the Gunnm story was adapted to OAV in 1993 and later became one of the first anime VHS releases from ADV Films. Likewise, the comic version was picked up very early on in the early 1990’s and began serializing as Battle Angel Alita in English from Viz. Rumors began circulating online several years ago that Battle Angel was to be the subject of a major Hollywood film to be directed by the famous American Director James Cameron (Titanic, the Terminator, The Abyss). The rumors proved to be true and in recent months Mr. Cameron has talked quite a great deal on his plans for the feature which is scheduled to release in 2007. With all the press attention focused on Hollywood, it occurred to us that no one had actually made the attempt to go back to the original author and seek his impressions on this very exciting development. We caught up with Mr. Kishiro recently and posed the following questions on all things Battle Angel. Special thanks to Yukito’s brother Tsutomu Kishiro for translation.
Manga News Service: Happy New Year 2005 Mr. Kishiro! How has the new year found you?
Yukito Kishiro: A happy new year, too! I was working on cartoons throughout the new year vacation.
MNS: In recent weeks in the USA the attention of the elite entertainment beat-report press has been focused on the adaptation of your work, GUNNM (Battle Angel Alita), to a large budget Hollywood film. What are your impressions on the director James Cameron taking up a project based on your creation?
YK: To be honest, I still can’t believe that my work was adapted. Until the film is completed and I see it on screen, I think I won’t be able to get a real sense of it.
MNS: Do you believe the story and characters of GUNNM can make a natural transition to Hollywood film?
YK: Cartoons and films are different media, so it is natural that presentations will be different. If I directed a film adapting my cartoon GUNNM, it would surely be different from the original comics. Especially, as my cartoon is a long story comprising of a series of detailed episodes, it must be a big challenge to express it in a short running time of the film. However, if Mr. James Cameron could grasp the essential theme of GUNNM, I believe that the difference of episodes or characters would be superficial and it would be possible to express GUNNM in terms of its essence. The more important thing is not adherence to the original story but excellence as a complete movie.
MNS: There were rumors of this project as far back as 2000, can you tell us when you and the publisher were first approached in interest of adapting Battle Angel Alita?
YK: Though not from Mr. Cameron, I received the first offer of film adaptation in 1994. Since then, many directors, producers and productions have proposed their own plans. I think it was around 1998 when Mr. Cameron and Twentieth Century Fox approached me on the adaptation. It’s so long ago that it is a hazy memory…
MNS: Are you fan of Mr. Cameron’s films? Do you have a favorite?
YK: I am a fan of such works as “Terminator”, “Alien 2” and “Terminator 2”. Again and again, I have seen the Terminator series on video.
MNS: Will you be consulting with Mr. Cameron and the production staff for the film to retain the original flavor outlined in the GUNNM Manga?
YK: If Mr. Cameron requested me to do so, I would, but I wouldn’t voluntarily contact them because the movie is different from the original cartoons.
MNS: And it’s also been revealed 3 films may be created from GUNNM. This will collect much more of the story than the 1993 OAV anime adaptation. Every recent Hollywood film series that has achieved a trilogy status has gone on to be highly successful, what are your impressions?
YK: If Mr. Cameron said so, he should be sure that the odds are in his favor, but I am not sure about its success. As the original author, I want them to make 4, 5 or more films, not sticking to the trilogy status because it would mean that more episodes could be covered.
MNS: Many fans have wondered, why were only 2 anime OAV episodes produced in 1993?
YK: It was based on the plan proposed by the animation production company. It might have been better to turn down the plan and wait for a better adaptation proposal to come up, but back then, I couldn’t afford to review the plan coolly. At that time, I was still serializing the work and was so busy that I wasn’t ambitious to make it into animation.
MNS: With the film coming out in just a few years do you plan on reviving the Gunm storyline, to possibly produce a manga new work, or have you told the complete story?
YK: As you might well know, I have slightly updated the ending of the first series of GUNNM and added short sub-episodes to publish the complete version of GUNNM Since the fall of the year 2000, I have serialized “GUNNM:Lastorder”, an official sequel to the complete version of GUNNM. The 7th volume of GUNNM:Lastorder in book form will be published in the coming March in Japan.
MNS: Can you tell us if there are plans to revive the anime work based on GUNNM?
YK: To my regret, there is no plan to revive the anime work of GUNNM.
MNS: According to Mr. Cameron, a CG version of Gally may be used. What are your impressions on the main character of a live action film being represented by CG? Has the state of technology in Hollywood reached such a state that the humanoid form could be represented in an accurate and convincing way?
YK: Though Mr. Cameron was fully confident, I have not seen Gally in CG, so I am not sure if it is satisfactory or not. To be honest, I am anxious.
MNS: What have you been working on recently? Do you have any major projects coming up?
YK: As already mentioned in my answer 9, I am writing GUNNM:Lastorder.
MNS: Fans interested in your works should check out your website http://www.yukito.com/ , it’s available in multiple languages including English. What content do you have there?
YK: The English website of YUKITOPIA has an introduction to my individual works, a forum, exhibitions of fan arts, gallery page with cover arts of GUNNM accompanied by my captions, articles on the making of the cover illustrations of the old GUNNM, articles on the making of the digital illustrations of GUNNM:Lastorder, short episodes of the cartoon I created when I was an amateur. Please visit the website.
MNS: Finally, it seems besides the large number of fans around the world that you have now, many more will be coming in the next few years. Do you have any words to them!?
YK: 15 years ago, when I started to create GUNNM, I was not sure if I could earn my own living in the comic circle in Japan, and I never dreamed that the work would be translated into foreign languages and loved by so many people from different countries. I would like to express my heartiest thanks to the fans of GUNNM throughout the world. When the first series of GUNNM was completed, I was mentally fatigued and couldn’t come back to the normal work. During the period, incomes from overseas helped me to live. It was also around that period that the Internet had become popular and I would directly receive e-mail messages from overseas fans. Encouragements from such fan mails served as priceless contributions to my comeback. Stimulated by the fans’ messages, I made up my mind to write the sequel to the work, GUNNM:Lastorder.
A few years later, the movie version of GUNNM directed by Mr. Cameron will be completed. (I do hope so!) Films belong to directors before original writers. As a movie fan, I hope that the film will be completed without any trouble. And, if possible, I hope it will be a wonderful work that the audience would forget the presence of the original work. I would like it to be a box-office success, but more than that, I hope it will be a true film that stays in the hearts of movie fans forever. And if the film succeeded to do so, the praise would be for the Mr. Cameron and the staff. As the original writer, it would be the greatest pleasure that another excellent story were added to the history of the movies. (Yukito Kishiro)