For no Earthly reason, it’s taken me this blasted long to finally translate the ONE/Murata joint interview from the 2015 guidebook OPM: Hero Encyclopedia. The notes throughout are the same ones as in the actual book, although towards the end I got lazy and didn’t write out the full details on such topics as the plot of Eyeshield 21 or the explanation for what fencing is. The curious may look that stuff up on Wikipedia.
--Today I’d like to ask you two to provide the “definitive edition” of the story of One-Punch Man’s birth
ONE: I’m much obliged.
Yusuke Murata: Yes, thank you very much.
--ONE-sensei, tell us how you began drawing One-Punch Man.
ONE: Well, I wanted to try drawing manga digitally; that’s how it all started. There was this place (*1) online for posting up manga, and lots of people submitted their stuff there, so I wanted to submit something too. I bought a PC and some tools for drawing pictures digitally (*2). I tried out drawing 15 pages, and uploaded it with my PC for the first time…that was One-Punch Man Chapter 1. I didn’t have any real plans for continuing the story, and just posted it up without thinking of what to do next. But perhaps because I submitted it as “Chapter 1” it got a great response…OK, maybe not “great”, but a decent response. So I figured I might as well try drawing a continuation of the story. That’s when I really sat down and worked out how the story would continue, which made me realize this could turn into quite an interesting manga. And that pretty much brings us from Chapter 2 right up to the present.
--Where did you get your ideas?
ONE: To start with I simply tried to draw the sort of manga I’d want to read myself. I’ve read loads of Shonen manga throughout my life, and am particularly fond of battle manga. Generally speaking those types of stories are all about growth, meaning that by the last chapter the main character has grown stronger than anyone else and lives happily ever after. So I wondered what would happen if I started the story off with the main character already in peak condition. That became my jumping-off point.
--So it’s a complete 180 from existing Shonen action manga?
ONE: Which makes it fun for people who have already read lots of those typical Shonen manga. It’s like they’ve run the first lap, and this is their second time around.
Murata: Yeah, it’s really exciting for Shonen manga aficionados.
ONE: I also love it when a series creates friction between drama and humor. With One-Punch Man I wanted to try doing that through the worldview itself, rather than through specific plot points. The series is set in a dangerous, monster-infested world, but since Saitama’s there you don’t really notice just how bleak the world is. I think it’s that friction between Saitama and the rest of the world that makes things interesting.
--Murata-sensei, what do you think makes One-Punch Man so appealing?
Murata: It all boils down to Saitama’s appeal. In some ways, Saitama is incredibly similar to Son Goku from Dragon Ball (*3). It was Dragon Ball that first got me started reading Weekly Shonen Jump, so I find those similarities particularly appealing. Dragon Ball’s Goku (*4) is a very memorable protagonist: he does whatever he wants, fights strong guys…he’s only after excitement! He goes through life full of spirit. Even when the world’s in peril and he’s surrounded by chaos, it doesn’t bother him one bit. Like when Piccolo’s reincarnation entered the Tenkaichi Budokai (*5) and if Goku lost the world was doomed, even then Goku himself simply fought to win the tournament. After he beat Piccolo, he didn’t care that he had just saved the world, he was just happy to finally be crowned tournament champion. It’s that sort of detached easy-goingness, the sense of operating under a completely different logic than those around him. This type of aloofness, of doing things at one’s own pace, really screams “hero” to me. That’s what Goku and Saitama have in common. Another similarity is that they’re simply the strongest guys around. When things are looking hopeless, the moment they show up you know things are going to be OK (laughs).
--How did you find out about One-Punch Man, Murata-sensei?
Murata: I follow this illustrator called “Akiman” (*6) on Twitter, and when I heard about One-Punch Man on his blog, I read the entire series overnight. I got a bit frustrated, because I realized I had become a manga artist precisely to draw something like this (laughs). At the time I was in sort of a dead-end career-wise, and (my apologies to Ootagaki-sensei [*7]) thanks to my incompetence things weren’t going very well with Donten Prism Solar Car (*8)…It’s safe to say I ended up causing Ootagaki-sensei and the readers a lot of trouble. Back then, I viewed my job simply as illustrating the stories given to me. But really, isn’t an illustrator’s job to visually convey the charm of the characters? You’ve got to understand what makes the characters appealing, or otherwise you’ll have nothing to show the readers. Once I read One-Punch Man, I knew it was exactly what I was looking for. I sent ONE-sensei a message right away, asking if we could meet. I told him point-blank I wanted to work with him…
ONE: I was surprised to get a message from Murata-sensei. Frankly, at first I thought it might be a prank…
ONE: It was a real shock! (laughs)
--Did you two hit it off?
Murata: Yeah. I was so nervous about meeting him that I ended up being 30 minutes late (laughs). By that time I was already starving, so first I suggested we go get some yakiniku. (laughs)
--What did you talk about at the yakiniku restaurant?
Murata: I asked “hey, why don’t we do a one-shot together first?”
--Your first collaboration was Earth Monster.
ONE: With Earth Monster, I made storyboards so that Murata-sensei would have something to work off of, and to give us something to show the editorial office. I took it as an opportunity to make something really flashy, the sort of thing I could never draw on my own. I stayed within manga contest regulations (*9), so it was probably around 31 to 45 pages.
Murata: But I wanted to use bigger panels, and expanded it to roughly 60 pages.
--So you submitted Earth Monster (*10) to the editorial office as a one-shot?
Murata: Actually, wasn’t Cockroach Busters (*11) the one we ended up showing to Young Jump first?
ONE: That’s right. Before that we showed it to your then-current editor at Weekly Shonen Jump; I think we made about four copies.
Murata: At the time I had an exclusive contract, so I felt obligated to draw it for Jump, but it wasn’t really panning out…And while I was wrapped up with that, I came down with gastroenteritis.
ONE: Your wife found you and called an ambulance.
Murata: I couldn’t move at all…That’s when I started thinking that if this exclusive contract was going to keep me from doing the work I wanted, then I had better do something about it. I called ONE-sensei from the hospital and told him “I’m terminating my contract, so how about we get a bunch of different one-shot manuscripts together and shop them around at different companies?” And that’s how things went.
--How did you end up at Neighborhood Young Jump?
ONE: Several different people had approached me with proposals for commercializing One-Punch Man. The question was, would I handle the illustrations myself, or get someone else to do them? Although personally I thought Murata-sensei was the best man for the job…Later there was discussion about me trying to draw a revised version, but after drawing about two chapters worth it became painfully obvious it would never sell. At that point Murata-sensei asked if he could take a stab at it. He redrew the first chapter with a felt-tip pen, and it blew me away. From there we started thinking about the best place to distribute this out to the world. With Murata-sensei’s connections we hooked up with an editor at Young Jump, and this led to the plan to run it in Neighborhood Young Jump, on condition that it be drawn by Murata-sensei. I thought it was incredible of Murata-sensei to publish this manga on the web rather than in print form, and I was sure everyone else would be impressed with it too. So with that, we made our proposal to Young Jump, and it began.
--Murata-sensei, were you in any way reluctant to publish the series online?
Murata: Back when I was doing Eyeshield 21 (*12), I had never read any webcomics, and my thoughts towards them didn’t extend much beyond “eh, doing one might be interesting”. But when this proposal came up, I had by then read ONE-sensei's One-Punch Man, so I felt like publishing on the web had real merit. For instance, with a weekly magazine each issue disappears from stores when the next one comes out a week later, but on the web people can read the previous chapters too. And since it’s available to the entire world, it seemed like a good way to gain a larger audience. Viewing something published online on my monitor, I was amazed at how pretty the lines were (laughs) (*13). But since up until that point I had only ever worked with lines on paper, I had absolutely no skills at making them look pretty on monitors...So me and my staff went through a lot of trial and error. That's what made it so interesting! Mastering a new field was a lot of fun.
Another advantage of drawing on the web is that you can make corrections. With Eyeshield 21, I was always pressed for time, which didn’t leave room for much trial and error…I’d question if what I was drawing was really up to snuff…then realize it wasn’t. But even after a chapter ran in Jump, there still wouldn’t be any time to fix it, so it would just remain as-is forever. This happened all the time, and really stressed me out. Online though, I can fine-tune things until I’m satisfied. Particularly the characters’ faces. I mean, when anyone other than ONE-sensei draws Saitama, he ends up a different character. Though at first I was real keen on putting a Shonen manga spin on him.
--I hear there were a lot of rejected Saitama faces.
Murata: That’s right. It wasn’t until I had drawn a good number of pages that I finally got the hang of his expressions. It was when he and Genos are listening to Sneck’s lecture at the Hero Association, and he’s noisily chewing gum. The moment I saw this bored-looking Saitama, a lightbulb went off in my head (laughs). I realized that because Saitama is so strong, for him everything is always boring. This made me want to redraw the whole thing from square one. Me and the staff had by then learned the ropes of drawing online and were really into it. I told them that this was the first step in what would be a historic manga; I was drawing in a daze of ecstasy.
--How do you two work together during the writing process? Does ONE-sensei create new storyboards?
Murata: With the main storyline or anything else where I’m going off of ONE-sensei’s original, I’m generally given free reign with page distribution and whatnot. But I’ll ask ONE-sensei if I have any questions.
ONE: That’s right.
Murata: For the main storyline, the dialogue stays pretty much the same. But with side-stories, sometimes I’ll try adding in scenes to ONE-sensei’s storyboards, or change the dialogue up a bit. In such cases, I’ll always ask ONE-sensei’s opinion. We’ll go back and forth fine-tuning it…and sometimes it’ll just end up reverting back to how it was in the beginning (laughs).
ONE: Murata-sensei always shows me whenever he thinks up new scenes or dialogue to add. For instance, with the A-Class hero Spring Mustachio, my storyboards just had his name and general appearance. He talked a bit and got beat up by the monster, nothing more. I didn’t plan to highlight what weapons he used or anything like that; that part was really cut short. But the storyboards Murata-sensei came up with featured him using his weapon against the monster, showing off his fighting chops so that the monster looked even more impressive by comparison. It was fantastic!
Murata: When I heard his weapon was a fencing (*14) rapier (*15), it reminded me of that cool swordsman from Wheels on Meals (*16). Sometimes it’s fun to add in more action like that.
--On the flipside, has ONE-sensei ever given you pointers on how to draw something?
Murata: On occasion. For instance, during the big showdown with Boros. Since I felt this was the heavyweight championship of the universe, I tried to make it as flashy as possible. However, midway through when Boros starts losing ground to Saitama, there were places where he appeared clownish…ONE-sensei pointed out to me that the reason Boros is popular is because he always retains his dignity, even against Saitama. That made it all click for me, and I redrew things from square one. When it comes to the storyline, characters, and dialogue, all of that flows from ONE-sensei’s head, so I constantly check in with him.
--Thank you very much. Finally, what do each of you consider a “true hero”?
Murata: "Even if you’re the strongest around, not letting it go to your head”, I guess. Abiding by your own rules. A true hero never waivers.
ONE: I agree; someone who never waivers. A true hero is someone who follows their dreams to the very end.
*1: ONE-sensei began serializing One-Punch Man in Weekly Shonen VIP on the community site Toshanai in 2009.
*2: A graphics tablet and related software.
*3: One of Weekly Shonen Jump’s most well-known series, a battle/adventure series by Akira Toriyama that ran in Jump from 1984 to 1995.
*4: The protagonist of Dragon Ball. A member of the Saiyans (a warrior race) who grew up on Earth. Though pure-hearted, he is also a super-warrior who loves fighting against strong opponents.
*5: The 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai (“Strongest Under the Heavens” Tournament). The reincarnation of the supposedly defeated Demon King Piccolo entered the tournament and battled Goku.
*6: A Japanese illustrator who has worked on numerous games and anime, including Street Fighter II.
*7: Yasuo Ootagaki-sensei. Wrote the story for the series Donten Prism Solar Car, which ran in Jump Square from 2010 to 2011.
*8: The aforementioned series which ran in Jump Square from 2010 to 2011, depicting the struggles and friendships of young people involved in the development of solar cars.
*9: There is a set number of pages for Rookie of the Year awards. For instance, the Tezuka Prize requires 31 pages.
*10: Original story by ONE-sensei. A doujinshi by ONE-sensei, Yusuke Murata-sensei, and Kinu Nishimura-sensei. An action story depicting the struggles of a father who becomes a giant to fight monsters, and his frustrated son.
*11: Comedy depicting the adventures of soldiers who undergo special training to exterminate cockroaches. Ran as a guest one-shot in the July 2015 issue of Young Gan-Gan.
*12: American Football manga series which ran in Weekly Shonen Jump from 2002 to 2009.
*13: The current Neighborhood Young Jump browser is improved constantly to allow everyone to read the latest One-Punch Man as soon as possible.
*14: A European style of swordplay, and now an Olympic sport.
*15: One-handed sword with a sharp point.
*16: 1984 Jackie Chan movie.