Interview: ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM Creator Matsui Yusei on Movie Adaptations and Saying Goodbye to Koro Sensei

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Interview: ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM Creator Matsui Yusei on Movie Adaptations and Saying Goodbye to Koro Sensei
After drawing the final chapters of ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM, one of Japan’s most successful recent manga, creator Matsui Yusei visited the US for the first time for New York Comic Con.  As the only English-language interview granted during his first stop at a Japan Society Q&A, Matsui spoke with me about saying goodbye to his popular characters and his thoughts on the successful anime and live-action movie adaptations of his beloved comic.
 
The Lady Miz Diva:  Welcome to New York City. Is this really your first trip to our city? 
 
Matsui Yusei:  Yes!
 
LMD:  I’d like to begin at the end.  Since ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM has recently ended,
can you please take us through those last days of the manga’s creation?
 
MY:  Everything was very calculated when it comes to ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM.  I felt like it was just as scheduled as planned.  
 
While it is over for the manga itself, it is a different question with regard to the movies or non-manga adaptations: The movie and the anime were going at the same time, and so I was timing the last story with those.  So if I got sick and the manga was late, that would delay the anime, so for six months, I could not take a day off.  I was kind of walking on eggshells and making sure I wasn’t going to get sick.  That’s what it was like.
 
LMD:  What was it like for you emotionally to complete the final drawing of the last panel of ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM?  
 
MY:  Hmm… it wasn’t anything dramatic.
 
LMD:  So no crying?
 
MY:  The climax I felt was a little bit before the very end, so at that time, I was getting very emotional, holding back tears.  I have an assistant who sits right next to me and I was hiding my tears away from my assistant and I started to get a little dribbly. 
 
LMD:  Do you remember the first time you understood that western readers were enjoying ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM? 
 
MY:  This gets into an area that’s a little funny.  I actually have not had a direct way to observe how it’s been in the western world.  As a mangaka, I just write it home, so in my career, I have had very little opportunity to get feedback from fans directly.  People kind of told me, but it was just dreamlike and I don’t really believe it’s happening.
 
LMD:   KORO-SENSEI Q! is an upcoming manga adaptation by Aoto Jō and Watanabe Kizuku that you are not involved with.  How do you feel about the characters and world you created being presented by other artists either in manga, anime, or film? 
 
MY:  I do check their character designs and their scripts, everything like that.  Some of the artists, for example, were comic artists begin with and I trust them.  I trust their taste as manga artists.  I know that they are taking care of my characters and taking care of my ideas.
 
LMD:  I read that you are a big fan of JOJO’S BIZARRE ADVENTURE.
 
MY:  Yes!
 
LMD:  Miike Takashi’s live-action film version is set to premiere in 2017.  As someone who is a manga fan and someone who has had his manga turned into a live action film, do you feel that film adaptations have a responsibility to respect the original work and the readers?
 
MY:  I think there might be a difference between how Japan does it versus the US.  I think when one doesn’t do well compared to the other, it is because one is looking down on the other.  So, for example, sometimes they think, ‘Oh it’s a famous title, it will be fine.’ And on the manga side, they sometimes will think, ‘Hey it’s a new form of marketing for a manga, so great.’  The manga side should want to make money, of course, but the mangaka him or herself should comment about how their live-action is being made.  
 
So we have to live in each other’s worlds and communicate well.  I think that will make the adaptation more smooth and fans will love it as long as there is communication between the film side and the mangaka side.
 
LMD:  Have you ever been surprised after seeing the films or anime?
 
MY:   So, since there is a lot of communication, as I mentioned, I feel that my ideas and thoughts and requests were all well communicated, so it was as expected.
 
LMD:  I’ve always been intrigued by the design of Koro Sensei. How did you take the most benign, universally-known symbol of the smiley face, and get so much expression out of him?
 
MY:  I don’t know, as far as the expression goes… {Takes a small water bottle and draws two dots and a smiley face}  That’s his expression.  This has just become a character, this little water bottle.  As long as there are eyes and a mouth, then it is limitless what you can do.  So, it’s very simple.  I wasn’t worrying about it; I was confident in what I created.
 
LMD:  Many of your creations are very surreal and fantastical.  Besides Koro Sensei, there are also the surreal creatures from your other manga, NEURO: SUPERNATURAL DETECTIVE and TOKYO DEPARTMENT STORE WARS.  Please talk about using the fantastical to convey realistic messages or situations.
 
MY:  I think if something happens in the real world, I think it would happen this way; just this kind of logic.  I thought if Koro Sensei came to a classroom, I think this is what it would be like.  At the beginning, I think people might be frightened, but it’s not like he is attacking anyone, right?  And he’s actually being a serious teacher, which I think would stop the fear, and that’s where it becomes closer to the real world.  I think there’s no difference with when we were students, when we were kids.
 
LMD:  Between the underestimated students of ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM and Katsuragi Yako in NEURO, there is a very twisted but loving message about mentors and the importance of mentors in the lives of these kids. You show how that connection blossoms into a strong, supportive family.  Did you personally act as a mentor to others, like the ones you created?
 
MY:  Personally, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a mentor, but I have been in that position, sometimes.  I wasn’t really conscious of it, being that fatherly, but maybe having more that positive role, perhaps as with Neuro and Koro Sensei.  But even if there’s chaos, they have the power and the strength to be that person to bring peace again to the chaos.
 
LMD:  Was there a reason Koro Sensei’s human identity didn’t have a proper name?  He was a mystery right to the end.
 
MY:  I feel it wasn’t necessary.  One thing from my personal policy; if it’s not necessary, don’t even worry about it.  Even if Koro Sensei actually had a name, I don’t think it would really been a huge plus.  So, if it’s not going to be of any use, then I don’t worry about it.
 
LMD:  What practical lessons did being the assistant of Sawai Yoshio, the creator of BOBOBO-BO BO-BOBO, teach you that helped you with NEURO: SUPERNATURAL DETECTIVE and ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM?
 
MY:  How to make people laugh.  He is the type of person who tries to bring out laughter in every conversation, and if he can’t make someone laugh, he gets angry.  So, I definitely got a good workout in learning how to do that.  
 
And also the shonen manga genre; it is for certain age range.  It is for a certain audience.  Fundamentally, I do like writing for an adult audience and what I learned from him - not in the case of NEURO- but this time I created a manga that had a lighter tone for adults and for youths.
 
LMD:  You spoke earlier about planning and timing ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM.  Was that always the trajectory you had in mind for the manga, 21 volumes and out? 
 
MY:  The movie and the anime were at the same time; that was already set.  I wanted to finish it to coincide with the release of the movie, ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM: THE GRADUATION, but I knew inside of me that I could finish it within a certain time, so I had already told the production company.  So, then they said, okay, and then we set the schedule based on that.
 
LMD:   But did you feel you told the story that you wanted to tell exactly as you envisioned it?
 
MY:  Yes, definitely.
 
LMD:  Because I wanted more.
 
MY:  {Laughs} Honestly, at the beginning, I think it lasted longer than I thought it would.  In my schedule, Asano’s son {Gakushū}, I was not going have him play in the story and was going to have only the battle with the principal. So, with the anime and the live action, I added a couple of things because of those two adaptations and then I finished it in 21 volumes.
 
LMD:  During the Japan Cuts Film Festival, we got to see the live-action adaptation of BAKUMAN, which gives a fictional account of the Shonen Jump manga artists.  It kind of confirmed what a lot of people thought of how overworked mangaka are, getting no sleep…
 
MY:  {Laughs} I get to sleep seven hours a day, and then twice a week, I pull all-nighters.
 
LMD:  In ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM, the bullying and the pressure that many of the Class 3-E students of go through feels quite universal, despite it being set in Japan.  Did you have a sense that you were writing about the challenges that students face everywhere?
 
MY:  Those were topics that I tackled about that were specific to Japan, but when you ask me that, I realise that it’s actually fairly universal.  So I am kind of learning that the things I tackled in ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM are actually quite universal.
 
LMD:  I think everyone wants to know what is in the future for Matsui-san?  What can fans look forward to?
 
MY:  I’m not a person who is like, something tells me that I have to write, so I write.  I will be reading magazines and then all of a sudden, it will like hit me, ‘Oh, maybe I should write about this?’  Something that the people will want.  So I will write when I find what people want to read about.  So, I can’t say what I’m working on now, but when I find it, then I can start on that next project.
 
LMD:  So what was that thing that hit you about ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM?
 
MY:  As far as the school theme, that actually came later.  I wanted to write a manga that sells.  That is because it would be in Shonen Jump.  If it is in Shonen Jump, then it can’t just be for the people that just want to read that specific story.  It is a responsibility to have the most universality and to have the biggest audience.  So the simplicity of Koro Sensei’s design is for the universality, and then I just kind of went from there, and just added and added and added until ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM came to fruition.
 
LMD:  Who is the hero of ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM?
 
MY:  I do see it as all the students are the main characters - the heroes.  It is Nagisa, on a fundamental level.
 
LMD:  I feel like you fleshed in each one of the characters so well, I wondered if you spent a lot of time planning each student and how they would turn out?
 
MY:  It was actually with the flow; that is because that is that way in each classroom.  So, you have the student just sitting in the corner, but then they are in the same groups, and they have the same activities.  And then you say, ‘Hey, that person is interesting,’ so you have more opportunity to know the characters.  So instead of saying, ‘This character is all about this,’ I wanted to have a different approach.
 
LMD:  Are you aware that your characters sometimes look like you?  There is Ishigaki from NEURO and the student Isogao and human Koro Sensei, himself from ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM.  Is that a conscious self-insert? 
 
MY:  Yeah, I wonder why those three?  I guess they are similar but… What is it about those three characters that makes you say that?
 
LMD:  Physically, they look like you; they have the black shaggy hair, a very nice face…
 
MY:  {Laughs} Thank you.  I am handsome. {Laughs} It wasn’t a conscious decision.  I was just creating a character as needed, and it just happened to be that way.
 
LMD:  You once said in a Jump Festa interview that you were really happy to know that English-speaking audiences read your manga and that you would like to meet them and have a drink someday.  Do you feel like that is possible now with this visit? 
 
MY:  After this event, there’s a party.  So I am going to talk with the fans and drink for free; that is going to be awesome for me.
 
 
Special thanks to Ms. Sekiya Tomomi, Mr. Shannon Jowett and the excellent staff of Japan Society and Ms. Takada Yasue of Viz Media for their invaluable assistance arranging this interview.
 
This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.
 
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