Masashi Kishimoto, manga-ka. 1974 – Present.
Masashi Kishimoto is one of those select few who can compete with a god - creating his own world, so complete, so fulfilling, that it could exist.
Masashi Kishimoto was born in the rural Okayama Prefecture in 1974 (Showa Year 49). He was the older of twin brothers. He had to be put in an incubator at birth because he was premature.
On his first birthday, he participated in a village tradition where a child has a rice cake tied to their back and three objects placed before them. Whatever they choose, that is their future career. From an abacus, a paintbrush, and money, Kishimoto chose the money. That did not prevent Kishimoto from becoming the artist he is today. When he was at his parent’s home, he saw a brown stain. When he asked what it was, he was told that “One day you used your poop and started drawing on the wall. We tried over and over to wash it off but it left a stain…” Disgusting, but interesting.
When Kishimoto was in pre-school, he became interested in nature. His elders had a hard time finding him when he would just freeze and stare at the things he found. This was the same at his house where his eyes were stuck to the television. Even when his parents were talking to him and he faced away from the TV, his eyes were still looking at it. Meaning, he had completely white eyes. Freaky.
Kishimoto loved TV shows in those days. His favorite was Doraemon. Everyone talked about it at school. However, whenever it was drawn by others, it was drawn incorrectly. So Kishimoto yelled at them to do it right. He showed them how, and got into many fights about this.
He later saw himself as pretty annoying.
Kishimoto started filling up notebooks full of doodles. Even when he was playing hide and seek, he would draw figures in the dirt while waiting. One day, Kishimoto saw Mobile Suit Gundam. Thus began a new fascination, and the notebooks were full of Zakus, Gundam, and GMs. And it doesn’t stop there. His new interest was Dr. Slump. Kishimoto would draw it all the time. He even submitted a picture to a contest. He got his first edit at this time. His mom saw this drawing and decided a girl needs lipstick, and added it. That was the first time in Kishimoto’s life where he was really pissed.
And because of Dr. Slump, Kishimoto learned about and started loving Dragonball Z (same author-Akira Toriyama). He enjoyed it so much that he would borrow the comics from friends because he couldn’t afford the 190 Yen Shonen Jump. Like always, he would draw the characters in notebooks. Akira Toriyama was like a god to him. Because of Dragonball Z, he learned about other manga. He read them all in Shonen Jump. This is where the dream of becoming a manga-ka started. He even started drawing manga, and made his first comic about a shadow ninja boy.
Through comics, Kishimoto found video games. He saw a video game (Dragon Quest) created by Toriyama. Kishimoto so wanted to play that game. Yet, he couldn’t get a Famicon because his parents wouldn’t let him. So he decided to get one from a friend. When his friend finally gave one to him, Kishimoto viewed this friend as a god (something tells me he easily deifies things.). Ironically, his dad who wouldn’t let him play the games or buy him the video game consoles and accessories, enjoyed RPGs and Dragon Quest so much that he bought, played, and beat each game as soon as it came out. Kishimoto found this hilarious.
Around this time, Kishimoto was attacked by monkeys on a trip to the zoo. No joke. He accidentally stepped on a young monkey, and was assailed by the alpha male and the mother. Ever since then, he’s been afraid of monkeys.
As Kishimoto entered middle school, the passion for drawing left him. Each day would pass, with him asking “Am I too old to draw?” And the answer came. In the form of an anime called Akira. Kishimoto passed the poster, and fell in love with it. He loved the style of Kaneda and the bike. The composition. The perspective. The feel. The detail. The realism. Everything. On that day, Kishimoto became manga-ka once more.
Kishimoto realized that the reason he loved the styles were because they were original. They were stylized, nothing done before. So Kishimoto tried coming up with his own style. Then he noticed that most styles incorporate different styles into one. So Kishimoto grabbed dozens of artbooks of the various artists whom he adored.
He did go to art school. It didn’t help, as most art is learned by simply doing things on your own – that is the reality of the manga industry. Taking the classes was more like a step backwards because Kishimoto was so far ahead in what he knew.
But it took a while for Kishimoto to become the great manga-ka he is today. He had to work hard. One of the first mangas ever made by him sucked hard. Kishimoto looked back and saw that he was young and stupid. Although that did work to his advantage. He was so stupid he didn’t see the limits that normally limited other people, and just kept on going.
After art school, he won the Hop Step Award for new artists with his manga Karakuri (mechanism in Japanese). His next story was the first version of Naruto - a one-shot story about fox spirits. His final version debuted in Weekly Shonen Jump in 1999.
Growing up in a languid town enforced Kishimoto to be relaxed, and slow-paced. He had distaste for capitalist society from his small village’s views. He barely ever meets his deadlines.
He is a fan of chabbara, but only the old Kurosawa flicks.
Kishimoto decided not to follow the old black masked ninja stereotype, because that would have just buried Naruto amongst all the other ninja comics. So he made the clothes bright and fresh. He made it a ninja comic because there are too many samurai comics. He feels there are still too many, and will stick with the ninja. Kishimoto came up with the hand gestures instead of shouting out the techniques (they are ninjas, after all.).
The technology in the world of Naruto is about the same as this year, 2004, that is accessible to the average joe. The exception to this is weapons – they’re set a bit earlier, so there are no firearms. Kishimoto has no interest in East Indian mysticism. He came up with and used the chakra to explain the power system. Similar to The Force and chi.
There is a reason why Naruto is associated with the frog. As it happens to be, there is a very popular ninja manga whose main character Hattori-Kun dislikes frogs. Thus, when you talk about ninjas you end up near frogs. Frogs also have the oils from their skin used for traditional ointments. Sakura became associated with the snail and Sasuke with the snake from the triad of snake, snail, and frog from Japanese folklore. The snake beats frog, snail beats snake, and frog beats snail (rock, paper, scissors.). Collectively, they are Sansukumi.
For all the fangirls: the only reason why Naruto and Sasuke kiss is to surprise the readers. And for good reason as to why Sakura disliked Naruto in the beginning.
There will never be a manga adaptation of Ichalcha Paradise.
His words to aspiring artists:
“Creating manga isn’t just about drawing well, but writing a good story. Keep the art and the story real, and you can't lose. Also, watch a lot of good Hollywood movies. Those who rail against the entertainment industry are just being close-minded.”
Masashi Kishimoto. "Ninja Master Kishimoto." Shonen Jump vol. 6, June 2003. pp. 3-7.
Masashi Kishimoto. Masashi Kishimoto Child History. 10 vols. Tokyo: Shueisha Inc., 1999-2001.