Vinland Saga author Makoto Yukimura and Attack on Titan author Hajime Isayama had a chance to do a joint interview for Comic Natalie, as part of the promotion for the upcoming Vinland Saga Season 2. The interview, in form of a conversation, was recorded by Umino Wataru and this was the mangakas’ first meeting. They talked about their work, character development, overseas reception, and more.
When asked when they first heard of each other, Yukimura states that he first learn of Isayama’s existence when Attack on Titan manga first came out – about 11 years ago. For Isayama, it was when he saw the anime adaptation of Planetes and decided to read the original work, either in high school or vocational school. He states he got into Vinland Saga around the “Slave” arc. Isayama goes on to praise the arc, saying how he found himself surprised by the wonderful structure of the story.
On Choosing a Theme
Yukimura says he got into Planetes without much preparation, so it became quite difficult to gather material for each new volume. He decided to start a new manga after deciding on the theme and the flow, and the theme he came up with was “violence.” With Vikings as the subject matter, he decided to depict whether it was possible to deny violence and whether humanity could abandon violence through people who are not charged with any crime even if they kill. That was the starting point of Vinland Saga. Isayama adds that even though the story is set in Viking times, the themes it explores are modern. The fighters hope to go to Valhalla if they die and by including the perspective of the victim, Thorfinn, the story is able to connect with modern readers. Isayama also adds that the story manages to portray the fear that people in the past were probably closer to animals than they are now. Yukimura follows up by saying that before the spread of Christianity in Europe violence was much more widespread – and something that was encountered on a daily basis. The low value of life at the time is something that Vinland Saga can successfully depict
When asked about the difficulties in drawing Vinland Saga, Yukimura jokingly says that he often can’t get his brush to work and also adds that he struggles with getting the story to go where he wants it to. “Doesn’t that happen to you?” he asks Isayama. “There were times when I couldn’t control what the main character was going to do because he was so set in his ways. “Is he this kind of person?” I would wonder,” says Isayama. Yukimura adds that he knew the characters wouldn’t act in a specific way but couldn’t help but go in a different direction: “I think it’s a common trait for manga artists.“
When asked who his favorite character was, Yukimura said that he loved them all. “I love Thorfinn and Askeladd of course, but I also love Thorkell and Leif. It is difficult to find someone I don’t like. Floki has a very human side to him, as he loves his grandchildren, and I can’t dislike King Sven either, considering the many things that happened to him that led him to become this way. King Sven was originally supposed to have a face like Knut, but I guess he became like that when he was put in charge of the fate of the country.“
Isayama’s favorite character in Vinland Saga is Thorfinn. He says he doesn’t often like the main character in the story but Thorfinn is exceptional because he keeps going forward while repeatedly destroying and building up. The guilt he carries makes him full of humanity, which is something that Isayama finds appealing. Yukimura says that this is good, as he was worried about how readers would perceive him since he changed so much since the beginning. “The only thing that is the same is his height,” he says. Isayama points out that old Thorfinn still appears in front of Knut and that it makes him sad to think about how he would still have the same personality had he grown up normally
On Vinland Saga Anime and Overseas Reception
Yukimura says how he was amazed by the animation and art and also worried for the animators’ health. He jokingly adds that he stopped praising them as much because it would only make them work harder. Isayama praised the animation, highlighting Askeladd’s death as his favorite moment, especially with the blade which reflected his backstory.
Yukimura says that he wants everyone to see the anime before reading his manga because it complements the story wonderfully. He says he was worried he was perhaps rushing the story while he was working on it but that director Shuhei Yabuta and screenwriter/series compositor Hiroshi Seko completely dispelled his concerns. Director Yabuta closely read the original manga, according to the author. Yukimura says he once went fishing with Yabuta who told him that like Thorfinn he runs his life on anger, but that he was surprised because Yukimura “laughs so much.” Yukimura says that he looks forward to seeing what Yabuta does in the second season (that he will also direct).
Isayama says that this story reminded him of his talks with Tetsuro Araki, who directed the first three seasons of Attack on Titan anime at WIT Studio. He says that while it would be presumptuous to say that they are creating something together, they definitely show the inner parts of their personalities through their work and he adds that they talked about the darkness they saw in each other’s creations as well.
According to Yukimura, the anime has been well received overseas; especially in Iceland. He thinks that streaming has made it possible to reach more people all over the world. He even asked Isayama how he felt seeing overseas fans’ reactions to the Attack on Titan anime. “I love western movies and foreign dramas, so the influence of those things is reflected in my work. One of the things that made me happy was that Attack on Titan”, which is filled with these influences, was able to reach people overseas as well. I am simply happy that people are enjoying the anime. I felt as if I was sharing the feeling of watching and enjoying it with them,” Isayama said.
Yukimura mentions how he saw a video of foreign viewers who were reacting to Attack on Titan. “When I saw them screaming “Oh my God!”, I agreed with them,” he says. Isayama comments by saying that this makes him happy because he can’t know the real-time reactions of readers when he is drawing something.
Both mangakas also mentioned what they recently saw: for Yukimura it was My Dress-Up Darling that “keeps getting better as he watches more,” while Isayama focused on the latest season of Stranger Things. He says he still hasn’t finished The Boys and Obi-Wan Kenobi.
On Respect for Each Other
When asked what they respect about each other, Isayama says that he is amazed by Yukimura’s drawing and composition skills. Simply being talented at drawing is not enough if it is difficult to tell what is going on, and according to Isayama art in Vinland Saga is simply “seamless.” Yukimura thanks him and says he will have to make his sons read the interview once it’s up. Yukimura is amazed by Isayama’s speed and he even asked how many times Isayama took a break during Attack on Titan’s serialization. “Only one time, when the [Bessatsu Shonen] Magazine took a break due to the coronavirus pandemic,” was Isayama’s reply.
Yukimura goes on to say that he respects the spirit of an artist who finishes their work in one take. Continuously drawing is taxing and he takes a lot of breaks. Isayama adds that it would be difficult to maintain Vinland Saga quality without breaks, but Yukimura continues to insist that he is slower and that Isayama’s execution is praiseworthy.
Makoto Yukimura actually tweeted after the interview was published saying that he read the interview to his sons: “Your Isayama-sensei is praising your father! Tell your dad that he is cool!”
All the drawing for Vinland Saga is now done digitally, due to COVID-19 restrictions. Before chapter 168 Yukimura would hand draw, scan, and then do the finishing touches digitally. Isayama says he was also forced to switch at the end of Attack on Titan, but that he couldn’t do it fully so his assistant would commute and help. If he gets a chance, he would also like to fully transition to digital.
Vinland Saga – End in Sight?
Yukimura has been working on the Vinland Saga for around 17 years. He currently wants to see his children grow up safely and properly draw Vinland until the final chapter while utilizing digital tools and even trying out full-color panels. He says the roadmap for the manga has been drawn up years ago but a lot of things have changed. However, not a lot is left. There are many characters that he didn’t initially plan to include, but he realized that he can be a bit more playful and flexible in certain situations.
Isayama says that roadmaps always expand and wonders if he had enough characters in Attack on Titan, even though the number was much bigger than he originally intended. [Attack on Titan spoilers ahead] He says he wonders if having Jean and others form meaningful connections in Marley would have been better because them getting crushed could have created a bigger impact. Yukimura says that the scene in which refugee children get crushed was shocking and that he was horrified to think that they were born only to be crushed by Eren. To him, this clearly depicts Eren’s sins.
Isayama agrees but says that atonement for the sins needs to be shown. To him, the latest volume of Vinland Saga does it differently because it has taken so long to show Thorfinn’s suffering. Layering the story is important in order to create a moving scene and he says he is sure readers can relate to the weight of Thorfinn’s redemption. Yukimura says he spent many years drawing that scene and thinking how it would definitely move people, so he was also deeply moved by it.
The interview concludes with both authors saying how they look forward to the upcoming second season of Vinland Saga, which is set to air this January. Yukimura can’t wait to see new characters on screen, while Isayama looks forward to seeing the details only anime adaptation can give. The highly-anticipated sequel will be animated by studio MAPPA, while the main staff will remain the same.
Read the full interview with Vinland Saga and Attack on Titan authors on Comic Natalie.
Featured image: © Makoto Yukimura, Kodansha; ©Hajime Isayama, Kodansha