I’m thrilled to tell you that we interviewed Musashino-sensei, the genius behind Burning Kabaddi.
He told us several things about the story, where his inspiration comes from, etc. You’ll love the interview!
Here is it, hope you enjoy it:
When did you first begin drawing manga? What inspired you to start?
I first started drawing manga about ten years ago, at which time I was about 20 years old. I didn’t actually debut until I was 23, though.
There wasn’t anything in particular that “inspired” me, so to speak, but when I quit my job at the time, I started wondering what I should do next.
I wasn’t dead-set on drawing manga, but I decided to give it a try since I was somewhat confident in my art skills, and I really like the idea of “creating” something tangible through my work.
I suppose that’s what you could call my inspiration.
Were you interested in manga from a young age?
I did read manga, but I never drew any until later.
You mentioned that you began drawing at age 20. Was that when you were an assistant working on Kengan Ashura?
I was 22, almost 23 years old when I worked as an assistant for Kengan Ashura.
Before I became a professional myself, I needed to learn the basics and develop a foundation. Being able to work as an assistant on Kengan Ashura was a valuable learning experience since I got to work with seasoned professionals in the trade.
How did that experience as an assistant lead you to start writing Shakunetsu Kabaddi?
There wasn’t really a direct trajectory from Kengan Ashura to Burning Kabaddi, but the common thread between the two series was that the male characters were very cool, muscular types.
During my time as an assistant, I learned a lot about how to draw cool and tough-looking characters.
What led you to decide on writing a manga about Kabaddi?
I started out by creating a sample manuscript, which was a sports manga about basketball. I took that to my [now] publisher Shogakukan and asked them to evaluate it.
At that point, I had at least decided to write a sports manga, but hadn’t decided on which sport to focus on.
There are lots of different sports—baseball, soccer, and so on—but we tried looking for minor sports that people most likely hadn’t played or even heard of before.
In Japan, most people didn’t know about Kabaddi or what the rules are, so we decided that was the most suitable subject.
Did you do any work as an assistant or on your own between the time you worked on Kengan Ashura and Burning Kabaddi?
I think the most valuable work experience for me was when I was an assistant for a series about fencing called Silver Paladin.
The work environment was very tough because a lot of the team were inexperienced, and so the author really taught us a lot.
For example, how to frame the panels, how to direct readers’ attention, coloring, balancing black and white tones, and so on.
Working on the Silver Paladin team was the most valuable learning experience for me.
In the afterword of your Burning Kabaddi manga volumes, you always draw a cartoonish version of yourself and your editor. In your case, you always have a giant number “4” on your face. What is the meaning behind that?
Musashino-sensei: The number “four” relates to the many, many times I’ve entered manga prize contests. Much like in sports, they award a prize to the people in first, second and third, but fourth gets nothing.
Musashino-sensei: And I’d almost always come in fourth—just shy of being good enough to stand on the winners’ podium and claim my medal, so to speak. So I made a choice to draw myself with that “four” on my face so that I never forget the frustration I endured to make it to where I am today.
Mipon: Wow, I wasn’t expecting an answer like that! I thought it was because the number four is unlucky since it’s a homonym for the word “death” in Japanese.
Musashino-sensei: Either way, they’re both ominous numbers to me [laughs].
Kobayashi Sho-san [Editor]: Also, for the manga prize we [Shogakukan] run, the first, second, and third place winners are promised a serialized manga. The fourth, unfortunately, doesn’t get anything, so being that close to making it is also very frustrating and therefore part of Musashino-sensei’s reasoning.
Mipon: I can’t imagine how disappointing that must be. Nevertheless, you kept working and now you’ve succeeded with Burning Kabaddi. I truly admire your determination.
On a similar topic, you draw your editor dressed very much like Ryu from Street Fighter.
Musashino-sensei: That’s because he usually is dressed like that! [laughs]. But seriously, he does a lot of combat sports, which is something I’m not familiar with. So, just going off what I knew about him when we’d just met, I imagined him as this fighter dude, and the outfit seemed like a natural fit.
Kobayashi-san: I’ve actually practiced karate for ages. I was also the editor for Kengan Ashura, and through that position, I recruited Musashino-sensei as an assistant. In Kengan Ashura, I was also drawn in a similar way, so I think Musashino-sensei picked up on that and continued it.
Were there any sports manga that inspired you to create Burning Kabaddi?
Without a doubt, it would be Slam Dunk. It’s the gold standard not only for overall story, but also for character development and growth.
I’d even argue that it’s an excellent model for non-sports series too. I really learned a lot from it.
In terms of art, I was strongly influenced by a manga called Decathlon by Yoshihiro Yamada [serialized 1992-1999].
Yamada-sensei is very skilled at expressing emotions. I’ve been impressed with his art ever since I first saw it.
*Yamada-sensei is also the author of the baseball manga Giant and Hyouge Mono, winner of the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize.
Slam Dunk is very popular among overseas fans as well. It’s interesting that you chose to create a manga about a sport that is comparatively less well-known than basketball, however. What led you to decide on Kabaddi as your subject?
My interest kind of evolved from a genuine curiosity about the sport. It seemed interesting to me, and I wanted to learn more about how it was played and what the rules were.
So I did some research and watched people play the game in person.
As I watched, I noticed there were elements that could form a good story about competitive sport, such as martial arts and grappling, as well as the potential for dramatic moments when players are locked against one another, and so on.
Since Kabaddi is a relatively minor sport in Japan, there’s obviously a need to explain the rules and key aspects. How much of a challenge is it to maintain the balance between action scenes and the need to explain the sport to readers?
Musashino-sensei: On the contrary, I’d say it’s quite easy to balance action and information precisely because this is a sports manga. Consider Hikaru no Go—many readers including myself didn’t know the rules of Go at first, but because the characters speak and act while the explanations take place, it’s not boring at all.
Musashino-sensei: You’re not just on the receiving end of someone droning on about rules. The main character and the reader are both learning the rules of the game and understanding its intricacies as they go along. It’s like killing two birds with one stone, in the sense that you’re able to explain an idea to readers while at the same time developing the character.
Mipon: That’s an interesting answer. I hadn’t thought of it that way.
Musashino-sensei: I think trying to explain something the conventional way would be much harder.
Were there any characters, scenes or other story elements that you had thought of when first creating Burning Kabaddi, but eventually decided not to include?
I may still have the files somewhere in my computer, but at one time, I was planning a story arc about a girls’ Kabaddi team.
I kept putting it off though, telling myself there’s no need to rush or force it into the story, but I just never found the right timing for it.
At this point, it’s very unlikely that I’ll actually use that idea.
So we shouldn’t expect a female version of Burning Kabaddi?
I don’t think I’d be the right person for it [laughs]. Maybe someone who’s better at drawing cute characters could do better.
Is there any part of the story that you wish you could go back and change or rewrite entirely?
No, I’m quite happy with what I’ve done so far. There’s not really anything I’d want to redo.
There are some very minor things near the beginning of the story, but nothing that would have had much effect on the overall story.
Mipon: Let’s discuss the anime itself for a bit.
How closely were you involved in the anime production process?
Different authors probably are involved to varying degrees, but I was involved only a little bit. I spoke with the [anime] character designer several times, and he was kind enough to make changes when I asked.
I also checked all of the episode scripts and had the writers fix this or that line. But since my specialty is manga and drawing, I’m not all that well-versed in how the anime production process works.
So I didn’t want to get too involved and make too many requests.
How about the voice actor casting process?
I was fairly involved in the audition process. The production committee and I listened to several candidates for each character, sometimes tens of people per role.
Then we’d narrow it down to five or six people for each role and make a final decision from there.
Did you make most of the choices, or were they mostly group decisions?
I don’t think there was ever a time when I said “I want this person to play ___. It has to be him.”
To begin with, I didn’t really have a strong idea of what each character would sound like. So the production staff would say “Oh, this guy might make a good Yoigoshi,” or “He’s a bit like Ojo, don’t you think?”
That’s more or less how the selection process went.
Were there any memorable moments during the audition process?
The audition process itself was fairly uneventful, to be honest. Everyone tended to agree on whether this or that person was a good fit for each role.
But there were some things we had to work out during the recording process.
For example, what to do about the rule requiring players to repeat “kabaddi” during their raid, since it might interfere with their internal dialogue. That was resolved pretty easily.
But as for how to signal a “struggle” in animated form, we weren’t sure whether to make it text-only or have someone voice it too.
It could be interesting or comical at times, but on the other hand, it might also interfere with important or emotional scenes.
Compared to other sports anime like Kuroko’s Basketball or Haikyuu!, there aren’t any major female characters in Burning Kabaddi. Was there a particular reason for that?
With a lot of sports manga, even if there is a girl among the main characters, she rarely plays a major role in the story. If that’s the case, then it would make more sense to focus on the male characters and the sport itself and keep things as simple as possible.
Also, given the manga I’ve worked on, there weren’t many chances for me to draw female characters.
On top of that, I never really felt strongly that there really needed to be any, so if I were to include a girl or woman, I’d only be able to come up with something unremarkable or uninspired.
Of course, if I felt it was essential to the story, I’d introduce someone, but that just hasn’t been the case so far.
As for the characters that do appear, are any of their designs or personalities based on yourself or people you know?
I designed the personalities of each character all on my own, so that there was a suitable balance, or because I thought including a certain type of person would make things interesting.
I didn’t really draw inspiration from anyone in that regard.
However, fairly often I would base characters on old friends from school, or have people I know model for me, so there are some aspects of their physical appearances that I used for certain characters.
Which characters, in particular, were based on your friends?
Ban is actually based on a friend of mine from high school who had a pompadour. Ban’s appearance, and even a little bit of his personality, was based on that friend.
He looked like a bad-ass delinquent type, but he was excellent at subjects like Home Economics or Art.
He was decent at sports, but he was really good with delicate and precise work. I was inspired by that “gap” between his looks and personality.
There’s also Utou, the captain of Saitama Kouyou’s team. I have a childhood friend of mine that’s super cheerful and outgoing, and I based Utou’s appearance on him, especially his hairstyle.
He can’t manage to keep his hair from sticking up like that.
Most of the other characters were created entirely from scratch, then? I imagine it must be difficult to create whole characters like that.
I think it’s more that I’m just not conscious of how or by whom I’m being influenced. With all the manga I’ve read, actors I’ve seen on TV or in movies, friends and acquaintances, and so on—that all get jumbled up in your subconscious memory.
So rather than starting from scratch, I’d say I’ve already got these archetypes that I’ve formed through my day-to-day life.
In addition to that, by the point when Burning Kabaddi began serialization, I had already created lots of characters.
I’m talking about tens of them. It was a bit like the voice actor audition process—I’d say “This guy should be on the main character’s team, while this other guy should…” and so on.
Even characters I didn’t end up using at first were sort of fused together personality-wise, or even sometimes shed certain character traits, and reborn as a whole new character who’d be introduced at a later point in the story.
That’s my approach to creating characters. I wouldn’t say it’s not difficult, but it works.
Not long after Yoigoshi joins the team, Ban, Seki and Hitomi also join. Those three each have their own unique traits that, at first glance, don’t suggest that they’d be well-suited to play Kabaddi. As the story progresses though, they make remarkable progress and really mature and improve. Was it your original plan to create these seemingly mismatched characters and place them on that narrative path?
As for Ban, Seki, Hitomi, and the other characters who appear later on in the series, they all came from that “audition” process I just mentioned.
Characters that were fun, but didn’t need to be introduced right from the beginning, didn’t make it past the first round of my selection process.
As for how I wanted them to grow, I had this idea in mind. There certainly may be lots of people who may not appear “suitable,” whether that means they’re total beginners, or they don’t have the right skills for the sport, or whatever.
But I think it’s important to insert those kinds of characters alongside people like the main character and seasoned sportsman Yoigoshi, or Azemichi—who are Kabaddi “amateurs,” but a level above total beginners to the sport, and establish a more precise difference between skill levels.
I wanted to show that even players who may be better than average need those “average” players to grow.
And since I imagine most of us are like those average players, I wanted to depict their growth, what kind of worries they deal with, and how they overcome adversity, because that adds layers of depth to the story.
That’s why I wanted to include Ban, Seki, and Hitomi.
And in my opinion, anyway, there’s no one who isn’t always growing and maturing, so I have an image of the people I’d like everyone to grow into, and what they’ll be like at the end.
In your opinion, who has grown the most as a person?
I would have to say Yoigoshi. He obviously becomes a better player as the story progresses, but he matures significantly as a person.
In the beginning, he’s fairly immature emotionally; that is to say, he has plenty of good qualities, but he’s a bit of a loose cannon.
By becoming involved in a different sport [than his background in soccer], he’s able to become a much more focused and well-rounded person.
He changes the most out of all the characters.
Mipon: It seems to me that relatively speaking, Ban, Seki, and Hitomi are introduced quite early on in the story. Not long after Yoigoshi joins at the beginning of the series, even.
Other sports series may gradually introduce new characters later on, but I was a bit surprised that Yoigoshi already has kouhai members under him even though he’s still quite new to the team.
Although they’re his juniors on the team, the three of them are also in the same academic year as Yoigoshi. But more importantly, when the series begins, [Noukin] still doesn’t have the minimum 6 players needed to form a full team and enter tournaments, or they’d have to ask friends to be temporary members.
And in terms of the manga, Ban, Seki, and Hitomi join the team in volume 3, which I think is ideal timing, story-wise.
If they’re not able to take part in matches with their full-time members, they’d have to call in temporary players until a much stronger character joins the team later on—that kind of thing happens somewhat often in other sports series.
If a new main character joins later on and displaces the old temporary member, who no longer stands out or maybe leaves the story entirely.
While that may be the case with some sports series, I felt the same way as when deciding not to include female characters if they’re just gonna be in the background.
If that’s where these characters end up, then I don’t need them in the first place. I’d rather create that core group and remain focused on them.
In your opinion, what makes Kabaddi such an interesting sport? What is its appeal?
I’m not an actual Kabaddi player, so all I can do is rely on my imagination to draw scenes that excite readers and get them fired up, and create situations that people who are experienced players would recognize.
Kabaddi is of course a team sport, with offense and defense, but it also involves individual performance. That’s what struck me as interesting first of all.
So I researched and attended some matches, and as a spectator, it looked like so much fun. Since it isn’t played by many people here in Japan, and it’s not a major sport,
I liked the idea of being the first person to create a manga about it. In a similar way, I hope that more and more students might read my work and become interested in the sport, or even strive to become professional players.
After all, there is a Japan team, and with the current popularity of Kabaddi, the barrier for entry is still quite low—which I consider a good thing.
With mainstream sports, there are lots of people who’ve been playing since they were little kids, and so there’s an overabundance of people who want to play.
Kabaddi, on the other hand, doesn’t have that problem, and people who do play have a very high chance of being at the center of the action or leading the team.
That’s something you don’t see much in other sports, which makes Kabaddi appealing to me.
Since Burning Kabaddi takes place in modern-day Japan, we as an anime tourism website would love to know if any locations in the series are based on real-life locations that fans could make pilgrimages to.
Well, in volume 4 of the manga, the training camp that the characters visit is modeled after a similar facility deep in the Chichibu mountains of Saitama, near Ashigakubo Station. I took some photos of the station and the surrounding areas.
And one of the “slice-of-life” scenes in volume 8 is set in the Odaiba area of Tokyo. I went to take a few photos and recreated them faithfully in the manga.
How about Noukin High, or the other schools?
There aren’t any models for the schools. I just pictured a typical Kanto region, such as a suburb somewhere in Kanagawa, and occasionally went out to take pictures of the area.
Mipon: I think I can speak for most foreign anime fans when I say how much I enjoy visiting these spots, so I can’t help but ask [laughs]. I do think it’s funny how closely the real-life locations resemble their anime counterparts.
By the way, I’ve been eyeing those posters displayed on the wall in your room. Are you a movie buff?
Yeah, I’m a huge fan of horror movies, so I’ve got some posters behind me. Mostly classics like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Nightmare on Elm Street.
Musashino: [pointing to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre poster]: You see how he’s got the chainsaw here? People always mistake him as Jason from the Friday the 13th franchise, but Jason’s never used a chainsaw. Not even once!
And this other one is of Michael Meyers from the Halloween franchise. It’s not too famous in Japan, sadly.
Mipon: Would you ever consider doing a horror manga?
Probably not likely, for now anyway. But interestingly enough, sports manga and horror share some narrative elements.
For example, building suspense and surprising the reader when they turn the page and something incredible happens. In that way, what I’m working on now might make for good reference material.
Mipon: Wow, that’s a good point! I never thought about it that way.
Many of our readers would like to create their own manga or light novel someday. Can you please offer some advice about what they should do or how to do it?
Every author has their own opinion of course, but I think that first and foremost, you just have to draw, draw and draw some more.
But don’t just doodle without any sense of purpose. That won’t get you anywhere.
Most successful authors think about what they want to draw and stay focused on it.
To create a manga, the most important thing is that you have something you want to draw, regardless of what anyone else thinks about it.
Don’t worry about other people’s opinions. Just keep drawing.
Rather than simply studying technique, or learning from other manga, the people who are actually drawing stuff are much more likely to make it as professionals.
Some people focus too much on the story or become reviewers and critics, but the ones who become pros are the ones that are always drawing.
Thanks to Happinet, DMM Pictures, Musashino-sensei, Kobayashi-san, our friend Shun and everyone that made this interview possible.
Big thanks to Karl, a member of our team, for interviewing and translating it for us!
Finally, thanks to the Mipon community for the questions and suggestions.
Interview and Translation: Karl Bruder.
DISCLAIMER: All the images above were used with the permission of Happinet.