Friday, March 2, 2012

"Homo Volant" Reissue Interview

Before anyone gets bent out of shape or tries to be funny, "Homo Volant" is Latin for "Human Flight".

The reason I decided to translate this article from the Gakken Otona no Kagaku mook from the ornithopter kit is that the interview with the Volant manga artist is conducted by Yoshitou Asari, one of my favorite artists (Space Family Carlvincent, and Lucu Lucu). The fact that the person being interviewed used to work at Tezuka's anime studio as an animator, and had directed both Harmaggedon and Barefoot Gen is just icing on the cake.

The problem is that the text is small even on the original pages, and it's really hard to read in English at normal screen dimensions. So, I did the word balloons for the manga, and the main text for page 1. For page 2, though, I'll just put in numbers to refer to the text below as necessary.

All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only. Translation copyright Curtis H. Hoffmann (c) 2012.






Page 2

(1) Aspiring aircraft illustrator Hyokichi is sketching at the airport, but he's not satisfied because there aren't any of the older craft to be seen. That day, he meets a mysterious old man who says the puzzling words "homo volant".

(2) Hyokichi enters a cave and is surrounded by various gliders in flying positions. There's the Wright's Flyer, and Ble'riot's monoplane - history's big names all around him.

(3) The old man reappears and tells the boy that if he wants to see "living aviation history", to get into the simulator. Hyokichi pulls back on the control stick and passes out as darkness envelops him.

(4) Wondering what "homo volant" could mean, Hyokichi walks until he suddenly sees Lilienthal's glider (he doesn't notice anyone else around him). In a trance he chases after it.

(5) When he recovers, he meets Otto Lilienthal, who had died in 1869. The simulator had allowed Hyokichi to travel through time.

(6) From the newspaper, knowing that Lilienthal is going to die in the accident the next day, Hyokichi tries to persuade him to stop the experimental flight, but...


Page 3

"Homo Volant" Special Commemorative Re-issue Conversation





To commemorate this re-issue, a special conversation between artist-director Mori Masaki and Yoshitou Asari. As a boy, Yoshitou was strongly influenced by "Homo Volant" and thus developed an interest in airplanes. Later, he became a manga artist and drew two volumes of Gakken's "Manga Science" as well as "How to Make Rockets".


Mori Masaki
Born in 1941. Debuted in 1960 in the monthly magazine "Machi" (Town). From 1963, he worked at Mushi Productions (Tezuka's anime studio) as an animator, then became an independent manga artist. His works include "Jiro ga Yuku" (Jiro Advances, manga) and "Barefoot Gen" (director on the anime) among many others.

Asari:
When I was in third grade, my older sister had a copy of "5th Grade Science", and I read it then. At that time, it left a very different impact on me than that of the typical "manga manga" of science comics. It was classified as "gekiga comics" (dramatic pictures).

Masaki:
My generation came between "regular manga" and "gekiga", and I never really saw the difference between them. However, it wasn't the artwork that was different, but the nuance.

Asari:
There's a different flavor to it. "Study comics" are naturally information-packed. However, in order to present that information, you had a hero, Hyokichi, whose story unfolded with time...

Masaki:
To present feelings. If you're going to provide information in "study comics", then that's what you should do. I think if you're not going to engage the reader's heart along with their brain, then get rid of the pictures. For that reason, (1) I use the panels to direct the emotions of the characters.

Asari:
If you're just going to shovel out information, then there's no reason to use manga - it's easier to just write up an article. But, if you're going to do it, (2) how do you get their blood flowing? That's the important part.

Masaki:
That's right.

Asari:
By the way, how did this project come about?

Masaki:
That was (3) (Shuuji) Hirami's original concept. Hirami planned out the story, sold it, and came to me and said "You draw it" (laughs). He was never unpleasant to work with, and always wrote interesting scripts. That's why on the spot, he could say "do it".

Asari:
(4) Was Hirami the one that came up with the "Homo Volant" keyword and title?

Masaki:
Yes. When I asked him about it, he said "It's obvious, right? Humans have always wanted to fly". That's why he was doing the history of flight. It's the type of answer he would normally give.

Asari:
He wanted to convey the sense of how we came about to want to fly. Humans have long wanted to fly, and behind that is the knowledge and sensations involved in getting to that point. It's the part of this work that I will never forget.

Masaki:
It's a key part of the original work.

Asari:
So, you didn't tamper much with the dialog?

Masaki:
I never wanted to. Hirami was highly skilled at writing dialog that would appeal to the readers. And he'd always be studying because of it. I could never write the work in that way - I was too busy just trying to figure out how to draw the airplanes (laughs).

Asari:
So you didn't change the script. Conversely, did Hirami try directing your artwork?


(1) Masaki's true skill shows up everywhere, with the character's emotions being displayed through the artwork, and not just via dialog,


(2) How do you get their blood flowing?
Yoshitoo Asari's "How to Make Rockets" was serialized in "5th Grade Science" in 1991. In it, he emulated "Homo Volant", where the main characters get a chance to meet Von Braun and experience history directly. When Masaki was told about this story, he exclaimed "It's interesting!"


Page 4:


Yoshitou Asari
Born in 1962. Passed up work at the Finance Ministry Tax Revenue Office to have his debut in "Weekly Shonen Sunday" in 1981. Having a great knowledge of rockets, he is a member of the space writers club. He is also a prolific anime and manga critic. Among his many works, his most famous is "Space Family Carlvinson".

Masaki:
Never. So, I could use big scenes for showing airplanes flying, then in the other panels I'd employ anime-style (5) fade-ins and fade-outs, scene changes or demonstrate Hyokichi's time travel in (6) just a single panel.

Asari:
And that's how you'd reel in the readers. I think few manga artists use these kinds of techniques. Looping endlessly in the same panel. I try to do it, but I think that just shows your work's influence on me (laughs). Then again, this work shows the sun a lot, doesn't it?

Masaki:
Well, that's the sky! It's a story of flying, (7) so there have to be scenes of the sky. If you don't draw anything in the panel, you can't tell what you're looking at, so the sun has to be there at the least. Regardless, I'd never thought this manga would become this popular.

Asari:
Yes, and now here we are (laughs). Back in 1987, when I first started working at Gakken, there were people saying "Isn't 'Homo Volant' going to be reprinted?" That was 25 years ago! On the internet, people were sending out messages asking which libraries might be carrying copies of the story. Did you know that?

Masaki:
Is that right? So, this is all due to the efforts of those kinds of people. I'm thankful.

Asari:
There were even rumors that without it, the National Diet Library would be incomplete.

Masaki:
I thought it had been completely ignored. Nevertheless, I'm glad people have a second opportunity to read it.

(End interview.)

(3) Shuuji Hirami was in charge of the original work.
He was the writer on the "Manga Old Japanese Stories" anime. Hirami and Masaki met while the latter worked at Mushi Productions. The two of them also paired up for "Nihon Hamidashi Retsuden" (Biographies of Unusual Japanese People, serialized in "5th Grade Science", 1972).


(4) The keyword is "Homo Volant"
According to Asari, "With just these two words, every month it was like a life and death struggle to chase after a mirage". At that time, his family was moving to a new house and he couldn't read the story. Finally, after 20 years, and being able to read it again, he now knows what they had meant.


(5) Fade ins and Fade outs
As an animator, Masaki would fuss over getting the details of these techniques just right.


(6) Repeating shots in the same panel
Asari has also been influenced by the use of one panel to show transitions and changes in emotions.


(7) Use of the sky in the artwork
Because "this is about flight", Masaki drew majestic images of the sky.