Interview with
Toshihiro Ono

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Dogasu's Backpack | Manga Guide | Interview with Toshihiro Ono

Below is an interview with Ono Toshihiro, artist/writer of the Dengeki Pikachu manga.  The interview originally appeared in Animerica Volume 8 #1 and on Animerica's website.  Below is a combination of the two interviews, since both were basically the same with a few questions that the other interview didn't have.  This interview contains a lot of neat information about how manga is produced in Japan, as well as what goes on in the mind of the person responsible for one of the most popular manga versions of Pocket Monsters ever.

Please not that this interview was translated and printed for an American audience.  So the American names are used to replace the Japanese ones.  Also, his name (Ono Toshihiro) is written in its American form of first name-family name, so now it's Toshihiro Ono.

“How do I start?” said Toshihiro Ono, at his San Diego Comic-Con panel in August 1999.  “Thanks for coming.  All these people.  I have no ideas what questions you’ll ask me.  I’m kind of nervous.”

Artist of Dengeki Pikachu, the Pokémon comic series released in the U.S. as The Electric Tale of Pikachu, Pikachu Shocks Back!, Electric Pikachu Boogaloo, and Surf’s Up, Pikachu, Ono began drawing comics in elementary and junior-high school.  “Especially when studying for tests,” he said.  “I’d scribble in the margins of my notebook.”  He never had any official training as an artist, but he did his dues in a bachelor’s tiny four-and-a-half tatami-mat room (with no bath and a shared toilet) in Tokyo, drawing illustrations for advertisements for ad agencies, columns in men’s magazines, and English dictionaries.

“You don’t need a license to be a manga artist,” he says.  “If you call yourself one, that’s what you are.  Of course, getting work is a different matter.”  Along his freelance jobs, Ono worked as an assistant to other artists, including Glass no Kamen (“Mask of Glass”) artist Suzue Miuchi, for several years.  “I learned the basics from people who knew what they were doing better than I did,” Ono said.  “There are many manga schools in Japan, but I never went to one.  If you want to learn manga, the best way to go about it is definitely to become someone’s assistant and learn the techniques on the job.  The best way to learn is to look at drafts produced by pros.  They’ll feed you as an assistant and also pay you.  Two birds with one stone.”  Ono’s comics before Pokémon included game-based manga such as Zelda and Bar-Code Fighter, based on the Bar-Code Battlers game; Kôkakukishin Yadogari-kun (“Armored Machine-God Yadogari”), an original manga in which a robot called Yadogari teams up with a boy to fight evil shark people; and Neppitsu!  Manga Gakuen (“Hot Pen!  Manga School”), a manga how-to book.

But nothing could have prepared Ono for the success of his Pokémon comics.  At Comic-Con, Ono signed autographs for hours past his initial signing period, autographing hats, cards, comics, even a custom Pikachu-shaped motorcycle helmet.  His panel was jam-packed with preteens eager to ask the artist their questions about the series.  When asked how he felt about Pokémon’s success in the U.S., Ono laughed.  “It’s a very complex feeling.  I never in my life imagined it would be such a huge success here.”

ANIMERICA:  How did you get started in Pokémon?

ONO:  Pokémon started out first as a game for the Game Boy.  I first started drawing Electric Pikachu when the editor, Mr. Saito, asked me if I would try drawing a couple of episodes of the manga to go along with the anime.  This was before the anime even started.  I’d always loved the theme of “a boy’s travels,” and the only Pokémon manga around at the time were simple gag and four-panel comics.  I thought that if it were taken seriously, it could be really cool.  This was before the anime started up but while Pokémon the game was still getting more and more popular.  When I look at it now, I laugh because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.  The manga started about a month before the anime did, but I didn’t think then that it would last so long.

ANIMERICA:  Could you describe how the Pokémon comic is produced?  For example, how do you draw stories about TV episodes and characters that haven’t come out yet?

ONO:  First I get the script of the anime show, and then I change the story to meet the number of pages the manga needs to be.  After that, just like everything else.  [LAUGHS]  For Pokémon that are hard to imagine in 3D, I look at a figure as I go.  Unfortunately, right now I’m writing the last episode of Dengeki Pikachu.  The Orange Island story line will be the end of the manga.  I wish I had the chance to involve Gary more and make him go on journeys with Ash.  I also wanted to draw Lugia (not yet named in English), who appears in the Gold and Silver versions of the game and in the second movie.  I love the idea of mysterious creatures lurking at the bottom of the sea (sea serpents and the Loch Ness monster, etc.), and I want to draw Lugia as a character with that kind of mysterical quality.

ANIMERICA:  Why does the manga skip around the way it does?  It jumps ahead in the episodes, from Episode 1 to 5 to about 10 to about 30.

ONO:  The animation airs weekly in Japan.  KORO KORO COMIC SPECIAL, which carries Dengeki Pikachu, is published only every other month, so I have to select manga episodes to write based on the animation episodes that will air within two weeks of KORO KORO’s publication date.  So even if there is a TV episode I want to draw, I can’t always draw it if it doesn’t match the date of the magazine well enough.  That’s also why they aren’t drawn in order.

ANIMERICA:  Are there many restrictions on your work for the Pokémon comic?  For example, have you ever hard to make changes because what you did wasn’t the same as the game or the TV series?

ONO:  They check the content of the manga an awful lot and often tell me to make changes.  [LAUGHS]  Sometimes what they say doesn’t make sense, but there’s nothing I can do about it.  But even if I draw the manga exactly the same as the script, I often notice when watching the anime that the story changed somewhere along the line.  Also, manga and TV animation are different mediums, so the amount of information conveyed is also different.  It’s natural for certain expressions not to match.

ANIMERICA:  What was your favorite episode of the comic? 

ONO:  The third episode, "Clefairy Tale" (from Electric Tale of Pikachu). I'm embarrassed that I can't say why, but I really liked that one. 

ANIMERICA:  Did you find any one episode more difficult than the others? 

ONO:  Not really, but when the tenth episode "Subway Pipi" ("Clefairy in Space" in the U.S.) was being put into book form I had to redraw many of the pages, which took a lot of time. Also, Dragonite appears in the last episode, and it was pretty hard to get a face that cute to look powerful. 

ANIMERICA:  What’s the hardest thing about drawing the Pokémon manga?

ONO:  It’s hard to draw the central Pokémon with any sense of realism.  Before starting on the manga, I bought a hamster to use as a model for Pikachu, but it died, and I didn’t want to do that to another one, so now I just go to the pet store to look at them.

ANIMERICA:  Do you have any advice for fans who want to draw Pokémon (the monsters, rather than the comics)? 

ONO:  Circles. Pokémon are essentially circular, so if you can arrange the parts of their faces inside of the circle and attach the limbs right, they'll look cute. If you're drawing a Pokémon that is based on a real animal, it might help to use that as a reference while you draw. 

ANIMERICA:  What are your favorite characters to draw, either human or Pokémon?

ONO:  Ditto, because it’s easy to draw.  [LAUGHS]  Ash—I want to go on a trip with Misty, just like him (and forget about job, rent, etc.)!  Oddish, because it’s cute.

ANIMERICA:  You did a manga adaptation of Pokémon:  The First Movie. Were you working on this before the movie came out? 

ONO:  That movie came out in July of '98, and I received the scripts and continuity in April. I wrote the manga at the end of May. 

ANIMERICA:  You said you did a manga adaptation of the Pokémon movie.  Were you working on this before the movie came out?  How does your manga version compare to the finished film?

ONO:  At first I was told to draw Mewtwo’s birth, which wasn’t included in the movie, so I made a manga out of the first half of the movie, centering on the meeting of Mewtwo and the professor (until the part where Ash heads to Mewtwo’s island).  But after that the anime staff wrote an original “Birth of Mewtwo” episode that was produced, so there’s not much connection between the manga and the movie.

ANIMERICA:  Have you every played the Pokémon game?  Did you catch them all?

ONO:  I played the game when I was starting to draw the manga.  I wasn’t that interested at first, but then I really loved it!  I got totally into it.  [LAUGHS]  I never did catch them all, though.  Games like that are the enemy of work for manga artists.  I had to put it down in the middle.

ANIMERICA:  What’s your next project?

ONO:  There’s a new manga I’m beginning right now for KORO KORO.  I’m drawing a Magic: The Gathering manga based on the American novel.  It looks like there will be a lot more hard fighting in it than Pokémon has.  I prefer more easy-going types of manga, though, so I think I won’t make this one very bloody.

ANIMERICA:  Are you also a fan of American comics?  What American artists do you particularly like and why?

ONO:  I like American comics because the art and stories have such a different flavor from that of Japanese comics.  There was a group of us called CLA that was an American-comics appreciation group, and one of our bulletins was once printed in America.  I drew a picture of Supergirl for that bulletin.  Recently, I also contributed an illustration to the Japanese version of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy.

I like Walter Simonson (The Mighty Thor) and Mike Mignola—I don’t know many new artists.  I usually pay attention to the art first (because I can’t read English), and these artists match my taste in drawings.  I used to copy Simonson a lot.

ANIMERICA:  Did you buy a lot at the convention?  What did you get?

ONO:  I bought lots of original pages—probably too many.  [LAUGHS]  Especially lots of Chis Bacchalo’s original pages from the beginning of Generation X.

ANIMERICA:  What do you think of America and the convention?  What do you think of American fans?

ONO:  When I was signing autographs in San Diego [at the convention], I was surprised at how many adults there were, even though it’s the same in Japan.  I was amazed at what a powerful force Pikachu is.  [LAUGHS]

There is a huge comic event in Japan called Comic Market (400,000 people over three days).  The San Diego convention was so relaxed compared to this that I had a really good time.  [LAUGHS]  I also got Mike Mignola and Bill Sienkiewicz (Elektra: Assassin) to draw Pikachu.  [LAUGHS]  It didn’t seem to me that American and Japanese fans were all that different.  People passing time by playing mahjongg while waiting for videos to screen make a big impression on me.

ANIMERICA:  Do you have a message for your American fans?

ONO:  I’m the kind of guy who loves road movies, and when I think of “journey,” I think of America’s wilderness and those roads that stretch all the way to the horizon, so I’m very happy for my manga to be appreciated here.  I would like to see people use Pokémon as a starting point for reading more Japanese manga.

ANIMERICA:  Could you please write a very short description of yourself?

ONO:  Today, like always, I am fighting drowsiness and deadlines while drawing Pikachu.  I can’t…I’m too tired…Pikachu!  Give me some energy!  Zzzzzaaaapppp!  Ahh, that’s better….


Birthdate:  27 February, 1965
Birthplace:  “I was born in Nagoya City, in Aichi Prefecture, but we moved when I was one-year-old to Chiryuu City, in Aichi.”
Blood Type: A
Star Sign: Pisces
Martial Status: Single

Which is the strongest Pokémon?
Mewtwo or Mew would be the strongest.

How do Pokémon stay in Poké Balls?
I think you have to ask Professor Oak how that works.

How do Pokémon reproduce?
It’s one of the big secrets of the Pokémon world.

What color are Brock’s eyes?
I think they’re brown.  That’s the feeling I get.

Why does Ash keep winning with the same Pokémon he already has?
I’d have to say it’s Ash’s courage and guts behind it, and his battle strategy, and every time they grow a little and become better fighters.

Did Misty ever get her bike back?
No, she hasn’t because it’s a rather expensive one, and someday, when she’s grown up, Ash will make enough money to pay her back.

Will there ever be a romance between Ash and Misty?
I personally think that Misty is looking more for having an older brother, but my editor is always nagging me that a little love-interest story might be interesting, so it may happen.

Will Ash ever have a Pokémon match with Gary?
Those two are lifelong rivals.  I think they’ll continue to fight against each other without ever deciding who’s better.




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