4 years ago Paru Itagaki debuted her manga BEASTARS in the pages of Weekly Shonen Champion. Since that time it has gained a global fanbase, seen a smash-hit anime adaptation release on Netflix, and as of the time of this writing also reached its conclusion. Given her impressive track record in such a good time, and the fact that many of our staff are huge fans of her work, we were incredibly excited to get the chance to sit down and speak with her about her work once again as a part of our first OTAQUEST CONNECT online event. We’re just as excited to present to you both a transcript and video archive of our conversation so you can re-experience this talk and hear her influences and working structure directly from the already iconic creator herself. Our entire interview from the event can be read or viewed in its entirety below!
OTAQUEST: We’re here with Paru Itagaki the creator of the hit manga Beastars which was adapted into a 3DCG anime earlier this year that is airing now on Netflix. I’m going to be asking her some questions about the development of the manga, what’s going on in the manga currently, her work and the development of the anime series. Thank you for joining us today Itagaki-san.
Before you started Beastars, you released a work called Beast Complex, which like Beastars focused on the relationships between herbivores and carnivores in a world of anthropomorphic animals of course. How does that connect to Beastars and how did your work on that story influence what Beastars ended up becoming?
Paru Itagaki: Beast Complex was only supposed to be a short 4 volume series to be made while BEASTARS’ serialization was being decided. I guess you could say it was a bit of a trial run. The story is actually fairly adult, especially compared to Beastars. Taking that story and making it more shonen resulted in Beastars.
OTAQUEST: Beastars has been serialized for four years now. How has your approach to the series changed over the years? Would you say that your work has improved with time and experience with working on the series?
Paru Itagaki: Beastars was planned to be for a shonen audience and there’s still parts of that that remain like having the setting be an academy, or having the main character be a male in his teens. Those shonen manga aspects went away over time, and it ended up turning more into something I wanted to write from the beginning. So, it’s really easy for me to write for.
OTAQUEST: So, you mentioned that you didn’t have a protagonist decided when you were creating the series, and that actually leads into my next question really well. As Beastars is approaching its conclusion, the nature of the relationship between Legoshi and Louie as dual protagonists is becoming a lot more clear. You mentioned that this wasn’t planned from the beginning, how did you end up developing this as the story progressed through serialization?
Paru Itagaki: Yeah, Rouis was originally planned to be killed off in the first two volumes, but from the fourth or fifth volume onwards he began to grow on me. Seeing him face adversity and grow from it, and eventually grow to be a character that could stand shoulder to shoulder with Legoshi.
OTAQUEST: Rouis has a very strong personality at the beginning, so it’s cool to see how he’s developed over the course of the story for sure. Talking about how you mentioned having to think about things differently when developing a shonen series, shonen series tend to have young, human, and typically male characters as the main cast. What was the publisher’s reaction when you pitched Beastars as a story about anthropomorphic animals?
Paru Itagaki: I’ve been releasing animal-centric manga from the beginning, so I don’t think there was such surprise regarding that. Shonen manga are made as depictions of the growth of young people and Legoshi is also a young person, So I didn’t think it’d be that different.
OTAQUEST: Kind of building off of that, earlier this year, you sat down with EXILE SEKAI for an interview during our Beastars feature month and during that interview you mentioned that the worldview of anthropomorphic characters wasn’t really meant to be a metaphor for discrimination happening in the real world or anything related to gender or religion, rather it was inspired by something different that you didn’t really elaborate on. How did you come up with the general concept of Beastars and make the decision to use anthropomorphic characters in the series?
Paru Itagaki: Regarding a world where animals are the main characters, in children’s media I feel like there is a paradox that a dog character that walks another dog as a pet. There were a lot of people around me that would point out the absurdity in that. I didn’t like their attitudes on how “unrealistic” that was. I’d always wanted to make a story that respects how different species would actually interact with each other. But I also felt that pointing out the lack of realism was rude, and I wanted to see if I could make something that could convince even those people. I wanted to make a world full of animals that was realistic. So that’s where it came from.
OTAQUEST: I was honestly really surprised when I first read the series and also watched the anime as to how serious and real everything feels. Even though they’re anthropomorphic characters, they feel like real people sometimes and I think that comes through in the way that you develop the story. Moving on to the anime a little bit, I want to ask, obviously when a manga is made into an anime that’s a major milestone for a creator. What was your initial reaction when you first learned that Beastars was going to be adapted into an animation?
Paru Itagaki: At first, they were talking about it possibly becoming an anime, but nothing was really set in stone. I also knew that what I wrote was pretty unorthodox, so I didn’t have high expectations. Hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
OTAQUEST: I heard that you were really active with the development of the animation for Beastars as well. How did you manage to be so active in that development while still working on the manga simultaneously? Did working with the studio affect your day to day work at all?
Paru Itagaki: For the most part it was just checking the script and character designs. From the anime studio’s point of view, the original author can be seen as a bit of a pain, so I did my best not to cause them any problems.
OTAQUEST: So, you maintained quality control while not really letting it get in the way of your work. That’s really interesting and also pretty incredible. I’m thinking about the transition from 2D to 3DCG for the characters right now, and the way they come to life in the manga already is amazing because your drawings are so expressive, and 3DCG is becoming more common in the animation industry but it’s always had a mixed response from fans in regards to the quality of it. While the end result for Beastars from Studio Orange is beautiful and absolutely fantastic. Did you have any reservations about the use of 3DCG instead of hand-drawn animation when the series was first being developed?
Paru Itagaki: I write all of my manga by hand, stacking the lines over and over until I have a completed character. But while there’s a huge difference between creating a fully rendered character in 3D and just layering lines until I have a character the end goal is still the same, to make the character real. So feeling that same sentiment from them was really interesting.
OTAQUEST: Building on that a little bit, because the animation is so beautiful and there are so many scenes in the anime that just pop off of the screen and are amazing to watch, you spoke with SEKAI earlier this year for our Beastars feature month, and at the time you mentioned that you really liked the result of the sword fight scene between Bill and Legoshi on stage. Were there any other scenes in the animation that you were surprised by the end result or felt had a very strong impact when you finally saw it in motion?
Paru Itagaki: When Legoshi and Haru are in the subway and Haru says to him “You’ve never known what it’s like to live a life with the constant fear of death.” and the train passes right as she’s delivering that line. That scene was fully completed exactly how I imagined in my head. So, I felt like the director and I were on the same wavelength. That was really moving.
OTAQUEST: That scene in particular was one of the ones that really stood out to me as well. I think a lot of the character interactions between Legoshi and Haru have a real-life feeling in animation, they express so well on screen. I think that Studio Orange did an amazing job with capturing that in the story. Going back to talking about the manga a little bit, the art style has changed a bit since the beginning to where we’re at in the serialization now and it feels that there is something of a different artistic quality to it or maybe you’re using different techniques. Was this a conscious change that you made? How do you feel like your art has progressed over the years in the time in developing the story?
Paru Itagaki: That’s a pretty difficult question. If I get too good that’s not good, and even if I get better as an artist and animation becomes better that doesn’t always go over well with fans. So that really depends on how the reader feels. I personally feel my art is the best it’s ever been, so I’m happy. My linework and tone has gotten a lot simpler. In the beginning it was just throwing layers upon layers and the linework and tone was sloppy. Now it’s a lot more simple. I’m a lot quicker and more efficient with my art.
OTAQUEST: I’d imagine that’s a pretty hard balance to draw between both the speed and quality of work. Also, doing what makes you happy and what makes your fans happy, there’s a lot to juggle in there. I feel that the result that we’ve seen so far has been great, so definitely keep it up. I wanted to ask about your other story, Paruno Graffiti. It’s an autobiographical work that you created and it’s not something that I feel occurs very regularly in serialized manga. What was your motivation behind creating something that revealed more about yourself in this way?
Paru Itagaki: Well, that’s….. I think any author wants to have a sense of mystery around them. I figured that’d be impossible for me I like pseudo-mangas and have always wanted to write one, So I figured I’d tell more about myself using that format.
OTAQUEST: Do you find it challenging to create a manga that so personal in that way, talking about your real-life experiences?
Paru Itagaki: Actually, it’s much easier. All I’m doing is just talking about myself, so it’s not difficult at all. I like talking to people, so I just turned that into a manga. It was a simple manga.
OTAQUEST: I think it’s really cool that you want to open yourself up to people like that and that you’re willing to share your life in this way. I’ve noticed on social media that you have a lot of international fans as well and you interact with them a lot and they’ll reply with photos and tweets and memes and stuff. How does it feel to know that your work has so many passionate fans internationally as well?
Paru Itagaki: So just yesterday, in Japan it’s the rainy season, I tweeted that I wanted to see some nice weather. I got a bunch of responses of clear skies from people all around the world. It’s times like that, that you feel a certain “global comfort” This feeling of comfort, and of appreciation.
OTAQUEST: So speaking about the international fans, or building on that a little bit, since the animation of Beastars on Netflix debuted, it’s really opened up the series to a lot of different people like people who don’t read manga or regularly watch anime or just found the series on Netflix. The reception to your work seems to have been really positive. I actually have some friends who I would say aren’t really the biggest anime fans, but they watched the series after it debuted and they had nothing but great things to say about that. Was this surprising to you at all that the series got this kind of reception from so many different people worldwide?
Paru Itagaki: I’m very surprised. It’s a bit of a mystery why I’ve gotten such a response from people overseas. But I feel like it’s not my job as an author to figure it out, But instead to just enjoy it.
OTAQUEST: So I feel like in the west part of the reason it’s been so well received might have to do with Walt Disney’s creations and movies of his like Robin Hood or things like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck which feature anthropomorphized animals, so in the west it’s kind of normalized at this point. Do you think that maybe that has something to do with the popularity of Beastars as well or did it provide any influence to you when you were creating it?
Paru Itagaki: I grew up watching a lot of Disney movies, I think my first crush was Scar from Lion King. Even though he’s the bad guy I think something awoke at that point within me, and when I think about that being the reason why I started to draw animals and how that led to the creation of Beastars, I think if there was no Disney there would be no Beastars.
OTAQUEST: I just wanted to make a quick comment about your studio, I see that you have a Joker poster in the background. Do you watch a lot of western media or consume any American comic book properties or related media?
Paru Itagaki: I don’t really watch anime. I mainly watch Hollywood movies and Korean movies.
OTAQUEST: Are there any things that you’ve seen recently that you would say you’re particularly a big fan of like movies or TV shows that have debuted in the past year or so?
Paru Itagaki: Every year during the summer I watch Jurassic World, and just like every other year, I watched it and enjoyed just how much of a masterpiece it is.
OTAQUEST: To wrap things up, do you have any messages you’d like to give your fans worldwide?
Paru Itagaki: Thank you for always supporting me and leaving me tons of messages and comments online. Sometimes I’ll get messages about people reading the latest chapter through less than legal means, and while I’m glad you’re able to enjoy my work, when the official translation comes out make sure to buy that! But I am still grateful you’re supporting me. Thank you so much! (Laughs)
OTAQUEST: I 100% agree. Everybody, please give your support. Thank you so much for talking with us today, it was great to chat with you and I really appreciate you spending the time with us. We’re all obviously looking forward to what you have next, so we’ll be definitely keeping an eye out and once again, thank you so much.