A Story Created Before Naruto
Q: I heard that you created the rough draft for Mario even before Naruto was serialized. Just how long ago was that?
Kishimoto: About fifteen years ago. I think it was 1998 or so. I drew the roughs before Naruto.
Q: Mario seems so different from your other work such as Karakuri and Naruto. What made you want to create it?
K: Before I made my debut in Shonen Jump, I pitched a bunch of different ideas, but none of them really went over too well. That was a period of time when I started to think that I wasn’t cut out for shonen manga. So Mario was a draft of a manga aimed at an older seinen crowd.
Q: So Mario was never meant for Shonen Jump?
K: Right. I created it with the intention of pitching it to a magazine targeting an older seinen audience. There used to be a magazine called Super Jump, and I planned on submitting it there. That’s why I included more mature themes that might not fly in Shonen Jump. I wasn’t planning for it to run in Shonen Jump, so I didn’t even tell my editor at the time. I just worked on it in secret at my own pace. Since I was doing it for myself, I kept adding things in without worrying about the page count. Eventually it became ridiculously long.
Q: Exactly how long?
K: In one of the older Naruto volumes, I wrote that it was over 160 pages. But when I actually bothered to count, it was only 130 pages. [laughs] At the time I thought that if I wanted to add in all the missing details I wanted to include, I’d probably need another 40 pages or so. [laughs] So that’s why I said it was over 160 pages. But it’s basically just 130 pages. Sorry for the little lie.
After 15 Years, the Secret Project Is Finally Revealed!
Q: So you sealed away Mario and instead started serializing Naruto. Could you explain how that all happened?
K: At the time, I figured I’d be more suited to a seinen magazine, so I focused on Mario instead of writing anything for Shonen Jump. But then my Jump editor asked me what I had been up to and why I hadn’t pitched anything in a while. I told him how I felt that a shonen magazine wasn’t right for me, and that I was working on something to submit to Super Jump instead. He then asked if he could see the draft. I thought it was odd that he asked to see my seinen manga, but I figured I might as well show it to him.
Q: And what did he say to you?
K: What he told me was: “This is something you can create when you’re older. Right now you should focus on something you can only do while you’re young!” After that he asked me to create a shonen manga again. I gave it another try, and that’s when I came up with Naruto. Mario’s been sealed away ever since.
Q: In a Naruto volume, you mentioned how confident you are about Mario.
K: I felt a bit inadequate at the time, so I was kind of grandstanding. I thought it would never really see the light of day, so I exaggerated. I figured there was no harm in saying that something that would never really come out was the best thing I ever did. Readers would just have to assume it was good. But now that I’m releasing Mario in Jump SQ., I’m realizing I raised the bar way too high. To be honest, I’m really scared. [laughs] I know I’m embarrassing myself with this, but please remember that I was young when I wrote it.
Q: What made you want to release Mario after so long?
K: Jump SQ. Editor-in-Chief Yahagi, who was my first editor when I created Mario and Naruto, asked me to do it. Last year I contributed on the production of the Naruto movie, and we had a dinner to celebrate it. We didn’t discuss it during the dinner, but he called afterwards to say he wanted me to do a one-shot for Jump SQ. Wait, so that dinner wasn’t to celebrate the movie but to convince me to do a one-shot?! [laughs]
Q: Did you decide to do it immediately?
K: He was my first editor and I owe him so much, there’s no way I could say no. [laughs]
Q: How was it working with your original editor again after so many years?
K: It had been so long, it brought back many memories. Going over the storyboards and making a list of all the issues reminded me so much of how we did that when I was drawing the Chûnin Exam in Naruto.
The Differences Between the Original Draft and the SQ. Version
Q: So the current draft is pared down from the original 130-page version?
K: This will be like a lame excuse, but when I originally created Mario, I didn’t think about it being in a magazine. I just drew whatever I wanted to, and that’s why it became so long. But 130 pages is way too long for a magazine, so I cut it down to 49 pages. To do it perfectly I’d need a good 160 pages though. [laughs] Not that I would have time to do it if it actually was that long, of course.
Q: So it’s more like a remake then. Was there anything that was particularly troublesome that came up when you were redrawing it?
K: I kept getting pulled into the past. I should have just started from scratch as if it was a brand new work, but I just couldn’t get rid of the image I had of it when I originally wrote it. So trimming it down was really tough. I had a lot of momentum when I did the original version, so the original draft was quite rough. That made it difficult to figure out what to cut. I changed the structure of the story quite a bit, but it still feels a little amateurish. But since I bragged about how awesome it was in the past, that excuse is hard to make now, isn’t it?
Q: How much time did you have to work on it?
K: I didn’t actually spend that much time on it. I was asked to do it a while ago, but I just kept putting it off until there wasn’t much time left. Then the deadline was approaching and I had to scramble to get it done.
Q: Any big changes to the art or story?
K: First, I got rid of the goggles, because I already used goggles in Naruto. I also changed the main character a little bit. In the original draft, Mario drives around on a scooter. But in the SQ. version, he drives a car. So I made adjustments to small details like that.
Q: How did it feel to redraw your old art?
K: I think I can make things look a lot cleaner now. I’ve been drawing Naruto for over ten years now, so I think that has influenced me. I based the color artwork for the preview on a page I drew back then. It’s pretty fun to compare them. (See page 50) I drew the background on the original one, and an assistant did the background in the new one. I took out some of the small details like the cigarette and ring. In the original version the scar on Mario’s left side is covered up with a bandage but not in the new version. There was originally a plot reason for him to hide his scar but that part of the story got cut, so it didn’t make sense for him to have the bandage anymore. The scar is a remnant of the original story, but I left it in even though it isn’t a part of the current plot.
Q: Did you have any difficulties when you originally created this?
K: At the time, I didn’t pay attention to page limits and just did whatever I wanted, so it wasn’t difficult at all. I’ve always liked stories with guns and assassins, cool stuff like that. I watch a lot of those types of movies.
Q: What aspects of those movies do you like?
K: I like the gun sequences. Like when they’re about to shoot but have to stop when they see something that jumps into their line of vision. I think about bringing that same kind of thing into my manga as I watch those movies. But you usually need a lot of pages to pull that off. It’s unfortunate that stuff like that had to be cut.
Q: Are you really familiar with guns?
K: I like how they are put together, and I’ve looked at some model guns for reference. But I haven’t done research like a real gun fanatic. I’m not a stickler for getting the make and model and capacity correct. I’m more concerned with trying to get the right feel for the story, like it’s a mafia or yakuza movie. When it comes to mafia stories, it’s not just about the gun fights. It’s about family, romance and human relationships. I like that dramatic aspect of it.
Mario Is Set in New York?!
Q: The preview image has a lot of high-rise buildings. Is the story set overseas?
K: It’s supposed to be New York City. However, I didn’t do detailed research on New York, so it’s more like an imaginary city based on New York. The buildings I originally drew were just based on whatever I felt like doing. I thought about basing the new version on some actual photos, but I liked the original version. So I kept it the same. Now that I look at it, it does seem a little off but I’m trapped by my nostalgia for when I first drew it.
A Message from Kishimoto Sensei to the Fans!
Q: Could you tell the fans what to look forward to when reading Mario?
K: Most readers know me from Naruto, but Mario is targeted at a slightly older audience, so it’ll be something different. It’s very different from what I’m known for, but I’d be very happy if readers could see this side of me as well. There’s a lot that’s not perfect about this, so I am scared of all the negative feedback. [laughs]
Q: Are you cooking up any future secret projects that you’ve had on the back burner just like Mario?
K: Nope! Even if I did, I wouldn’t want to raise the bar by mentioning it. [laughs] I do have many things I’d like to create, but I’m not going to call anything “the best” anymore. If I do get another opportunity, I plan to work on it quietly and release it with less fanfare. If that happens, I hope you’ll all give it a chance.
Thank you so much!
To read Masashi Kishimoto's special one-shot Mario, buy the 05-13-2013 issue of Weekly Shonen Jump!