“The pressure weighed on me”: Hajime Isayama talks about the underside of “Attack on Titan”

During a rare public speech at the Angoulême festival, the mangaka confided in his creative process and his relationship to success. To the delight of his fans.

At the Angoulême comic book festival, to attend the masterclass of Hajime Isayama, the creator of The attack of the Titans, it took a lot of patience. In front of the Théâtre d’Angoulême, where the meeting took place last Saturday, fans waved signs to obtain invitations.

“We were afraid of not having places, we ‘refresh’ the site to register, for 40 minutes”, confide Ophélie and Estelle, two fans.

Many weren’t so lucky. Complete in a few hours, this masterclass was one of the rare public speaking of the mangaka, who confided his desire to leave the manga to open a sauna. This meeting led by Fausto Fasulo, co-artistic director of the Angoulême comic strip festival, was one of the highlights of the fiftieth edition of the festival with the exhibition devoted to The attack of the Titans and Hajime Isayama’s autograph session, also complete and subject to a gauge system.

Measures taken by the festival to avoid overflows. Only 15,000 fans of Shingeki no Kyojin (SnK) were able to visit the exhibition. “We didn’t want a queue of two to three hours,” says Franck Bondoux, general manager of the festival. “It’s indecent for the public. These are not the right conditions to visit the exhibition. And for the author, it’s a lack of respect.”

Respect was everywhere on Saturday morning during Hajime Isayama’s masterclass. In an almost religious silence, lovers of SnK drank in the words of the Japanese author and followed Fausto Fasulo’s instructions to the letter: no photos and no videos. “Keep memories,” he asked the audience.

Penetrate artistic intimacy
Stating that the meeting had been prepared in advance with Hajime Isayama, the journalist added that it would not address “points of detail of the series”, but rather “the working method” of the mangaka: “how he created this universe, what was his daily life as a mangaka, [pour nous] to penetrate into this artistic intimacy that we know little about, [car] mangakas work discreetly, even secretly.”

The first question precisely addresses this loneliness of mangakas. Did he feel the same isolation as his characters while working on his manga? “The universe of The attack of the Titans looks a lot like my universe,” he replies. “During the series, my role has evolved, like the characters. I have often identified with the characters of The attack of the Titans. For example, in the end, Eren has to assume the powers of the Titan. It was a bit like me. I had to accept the importance of my work.”

Regarding the international success of this work, Hajime Isayama is more evasive: “I am often asked this question”, he says, before continuing: “What I am saying can happen at any time and at any time. any country. That’s why we can identify with the characters of this universe. That’s why this work has been so well received everywhere.”

Isayama measured the extent of this success when the anime aired in 2013. But for him, this success has meant great suffering, linked to pressure from fans. “It was pretty hard, especially at the end,” he reveals. “The pressure weighed on me. I no longer felt able to carry such a weight on my own. to assume.”

Reluctant to talk about the movies and manga he’s been devouring since the end of The attack of the Titans (“I recently saw Smile in the plane. It wasn’t interesting.”), Hajime Isayama was more generous about his influences. The mangaka returned in detail to the work of Kiyoshi Yamashita (1922-1971) whose painting Kaiju inspired “Le Grand Terrassement”, one of the defining moments of SnK.

“At home, there was an artbook by this painter. I remember that I was very afraid every time I looked at these paintings. He always painted on the fear of war. I did not think about its work while i was doing SnK, but once the last chapter was finished, I realized that ‘Le Grand Terrassement’ came from this painting. There’s the same sense of desperation there.”

Among his other inspirations, Hajime Isayama mentions Game Of Thrones. The irony of the fantasy series inspired him for his dialogues. The mangaka also quotes the miniseries watch men (from the comic book by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons) and the movie District 9 (2009) by Neill Blomkamp, ​​which depicts a cohabitation between humans and extraterrestrials in a South African ghetto.

“Cornered” by work
Without giving the keys to reading his work, Hajime Isayama repeatedly explains in half-words his difficulty in conceiving SnK. During the twelve years of the manga’s creation, he did not dare confide his doubts to his assistants. “I spoke very little about The attack of the Titans and its content with my assistants,” he reveals. “I was too intimidated to talk about it. We were talking more about silly things, movies, etc.”

Hajime Isayama was surrounded by twelve or even fifteen assistants to The attack of the Titans. They worked in rotation, a few days a month, so that Isayama had at most four assistants per work session – when he found himself “cornered” by work. “It was then a bit like a war between my assistants and myself,” laughs the mangaka.

He also had to train them in his style: “I didn’t know how to explain to my assistants. It was unpredictable. We groped, we searched, we talked about things, we thought that the design of Demon Slayer was nice. We were talking about that kind of thing.” A projected video confirms the studious atmosphere. Another also shows them playing Tetris. “It was not always easy to free up time to do it.”

“Improve my drawing”
Isayama reveals to have had a fairly strong relationship with his editorial manager, especially about storyboards. “At the beginning, I rebelled quite often. But when I read it again, I thought he was right. These discussions were a bit complicated, but as time went on, it got better and better.”

Hajime Isayama defended his style, often considered sloppy, even amateurish. “My editorial manager told me on several occasions that I had to improve my drawing. He said some harsh things to me. I knew that it was very difficult to improve myself. I defended my work by saying that my ‘rough’ style was lovely.”

As his work progressed, however, his technical shortcomings made him complex. Quickly, he realized that he had to improve. Ryōji Minagawa, the author ofARMS, then offered him valuable advice, such as “better work on onomatopoeia”. “It helped me a lot,” he says now. “I improved my drawings a lot.” A declaration warmly applauded by the assembly.

This particular feature was praised by the fans who had the chance to visit the exhibition: “I stayed 1h15 to take a good look at everything”, enthuses Yan, a fan who came from Concarneau. “We are captivated by the boards. We realize the level of precision detail of the boards and the evolution of its style. The level of detail is impressive. We do not realize it on the paper version!”

“A lot of regrets”
The mangaka remains embarrassed by certain sequences of his manga and would like to modify them. “I often ask myself this question,” he says. In particular, Isayama would like to change a line from Armin to “improve the understanding” of a chapter. And he would like Eren’s transformation into a titan, at the beginning of the manga, to be less abrupt. “I have a lot of regrets of this guy.”

Isayama assumes it, his scenario has often been modified. “The main lines of the story were respected, but there was a bit of improvisation. That’s how the story became longer than expected.” Often bored by SnKhe repeatedly wanted to stop to draw something else. The transition made in volume 21, with the arrival of the Mahrs, allowed him to be reborn artistically: “I felt an enormous pleasure, which I had not felt before. It was another work.”

Now that The attack of the Titans is over, Hajime Isayama has no new manga planned. He plans to resume his brushes: “It is not announced yet. But it is a question of me doing something of 8 or 16 pages. I do not assure you of success, but thanks to your applause, I will do my best “, he concluded.

The meeting wowed the fans. “I loved seeing Isayama by our side to tell what he was doing in detail,” reacts Kevin, a fan. “Very happy to hear that he is going to start drawing for us again.” “I would have liked the universe of the manga to be more deepened, but overall I’m happy, it was very interesting,” adds another fan, Gaïa. “It was a pretty unique moment.”