Meeting with Ken Wakui, the mangaka who created the Tokyo Revengers phenomenon

INTERVIEW – With more than a million copies sold in France in 2022, this furyo shakes up the manga world.

Takemichi Hanagaki would love a second chance. At 26, he has no girlfriend, does odd jobs and sinks into depression. To make matters worse, her childhood sweetheart dies, the collateral victim of a settling of scores between gang members. While he himself should have died under the wheels of a subway, the young man is mysteriously transported twelve years back. Will he be able to change fate?

Published in Japan between 2017 and 2021, tokyo revenge is a furyo, a manga featuring young delinquents. Except for the classic GTO, the genre was struggling to reach a very large audience before the arrival of Tokyo Revengers, whose adaptation in cartoon caused an explosion of the sales. In 2022, for the second consecutive year, more than one million copies were sold in France.

Le Figaro met Ken Wakui, the atypical author of this bestseller whose volume 24 (out of 31) has just been published in French by Glénat.

LE FIGARO. – tokyo revenge is a furyo manga, a rogue manga in French. How would you define gender?

Ken WAKUI. – By violence. THE furyo do not seek to solve problems through dialogue but through violence.

What attracts you to the furyo ?

I myself have lived as a furyo, so I never asked myself the question. Choosing this theme was natural. It is a fairly violent world which exercises a real power of attraction with a certain segment of young people. And it is a universe rejected by adults. All of this gives the genre its charm.

Why does such a large part of the youth not fit the norm?

Young people do not become furyo to reject society. Most of the time, they come from an underprivileged background and social context, but there are also exceptions. Some children from good families become furyo to escape boredom or by refusal of authority. All are in an environment that suits them at a given moment. They do not see themselves as unhappy people or people to be pitied.

How do these bands work?

At the furyo, there is a real culture of hierarchy, vertical relationships where we respect the elders of the gang while refusing to listen to what adults and teachers say. The word of the elders has a very great value and they will stick to it until the end. Overseas, I don’t think there’s that kind of vertical relationship. It is important to have an immutable benchmark.

Do you have such a relationship with your editors?

I listen and I respect what they tell me but in the end I always get yelled at (laughs). My current editor is always more severe with me than with other mangakas. It annoys me (laughs).

Even though they follow a code of honor, thugs are not samurai

Ken Wakui

The first boss we encounter in tokyo revenge bears the name of a former daimyo (local lord). Is there a link between the furyo and the samurai?

A lot of furyo love the era of internecine wars, in which the samurai lived. And the way the daimyo at the time, the divisions by regions, the defenses of territories… All of this recalls the way in which the bôsôzoku (biker gangs, Ed) and the mafia. However, even though they follow a code of honor, thugs are not samurai. THE bôsôzoku have their own ethics and follow their own rules, which evolve over time. Every new group tends to want to break existing rules and build new ones. It is therefore difficult to determine the specific ethics of furyo. At the beginning of Tokyo Revengers, Draken explains this: “We can fight between us, we have very violent conflicts between us but we don’t involve the family in that“. It’s this type of image, rather cool, that I tried to represent in the manga. This corresponds to furyo of yesteryear, no longer too current, but which still arouses a form of admiration.

What led you to become a mangaka?

I used to work at a ramen restaurant where manga was available for customers. I wanted to become a mangaka while reading one of these mangas, published in the Morning, whose name is Hataraki Man, by Moyoco Anno (unpublished in France, Editor’s note).

Who noticed your potential?

Whatever the professional environment in which I evolved – whether that of the night, host clubs (clubs where a female clientele is welcomed by handsome boys) or that of manga – I have always met people whom I admired and who made me want to move forward and surpass myself. They saw the potential in me and that motivated me.

Excerpt from volume 1 of Tokyo Revengers. TOKYO REVENGERS Ken Wakui / Kodansha Ltd.

Do you feel like the furyo manga evolved over time?

Yes, there has been a big evolution. Expression inside manga was a lot free before. Today, we are much more limited, both from a graphical and narrative point of view. The importance of furyo has decreased, these manga no longer appeal to the same readership.

Have you felt any frustrations related to these limits?

Having some restriction is of interest. This forced me to step out of a framework, out of a comfort zone.

In your manga, Takemichi goes back in time to try to prevent a tragedy. If you could go back, what would you change?

I might be more down to earth and look for a way to earn a bit more money (laughs). Takemichi doesn’t have that vile aspect and that’s what readers particularly appreciate about the character.

Why a trip back only twelve years?

This choice was made quite naturally. This time jump had to not be too far back, otherwise no one would sympathize with the character and it would become a fantasy world that readers wouldn’t understand. Conversely, if the jump had been too short, there would not have been enough difference with the current world of young people. It is this proportion, between too far and too close, which made me choose this period of twelve years.

The fact that Takemichi tries to fix the mistakes he has made is perhaps a way of impressing on readers the need to be careful with our daily actions.

Ken Wakui

Every time Takemichi thinks he’s solved a problem, the past catches up with him. Can’t we escape our destiny?

The idea is not that he is confronted with a spirit of death that he would fight. This choice would have led me to reach a slightly younger readership. That’s not what I was looking for. The fact that Takemichi tries to fix the mistakes he made is perhaps a way of impressing on readers the need to be careful in our daily actions. That actions, no matter how small, have consequences.

Hinata would like to be a boy to protect Takemichi. Why do you have to be a boy to protect someone?

My first answer is that the universe of furyo is exclusively male and that girls cannot enter. The physical balance of power justifies Hinata’s desire to want to be a boy rather than defending herself as a girl.

And yet, the sukeban (rogue girls) exist. Will we see it in tokyo revenge ?

No, I do not think so. It wouldn’t work. I am not trying to reach the fan readership of sukeban. I don’t intend to interfere. Historically, there is, a priori, no point of correlation between boys furyo and the girls sukeban.

Mickey’s strength, Draken’s righteousness, Takemichi’s empathy, Hinata’s insight… Your characters have many qualities. What is the quality, the character trait of your characters that most resembles you?

The character closest to me, the one I imagined as I would have liked to be, is Kiyomasa. Even if my publisher laughs at my ambition.

Interview by Valentin Paquot

Some covers of Tokyo Revengers. Glénat / Le Figaro

tokyo revenge (24 volumes published) , by Ken Wakui, Glénat editions, €6.99 per volume.