Interview With Space Adventure Cobra Creator Buichi Terasawa
This spring, Nozomi Entertainment will be releasing the classic science fiction TV series Space Adventure Cobra. Based on the best-selling manga, the series follows the notorious space pirate Cobra, who battles it out with the Pirate Guild by day and saves sultry sirens of space by night. To celebrate its upcoming release, we're proud to present an excerpt from an interview conducted in 2013 with Cobra mangaka Buichi Terasawa.
Why did you become a manga artist?
Terasawa: I'm not really sure. I've always liked to create things. It wasn't because I was really interested in manga though. After I failed my college entrance exam, I started looking for a job. And my girlfriend at the time was drawing something.
I asked her what she was doing and she said she was drawing shoujo manga. She said if you enter this competition you'd win. I guess "you'd win" is a weird way to put it, but if you won, the prize money was 1 million yen. That's probably around 10 million yen in today's money. We were like, "This is better than the lottery."
When I looked at her manuscripts, her drawings sucked. I thought even I could do this, so I began drawing shoujo manga. That's how I got started. The first time I drew manga, I kind of just winged it. I looked through a bunch of stuff and once I got the gist of it, I drew my own. I was lucky. I won 150,000 yen on my first try. It was more than your average salaryman's pay back then. Sweet, right?
That's when I decided to make it my job. But there was a pitfall. I did pretty well, but never got first place. So I wrote a letter to the Shoujo Manga Editor-in-Chief at the time. What a punk, right? I was just a kid who wasn't even 20 years old.
I wrote a letter asking him why I didn't get first place. The editor actually wrote me back saying how I wasn't drawing it from a girl's perspective, and how I'm a man. That's when I realized I can't do shoujo manga and I need to be drawing manga meant for guys.
I was looking for work and I happened to come across Tezuka Production's job ad. I was hired with a one-year contract and worked under Mr. Tezuka, who was my teacher. That year I was there was really meaningful.
What kind of influence did Mr. Tezuka have on you from that year?
Terasawa: Everything. How to carry myself... How to pick up and put down chopsticks... I'm joking, you know.
He wasn't going to teach me everything step-by-step, so watching and learning was really important. Also, working with him, you get to see his collection, like his books. He was the one who got me into Disney. His influence over me is immense.
Do you have any memorable stories from working with Mr. Tezuka that you'd like to share?
Terasawa: I have too many to tell, but if I had to pick one... There was this one time where he called me "Terasawa-shi," which is very formal. Not Terasawa- kun or Terasawa-san. Terasawa-shi. He said, "Please stay late."
All the other assistants looked at me like, "sucks to be you."
I was actually happy to be able to work with him alone. That time together is what's supporting me now. We worked 24 hours straight through, until morning that day. Working around the clock was the norm at Tezuka Productions.
At the time, we were working on Hi no Tori (Phoenix). Hi no Tori has a really complex story. During the serialization, you have no idea what you're drawing. It's not even interesting.
That's when he asked me to cut all the panels out with a razor. Once I separated the panels, Mr. Tezuka was staring at them from above. Saying, "Hmm..."
Then, he started rearranging the order as if he were solving a jigsaw puzzle. Once it was rearranged back into a book, it was much easier to understand. That was his editing process.
Normally, you edit the story in your head while you're creating it. But in his case, he re-edits his work physically. And by doing so, he made a brilliant book. He taught me the importance of editing. I never would have learned that if I didn't have that time with him. It's not like he's going to say, "This is how you do it."
It's a treasured experience. Money can't buy you that.
What is your favorite movie?
Terasawa: My favorite? I have too many. It's hard to choose. I like watching movies in general. I probably watch more western movies than Japanese movies.
If I had to pick a movie... I'm a Sci-Fi manga artist, so I'd have to pick Star Wars. Not 2001: A Space Odyssey.Star Wars. The reason is because at the time when I was creating Sci-Fi manga, things were really difficult. No one really understood what Sci-Fi was. When Star Wars came out, I realized if I broke it down like that, even children could understand. It was groundbreaking for me.
Mr. Tezuka didn't like it though. He liked 2001: A Space Odyssey better. We had different tastes.
What inspired you to create Space Adventure Cobra?
Terasawa: Inspiration? It's difficult to describe. I probably had a lot of things building up inside me and I wanted a way to release that. And at the time, I just happened to want to create a story about a hero. So that's how Cobra was born.
It also started with his name. I had several name ideas. I was born on March 30th at 3 A.M, so 333. People used to say I'm half devil, because 666 is the devil's number. So I'm half devil, but the other half is a really nice guy. That's why I was fixated with the number 3.
A lot of my manga are titled after 3 syllable names in Japanese, like Cobra, Goku and Takeru. When I named him Cobra, I realized what a bold name it was. I guess it would have been weird to name him Snake in Japanese.
You know how there's a revolver called the Colt Python? I wondered what kind of person he'd be with a name that invokes that kind of power.
I also wanted the story to be an adventure. There's nothing adventurous about going to a jungle, so I took the story to space. That's how it ended up being a space opera.
Space Adventure Cobra is known for its sexy female characters. Where did you get your inspiration for these women? Were they inspired by an actual person?
Terasawa: Lots of women, really, but no one in particular. The concept was from the Bond series. There's Bond and all these women who are attracted to him. If Bond were to stick with one girl, he'd have to marry her. That's why they get rid of the girls by killing them off or something.
What an ideal situation for a guy. What am I saying...?
Please describe your writing process when you were creating Cobra.
Terasawa: To quote Pascal, "A stroke of brilliance doesn't come on command." You have to stockpile your ideas.<
I'm the same way. Whenever I have an idea I jot it down on a Post-it note. It could be a drawing or just words. When I think I can use them, including the jokes, I gather them together and look at them like Mr. Tezuka did.
Sometimes they just suddenly all connect, like puzzle pieces all falling into place. It's a moment of brilliance.
But that won't happen unless you already have something to work with. It's only happens because you've made the effort to stockpile your ideas.
Please describe your writing process when you were creating How were you involved in the making of the 1980 TV series?
Terasawa: We had these weekly script meetings. I went to the TV station every week, even though I was swamped with my serialization.
Well, I just went for the drinks.
We'd have these script meetings and I'd give the screenplay writers my changes for each episode. Then, the writers would take the scripts back with them to make the changes, and bring them back the following week. In the next meeting, I'd check them to see if the changes were okay and look over the new scripts that had come in. Then, the writers would take them back for fixes. It was a repeat of that.
Midway through the process, there were times when I ended up writing the script myself. A writer would tell me he didn't know how to fix it, so I ended up doing it.
How do you feel about Space Adventure Cobra being released in the US for the first time?
Terasawa: It's really amazing. It's always been my dream to have it released in the US. Cobra Johnson is American, so I still don't understand why it became so popular in France.
Is there anything you'd like to say to your English-speaking fans?
Terasawa: Watch out for the Psycho-Gun!
Space Adventure Cobra will continue, so please look forward to it.
This is Buichi Terasawa.