Tanaka Yoshiki-sensei is the writer of famous titles like Legend of the Galactic Heroes (銀河英雄伝説 or Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu), The Heroic Legend of Arslan (アルスラン戦記 or Arslan Senki) as well as the Prince of Lan Ling (蘭陵王 or Ryuu Ran Ou) which is available in the Manga Planet Library. We sat down with Tanaka-sensei in a short interview to talk about Prince of Lan Ling and to answer YOUR questions during our Industry Panel at Otakuthon at Home. We gathered so many questions from fans and asked Tanaka-sensei for his thoughts! We had a blast and learned such interesting things about Tanaka-sensei’s writing process. We hope you enjoy and make sure to check out Prince of Lan Ling afterward!
Thank you for sitting down with us today, Tanaka-sensei. We first would like to ask you about Prince of Lan Ling. What sparked your inspiration to write it?
Tanaka-sensei: More than 40 years ago, I was in my university’s library reading a history dictionary when the name jumped out at me. I hadn’t heard the name before so I kept looking and found out that he was a very brave man who wore a mask in battle and met an eventful end. From then on, I kept searching and searching for any novel about him. After 40 years of searching to no avail, I decided that I need to write it myself.
I see. About the writing process, was there anything in particular that you paid attention to when you were writing the Prince of Lan Ling?
Tanaka-sensei: I gathered as much information as I could on the Prince of Lan Ling but it was limited. So, I also looked into the stories of other figures during the same era and incorporated them to illustrate the time period as best I could. I hope readers found it easy to imagine.
I think we all agree that you achieved that. (laughs) This is a different topic but what are your thoughts on the digital releases of novels and manga?
Tanaka-sensei: I actually don’t personally read digitally much, but I think digital releases are an excellent way to introduce yourself to a myriad of titles. I hope that after experiencing the novels and manga digitally, you can enjoy physical copies as well.
Thank you. Let’s move on to the much anticipated Q&A section. We received many questions for you from your fans from abroad. We’ve chosen a few and would love to hear your answers.
The first question is about The Heroic Legend of Arslan from Mel from America. The question is “The Heroic Legend of Arslan includes Persian influences with so many details blended into the story. When you were building this world and story, what were your inspirations?
Tanaka-sensei: Hm… There is no particular title that influenced me. Actually, the idea of creating an otherworldly tale suddenly arose during a meeting with publishers. At that time, if you had asked me how much I knew about Persia, I would’ve said absolutely nothing. But, after it was decided that I would write this story, we scoured all over to find research material. I already had the skeleton of the story in my head, so I molded the environment by filling it with Persian inspirations. Things like the food, parties, and street shops like the bathhouses were included in between the fight scenes so that people could read it and hopefully think “ah, Persia seems like an interesting place.”
This next question is from Charlie in France. “You are well-versed in a number of countries’ histories and cultures, and it seems like you are especially interested in China and Persia. When you study these histories and cultures, do you only use books and papers as your research material? Do you ever go to the region or country you are researching?
Tanaka-sensei: Ah, that is quite case-by-case. I have gone to China, the UK, and Germany. There are things that have to be experienced in person. When I was writing a piece with the Hanseatic League as the set, there was a special brick that made up the town. The color of that brick is written in books but the feeling of that brick isn’t written. I went to Germany to know what that brick feels like. Unfortunately, I’ve never been to France. I want to go once the coronavirus settles.
Wow that is very interesting. Thank you. This question from Leaf in USA is about your characters. “When you are creating your characters, what kind of approach do you take?”
Tanaka-sensei: Hm… I don’t think I struggle too much with that. Well, first, I start with making the whole world of the story. Then, I find what kind of character would be needed for what goal and create a rough draft of that character. And then I fill in the gaps by thinking about the story and its progression. If you think of a baseball team, there are 9 people on a team and you can imagine that the agile player would be the shortstop and the heavy-built, strong player would be the catcher. So I also have those roles, but I shake it up a little. By that, I mean I play around and think “What if I make the bigger, slower looking player as the shortstop?” I hope to make the characters more interesting like that.
The example of the baseball team made it very easy to understand. The following question is from Danny in Oregon, USA: “The Legend of Galactic Heroes featured several characters who were adopted or orphaned, such as Julian Mintz, who was adopted by Yang Wen-li, and Felix, who was taken in by Mittermeyer who ended up becoming excellent leaders. These characters were very inspiring but was it intentional for you to focus on characters with these unfortunate circumstances? What are your thoughts on themes like this that exist in your works?
Tanaka-sensei: The Legend of Galactic Heroes is set during wartime, so I think the existence of war orphans like Julian and Felix is an appropriate sign of the times. Even though they are not blood-related, the human relationship they have, I would say it’s similar to a teacher-student relationship. In my works, I was interested in the characters like Julian and Felix learning from the people around them and proactively creating their lives. If you ask me why those themes were incorporated, I wouldn’t have an answer, but maybe I can attribute it to my personal experience of my rebellious phase in my younger years. (laughs)
(laughs) Okay this next question is from Carl in New York. “Humans cannot fathom when a large number of lives are lost at once but when you were writing Legend of the Galactic Heroes, were you also keeping in mind the mental fatigue caused by the enormous space war?
Tanaka-sensei: Ah, with unmanned weapons and the like, there is a tendency for people’s deaths to be summarized into numbers in recent wars. And in future space wars, that may be escalated and the casualties will only be understood through statistics. But in reality, these are actual people who are shedding blood, people with families and friends, and they are doing their hardest to survive, which is what I think I want to portray.
A question from Jean-Philippe in Montreal is “I can’t help but notice that Yang Wen-li from Legend of the Galactic Heroes and Fan Hyulick from Tytania are very similar. Was there a particular reason for this or do you just prefer creating these characters?
Tanaka-sensei: I didn’t calculate that but it honestly gets painful writing straight-edge, run-of-the-mill characters. (laughs) It’s easier to write characters who are confronting immense power but are also able to take a step back and view things from afar. Also, when I write characters, I start with their shortcomings because if I were to start with their strengths, they would just become textbook versions of the “nice” character or “clever” character. (laughs) So, if I start with the shortcomings, the humanness of these characters is accentuated. And, I like having my characters be passionate about something, for example, Yang loves tea and Hyulick loves omelets. A funny story actually, after I wrote the Legend of the Galactic Heroes, I went to a cafe and was persecuted for ordering coffee and not tea… but the person who said that coffee is just dirty water is Yang. I love coffee. (laughs)
(laughs) I think we agree that we love coffee at Manga Planet, too. The following question is from a Legend of the Galactic Heroes fan from California. “What is the most influential time period or event in history? What historical period or event do you find most interesting or frightening to you personally?”
Tanaka-sensei: Oh I am interested in a plethora of time periods and I tried thinking about my favorite but… that is difficult… I find Chinese history interesting and also the Roman Empire, and Ancient Egypt. Really… trying to choose a favorite is like picking a single grain of sand from a vast beach.
The next question is from Diana in Seattle, Washington. “What is the secret to the deep-rooted popularity of works like Legend of the Galactic Heroes even years after its release?”
Tanaka-sensei: Oh if only I knew the answer to that question. (laughs) When I reread some parts, I think “I was so young” and “Oh how did I write this then.” I don’t think writers like myself will ever say they are fully independent. In a way, I feel like something is guiding me when I’m writing. And then, afterwards I reread it and think “Ah this is what I was thinking…” it’s a strange phenomenon… as if something or someone is behind me and whispering in my ear but if I turn around, I’m alone…
I see… that experience must be difficult to explain. The following question is from Lau Griffin from Australia. “What I personally think is great about Legend of the Galactic Heroes is that even after 30 years since its release, I feel that the political criticism in the work is still right on target. But 30 years is a long time, do you ever feel like you want to redact what you wrote 30 years ago, or do you ever think that it’s different now?
Tanaka-sensei: Hm… When I reread it, there are times when I think, “Oh, this guy has a point.” and I don’t really think I wrote it. So, as I said earlier, I think “Oh I was so young” and if I were to rewrite it, I may be more gentle with my wording. For example, the old aristocrats of the Galactic Empire were completely the enemy. But now, I think about their perspective and how they viewed the situation.
We have a question from Sierra in Phoenix, Arizona which is more about your work in general. “Which of your characters do you think you would get along with the most?”
Tanaka-sensei: Ah… I find some of my characters interesting, but I don’t think I would want to be friends with any of them… Rather, I want characters like Gieve and Poplin to stay far away from me. (laughs)
Oh… do you have a reason for not wanting to be friends with them?
Tanaka-sensei: There’s no particular reason… But I guess I feel like they see through me because I created them.
Very interesting! So which characters do you find interesting?
Tanaka-sensei: I always step into the shoes of my characters when I write them. For example, when I wrote Guiscard, I seriously contemplated how I can make Arslan suffer. So in that sense, I find it more fun when I’m writing my villains.
That does sound fun! Thank you so much for your answers, Tanaka-sensei! Lastly, do you have a message to share with your fans?
Tanaka-sensei: I was actually planning to go to San Diego this July and it’s a shame I won’t be able to meet you all in person. I know it’s not much of a message, but what I would like to ask of you is that you please read more and more interesting books, it doesn’t have to be mine! I know the situation in front of us is not as easy as it used to be, but I hope we can somehow get through this, and I would be happy if we could have the opportunity to meet again next year. Also, I want to say from the bottom of my heart that I am truly grateful to the people of the world who are reading my works. Thank you very much. One of the good things about being a writer is that I’ve been able to communicate with people indirectly, and the other thing is that I don’t have a boss. (laughs)
Thank you so much for your time today and for answering so many questions!
Tanaka-sensei: Thank you.
You can also watch the Manga Planet Industry Panel featuring Yoshiki Takana below or on our YouTube channel:
About Manga Planet: Read manga, support artists
In 2012, Manga Planet started as a joint project between Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. and FANTASISTA, INC. to research and explore the ways manga is read throughout the world. Aiming to bring new manga to fans from all over the world and support artists and the industry, Manga Planet pushes for affordability and access to manga through a subscription-based service.
Readers who subscribe to Manga Planet and pay a flat monthly fee of $6.99 will have access to our expanding library of English-language manga. By the end of 2020, subscribers will have unlimited access to at least 500 titles. To subscribe, please go to read.mangaplanet.com and create an account. More information is in our Guide.