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Death Note, How to Read Vol. 1 - Conclusion of the Ohba Interview

Page 4
All text, save two manga excerpt illustrations, and then a small insert in the bottom right.

Q: Tell us how a chapter is developed, from start to finish.
A: First off, I write the dialogue/monologues and roughly divide them into panels. I do a rough draft of the layout with very simple sketches, just as placeholders. The editors check it over, and once it’s okayed, I turn it over to Obata-sensei, and he makes another draft with his illustrations. At this point the illustrations are basically done, and the final lettering is put in place. I leave all the camera work and character facial expressions and so on up to Obata-sensei.

Q: Is there anything you have to be particularly careful about when creating a rough draft?
A: Probably the scripting - I have to be careful to watch the pacing and sentence length. In “Death Note”, the panels tend to get too many words in them. To some extent, though, that’s just something you can’t avoid when writing an intensely plot-driven suspense story like this. You have to weave in little tidbits of information in the dialogues so that people can follow the story.
However, I really do try to be as concise as possible. Of course the editors help me iron out each chapter, but in the end the pacing is just something I have to grapple with as I go along.

Illustration: A panel with a good deal of internal monologue.
Caption: No matter how many times it’s edited, the panels still contain an excessive amount of lines. However, this also stands testament to how profound the story is.

Q: How do you draw the rough draft?
A: First, I have a meeting with the editors and get a rough idea of how the chapter is going to flow; then I sort out how to work in specific ideas. Once the basic plot has congealed, I start laying it out in my head and developing the plot into comic-form. Usually, this happens while I’m lying in bed, or otherwise relaxing. For each new chapter, I’d say it takes maybe three days of planning to think everything through.
Once I’ve got everything finalized in my head, I sit down at my desk and finally start drawing. I do the early drafting in a fresh notepad, and just work on positioning the dialogue, shaping the storyline. Most of the time, I don’t pay enough attention to the spacing, and wind up over my page count. As a result, I end up rewriting the script two or three times, taking out unnecessary parts or rewording sections, until everything fits properly and I feel like I’ve found a good pacing for the chapter.
No matter how many times I actually edit, I always seems to use up the whole pad of paper, so I tend to just omit the cover page. After all, since the real illustrator is Obata-sensei anyways...the readers are all looking forward to his drawings, it would be a shame if my art usurped his vision :D
The other thing I have to make sure to do is read back over the previous 2-4 chapters each time I write a new part in the sequence. Even if I remember them completely, even if I just skim through, I still reread. After all, it’s not just plot consistency that’s important, but the feeling of the work, and the way the tension builds from chapter to chapter.

Q: Do you set up every last detail of each new character before handing them over to the artist?
A: The character’s internal details, like Light being a outstanding student, or his methodical personality, I write all that into the script itself. Their faces, hairstyles, visual things like that – I don’t really direct those much at all. I leave the art up to Obata-sensei. Actually, counter to what you’d expect, I think it’s more common for the characters to solidify after I have him draw them for me.
For example, I left the physical appearances of the eight members of the Yotsuba group to Obata-sensei. To be perfectly honest, in the rough draft of the script they were little more than character sketches. However, when I saw his illustrations, I started thinking “Now, this man looks like he might be the type to do THIS...” and so on. I got a better sense of who the characters were, and it opened up a lot of possibilities for dialogue; new directions to take things in.

Q: And are there times when the art you get back from Obata-sensei isn’t what you’d envisioned?
A: No, very rarely. Even if the character doesn’t look exactly the way I’d pictured, the minute I see them I feel that “this is exactly the way the character has to look”. That’s how convincing his drawings are.
Little surprises like that are very stimulating for me. Finding an element of the character that doesn’t fit into the scheme I’d dreamed up actually brings new life to them. In truth, that’s really what helps me flesh them out and give them depth, I think.

Q: Does Obata-sensei have any influence on the story other than character development?
A: I’ve started to base my initial panel divisions, and the way I work with the script, on the way he does his art.
For example, when we were working on the very first serialized chapter, the script concluded with L’s debut. However, that first big draft was 55 pages long and had enough material for two chapters crammed into it. From my standpoint, looking at the main focus of the story, it just wouldn’t be interesting until we got to the L vs. Light interaction. Thus, I plowed ahead.
Around that time, when we were talking about having Obata-sensei do the artwork, the editors clued me in on a better idea. If we combined Obata-sensei’s artistic talent with bold, well thought out panels and adequate spacing, we could really jazz up the storytelling. Which is to say, I’m STILL working on reducing the density of the panels, but Obata-sensei has certainly helped me improve my layout...he’s more than a good ‘influence’, he’s my savior ;D

Illustration: Light punching L.
Caption: Obata-sensei’s artwork is one of Death Note’s big draws. The character’s movements are powerfully illustrated!

Insert: Beloved, unusual L! The key to his creation was collaboration?
Ohba: I gave Obata-sensei advance notice when I was about to roll out L. When I did, he asked me, “Do you mind if I don’t make him good-looking?” He threw out his own version of what the character should be like, and it turned out to be exactly what I had envisioned! After that, I just left the details to him.

Incidentally, L’s bare-footedness, strange sitting habits, and listless manner were things I had asked for; the dark circles under his eyes and sloppy dress all came from Obata-sensei. I am proud to be able to say that L is the fruit of both of our labors.

Two small illustrations, both taken from the manga.
Light: And back here, nobody will wonder why you’re sitting so strangely. Hehe…
L: Ah,
L: But I’m afraid I must sit like this. If I sit in the usual fashion, my powers of deduction decrease by 40%.
Caption 1 (pointing at upper picture): A panel that illustrates L’s peculiar nature. He sits in a strange position in order to do his best thinking; says a lot about his personality. (Whether or not that’s scientifically grounded or not is another question entirely…)

Caption 2 (pointing at lower picture): “L munching on sweets” was a sort of visual running gag that developed as the series went on. It was always just snack food, but the artist worked hard coming up with something new every time.

Page 5
This page gives us our first (sketch) look at Mero and Nia! As well as a single illustration of L, and a small insert in the upper-left hand corner about Misa.
Insert: With the addition of a female character, Misa, the visuals and plot were also enriched!
Ohba: The decision to make the second Kira a girl was both because I wanted to make the visuals more flamboyant, and because I wanted to try writing a pure, devoted sort of love. Thanks to Misa, not only did the comic become more visually attractive, but I got to add more elements of love to the story. Developing that was what led to the idea that Reapers die if they fall in love with a human. And based on the hints I dropped at the end of part one, you can be sure I’ll be working with this theme in things to come (laugh).

Two small pictures, with captions.
Illustration: Misa beating on Light.
Caption: Misa also allows for the inclusion of the occasional joke, and love comedy.

Illustration: Jayerasu, about to suicide.
Caption: The situation in which Jayerasu died foreshadows the way in which Rem later follows suit.

Q: Regarding the original one-shot manuscript, what sort of things did you consider in order to develop it for serialization?
A: The first thing I envisioned was turning it into an omnibus with “Reapers” and “Death Note” as sort of keywords/touching points. But since I finally had the chance to serialize something, I wanted to venture into creating real characters, and show their thoughts and emotions over a longer span of time. I started mulling over that, and that’s how we got L and Light, and the various humans and Reapers that get drawn into their conflict.

Illustration. L sitting in front of a keyboard (first volume illustration).
Caption: L, the force in opposition to the Death Note, was developed in order to turn the story into a serial comic.

A (continued from above line): Also, although the one-shot stood on its own with just the gimmick of the Death Note, I didn’t want to try and stretch that out over an entire series. So even though I’d thought about basing the story around the concept alone, once it got serialized the nature of the beast changed on me, I suppose you could say.

Q: You’re writing for a weekly magazine, so you have to put in mini-cliffhangers and hooks to keep the reader with you. Has it been difficult working this kind of suspense story into small pieces like this?
A: I handle it by thinking of the ending of each chapter first, and the contents second. I first decide how far into the larger storyline I can get in one chapter, and write a draft that punches ahead to that point…that’s what it feels like. I use this process because I want lots of development so the readers can stay excited about the storyline.
The only problem with that kind of writing is that it doesn’t give me very much peace of mind. Especially at the very beginning of the comic’s run, I was just brimming with ideas, and I felt compelled to put them all on the table at once. “If I don’t advance the story to THIS certain point, no one will like it enough to read it!” I worried about that constantly. At any rate, I still put my heart and soul into every script, so that the story will be fit for my wonderful readers’ consumption.

Q: So that’s why Death Note developed into such a roller coaster of a thriller?
A: Actually, I think that’s because I’m no good at dragging the story out. If I come up with a fun idea or plot development I like, I can’t resist throwing it in there immediately. If I had to go back and look at this first part objectively, I’d have to admit that the plot moves way too fast (laugh). Still, I just can’t hold out on my readers. I want them to see the fun stuff as soon as possible!

Q: How did you decide on the rules for the Death Note?
A: Most of them I set up at the very beginning, but of course there were a few I came up with as the story progressed.
It’s no surprise that the rules are central to the story’s development, so each chapter I have to make sure I’m writing according to my own’s really a struggle (laugh).

Q: When the comic first debuted, what kind of directions did you consider taking the story in?
A: I had lots of vague ideas about what I could do with it – not much solid. However, the second Kira and Rem were two elements I wanted from the very beginning. Actually, I wanted to roll them out even earlier, but the editors kept telling me “Just hang in there until the story is a little more developed”. They stayed my hand.

Q: The Yotsuba arc was a very large section in the story to date. What was your reason for putting it in?
A: Until that point, L and Light had been pitted against each other; I wanted to write them investigating side by side for once. So, I hate to say it, but the Yotsuba members were really just cannon fodder. Thus, I’d planned on Light returning to his role as Kira from the start.

Q: When did you decide on L’s death as the conclusion to the first part of the story?
A: The climax of the first part would have to resolve the conflict between L and Light in some sort of final manner - I felt that way from the very beginning. However, “L dying” was only one of the many possibilities I was considering…it wasn’t until Misa was taken into L’s custody, and I reevaluated my available choices, that I tearfully decided on his death as the most viable option.

Q: At the very end of the first part, we meet two boys who will continue L’s quest. Can you tell us more about them?
A: They’re Mero and Nia, two boys who grew up at the institution Watari founded. They begin work the moment they learn that L is dead. And they will have a crucial role as “L’s successors” in the second part of the story. In the second part...

Q: Whoa, hold your horses there! We need to have something to print later (laugh). So in volume 18, when we run the second half of Ohba Tsugumi-sensei’s tell-all special interview, we will cover Mero and Nia, and the development of the much-anticipated new storyline. Thank you all for reading!

Pictures! The first full sketches of Mero and Nia (who look pretty creepy, if you ask me :D)
Caption: The two successors to L’s throne, who appeared at the very end of the first part. This is the very first rough sketch of them! Two young boys, Mero and Nia. What action will they take?

Next time: Next week, the illustrator, Obata Takeshi-sensei, sheds light on the story behind the artwork!

What do people want to see next? Timeline? Character profiles? Or should I try and forge ahead into the next issue already (interview with Obata-sensei)? I apologize, but I only have time for about two pages a day or so.

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