This is a transcript of an article and interview with Ryukishi07 and Karin Suzuragi that was included in the December 2008 issue of Yen Press' Yen Plus magazine. In the interview, Ryukishi talks about Higurashi When They Cry's development, his experiences forming 07th Expansion and his work life, and his inspirations for the story. Suzuragi talks about her experiences drawing for the manga and her art.
The article was written by Jason Thompson.
The scariest horror stories are the ones that start out innocently. Stephen King's novels take place in peaceful small towns in New England where you'd never expected to find vampires, aliens, or killer clowns. Movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hostel start out with just some college students on vacation. Takashi Miike's movie Audition starts out as a romance. And what could be sweeter than a manga love-comedy, with a transfer student in a classroom full of cute girls? And then, people start to die...
Higurashi WHEN THEY CRY started its dark life as a "visual novel" video game. "Visual novels" are a particularly Japanese form of media; not so much computer games as stories you follow on your computer. Unlike most video games and anime, visual novels can be made on a relatively low budget, and Higurashi began life as a dojin soft (self-published game) released in 2002 by the small company 07th Expansion. At the time, the creator and founder of the company, Ryukishi07(a pen name), was working a day job as a civil servant. With the surprise success of Higurashi, he was able to become a full-time writer and game designer, and complete his epic vision for Higurashi: eight games told from the perspective of different characters, each one telling a piece of the terrifying puzzle of Hinamizawa village.
Today, Higurashi WHEN THEY CRY is a rising star in Japanese horror, a big name like The Ring and The Grudge. The manga, which began in Japan in 2005, is now being published in YEN PLUS with art by Karin Suzuragi. The first volume of the Higurashi series, Higurashi WHEN THEY CRY: Abducted by Demons Arc, was published in November 2008. The anime is available in English from Funimation. In Japan, there are novels, drama CDs, and even a live-action film, released in Japan in 2008. And it all started as a self-published project combining two things that seem like oil and water. Or perhaps water and blood?
Yen Plus: Are you both big video game fans?
Ryukishi07: I love games very much, I had time to play when I was a student, so I loved long games like RPGs, but now I can't take much time out for them, so I really like action games that are simple and can be played in a short amount of time.
I love all kinds of games, but in recent years, my favorites are FPS (first-person shooter) war games and TPS (third-person shooter) ninja games. I really like ninia-type games where you sneak up on your enemy and take them out stealthfully. I love sniping in war games too (laughs), so of course I also love games with big, flashy shoot-outs!
Suzuragi: When l was a student, I loved RPGs, and I only ever played Square Enix games. Now, I go after novel-type games,where l can enjoy focusing on the scenarios.
Yen Plus: How do you divide up the work on the manga?
Ryukishi07: Suzuragi uses my original game to outline the story and draw the name (story-board), and I supervise. Suzuragi is kind enough to love he original very much, so her outlines and name are wonderful! As the creator, there is no other artist that I can feel so at ease about leaving things in her hands.
Suzuragi: I play the original game, and from there I create the script and panel layout for the manga.
Yen Plus: Suzuragi, your art style is different from Ryukishi07's original designs for the Higurashi games. How much freedom did you have in redesigning the characters for the manga?
Ryukishi07: As long as Suzuragi brought the image of the original work to life, I had no problems with her drawing it freely. At any rate, my drawings are terrible (sweat drop). I think the characters are happy to have Suzuragi draw them so adorably too.
Suzuragi: Oh, that's very kind of you, but my aim is to match the designs of the original.
Yen Plus: Have you been to Shirakawa, the Japanese village which Hinamizawa is said to be inspired by?
Ryukishi07: Oi course. I traveled there when l was in the middle of writing the Abducted by Demons Arc, and I even rewrote a lot of things based on the inspiration I got there. Shirakawa is a wonderful place that still has a lot of the atmosphere of old Japan. I think it helps you to feel closer to Hinamizawa, the setting of Higurashi WHEN THEY CRY. Of course Shirakawa is very safe as a tourist spot, and there are no weird murder cases (laughs). It you have the opportunity to travel there, then please, go check it out.
Suzuragi: Yes. After it was decided that I would be doing the manga, I thought I should see the models for the buildings in the story, so I rented a bicycle and rode around on location. The nature is beautiful, and the people there are kind and gentle, so please visit sometime.
Q&A With Ryukishi07
Yen Plus: When you were in high school and college, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Ryukishi07: I loved games at the time, so I vaguely thought I’d like to work for a company that makes games. But of course, it’s not such a forgiving industry that you can get a job with just vague feelings, so my attempts to find work there were met with crushing defeat (laughs). As a result, I became a longtime member of an industry that had absolutely nothing to do with games, but now I think that was a very good experience.
Yen Plus: Are you a fan of the horror and murder mystery genres?
Ryuklshi07: l have always loved the worlds of horror, suspense, and mystery. Creepy murders based on creepy customs in remote villages whose inhabitants are suspicious of outsiders...that‘s one at the classic genres at Japanese mysteries, and I really aspired to capture the beauty of that style. Seishi Yakomizo‘s The Village of Eight Graves depicts that world, and it was a major influence on Japanese mystery writing. Among American authors, I think that the world of Stephen King might have similar elements. Also, the American movie The Blair Witch Project was an inspiration for a lot of Higurashi WHEN THEY CRY.
Yen Plus: Who are some of your favorite manga artists?
Ryuklshl07: I read lots of manga, but I really like the works of Nobuyuki Fukumoto. I really respect how he depicts the things that go into gambling manga—betting and suspicion—in such a thrilling way, and I study it in the hopes that I'll be able to depict things that way too.
Yen Plus: When did you start working in dojin games? How did you found 07th Expansion?
Ryukishi07: I think I entered the world of dojin a few years before founding 07th Expansion. At the time, I was wandering around lots of genres, trying my hand at all of them. After dojin games, l was fascinated with the world of playwriting, then i tried my hand at illustration. After all of that, I founded 07th Expansion and tried dojin games again.
At that time, the dojin circle was designing trading card games. Because of that, I took the 07 from my pen name, Ryukishi07, and named the company "07th Expansion," as if it were an expansion set for a trading card game. At first, I was the only person in the circle, but now I have lots of friends working with me.
Yen Pius: You are famous for your work in "visual novel" type games, a genre which is not so well known in the U.S. Could you tell YEN PLUS readers a little bit about the "visual novel" genre, and how you ended up working in it?
Ryukishi07: To put it simply. a visual novel is a novel with music and illustrations that you read on your computer. In other words, I think it is a completely new medium, as distinct as novels, manga, and anime. In a novel, you can explain a world in depth with lots of prose, but there isn't any music, and there aren't many illustrations or anything like that to enhance the experience. Manga falls far short of novels in terms of the amount of prose, but the visual side is much stronger. But there's no musical enhancement. Anime is the best for both music and artwork, but it's at an overwhelming disadvantage in prose, as well as cost and time of production. Visual novels have as much prose as novels, are visual like manga, and musical like anime, and they have the charm of taking extremely little money and time to produce. Even in Japan, it has yet to be recognized as a medium, but I firmly believe that it’s a new genre that can stand alongside novels, manga, and anime, and boldly take control of the new century.
Yen Press: Did you ever consider working in RPGs?
Ryukishi07: Of course, I love RPGs, so I have dreamed of being able to make them. But RPGs require very elaborate game designs, and they’re a very difficult genre of game to make. In my case, l think I would enjoy playing them more than making them (laughs). My pen name, Ryukishi07, comes from the heroine Reina and the class in Final Fantasy V. I think it's a name that didn't quite have enough thought put into it (sweat drop). To everyone reading this, please, in the future, when you're deciding on your pen names, I strongly recommend that you make them cool-sounding ones (laughs).
Yen Plus: For many years you worked a day job as a civil servant, while doing dojin as a hobby. Was it difficult to balance these two sides at your life?
Ryukishi07: My life as a civil servant had absolutely no connection to the gaming world. l was able to think of my jon and my hobbies as completely separate. Of course, it was hard keeping the balance. If l was working late into the night on game production and writing, then it would affect my job the next day, and if I had to work overtime, I would lose writing time... l did everything I could to prevent the two worlds from mixing together. Fortunately, they were worlds that never overlapped. But thinking about it now, I think I actually learned a lot of things because my life was so hectic. When it comes to creating and writing, you'll never come up with good ideas by just sitting at your desk with your arms folded. It was difficult to balance my job with my hobbies, but I’m grateful that it was such a good learning experience.
Yen Plus: How did you come up with the idea for Higurashi WHEN THEY CRY?
Ryukishi07: When my younger brother suggested making a visual novel, I still had an unpublished theater script called Hinamizawa Teiryujyo ("Hinamizawa Bus Stop") I had written a few years before, when l was trying my hand at that. I decided to rewrite it and release it. The idea that came first was to show the contrast between a fun, ordinary life, and something out of the ordinary. it starts out as an idyllic country life, but in the middle of the story, it's turned completely upside down. I think that is the epitome of smalltown horror. As for my influences, as i mentioned earlier, I was greatly influenced by the worlds of Seishi Yokomizo.
Yen Plus: One at the most fascinating things about Higurashi is the structure, in which the storyline is revealed gradually over the course of several games and mango. How did you come up with this idea?
Ryukishi07: I had decided very early on to design the story so that the truth comes to light by looking at several overlapping stories. l think it's an unusual technique in the world of manga and anime, but actually, in the world of visual novels, it’s a relatively orthodox way of expression. l think lite might be the same way. You can't judge things by only looking from one perspective. I'm sure there must be truths you can only see when you look from many perspectives.
Yen Plus: Did you originally conceive of Higurashi as a single game, and then the plot became too big to put into one game, and so you divided it into multiple games? Or did you always have the idea of doing multiple games?
Ryukishi07: At first, l planned to release it as one game. l was still inexperienced at the time, so I thought that I could write this incredibly long story in just a year. l was completely unaware that it would take years just to finish it. When I actually started working on it, I immediately realized how wrong I was, and I came up with the idea to divide it into parts and release them as a series, like manga.
Yen Plus: Why is the story set in 1983? This seems like an unusual detail.
Ryukishi07: 1983 is a little more than 20 years ago. I think most Higurashi readers are young people, around college age. So it becomes a kind of ambiguous time, when the reader may or may not have been born. Now, for example, if a story was set more than a hundred years ago, it might enter the realm of fantasy, because no one who's alive was present at that time—not the author, not the readers, not anybody. No matter how carefully they may have studied books on the subject, it won't change the fact that they are depicting their imaginary vision of something they've never seen or heard. But if it takes place just barely around the time you were born, it’s not fantasy. And yet it might be a time when you could believe in the fairy tales your parents told you when you were small. I think this puts in on the boundary where reality and illusion blend together. That's why I chose the ambiguous date of 1983 as a setting. I think it’s because it takes place in that time that there's a delicate balance between murder cases and curses.
Yen Plus: Higurashi is about a guy surrounded by cute girls, so it seems like it could easily turn into a love-comedy or an adult game. However, instead. it goes in a completely different direction. How and why did you end up mixing these love-comedy elements with horror?
Ryukishi07: Because love-comedy and horror are exact opposites. As I mentioned earlier, I had decided in the beginning that I wanted to depict the contrast between a fun, ordinary life and something horrifying and out of the ordinary. Of course, I myself really like both love-comedy and horror, and l wanted to write both of them, so that might have been another reason.
Yen Plus: The cuteness of your art and character designs is a shocking contrast to the horror of HIgurashi. Was this intentional?
Ryukishi07: As I mentioned, that contrast was my main goal. It wouldn't work if you could tell it was horror just by looking at the character designs. l wanted it to look like a love-comedy at first glance, to deceive the readers, and that's why I designed the characters the way I did. The unfortunate thing is that I'm not a very good artist, so I can't draw my characters charmingly enough to say such self-congratulatory things... (sweat drop)
Yen Plus: Since you are both an artist and a writer, do you draw when coming up with the basic idea for stories or characters?
Ryukishi07: First I write the story, and when I’m done, I draw the pictures and characters. It's really hard for me to switch gears when I'm writing and drawing, although I’m working on improving my abilities in this regard. When you’re writing a story, it's better to at least have a visual for the main character. I still have a lot to learn in terms of making my working habits more efficient.
Yen Plus: At some point, Higurashi was picked up for manga, anime, and drama CD adaptations. How quickly did all this happen? Were you approached by publishers such as Square Enix, or did you approach them?
Ryukishi07: We never approached anyone about adapting Higurashi. Every time a new company approached us about it, we felt so honored, we were dancing on air. There aren't many precedents for dojin works receiving such great esteem. It was like we ourselves didn't know what was happening, and all of a sudden, here we were.
I think the first adaptation of Higurashi was the drama CDs. That was about the time we released chapter four. From there, it was one thing after another—manga, anime, they just kept coming. I was very grateful and very happy.
Yen Plus: At some point, you quit your day job and became a full-time writer. Was this a personal triumph, or was it a difficult decision to make?
Ryukishi07: When I first considered quitting, l was really worried about my future. In Japan, being a civil servant is a very stable profession, and at the time a really long recession had started. Working as a civil servant, I probably wouldn't have had to worry about money for my entire life, but there was a limit to how much I could work on my writing. However, if I became a full-time writer, I might make a profit at first, but then get lost by the wayside and regret it. Of course I had those fears. I thought really hard about it, weighing my dreams and my livelihood and my future, and l talked it over with my parents, and as a result l decided to be a full-time writer. I don’t really think of it as a triumph, but I do think it was a big turning point in my life. If my life as a civil servant was my first life, then I suppose now I'm living my second life. I get the feeling I’m enjoying life twice as much.
Yen Plus: Is there a reason why you focus more on the dojin market? What do you like most about working in dojin?
Ryukishi07: It’s because l can do anything I want freely and without restrictions; I can give form to my dreams and make them a reality just the way they are. Of course, the price for that freedom is that, if I don’t have a lot of self-discipline, I could easily fall into a life of degradation. But as long as I don’t give up, I can certainly make any dream a reality. I think that the greatest appeal of the dojin world is the adventurer spirit, like a pirate in the middle of the vast ocean, with freedom and the struggles you endure for that freedom.
Yen Plus: American readers cannot currently play the Higurashi games in English, but they can read the manga, and the anime has also been licensed for English release. Are there any plans for the original games to be released in English?
Ryukishi07: It would be nice if we could make one... Unfortunately, we don’t have any staff to make an English version. If a company appeared whose hands we could feel good about leaving it in, maybe someday it will become a reality. I'm truly very sorry for the inconvenience to all the American fans.
Yen Plus: What are your current projects?
Ryukishi07: Currently, we're in the middle of serializing our new visual novel, Umineko no Naku Koro ni (”Seagulls When They Cry"). It takes place in a different world than Higurashi; a group of relatives are gathered in an extremely wealthy mansion on a solitary island, they get involved in a series of mysterious murders, and the legend of a witch comes in on top of that...it’s an Agatha Christie-type of mystery story. Someday I'd like to bring it to American fans in some form.
Q&A With Karin Suzuragi
Yen Plus: How did you end up working on the Higurashi manga project?
Suzuragi: My editor introduced me to the games, and I completely fell in love with them. I submitted artwork to a competition, and I ended up working on the mango version.
Yen Plus: How did you become a professional manga artist?
Suzuragi: I got started with submissions and unsolicited manuscripts, but I think what really changed my fortune was net scouting through my website.
Yen Plus: What manga artists have had the biggest influence on you?
Suzuragi: I never had anyone say so, but I think Rumiko Takahashi has had an influence on me.
Yen Plus: Haw young were you when you first started to draw manga? How young were you when you did your first professional assignment?
Suzuragi: I was in fourth grade when I started drawing manga on loose-leaf paper, and I think I was in my late teens when I first traded a manuscript for money.
Yen Plus: You have contributed to several game-based anthologies. Could you tell us a little about these projects?
Suzuragi: It was a fun time of my life, where I was always playing games, and I could draw
manga at the same time. But financially, it wasn’t very profitable, so I had to have a second job.
Yen Plus: What is your work process like? Do you use assistants, and if so, how many?
Suzuragi: I do everything by hand until I ink it in, and after that I work digitally, using the computer. I have close to ten assistants who help me out, but there are people who only help me one day every two months, and people who help me 20 days a month, so there's a very uneven number of work days for each person.
Yen Plus: Higurashi switches between cute moments (such as the "club" scenes) and frightening, grotesque moments. Which do you prefer drawing?
Suzuragi: I like both kinds, but I think that my pen comes more strongly to life with the frightening scenes.
Yen Plus: Your style has changed a bit from the first manga (Abducted by Demons Arc) to your current work in the latest Higurashi arc now running in Japan. Was this intentional, or was it an unconscious development?
Suzuragi: It's a series of trials and errors so that I can keep on getting better. And it's something I'm still working on even now.
Yen Plus: What do you feel is the biggest personal element that you have brought oto the Higurashi manga? Are there any ideas or images that you personally contriubuted to the story?
Suzuragi: They very kindly used my design suggestions for Aiko and Rena's father.
Thanks to Ryukishi07 and Karin Suzuragi, the translator Alethea and Athena Nibley, and the Yen Press Staff!
- A small, remote village (approximate population 1900) in Gifu prefecture, Japan. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its traditional thatch-roofed houses.
- Seishi Yokomizo (1902-1981) was a Japanese mystery author, best known as the creator of the private detective Kosuke Kindaichi. Kindaichi's grandson is the hero of the manga The Kindaichi Case Files.
- A manga artist best known for the mahjong manga Akagi, which has appeared in Morning magazine since 1992.
- A group of people who work together on dojinshi (self-published manga, games, or any other medium).
- Ryukishi literally means "Dragon Knight," although it is sometimes translated as "Dragoon." The number "07" can be written as "Rei" (zero) "nana" (seven) in Japanese, hence "07" is a reference to the Final Fantasy V character Reina, who has a strong connection to dragons.