Few Japanese artists have managed to captivate audiences and critics alike with their vision and imagination as Yoshitaka Amano has. He first attracted the interest of manga and anime fans with his character designs for Gatchaman (also known to Western audiences as either Battle of the Planets or G-Force), as well as his designs and artwork for Hideyuki Kikuchi's Vampire Hunter D novel series. His character work for the latter's original video animation and the long-running RPG series Final Fantasy cemented Amano's popularity world-wide. American comic book readers came to appreciate Yoshitaka Amano's astounding talent from his collaboration with Neil Gaiman on Sandman: The Dream Hunters, which went on to win several industry awards including an Eisner award and was nominated for a Hugo Award.
And now, Radical Books has released Amano's latest work, Mateki: The Magic Flute, a masterful interpretation of Mozart’s famous opera with 128 full-page illustrations by Amano. It is a beautiful and dark tale of a young man who must put away his flute and become a warrior to save his lover from the lord of darkness.
We had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Amano about his work on this new project.
Newsarama: The story of the Magic Flute is a famous one. Why is this story important and special to you to adapt to a graphic novel?
Yoshitaka Amano: The story itself is so well known, I don’t think I need to repeat it here. What actually attracted me most is the music Mozart wrote. Even though I knew the story from the accompanied texts, just listening to music gave me an inspiration of making it more like a ballet sequence, without words but the movements of images.
NRAMA: Which characters in the story were the most fun to adapt?
YA: I enjoyed creating The Queen of the Night. In the music, she felt like something out of this world, shapeless and mysterious. It reminded me of some Japanese “Nou” characters that appear from the world beyond this life. (Editor’s Note: Nou or Noh 能 is a significant form of classic Japanese drama surviving from the 14th century)
NRAMA: Which sequence gave you the hardest time conceiving and illustrating?
YA: I didn’t have any particular difficulty in creating images, but when I think of it as an actual animation, I’d like to make it into a very dynamic work and that might be challenging.
NRAMA: As you said, Mateki is based on Mozart's opera. Do you remember your first contact with this play?
YA: My first encounter with The Magic Flute was not as an opera or the music, but with the costumes used in opera displayed at the house Mozart lived in Salzburg. I’ve never seen the actual opera performance of The Magic Flute (I get sleepy most of the time!), but only through some DVDs and CDs. The inspiration mostly came from listening to it purely as a music piece.
NRAMA: How faithful have you stayed to the original plot and characters from the opera in your handling of the story?
YA: I made it very simple, eliminating many characters and simply sticking to a couple of main characters and to the emotional contents.
NRAMA: Here you have merged the classic western opera of Mozart with the elements of traditional Japanese culture. Which elements from your culture have you infused the story with?
YA: As mentioned before, I created The Queen of the Night with some “Nou” element and there’s also some spiritual or religious element I wanted to introduce from “Nou” influence.
NRAMA: The publisher of this work and your next American publication is Radical Books, a new publisher. What does Radical Books offer to you as a creator to make you prefer to publish your books through them as opposed to going through some of the established companies you've worked with in the past?
YA: I was very impressed by Barry’s (the founder) enthusiasms when I first met him a couple of years ago and the fact that Radical Books or its parent company, Radical Publishing, is very eager and active in not just publishing books but interested in making a project into wide variety of venues including films, animations, etc.
NRAMA: When are you having most fun: creating gallery artwork, working on character designs for videogames and movies or working on illustrated books?.
YA: Right now, I’m most interested in creating gallery art works, because there I can work freely on my own initiation. I make paintings mostly now, but it’s part of a larger scheme, a larger world of imagination that can be made into different formats in the future.
Mateki: The Magic Flute is currently available at comic shops, bookstores, and online retailers.