The Witch at the End of the World

I blogged last year about NISHIJIMA Daisuke (西島大介)'s book O-son Sensou (『凹村戦争』, English title The Universal). Earlier this year he released another: Sekai no Owari no Mahoutsukai ~ça ne fait rien~ (『世界の終わりの魔法使い』, The Witch at the End of the World). And it's great.

To get a bit pretentious, The Universal used sci-fi conventions to look at individuals as part of a group, but Witch is rooted in fantasy imagery, and its focus is on the individual versus the universe itself. It introduces its concepts gradually -- so at the beginning it doesn't really seem like anything more than a fairly standard ugly-duckling, magic-vs-human-ingenuity tale -- but by the time it gets to the end, an awful lot of ontology has been flexed.

Nishijima's very recognisable drawing style is put to good effect here. His lines are simple and clear and his characters quite stylised, but they feel marvelously alive. In particular, this being a story about magic, there's a lot of flying (some of it on broomsticks) and Nishijima's clean, expressive style almost lets you feel the swooping.

But enough theorising from me! I liked the new book so much that I decided to e-mail Nishijima and see if he'd conduct an e-mail interview with me. And he very kindly said yes. So here it is.

NS: What made you decide to become a manga artist?

ND: I never felt like my work really fit in with other manga, apart from a very few exceptions, so actually I always thought that it'd be impossible for me to become a manga artist. I don't make systemised "major"-style manga, but on the other hand my work isn't exactly "underground" either, which I think makes it part of a very small minority.

NS: You have a very unique style. How did that evolve?

ND: My first job at Hayakawa Shobo, the publishers who released my first book The Universal, was as a music writer. Then at the end of the nineties, I spent about a year and a half writing the music criticism column for S-F Magazine. Meanwhile I had also begun working as an illustrator, and I realised that if I could put my writing and illustration techniques together, it'd be manga. After that realisation, the manga practically flowed from my pen.

NS: What other artists and media have been particularly influential to you?

ND: I was heavily influenced by things I came into contact with in my teens. Translated SF novels published by Hayakawa Shobo and Tokyo Sogensha. Early Hayao MIYAZAKI anime, and GAINAX's work. 8-bit game machines, and the 90s Techno Movement. I played with Lego blocks all the time as a little kid, which was another big influence, I guess.

I'm not part of the "manga elite" in the sense of being a "pure" manga artist. I've worked as a writer, video artist, illustrator, designer, all kinds of jobs in all kinds of media. I think that all of that experience comes together in my manga.

NS: Both The Universal and Witch centre on small villages, isolated from the rest of the world. Why is that?

ND: Because I think that many people -- no, almost everybody, including me -- are in situations like that. I design worlds that reflect the powerlessness of the characters.

NS: You also seem to favor child protagonists -- why?

ND: I want my work to reach the world of junior high and high school, where sensitivities are sharper.

Also, children are shorter and rounder than adults, which makes them easier to move around in the comic panels. I always give my protagonists a small head:body size ratio, so that I can have them jumping about the page.

NS: At first, Witch seems like a regular fantasy, but as you read, it turns into a deep, philosophical story. Were you planning this from the start, or did it just turn out that way as you created it?

ND: It was mostly planned out that way. Although I do wonder a little now if I made it too complicated.

I'd like to try drawing a simple, escapist manga, a completely non-argumentative story, one day, but...

NS: What's your next project?

ND: Right now my manga Điện Biên Phủ is being serialised in Kadokawa Shoten's Comic Shingenjitsu, and the first book collection will be published towards the end of August.

Điện Biên Phủ is a place in Vietnam, and the work deals with the Vietnam war between 1965 and 1973. I think it'll turn out being the first work of mine that isn't wrapped up in one volume.

As for what it's like... maybe if the Wachowski Brothers adapted a Tim O'Brien novel? Please look forward to it!

NS: Thanks!

Popularity factor: 4


Great interview. I'm curious, do you know of any links to see what some of the interior art looks like?


Ohhh yeah... that would have been good, huh? Well, you can find a bunch of stuff by clicking on links towards the bottom of his page about the book here, but in the interest of not killing his bandwidth with trial-and-error downloads, here are direct links to a few interior-art things. (I should warn that some of these are a little spoilery, at least in terms of imagery, so caveat lector (vidor?))

There's not much in the way of completed work (naturally enough), but here are a couple of panels that are all or mostly inked and done: 1, 2

These are some images he posted during the inking process: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Here are some rough sketches of the characters, some monsters, and the map at the beginning of the book.

More rough sketches: 1, 2, 3, , 4


DBP sounds interesting.


Thanks for the links. I like the style, really sparce and clean. And I can see what he means about having young protagonists so they fit better in the format.

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