One effective way to create a character is to base them on a famous historical figure. Historical figures tend to be exaggerated, even when discussing them in a non-fictional context, and they’re often well-known for quirky personality traits or characteristics.
Warlords from the Warring States period, athletes, actors… There are many examples of manga based on the lives or stories of great men and women of the past.
One interesting example is Saint Young Men by Hikaru Nakamura. This is a gag manga about Jesus and the Buddha living together in present day Japan. The humour is great, but the real key to this manga’s success was creating a story around two great men that are known all over the world.
(Editor’s note: I was really surprised when I saw this series in a bookstore! It’s a cute story, but I don’t think any western authors would dare to draw a series about Jesus and the Buddha!)
Another strange trend which is slowly emerging, is manga that use famous authors as characters. Sensei to Boku – Natsume Souseki wo Kakomu Hitobito (Sensei & I, the people who surround Souseki Natsume) by Yura Kouhi is a 4 panel manga about Souseki Natsume, a famous Japanese novelist of the Meiji period, and his apprentices. The actual episodes are very well written, but the real charm of this work is definitely the characters. Natsume is a strict, neurotic university professor, but in front of his trusted apprentices, he also shows a playful side. The apprentices continue to respect him as a teacher, but they also love this more personal side of him, and the manga feel like a kind of warm boys club.
Bungou Stray Dogs (Story = Kafka Asagiri, Art = Hirukawa35) is another manga that boldly depicts famous author (Osamu Dazai and Ryunosuke Akutagawa) as fictional characters. Naturally, everyone is drawn as handsome young men. They also have supernatural powers associated with their famous works, and take part in battles, making this an action manga.
The Osamu that appears in this story is a “suicide maniac” whose body is always covered in bandages (It’s well-known that Osamu made several failed suicide attempts during his life and ended up dying in a joint suicide with his lover)
Bungou Stray Dogs
Although these story is based on actual people, the symbolism is taken so far that you could almost called it “personification”.
Novelists in general are usually considered to be quite a plain bunch, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that they’re actually a treasure trove of eccentrics. And if they’re famous enough to be in textbooks, then the readers will already be familiar with them and the story will be easy to understand. Perhaps in the future, we’ll also see stories about artists or songwriters? It seems like this is a big hint for creating characters!
Article: Kozue Aou
Translator: Andrew L.
The Japanese are really proud of their history, so you see loads of stories with famous samurai.
How about your country? Are their any historical figures that you think would make great manga characters?
Voice your opinions in the comments!