• Books & Literature

‘Bonobono’ Mangaka Publishes Picture Book Featuring Beloved Characters

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mikio Igarashi during an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun.

The adorable sea otter from the manga “Bonobono” can now be seen in a new picture book featuring characters from the series for the first time in 16 years.

Mikio Igarashi, the Sendai-based mangaka known for the famous animal manga, has written and illustrated “Bokutachi no Mori no Koto” (About our forest), published by Takeshobo Co. The book is filled with images of Bonobono and his animal friends living in the forest.

Constantly redrawing

The idea for the book first came about around two years ago when the publisher sent a request to Igarashi to draw something for the company’s 50th anniversary.

“I wanted to draw a picture book even before that,” Igarashi, 68, said. “I spent about a year developing the story.”

However, creating a picture book the “normal” way — just drawing and writing a story — was not interesting to him.

“In my mind, I had an image of all the characters moving around on a large map,” he said, adding that he got a hint from “Where’s Wally?”

“Bokutachi no Mori no Koto” contains a series of maps of the forest showing the characters’ locations. As each page shows the characters doing various things, including walking around or chasing each other, it makes it seem as if Bonobono and his friends are moving around. Igarashi said he thought it was similar to a flip book.

“It’s as if you asked the characters, ‘Where are you going?’ or ‘What are you doing?’ without giving [the book] a concrete storyline,” he said.

Yet, Igarashi found creating the book somewhat difficult. Whenever he wanted to move a character, he had to redraw a completely new map. Although all the illustrations in the book are digitally produced, “You can’t just cut and paste,” he said.

This meant that he had to redraw new trees and grass every time.

“I was worried I was going to develop carpal tunnel syndrome,” Igarashi said with a chuckle.

New realizations

One mistake in the drawing could affect the whole story. While creating the book, Igarashi was moving the characters how he liked, but he then found himself in trouble. He became uncertain as to how to end the story.

After a lot of thought, he decided to create two main story arcs involving Bonobono and his rabbit friend Usagi-kun. It allowed the story to have a nice ending.

For the front cover, Igarashi used one of his illustrations that was on display at an exhibition at the Sendai Literature Museum and just added more “Bonobono” characters. For the back cover, he drew a new illustration of the forest at night, showing all the characters sleeping.

Every two-page spread shows a map on one side and text on the other. Igarashi used pastel colors for the illustrations on the text pages to generate warmth.

He completed the book, but it was a little different from his original vision.

“When you’re holding the book, you can’t flip the pages like you would a flip book,” Igarashi said with an embarrassed smile. “I didn’t think about that.”

However, he said he enjoyed the sense of achievement of creating the picture book.

“Picture books are the first books parents give to their children,” he said. “Manga is drawn to move people emotionally, but people read picture books because they think that it looks like a fun world. That’s what I’ve learned while creating a picture book.”

Swan song

Igarashi made his professional debut as a mangaka in 1979 and started drawing “Bonobono” in 1986. More than 9.5 million copies of the manga have been printed, and the 48th volume of the series hit shelves on July 14.

He is determined to have “Bonobono” be his swan song.

“I haven’t decided how the series will end, so I think it’s going to be pretty sudden, like, ‘This is the last chapter,’” he said. “Bonobono is my identity as a mangaka. I know it’ll be tough, but if someone asks me to create another ‘Bonobono’ picture book, I’ll probably do it.”