Nineties anime fans couldnâ€™t avoid Toshio Maeda. Legend of the Overfiend, based on his 1983 manga Urotsukidoji, was the most controversial anime of its day, an epic tale of reincarnal angst stretching across centuries of sex, death, and rebirth.
A string of Maeda anime headed West: Nightmare Campus, La Blue Girl, Adventure Kid, Demon Beast Invasion. More Overfiend anime were made in Japan specifically to meet Western demand. For two decades, Maeda was the king of tentacle porn. Some critics, myself included, saw more in his work. His epic story arcs repeat cycles of Wagnerian scope, peopled by gods and monsters, doomed heroes and fragile innocents.
But in 2001, Maeda lost the use of his right hand in a motorbike accident, sustaining broken ribs, a punctured lung and damaged back. While he recovered, his lifetime earnings, and his wife, disappeared. With nothing to fall back on, he explored new ideas: womenâ€™s erotic manga, fan visits to his home, sales of original art, and a chatty trilingual website.
â€śI learned a lot through the accident. I felt Karma came and got me. I was a bit nouveau-riche, aloof towards ordinary people. When I started my career from scratch, I was poor but aspirantâ€¦ I donâ€™t understand why I buried such things. Then I thought I would be nothing but disabled. My life now seems to be the icing on the cake.â€ť
Slipping into Shakespearean mode, he asks: â€śWhat is man or manga artist in the first place? If his chief good and market of his time, be but to sleep, draw and feed? A beast, no more!â€ť adding with a laugh â€śCould be a Demon Beast!â€ť
Maeda was born in Osaka in 1953.Â â€śI started reading manga around four years of age. When I was six, I enjoyed one silly gag comic. Iâ€™ve forgotten the title, but it was so surreal and peculiar. At 11 or 12 I believed I was a born cartoonist. In junior high school I drew my manga on real professional paper, and used Chinese ink and G-pens, because I wanted to be different from other amateur wannabes.â€ť
His family had other ideas. â€śMy grandfather was a carpenter, so my mother pushed me into a vocational high school to study architecture. It totally didnâ€™t make sense! I didnâ€™t want to be an architect, I wanted to be a manga artist!â€ťÂ Unsurprisingly, he cut classes. â€śI was a smart aleck, always talking back to teachers and grown-ups. Of course, I thought I was more than just a pretty face!â€ť
He laughs at that, describing his teenage self as â€śowlish, with four eyes. I was a cocky, snotty brat. I ran away to Tokyo when I was 16, right after I was kicked out of high school.â€ť
An editor friend helped him get started. He drew other peopleâ€™s stories like 1977â€™s Ashita e Kick Off, but before long he was writing his own scripts, moving into adult manga. Bored with existing X- and R-rated material, he decided to make something new: Urotsukodoji.
To begin with, the epic cycle was only sketched out in embryo. â€śI made a rough story-line, not the fussy details. I believe that you shouldnâ€™t design the whole thing beforehand; it would spoil the development of the characters and flexibility of the story. Once youâ€™ve built up the characters, they can knock about in your manga without your manipulation.â€ť
The cycleâ€™s sudden end was also unplanned. â€śThe editor in chief didnâ€™t understand SF manga, so he asked me to stop doing Urotsukidoji. Thatâ€™s why the endings were so abrupt. In the anime, the scriptwriter kept the ball rolling, which doesnâ€™t mean I really appreciate the rest of the story lines.â€ť Despite the rise of erotic anime in Japanâ€™s home video market and Maedaâ€™s undoubted popularity, the publisher didnâ€™t even try to get the manga animated. â€śThe studio approached me. The publisher didnâ€™t do anything about it. They underestimated the power of anime.â€ť
Pressed for his views on Overfiend the anime as a version of his work, Maeda says â€śI like the first series because it followed my story line, and I canâ€™t complain about the next one. My favourite producer, Mr. Yamaki, made those first two series. [Yasuhito Yamaki also worked on Maedaâ€™s 1999 Demon Warrior Koji anime] I donâ€™t want to make any comment on the rest.â€ť
Maeda didnâ€™t reap the benefits of international success. â€śThe company that released my anime overseas played dirty and dodged paying me.Â The money from my anime sales was chickenfeed. Thatâ€™s why I still live in a leaky chicken shack.â€ť He pauses to assure us heâ€™s kidding, but â€śMostly my meal tickets are from manga, not anime.â€ť
Maeda obviously loves comics â€“ including Western comics. â€śMy favorite comic artist is, or rather was, Gil Kane. He influenced my art style a lot. He passed away in 2000 and I really miss him.â€ť Other influences on his style are surprisingly nostalgic and romantic: â€śI think I like classics in any formâ€¦ I love black and white romantic movies. In those days, handsome actors fell in love with stunning blonde bombshells in motion pictures. I love 19th century posters with a nostalgic feel, both Japanese and western.â€ť
What will British fans make of the forthcoming re-release of Legend of the Overfiend? â€śI just have my fingers crossed that they like it.â€ť And as for new work: â€śNow budgets are tight and weâ€™re facing a crisis in making anime, because of piracy and infringement around the world. I keep in touch with certain producers, including Mr. Yamaki, to discuss new work, but it might be live-action, not anime. Iâ€™m just waiting to see which way the wind blows.â€ť
He finishes with a quotation from English poet Robert Browning, reflecting on his own rebirth:
â€śGrow old along with me! / The best is yet to be, /The last of life for which the first was made.â€ť
And, for fans old and new, an invitation: â€śJust come and have fun with my website http://www.urotsukidoji.jp/â€ť
Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend is available on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment. The disappointing sequels are available in the UK from Revelation Films. Follow Toshio Maeda on Twitter as, what else, @Tentacle_Master.