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Inoue’s latest self-portrait.

Junya Inoue

Manga Artist

Central Works

Dodonpachi
Esprade
Guwange
Progear no Arashi
Dodonpachi Daioujou (illustrations)
Deathsmiles series

Mainly oversees character design, game setting, and story. On Deathsmiles he also directed as “graphics president.” His manga BTOOOM! has been in publication since 2009.

—Please share your thoughts regarding Cave’s 16th anniversary.

Inoue: It feels like the child who was so small is finally all grown up! (laughs) I joined Cave about 2 years after they had started, in the middle of Dodonpachi. Since they were in the middle of it, I wasn’t given too much of the main work. Judging from the style of the team making Dodonpachi at that time, the main work was the bosses and stages, and things like the story, opening, ending, and ship select weren’t thought of as very important. So my boss at the time told me, “Its not that important, so Inoue, you do it.” Since I had essentially been told “do whatever” with the story and ending, I was really lost as what I was even supposed to do. (laughs) I mean, since the stages and the protagonists and the ships were all already completed, how in the world am I supposed to come up with a story after the fact?! Even now I wonder about that.

Anyway, I ended up studying up on the prequel, Donpachi, and realized it didn’t have that deep of a story. Well, now I could relax a little… and with that feeling my work at Cave began. I’ve since quit the company but I’m still connected to them even now, with my work on Deathsmiles II this year. Its been a long, lasting relationship. Though Deathsmiles II will be my final game with Cave… (laughs)

—Weren’t you saying the same thing when Deathsmiles was released?

Inoue: I… am a liar. (laughs) The truth is, I hadn’t been involved in any of Cave’s sequels so I was interested this time. From the start I had wanted to do sequels to the various projects I had worked on; there’s ideas you just couldn’t fit into the first game, and new ideas keep coming up even after its finished, and I wanted to somehow bring those to life. It ended up that when I talked with Ikeda about all this he was like, “Ok, you do it then,” so the direction became my responsibility for Deathsmiles II. I was busy with my work as a manga artist, and I wanted to change the atmosphere from the first game, so I was going to hire a different illustrator and focus on direction myself… that was the plan, but somewhere along the way it turned out that I had come up with all these new design ideas, so in the end I did the illustration myself. Its controversial to change the visual design like this, but if I can’t get the feeling of satisfaction I’m seeking from the first and second designs, I will change it again for Deathsmiles III. (this is also a lie)

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A Tale of Two Caspars:
Deathsmiles II (L), Deathsmiles (R).

—In Dodonpachi, how did you come up with lines like shinu ga yoi? 1

Inoue: There’s always various tensions when you make a game, but with Dodonpachi I was pretty relaxed. So I think that’s why that kind of catchphrase and character came about. I touched on this before, but I think that for each game you work on you have to take things according to their circumstances, and not be too hung up on particular ideas. I think that in a game’s characters and background, you find the core of the story, and the world of the game flows from there. Many games at the time which were called “masterpieces” had a world and story which were closely intertwined, after all. But with Donpachi and Dodonpachi, that wasn’t the case at all. So no matter how seriously I tried to create a backstory I thought I would never reach something on the level of the Raystorm games. With that being the case, I had a very blasé attitude about it and the result was that I just worked on things in a very casual way, not taking it too seriously. (laughs)

After I had finished working on Dodonpachi, sometime later when I saw the words that come up before the last boss, saishuu kichiku heiki, 2 I exclaimed, “Ikeda!! Yet again you’ve put more of your insane pillow talk 3 into this game!” To which Ikeda replied, “YOU wrote that!” (laughs) I guess I was so relaxed I forgot what I even did. (laughs) So please don’t give me too much credit or respect for Dodonpachi. The one who deserves that is Ikeda, for the feat of designing those charismatic bosses. Only in doing so we’d end up adding some strange language to the game. At the time a senior employee at Cave (he was something like a director) was announcing to the development team that his image for the game was Uchuu Senkan Yamato, and I thought that here was a Star Wars lover who’d just revealed his true colors. With that, I told him I was thinking about refining the story for Dodonpachi to be more like 70s era sci-fi, and the phrase “shinu ga yoi” just came out naturally. I’d completely forgot about all that… (laughs) They seemed like phrases that Battleship Yamato villains like Lord Desler or Emperor Zwoda would say.

—Speaking of Ikeda, from your perspective, what kind of person is he?

Inoue: I probably shouldn’t say too many weird things about him in public like this. But I have nothing to say but weird things! Strange people seem to always be drawn to him. One time, on the train he saw a man in a tank top who looked like he was about to be kissed by another man standing behind him. This guy in the tanktop was really well built, and the guy behind him seemed to have his lips puckered up as if to say “What a wonderful back! <3” Ikeda saw him posing luridly like this, as if he were waiting for the brakes on the train to suddenly be pulled so the man would fall into his waiting lips. Ikeda’s always seeing weird things like that. He observes mysterious things too. On the last train of the night, he saw an old man go “UGH” as if he was about to upchuck the entire contents of his stomach, and yet he never threw up, but his mouth kept getting fuller and fuller, almost to bursting. Ikeda observes many things that one would just normally ignore. There’s something in him that seems to attract these kind of strange people. Its a quality that can’t be mimicked!

Cave (a Cave staff member who was sitting next to Inoue at the interview, hereafter “Cave”): Ikeda is always saying “Junya is strange.”

Inoue: He doesn’t call me Junya! Ah, that’s creepy!

Cave: It would be funny at an event if you both did a routine with “Jun-chan” and “Ike-chan.” I bet the fans would like to see that.

Inoue: Yeah, it would be funny to see those two arguing. And with 1 mic between them. Ughhh, I’m disturbed! (laughs)

—Do you often butt heads with Ikeda?

Inoue: Quite often. If Ikeda is the King, then I am the Prince… neither of us will back down. But lately Ikeda seems to have withdrawn and is not too involved with development, so I haven’t had much feedback from him.

Cave: Whenever Ikeda calls me the phone calls go on and on. It gets to the point where even he says “I don’t want to talk on the phone anymore.”

Inoue: Its worst when he’s in high spirits, isn’t it? Lately I’ve been keeping his number blocked. (laughs)

Cave: When it happens that Ikeda has been talking for an hour and I can’t believe he’s still going on, I suddenly realize from the content of the conversation that its Junya he really wants to talk with. If only he’d just use email. (laughs)

Inoue: Hey, these are important conversations! If you tried to do this in email it would take 8 times as long! Talking all these things over is the key to a good game.

Cave: Why not just come to the office? Well, actually, then the meeting would never end… (laughs) It would be like, I’m STILL here?! There he goes again, just talking on and on with no consideration for his fellow man…

Inoue: Oh, but there is. These are important conversations that will determine the basis of the game. “On men’s moe obsession with girls” and so forth. When I first heard Ikeda say such things I thought, “what the hell did he just say,” but due to his excellent powers of persuasion I have come around and sensed something very deep… he introduced me to some research materials, and I ordered them from Amazon…

Cave: … (embarrassment)

Inoue: Ikeda called me one night at 11PM and shared his wisdom, “You can’t make dressing in drag look so free and easy! You’ve got to make him look all frustrated, like he’s saying ‘No, no!'” As a result of that session I realized, “Yes! I’ve got it!” and the character Lei was born!

—So that’s how it was… by the way, which Cave character would you take as a bride?

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Inoue’s waifu, Irori of ESP.ra.de.

Inoue: Well, I’m not familiar with the characters of Cave’s other titles, but if I had to choose one, I would say Windia or Irori. I have a lot of affection for the characters I’ve made, you know. You’ve got to love your own work, first and foremost. Though if that feeling is too strong, other people won’t like it, you’ve got to be mindful of the balance. (laughs) So I feel I should say “daughter” rather than “bride,” right? (I’m taking this too seriously)

—…ok then. Of the games you’ve developed, which ones have a special emotional significance for you?

Inoue: In their own way I feel a strong connection to various things, but in the sense of which one was the most challenging, ESP.ra.de. I felt inside that I had changed Cave with this game. Also, Guwange, for showing me that I could draw pictures like that. These two are most significant for me because I feel like I was able to express myself with them most fully. Deathsmiles, on the other hand, was more like “how do I make others happy?”, and as far as my personal attachment goes, is therefore lower than Guwange and ESP.ra.de.

Cave: The world of Guwange is very unique.

Inoue: Cave made a big fuss about the Japanese aesthetic at first… I wasn’t at the Guwange team at first. One day I took a peek at what they were doing, and they were saying the Japanese style would come from mechs with Japanese roof tiles as armor… and then I exclaimed something like “How exactly is that ‘Japanese’ style shooting?!” Well, after that, you know how it is… once you speak out you’ve got to help out, and I joined the Guwange team. So after that I aimed for a Japanese style that would include things like youkai, yuurei, the awe of sakura blossoms, the beauty of blood, the excitement of summer, and so on. To achieve this, I felt the image of Edo and Sengoku (warring states) periods were too close to current human civilization to be effective. The more ancient Heian, Kamakura, and Muromachi eras would really give a more “youkai” feeling to things. The divine presence of the kami and the sense of mystery would be greater, too.

Cave: There aren’t that many games with such a Japanese taste to them.

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Inoue: Within the already small genre of shooting, the number of games with a Japanese aesthetic is yet smaller. Speaking broadly there’s the Shikigami no Shiro series, but that Japanese aesthetic is rather slight there. There’s also the Vasara games. Ikeda loved the image of Tokugawa Ieyasu smoking a cigar in that game, and he said to me, “I want to blown away like this.”

—You did some fine voice performance in those games too.

Inoue: That was just playing around. I absolutely can’t do vocal performances. Like Hitchcock or Tarantino, I wanted to leave my… fingerprints? (laughs) on my work. Its an expression of the feeling I have as a kind of director, wanting to shower my work with love! On the other hand, projects that I haven’t had much attachment to don’t have my voice in them… like Yanya Caballista… right? I tried doing some voicework for Satan Claws, but we found someone perfect for that role. And we’ve been doing full voice work for our games lately, so the pretense for me adding my voice is gone. I stepped back a bit for Deathsmiles IIX and only recorded my voice for the boss Tamekosu. I’m really bad at vocal performance. You know, my lies always get found out, so my acting sucks. My specialty lies more in coming up with lies.

Cave: I think its funnier with Junya’s monotone readings!

Inoue: It makes the passionate fans happy when they see little chinks in the armor like that. They like to find our little faults and enjoy brandishing them about and teasing us. “Haha, look at this dialogue!!” kind of thing. They’re laughing at us!

Cave: I know (laughs). As soon as you say “Cave” they start grinning.

Inoue: We can use that to our advantage, in a sense. After all, our games are pretty slapped together… (laughs) You now, at a live event recently SawaXXXX-san’s ass was half-revealed, and it was kind of chubby, and he was jokingly scolded “you’ve been slacking off!!” But I say, that’s good! Because you can see the little flaws. If you can’t see those, its lacks charm. When you get down to it, Cave also has a strength not unlike SawaXXXXsan’s ass. How do you like it, my “ass theory” (shiririron)? Or “shiriron,” 4 to say it like Ikeda!

—Speaking of Deathsmiles, I hear you forgot the name of your own characters…

Inoue: You must be referring to the time we were creating merchandise for Deathsmiles… Cave didn’t know the name of the character’s magic. So they asked me “What was the name of Suupi’s magic again?” I’m really bad at remembering names so I always choose things that are easy to remember. The magic names were based off what they yell out: “ho, ho!”, “ki ki ki ki…” “boo boo”, that kind of thing. So I was trying to remember what Suupi called out when she used her magic, and I thought, “gaago”, that’s it! and emailed Cave back. Later I learned that it was actually “gyaasu”. (laughs) Because of that I think we had to reprint some things. (laughs) Please, don’t trust me!

—Are there other names you came up with in a similarly convenient way?

Inoue: At this age, I have a hard time remembering those names. You try remembering something like “Colonel Schwarlitz Longhena”!! If there were some keywords or something it’d be easier to remember. With “Irori” from ESP.ra.de, there’s the common word “irori” (“sunken hearth/fireplace”) that everyone knows, and it conveys an image of Kyoto, where she’s from, and it also evokes the winter setting of ESP.ra.de… with all these allusions, its the perfect name. And it has “rori” [[“loli” or lolita]] in it! Perfect! It has absolutely nothing to do with the Okonomiyaki restaurant near Cave’s offices. Other than that, most of the names I choose are named after something already existing. I think Its easier to remember that way. For example, in Progear everything is named after parts like “Ring,” “Bolt,” “Chain,” “Nail,” and “Rivet.” Deathsmiles too, there’s kazedukai -> kaze -> wind -> Windia. Shireidukai -> yuurei -> a movie example -> Casper. The fire user was faia -> foia -> Folette. For Suupi, based on an image of an impoverished girl selling matches, it went: himojii (hungry) –> nemui (sleepy) –> su~pi~ –> Suupi. There’s not much to it, you see? When I was at Toaplan and Batsugun came out, people complained that they couldn’t remember the names of Beltiana and Alteeno.. “is that German?” So it comes from a reaction to that. (laughs)

—How did you get into manga and games?

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Makaimura, Inoue’s introduction
to the world of arcade games.

Inoue: I’ve always liked manga, but for games, when I saw Makaimura at a game center, my destiny was changed. And it was in my second year of junior high, when you’re most vulnerable to obsessions, so I really got addicted. Thus began my disreputable life of going to game centers. After that, I temporarily set aside my goal of becoming a manga artist because I entered the game industry. Lately I haven’t been able to play games at the game center, but I do occasionally play “Tomb Raider: Underworld” at home. As for manga, I draw at home and in the office for my own pleasure and to keep my skills sharp. (laughs)

—Do you think making games and drawing manga have anything in common?

Inoue: To me, they’re pretty much the same. There’s a world, and characters, and you’re thinking of the best way to show all that as you create. You imagine characters and scenes, and you’re trying to figure out what their goals, how they act, and finally you decide to show the best parts in this or that way. I really get into all that so its interesting for me. Following that logic, I think making games and making manga are the same to me. My style is to create a world and setting, and from that a story, so I don’t spend too much effort establishing the characters (laughs). The Colonel was made much more deliberately, so that’s a different story. But ESP.ra.de and Guwange were that way. I place a lot of importance on the packaging and the coloring. As there’s 3 or 4 heroes in those games, I can’t spend an inordinate amount of time drawing any single one. This story-centric way of doing things causes the same kind of things to happen in manga too. Though in today’s era, its not really a good thing, but…

—I imagine its very difficult to work on both manga and games at the same time.

Inoue: I’m the type of author who really gets absorbed in one thing, and if I can’t develop the world even deeper than the players and readers end up seeing, then I feel like I can’t present it. So if I end up having to do too much, I can’t focus on one thing at a time deeply and I end up losing interest entirely. When that happens the work falls apart. I’m always afraid of that.

—Will you be attending future Cave festivals, where you get to mingle with your fans?

Inoue: If I do some work with manga, then maybe… when I release something new I feel like I should attend, but it seems a little strange when I’m a guest everytime. When I think about how others might see my attendance it seems somehow improper, so I’m planning not to come for awhile. (laughs) That reminds me though, last year at the Cave Matsuri I met a guy who told me he had met his girlfriend because of Deathsmiles. I was very happy to meet someone like this. I was curious how it happened. I worked hard on making Deathsmiles a cute game that a girl could look at and not feel weirded out by, and wanted it to be a game that people who don’t normally play shooting games could get into. So when I heard some two people got together through Deathsmiles I was like, “I did it!”

Cave: Fans of your manga and fans of your games both come to Cave Matsuri events.

Inoue: Yeah, there are many Cave fans who keep an eye on my work. When I did a signing event in Oosaka, close to 80% of the fans said they were fans since my Cave days. Those are the people who support me and my work. I have fun drawing pictures and such at the Cave Matsuri events, too.

—If there’s anything you’d like to say about Cave, please take the occasion now to speak freely.

Inoue: I’d like them to make major games, like the kind you see on commercials. Doing that, of course, would mean graduating from the world of 2D shooting. But Ikeda is a person who operates on the logic of “is it interesting?”, so I think its a waste for him to be so bound by 2D shooting games. I’ve been saying this for 15 years now. In the future the world of shooting games is going to get smaller and smaller, but I think it will remain without disappearing. It has a kind of strength, being a genre with a solid fanbase, and the games aren’t expensive to create either. Even if it shrinks, I don’t suppose it will completely disappear.

Cave: Well, how about Deathsmiles III then? Windia’s children’s generation?

Inoue: Don’t tell lies! (laughs) That would change the setting in a strange way because it would have to happen before Windia went to Gilverado. I’d rather remake Esprade. I’d update the graphics and world and call it “Esupriredo” or something. “Guwange RPG” sounds interesting too. The character wouldn’t be Shishin and them, but would be the player’s own customizable avatar. I’d keep the stages short and increase their number and get to draw a bunch of different motifs. It would be like going on a pilgrimage through ancient Japan. Well, I should stop now. If I say any more they’ll ask me to start drafting a design plan.

—Please give any final message for your fans.

Inoue: I, Junya Inoue, and Cave, are supported by the love of all our shooting fans. We will keep this devotion close to our hearts as we continue to do our best. Thank you for everything.