The color incipit of 2001 Night Stories features a monkey smashing the skull of one of its peers with a bone club. Yukinobu Hoshino thus follows in the wake of Stanley Kubrick. However, his manga is in no way a lazy adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey, or even an opportunistic sequel. Published between 1984 and 1986 in the monthly Super Action, 2001 Night Stories offers 19 stories, independent but following a common thread, where the author expresses his vision of the cosmos, from the conquest of space to the exploration of exoplanets. Although he handles cutting-edge scientific concepts, Yukinobu Hoshino is especially interested in humans, in their ethical, romantic, philosophical and even religious tensions. This successful marriage between “hard science fiction” (concerned with scientific credibility), emotional richness and intellectual depth, supported by careful and rigorous drawing, probably explains the status of this work adapted twice into an anime: Space Fantasia 2001 Nights in 1987 and Orbital in 2009.
In 2012, Glénat decided to publish 2001 box sets containing the two volumes of 2001 Night Stories in large format, with certain color pages and bonus illustrations, i.e. around 800 pages at a price of 99 euros. Copies that trade around 300 euros today. The October 2023 reissue is therefore excellent news, especially since the proposed version turns out to be almost identical to the previous one. If the box and the autographed shikishi have disappeared, the binding is now cardboard and the interior pages use offset paper instead of the initial glossy paper, all for “only” 64 euros. Ten thousand copies of each volume were printed this time.
In France, Yukinobu Hoshino's other mangas have been published by different publishers (Blue Hole and Blue World by Pika, Kamunabi and Moon Lost by Black Box, Rain Man by Panini) and many still remain unpublished. If the success of 2001 Night Stories is confirmed, we would like to hope for the publication of the spin-off 2001 5. “This is part of the reflections,” cautiously says Benoît Huot, editor at Glénat. While waiting for a possible surprise in 2024, let's give the floor to the mangaka, who agreed to answer our questions from his native island of Hokkaidô.
LE FIGARO. - Why did you want to pay homage to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey so long after its cinema release in 1968?
Yukinobu HOSHINO. - The film I saw when I was around 15 was a profoundly impactful experience for me. Subsequently, I always had this film in mind when I thought of science fiction. Later, when I started working on 2001 Night Stories in 1984, I had already been a manga artist for nine years. Which means that it took me about sixteen years to give a personal response, in manga form, to the film I had seen.
Do you know if Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke were able to read your manga and, if so, what they thought of it?
I have great respect for Kubrick and Clarke, but I don't think they've ever read my manga. To be honest, I had never really thought about it.
Would you also like to make a nod to the tales of the Arabian Nights?
I just borrowed the title from this story. The chapter titles are also all taken from Japanese science fiction short stories. Without there being any link with the original.
Although your manga uses advanced scientific concepts (antimatter, gravitational waves, event horizon, etc.), you did not consult specialists when writing it. How did you go about making these concepts credible and accessible to the general public?
I have read a few scientific works, but I have always preferred history books and I blush somewhat at the idea of being seen as someone handling advanced scientific concepts. I only expressed things that I was able to understand. My shortcomings would probably be obvious to specialists, but I count on them to see this as a work of imagination.
2001 Nights Stories mixes “hard SF” and a certain romanticism in its way of representing human feelings. Did you find that science fiction at the time did not place enough emphasis on the emotions of the characters?
For me, in a SF manga, the most difficult thing is to merge scientific concepts and human feelings as best as possible. I think that the films 2001, A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes, two works released the same year in Japan but which are completely opposite, perfectly illustrate this difficulty. Succeeding in merging the two in a manga was perhaps for me a form of ideal to achieve.
In a fascinating chapter mixing Catholic religion and astronomy, structured around quotes from John Milton's Paradise Lost, you send a priest into space to study a hidden planet called Lucifer... Where did this idea come from?
I borrowed the title of this chapter as well as the name of the main character, “Ramon”, from a SF novel, but the story is entirely my own. The film The Exorcist had already featured the devil and a priest in an attempt to illustrate the question of the inner, intimate struggle specific to the Christian world, but it is not exactly the same thing.
You have imagined new astonishing forms of life (“Jellyfish” Picard, “living black hole”, mimetic creature, birds that travel in time...). How do you design a memorable alien creature in terms of design and behavior?
I was careful to first establish the powers of these creatures before giving them form, but I was always afraid that they would seem to resemble something that could be found on Earth too closely. No matter how hard I worked to surpass my imagination, I was never completely satisfied.
What tools did you use to create the black and white plates and the color plates for 2001 Nights Stories? Did you have assistants and, if so, what tasks did you assign to them?
To make the N boards
You wrote 2001 Nights Stories in the early 1980s, during the Cold War. How did you view the world at the time and how did that influence your manga?
Until the collapse of the USSR, I have the feeling that we still had only a very vague idea of the risks that nuclear weapons or the destruction of the environment could pose to humanity. This was also the time when the Japanese were very attracted to occult sciences and Nostradamus-style predictions. Personally, I prayed that the 21st century would arrive quickly so that the human species could fly peacefully into space.
Are you still an avid reader or viewer of science fiction? What works have had the greatest impact on you in recent years?
Unfortunately, today I only draw mangas with history as the main subject (unpublished in France, Editor's note). I don't have time to read novels or watch sci-fi films. I would still like to find a moment to discover the Chinese SF novel entitled The Three-Body Problem.
Thanks to Djamel Rabahi for translating the questions and answers, as well as to Junko Tateno (Kobunsha) and Eiji Shimazaki (French Copyright Office).
2001 Night Stories (complete in 2 volumes), by Yukinobu Hoshino, translated by Djamel Rabahi, Glénat, 32 euros per volume.