On reinterpreting iconic manga characters


Talent: Mackenyu @mackenyu.1116

Photos: Jeremy Choh @jeremychohphoto

Fashion: Avo Yermagyan @avoyermagyan

Grooming: Jeni Chua @jenichua

Photo Assist: Chir Yan Lim @chiryanlim

Knights of the Zodiac is a fantasy action film based on the popular Japanese manga series Saint Seiya by Masami Kurumada that was first released in 1986. Mackenyu plays Seiya, an orphan who realizes that he is destined to protect the reincarnation of the goddess Athena and aid her in battle to save humanity.

Mackenyu, who is the son of the legendary Japanese actor and martial artist Sonny Chiba, has appeared in films and television shows both in Japan and internationally. Throughout his career, Mackenyu has gained a reputation for bringing beloved manga and anime characters to life on screen. Previously, he played Arata Wataya in the Chihayafuru film trilogy, Aoi Nishino in Brave: Gunjyo Senki, Enishi Yukishiro in the final Rurouni Kenshin film, and Scar in the two Fullmetal Alchemist film sequels. He will also be playing Roronoa Zoro in the upcoming live-action television series One Piece that is set to be released by Netflix this year.

Timid had the opportunity to sit down with Mackenyu to discuss his current projects, his involvement in various adaptations, and his general love for manga and anime.

Timid Magazine: Can you tell us a little about your character Seiya?

Mackenyu: I can go on for hours about this character. Seiya starts off as a young boy looking for his sister. He’s committed to it—whatever it takes, he's gonna do it to find her. He discovers he has these powers, and throughout his adventure, he gets to know all these people that he didn't have around as a young kid. For the first time in his life, he has people to rely on, and these people help him grow as a person and develop his powers.

TM: How did you approach bringing this iconic character to life? Were there any ways that you saw yourself relating to Seiya?

M: With my roles, I don't really think about how I relate to them—I just accept the roles as they are and try to understand them fully. But what’s great about Seiya is that he's not the kind of guy who gives up, even if he keeps losing. He seeks to be better and better every time, and that is something that I think the fans will like. I like that about him as well. He's dedicated. At first, when he finds out that he has these powers he can't control them, but he tries his best to understand and learn how to control them. There's a montage in the movie where he’s training to become the Pegasus and that's one of my favorite scenes to watch. I hope the fans like it too.

TM: What was the most challenging aspect of your experience working on the film?

M: Every project is a challenge for me, especially when there are this many high risk stunts and action sequences involved. With this one, we had Andy Cheng on the team to coordinate the fights and stunts, and he’s one of the best in the business. He had so much stuff on the table for me—for Seiya—and I had a lot of fun. We had hours of stunt rehearsals with him and his team, and we were trying to find what worked best for Seiya. So that time was challenging, but it was also fun and exciting.

TM: What was your initial reaction when you learned that Knights of the Zodiac and One Piece were going to be adapted into live-action productions, and how did you feel about being a part of these projects?

M: We’re talking about Knights of the Zodiac and One Piece. They're legendary. No one in Japan even thought about bringing them to live-action. I think it was great that Hollywood wanted to take this chance.

It's funny. I was shooting Knights of the Zodiac when I got the audition for Roronoa Zoro, and One Piece—every Japanese—everyone knows about One Piece, right? So I heard about their audition for Roronoa Zoro, and I knew that role was for me. At first I thought, no one can play Roronoa Zoro. It’s too big. But I got the role. So if they want me to play Roronoa Zoro, I’m all in. I’ll give it my all and do my absolute best to bring that character to life.

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TM: As an actor who has portrayed beloved manga and anime characters in live-action adaptations, what is your approach to balancing the expectations of fans who are familiar with the source material with the need to create a fresh and unique interpretation of the character?

M: When I do live-action stuff, I always keep in mind that—I'm a fan of a lot of manga and anime, but when it comes to live-action, it's a completely different thing. You have to look at it differently. For me, film, anime, and manga, I just separate them. So if you liked the manga, if you liked the anime, stick with it. If you want to try a new adventure, feel free to come watch my movies and shows.

TM: Do you hope to be involved with more live-action adaptations in the future? What types of stories do you hope to tell with your work?

M: As far as other live-action adaptations, I think I'm good for now. I’ve been a part of some of the biggest Japanese anime that have existed for decades, some that came out before I was even born. I do hope, as much as the fans do, for season two of One Piece. But I do look forward to exploring other serious and more dramatic roles.

Knights of the Zodiac released in theaters on April 28 in Japan and on May 12 in the United States.

One Piece will premiere on Netflix in 2023. No release date has been announced at the time of this article’s release.

Disclaimer: This interview has been edited for clarity.

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