Just Fame had the opportunity to conduct an interview with the award-winning filmmaker and writer R.J. Atkinson, discussing his latest book, The Seventh Kingdom: Fukushuu no Oukoku. During the interview, we gained valuable insights into the book, R.J.’s sources of inspiration, and much more!
Q. Welcome! How are you doing? Your new manga series seems intriguing! What inspired you to create it and how does the cyberpunk genre influence the narrative and themes of the series?
Hello and thank you for having me! I’m doing well–been having fun and enjoying the process of challenging my story-telling skills through my recent projects. Thanks, honestly– I fleshed out the premise for The Seventh Kingdom from a series of literal dreams that I randomly had over a period of time. I wrote down my dreams and found myself revisiting them and brainstorming details like characters and names. Afterwards, I shaped the final episode for the series based on the newly-developed characters’ backstory, their personalities and their internal conflict. I’ve been writing everything to build up to that ending ever since! With regards to the cyberpunk genre’s influence, I’d say that it’s the backbone of this manga’s visual and social world. It starts off as a subtle aesthetic that gradually becomes more prevalent and fantastical as my main character, Clairabelle Keita, travels across the seven kingdoms. The level of technological advancement in each kingdom and the mentality of the people within it conversely correlate with each other in this series. Likewise, in the same way that Clairabelle pieces together bits of information about her family history, she’s also balancing getting acclimated to unfamiliar technology in each kingdom, it’s politics and the oppression that takes place within it. Hence, the cyberpunk world provides an additional narrative challenge for Clairabelle to grapple with. On the other hand, it also provides allegory about society’s tendency to assume that technological development inherently renders society more humane, just and utopian.
Q. Clairabelle is depicted as a complex character battling both external foes and internal struggles. Can you share some insights into her character development process and how you approached crafting her journey throughout the series?
Yes, her exposition takes place in a picturesque rural area where she’s sheltered and blissfully oblivious. I deliberately started her off this way because I wanted to relay an analogy between her upbringing and our own pure perspective of life and the world when we’re children. Then, I wanted my audience to be able to relate to the feeling of reality crashing down on you as you mature: through revelations, through painful experiences, through battles or loss. This set-up provides interesting character development and growth to witness over the course of the series. Yet, I also juxtapose joy, fun, community and love in Clairabelle’s journey so that she’s forced to decide what she’ll focus on and how she’ll maintain her drive. For my younger audience, this is a lesson in resilience and hope. For my older audience, this is a reminder that life isn’t determined by what happens to you but how you respond to it, what you choose to focus on, what you choose to internalize and let guide you.
Q. The series explores themes of revenge, redemption, resilience, and hope. How do these themes resonate with you personally, and why do you think they are important to explore in the context of a cyberpunk adventure?
I think that the themes in this series are, to a smaller extent, experienced by everyone at some point in life. Whether it’s at the grocery store, while you’re driving, or even working on a project with a teammate/classmate, any of the themes above can apply and are; therefore, relatable. That being said, there’s nothing particularly special about neither the themes nor the cyberpunk genre itself; however, revisiting these themes through an imaginative lens and fantasy world allows people to re-evaluate their understanding of both. The slogan of my company, RPX Media Production, is “more stories, more reprieve, more wonder” and this story is an endeavor towards that mantra. My hope is that the visual artistry, the thematic elements and the story itself allow people to be carried away into a thrilling fantasy while inviting them to reflect on their life and how they can walk away from my story as a better person. Or, simply takeaway a message that enables them to enjoy their existence/life more.
Q. How do you balance the visual storytelling elements with the written narrative? Can you walk us through your creative process and how you bring the world of Pretoria to life on the pages of the manga?
There’s one common trait that film and manga have–storyboarding. I found that the process as a director working with a director of photography through the shot list is synonymous with developing the shot for each panel with the illustrator of a comic. That being said, communicating my ideas are fairly easy and more intuitive for the illustrator when you include as much detail as possible. For this series, I actually sat down and had lunch with Richard Corso–a fellow filmmaker–one day when he suggested to me that I focus on the nuance of world-building to help facilitate writing the series. So, from there, I brainstormed unique folklore, history, biomes, and architecture for each of the seven kingdoms to develop the setting for Pretoria. Then, I challenged myself to place the characters in various situations that played on their insecurities, fears and bravery in tangent with a theme and framed that within a twenty-four page script.
Q. What next? Which book or project are you working on now?
For the time being, I’m focusing on developing the entirety of Volume One for The Seventh Kingdom while also preparing for Volumes Two and Three. I have two other projects on the chopping block that require more development as I balance my film scripts as well. So, in short–I’ve got a lot coming up but I don’t want to give away any spoilers! In the meantime, be on the lookout for news about my short film ‘Kalimba’ being made into a feature.
Q. Lastly, as we ask all our guests on our platform, do you have any closing thoughts that you would like to share with the world and our readers?
I’d like to thank everyone who’s been following along with my series’ journey and supporting it. The ultimate goal is for The Seventh Kingdom to be made into an animated series by a talented animation studio in Asia and have it streamed on platforms like Crunchyroll, Hulu or HBO Max. So, everyone who supports–regardless of the manner by which they do–is helping to bring this series to life. I’m incredibly grateful for them as well as Jukebox Mind Magazine for even featuring my story. I hope that my audience continues to enjoy my work as I strive to improve my creativity, innovation and imagination as filmmaker/author! Please visit our website and pre-order the first chapter of my series from Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Rakuten Kobo, Smashwords, Vivlio, Baker Taylor, Gardener’s and more!
About the author: R.J. Atkinson (露秘アトキンソン) is an award-winning filmmaker/writer with a penchant for centering unlikely, marginalized protagonists in imaginative and metaphorical story-telling. Their work spans across fictional narratives steeped in societal issues while exploring timeless themes of resilience, connection, hope and love.
This manga series is a unique sci-fi adventure filled with action-packed twists, fantastical characters and breath-taking cities. As Clairabelle wanders across the planet Pretoria, she not only battles overwhelmingly powerful foes but constantly struggles with her own internal storms. She’s forced to reckon with the juxtaposition of revenge and redemption, resilience and resignation–but more importantly, hope. Can Clairabelle endure her journey to The Seventh Kingdom? At what point should vengeance be set aside for forgiveness? To what extent does vengeance taint a person? Join Clairabelle on her quest to The Seventh Kingdom.