And after the leading lady, one of the bad guys.
My favorite bad guy, actually, of all those that crowd the pages of The Ministry of Thunder.
A few years back I was talking with my friend Ken Asamatsu, the famous Japanese horror author and Lovecraftian scholar, and we were discussing the game HPL and his friends played, mentioning each other in their stories, and usually killing each other off.
And I promised Asamatsu-sensei that I would give his name to a bad guy in my first novel, and then kill him off in a horrible way. Which would be fun, considering that Ken Asamatsu is one of the kindest, most friendly people I ever knew.
Thus was born Captain Asamatsu Kenzaburo, Imperial Japanese Navy.
Now, apart from the name, the main inspiration for the character of Captain Asamatsu is actually a comic book character – the ninja Kagemaru, in Sampei Shirato‘s monumental manga masterpiece, Ninja Bugeicho.
Kagemaru – who is one of the heroes of the manga – is of course the ultimate ninja badass, the man they couldn’t kill… so much so, that he can even extract his revenge on his enemies after they decapitated him.
From Ninja Bugeicho comes also Asamatsu and his men’s abundant use of throwing stars, and the trick of disappearing with a burst of smoke, leaving a chunk of wood behind.
Of course, the idea of having ninjas as adversaries for my hero was just too good to pass.
Is there anything cooler than ninjas?
But The Ministry of Thunder is, in its own way, a historical novel – and there is a historical basis for the character of Asamatsu and his band of black-clad killers.
In the early years of the 20th century, Japanese spies1 were at work in China and the East, often posing as Buddhist monks and pilgrims. They were on the bankroll of Count Kozui Otani, art collector, diplomat and spymaster. They were looking for ancient relics (echoes of Indiana Jones) that could help the Japanese Government stake a claim on those lands.
So, here I had my character – a Navy man and a ninja straight out of Iga province, sent by his master to find ancient relics to further the cause of the Pan Asiatic Co-prosperity Sphere.
Crearly influenced by both namesake and manga-derived inspiration, I imagined Asamatsu as a ruthless and yet honorable man, a true warrior, a man that can respect his adversary, and yet try and kill him nonetheless.
In this sense, Captain Asamatsu emerged on the page as a sympathetic bad guy, almost a negative hero, a villain that is such due to the vagaries of war, and not by choice.
Browsing through my photo references I finally found a face for my character – because as I have often mentioned, I need to see the character in my mind’s eye to write his scenes.
Iron-eyed, gravelly-voiced actor Bunta Sugawara, who specialized in roles as criminal, became for me the face of Asamatsu2.
A hard man but not devoid of a certain class.
Writing became easier, once I found a face.
A man with a mission, Asamatsu is the first adversary of Felice Sabatini, right from the start, and my only regret about the development of the novel is that my favorite villain does not get enough screen time.
But he certainly makes the most of the time he gets.
Does he die in a horrible way?
You’ll have to read The Ministry of Thunder to know.
And naturally I also had a musical track to use as sort of theme for the character, and as a musical cue for the first action scene in my novel…
- And in my book, japanese spy = ninja ↩
- And herein there’s another connection to the manga and anime world, as I found much later that Sugawara-san was the model for a character in the popular One-Piece series. He also did voice acting on Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, and on other animated movies. ↩