Fujimoto Tatsuki and Samura Hiroaki Interview

A two-part interview published in June 2017, the same time as Volume 5 of Fire Punch. One part was published in Jump+ (here), and the other part was published in Jump SQ. They discuss each other’s manga, inspirations, art advice, writing, and their careers. They also drew two collaborative illustrations.

Fujimoto Tatsuki: Author of Fire Punch (2016-2018) and Chainsaw Man (2018-).

Samura Hiroaki: Author of Blade of the Immortal (1993-2013) and Wave, Listen to Me! (2014-)

Interview in Jump+ (Hero Part)

Fujimoto: This is the first time I’ve had an interview with another creator. Samura-sensei, you previously had an interview with Kishimoto-sensei, the author of Naruto, didn’t you? But for someone like me to… I’m just dressed like usual. I didn’t even shave.

Samura: You definitely have a busier schedule than me, so please don’t worry about it. For this interview, I think you wanted some advice as a rookie, but to be honest, I’ve only written monthly serialized manga in my career, while your manga career will be much harder than mine, so I don’t think I can really help, haha.

Fujimoto: Not at all! I’ve had to take so many shortcuts in drawing, but you don’t do that at all in Blade of the Immortal…there’s so much I want to ask you, Samura-sensei. You’re a legend to me. Ever since this interview was arranged, I’ve dreamed of it twice. Your house was in my dream too and it was huge.

Samura: Haha. My house isn’t actually huge though, haha.

Interviewer: This interview came about because of Fujimoto-sensei’s respect for Samura-sensei, but actually, Samura-sensei has also been buying copies of Fire Punch, and has read previous interviews with Fujimoto-sensei.

Samura: Ah yes, that’s right.

Fujimoto: What!? You didn’t have to go that far…

Samura: I remember the first chapter of Fire Punch made a big stir on the internet. So me or one of my assistants read it and thought it was interesting. Then I bought the first volume of Fire Punch to have my assistants read it, but I also started reading it and kept buying the volumes since then.

Fujimoto: Samura-sensei, you really… Please, say anything you want.

Samura: I really enjoy manga where you can’t tell what will happen next. And in Fire Punch, the developments after Togata appears aren’t something you would expect in shounen manga, haha. But I really like that kind of thing. It makes you go, “Wait, what happened to the premise?”. Some people like that while others think it lacks focus, but it’s the same idea either way. It depends on whether you enjoy the suspense of not knowing what will happen next, or if you want a more stable foundation. I don’t know about other people, but I like it. And on top of that, everything does come together around volume 4 into a solid direction.

Fujimoto: Wow, that makes me so happy!! I’ve always wanted to write a manga that’s like a Korean movie. There’s this movie called The Chaser where the main character chases after the villain. But thirty minutes into the movie, he catches him. This is supposed to happen at the end of the movie, so you keep wondering what will happen next. A lot of people say that in Korean movies they can’t tell what the director is thinking, but actually, if you watch until the end you’ll get it. I wanted to make something like that.

But wow, I’m so happy to hear you talk about Fire Punch, haha. It feels weird, coming from an author I’ve read since I was a student… It’s like I’m going to blank out.

Samura: I think there are plenty of pro authors who read Fire Punch.

Editor: The authors whose comments went on Fire Punch‘s paper bands (Ishida Sui-sensei [Tokyo Ghoul], Murata Yuusuke-sensei [artist of One Punch Man], ONE-sensei [author of One Punch Man] all read it. [Japanese books have an “obi” around the bottom that advertises the book.]

Fujimoto: I’m so grateful to everyone…

Samura: It’s great that it got popular on the internet. When you read it, it feels like the beginning of something amazing.

Fujimoto: Not at all…it’s just a product of the modern age. Samura-sensei, have you watched the live action film of Blade of the Immortal?

Samura: I saw the advanced screening. There were so many plans to adapt Blade of the Immortal as a film in the past, but they all fell through, so I thought it wasn’t meant to be. Then out of the blue, they told me they were going to make a movie with Kimura Takuya-san as the lead and to please look over the script. And that there wasn’t any time to mail it, so they were going to send it by motorcycle. It was the first I’d heard about it, so I was surprised that they were in such a hurry, haha. Apparently they rushed the decision through.

Fujimoto: Oh, so that’s what happened. That’s really something. What did you think after watching it?

Samura: The action scenes were 1.5 times longer than what I pictured. And Kimura Takuya-san put in a lot of effort. Well, I was watching a film adaptation of my manga, and in particular something I wrote when I was young, where I came up with the lines 20 years ago. Instead of the quality of the movie, I was thinking that nowadays I wouldn’t write something like that. I was too busy being embarrassed, so instead of having complaints for director Miike, I was just impressed that he did such a good job. If someone who didn’t read the manga watched the movie and thought it wasn’t good, I’d want them to read the manga. To show them that it came straight from there, haha.

Fujimoto: There’s so much more I want to ask… I don’t even want this interview to be published.

Interviewer: Huh?!

Editor: So you want to have it all to yourself, haha.

Fujimoto: Or else everyone would find out how to draw better.

All: Haha.

Fujimoto: Samura-sensei, I want to draw like you. So I think that means I should aspire to the artists that you like. What can I do to become you?

Samura: Haha. There are a lot of manga artists that I like, but up through middle school it was Tezuka Osamu-sensei [Astro Boy], Takahashi Rumiko-sensei [Ranma 1/2], and Fujiko Fujio-sensei [Doraemon]. In high school I read Akira by Ootomo Katsuhiro-sensei, and thought he must be an incredible person. There’s also Yasuhiko Yoshikazu-sensei [character designer for early Gundam]. They’re both such good artists. Yasuhiko Yoshikazu-sensei is good at drawing hands, so that made me want to get good at drawing hands. Between classes, I would always draw my hands in my notebooks, so I was a creepy high schooler, haha.

Fujimoto: I’ll do that too from now on.

Samura: Haha. When I got to college, I read 2001 Nights by Hoshino Yukinobu-sensei, a series of short stories about space. It’s amazing how detailed it was. There’s no way that could have been serialized weekly, haha. Then when I went to art school, I was in the manga research club, and for better or worse, manga clubs at art schools have a lot of self-conscious people. They would read Garo [alternative manga magazine] instead of weekly manga magazines, and so on. That’s how I came across manga by niche authors and found out there are a lot of interesting people out there. Then after I graduated and Blade of the Immortal got serialized, I bought a volume of manga by Ichinoseki Kei-sensei. Nobody had told me about it, and I didn’t hear about it anywhere, I just happened to buy it at the bookstore. I was shocked that there was a woman who drew such realistic manga. If I had read it before being serialized, I think I would have been too embarrassed to finish the storyboards for Blade of the Immortal.

Fujimoto: I know what you mean, that feeling of “what if I had read this before being serialized.” I read the first volume of Wave, Listen to Me! when I was writing the first chapter of Fire Punch.

Samura: There are plenty of authors with better art than me. So If you look at a good artist’s works and try drawing it, you can pick up their quirks and end up drawing like them.

Fujimoto: No… I don’t think so… If there’s a secret to drawing better, please tell me.

Samura: What I mean by good art is, for example there’s Takano Fumiko-sensei. I think she’s the manga artist with the best art in Japan. She’s really good at conveying space. I think male artists tend to draw everything in accurate perspective. But in Takano-sensei’s manga, the vanishing point for the background doesn’t really match up. But you can still sense the space. In other words, conveying a sense of space isn’t the same thing as drawing the perspective accurately. You can also shift things to look better.

Kiiroi Hon by Takano Fumiko

I also do that when drawing the horizon, for example say I’m drawing the ocean and there’s a dock. If I drew the dock in perspective, then its edges would meet at the horizon, but I would purposefully make the horizon higher than that. And then the ocean would seem bigger, or something like that. I think Takano-sensei does that with her drawings, without thinking about it.

Besides that, Takano-sensei’s manga have a vivid sense of life. It makes you go “oh, that kind of pose!” Like the pose you would make after going home, saying “I’m home”, then taking the mandarin oranges on the kotatsu and peeling them while looking at flyers, and then you spread out your favorite book on the floor and read it. She’s great at drawing mannerisms like that. Takano-sensei’s drawings have few lines. And they can express more than drawings from life. It’s amazing how much perceptive women notice.

Fujimoto: Women are more perceptive, aren’t they?

Samura: They might be better at remembering domestic scenes. Men think good drawings are about being true to life or the composition of action, and other technical skills. Well, that is pretty difficult too. But even if I think that’s what’s good, being able to pull it off is another question, haha.

Fujimoto: No, I think you do pull it off, Samura-sensei. That reminds me, In This Corner of the World is pretty popular these days. I think Kouno Fumiyo-sensei [the author] draws really sexy girls. Especially their legs. I realized it’s because they have expressive legs. They’re short like hobbits, but they have a strong presence and sense of reality. That’s because of their mannerisms. Also, when I was watching a skit by Bananaman-san [comedy duo], even in that short span of time, it really felt like their characters were alive. Some characters would touch their noses or stamp their feet. Those gestures gave the characters depth. I think artists who can convey that are really good, they’re observative.

In This Corner of the World

Samura: When you have many characters, you can give them different ways of talking or verbal tics to distinguish them. That has its advantages, but that’s not what actually sets people apart. It’s the things someone always says, their gestures, what they tend to reply with when they get asked the same question. I think that’s what’s important. It’s something I think I should do, but I have no idea if I actually succeed. That’s my ideal, and I always wish I could spend time on that, but I’m always short on time, until finally I’m finished, haha.

Fujimoto: I’m exactly the same. I want to make the background characters expressive, but they end up just standing stiffly. I never have the time…

Samura: You have to get your assistants to help you with that. What I do when I want to draw background characters or crowds is, I tell one of my assistants “You can do it in your own style, but draw this crowd with natural, relaxed poses, ” and then I go over my assistant’s pencil drawings in pen. It takes time to do rough sketches, but it takes guts to just go freehand, so even a vague idea helps. When I change it to my style and pen it, it actually works. I think that’s a good way to add variety to a crowd scene.

Fujimoto: So even if you just pen part of it, it still comes together. That’s seriously useful.

Also, Samura-sensei, I really can’t tell if your backgrounds are traced or not. Is there some way to not make them look traced? Is it just about the composition?

Samura: Part of it is the way you fill in the blacks, but sometimes you can tell if the background is traced just by looking at the lines. And even for me, there’s a big gap between how convincing the parts I draw from imagination are compared to the parts I draw from a photo, haha. So about the blacks, instead of deciding where to place screentones based on the color, you should pick one spot to go bold with them, and as long as that holds the background together, then you don’t need it anywhere else. It’s different from photos. For art, you can color something black because it looks cooler that way. I’m not sure if that’s good or not. For example, if there are people talking and there’s a single light source somewhere, that determines where the shadows go. But depending on the panel, sometimes you might make a part black, even if it’s inconsistent, just because it would look that much cooler.

Inconsistent lighting in Blade of the Immortal

Fujimoto: Ah, so that’s how you think about it. The readers wouldn’t mind at all.

Samura: Some people do mind, but that’s fine too. You’re lying to make the panel look cooler. It’s manga, so you could say it’s alright as long as it looks cool. But not everyone agrees, so it isn’t necessarily a good thing, haha.

Fujimoto: I’ll do that too.

Interviewer: Both of you happened to be serialized at age 23.

Fujimoto: Oh, really? Before I got serialized, I would spend my time drawing storyboards for serialization, thinking about which direction to take the story, and I had no time to improve my art. Samura-sensei, what were you doing around chapter 1 of Blade of the Immortal?

Samura: In my fourth year of college, I called the editor in Afternoon that I would later work with and asked if I could bring in my manga. I skipped so many of my classes in college that in my fourth year I needed to take a ton of units. Between college and manga, I didn’t have any time to improve my art, haha. I would study at school, go home and work on my storyboards until March… or maybe April 1993. I had been working on it as a student, but only finished chapter 1 by the time I graduated, so in the time between submitting that and it getting published when I was paid 800,000 yen, I was a deadbeat.

Fujimoto: I was also a deadbeat after I graduated, and the rent where I lived was 20,000 yen [about $200]. It didn’t have AC, so that was tough.

Samura: That’s pretty cheap. Did you move to Tokyo after you got serialized?

Fujimoto: Yes. I moved when I got serialized, and I didn’t know anything so I just did what my editor told me to.

Samura: Haha. So you moved right when your serialization began.

Fujimoto: That’s right. At first, I was very worried because it felt like nobody read Jump+ then. And they said I would only get to write two volumes, or something like that.

Editor: Right, Jump SQ didn’t pick it up. But I didn’t give up and brought his manga to Jump+, and they okayed it.

Fujimoto: My editor secretly told me that I should be ok up to volume 4. I forget what that was about, haha.

Editor: I was saying that you should be able to write at least four volumes, haha.

Fujimoto: I planned to have the conclusion to the first part in volume 3, so I wanted to get to three volumes. I’m glad that I could go further.

Samura: Volume 3 is when you see hints of “the secrets of the world”, so I thought that it would keep going for quite a bit.

Fujimoto: I’ve been wondering, how much do you think about your reception, Samura-sensei? I don’t think about it that much, but maybe if you try to be unpopular, then you’ll actually become popular.

Samura: I have no idea what kind of demographic I’m appealing to, or what kind of readers would like the heroines I draw. I think the people who like my manga or are attracted to the characters must be weird.

Fujimoto: I think my readers have read a lot of manga and gotten bored.

Samura: Haha. That sounds about right, people who’ve gotten tired of orthodox manga.

Fujimoto: I think it might be the same for you, Samura-sensei, with the way you don’t restrain yourself. When I was reading Wave, Listen to Me!, I thought that people who haven’t read manga before might not get it. With my manga too, I think if someone who hadn’t read manga before read Fire Punch, they would be really confused.

Samura: With an orthodox plot you mostly know what to expect, but Fire Punch is interesting because it betrays those expectations. Even in volume 4, you can’t tell if Agni or Togata is the main character. They might even share the role. It feels like you’re mixing together completely different elements. And it all comes together in volume 4.

Fujimoto: I’m not sure, but it feels like Blade of the Immortal has multiple main characters.

Samura: It’s because the serialization went on too long. It felt like I had to show what all of these characters were doing, haha. If you introduce a lot of characters that can fight, then you’ll have to draw all of them fighting. In Fire Punch, there are all sorts of “blessed” characters, but not many of the main character’s allies can fight. He does get more allies in volume 4, but it’s still mostly Togata. You can have more characters as long as they don’t steal the spotlight from the main character. But even if they do, it should be ok as long as that minor character is interesting. More than half of the enemies in Blade of the Immortal were swordsmen, so it’s a shame that they had to take time from the main character, haha.

Fujimoto: That’s not true at all! Blade of the Immortal is my favorite. I loved how the final chapter ended things. Every one of the characters gets a conclusion. Normally, you wouldn’t be able to do that. It would be pretty hard. I’ve only thought out the conclusions for a few characters in Fire Punch, so when I was reading it, I thought it must be hard to think of endings for all of the main characters in Blade of the Immortal.

Samura: I was thinking that if by the end of the story, there were about ten important characters alive, then as long as I didn’t go into too much detail, I could take care of seven or eight of them in one chapter. For Blade of the Immortal‘s final chapter, I really wanted to take advantage of the main character’s immortality, and skip to the future for his part. So I had already decided on the final chapter.

Fujimoto: The main character had wanted to die, right? That ending was just… When did you come up with it?

Samura: Originally I wanted the main character to go through partners as the story progressed, but as I wrote more volumes, I thought there was no way to do that, haha. I thought that when Rin’s revenge was finished, then the serialization would be too. So sometime after ten volumes, I had the idea for the last episode. The details came later, though. There’s manga like Parasyte where everything is tied up neatly in the ending, but in the afterword he said that he changed the theme midway. That’s probably what happens. You get swept up by trends and fashions while you’re writing.

Fujimoto: The way you think changes too. I also have a plan for my ending, but I wonder if that might change… Do you think it should?

Samura: If you think it would be better that way, then sure.

Fujimoto: There’s the scene at the end of Blade of the Immortal where Rin says “Oh, it’s Manji-san.” It felt like that was the author’s regrets about ending the manga. That Rin was standing in for the author. And that we were seeing your desire to keep following Manji… It made me wonder if you write based on the people around you. I really liked your short story Shizuru Cinema in Sister Generator, and I thought it was about you and your editor. That made me wonder if you write about yourself or the people around you.

Penultimate chapter of Blade of the Immortal

Samura: Actually, I don’t really do that. If anything, I would be embarrassed to use myself or my surroundings as a model for a story. It’s just how that short story was… When I was writing Shizuru Cinema, there was a certain editorial department where they told the artists who brought their manuscripts in things like “we can’t accept this unless you make it like this” or “that’s what’s selling now, so you have to do it”, and forced them to make it more stereotypical… They ignored their individual style and pushed them into a more conventional direction. And it’s not that young manga artists these days only write that sort of thing, it’s because of the editors, or so I heard.

Fujimoto: So that’s how it was! I thought it had to be about you. I see now.

Samura: I pretty much got to do what I wanted for Blade of the Immortal after all, haha.

Fujimoto: I thought you did what you wanted even after being told things like that, haha. Well, that’s pretty interesting. When I draw oneshots, I’m usually angry… You know, there’s a lot of angry people on the internet. And I think they can vent their anger on sites like Twitter, but I don’t really know how to. I put my anger into my manga.

Samura: Anger and resentment are valuable emotions. My editor lets me do what I want, so after becoming a manga artist there wasn’t anything for me to be mad at, haha. Even when I get angry at society, it doesn’t last very long, and first I’ll think “No, that’s not right,” or “That’s just…”, but by the next day, I’ll start to wonder if I was in the wrong, haha.

Fujimoto: After a day I’ll also think that it’s my fault for being ignorant, but before I sleep, I’ll write a storyboard. I’ll draw it quickly and not read through it, then send it to my editor.

Editor: For a while you used to send one every day, haha.

Fujimoto: I’ll send it while I’m still angry, so the day after I do that, I’ll wonder how it was… Since I’m ignorant, I write about my angry thoughts.

Samura: It’s good for young people to be angry.

Fujimoto: Where do you get inspiration from? I heard before that you read magazines you got from the trash… I was wondering if I should do that too, if I need that kind of attitude.

Samura: Haha. I haven’t really moved to digital. I’m always a few years behind the rest of society. When the internet went into full swing, I didn’t even have a flip phone. I didn’t know what society was thinking. For a while I would stay over at the Kodansha office every month to finish up my storyboards, and there would be issues of Shuukan Gendai [general-interest magazine targeted at male office workers] in the trash, so I would take those every month. Back then, Shuukan Gendai was the only thing connecting me to society, haha. The year I debuted, 1993, happened to be the International Year for the World’s Indigenous People. The idea was to think about indigenous people… Which for Japan are the Ainu. So there were a lot of books and news articles on the subject. I’ve been interested in the Ainu since college, so I cut out those news articles. And when I reread them, there were completely unrelated articles on the back. When I was drawing manga, I saw one about an experiment combining spinach and pig genes to make a spinach pig. I was pretty curious why they would do that, haha. When I was writing about high school girls for Ohta Publishing, I needed something for a joke, so I used that [in Seifuku wa Nugenai from Sister Generator].

Spinach Pig in Seifuku wa Nugenai

Fujimoto: That’s pretty nice, I wish I could be like that too. With the internet, you can only find what you’re looking for. I like horror, so I look up things about horror, but that’s totally unnecessary. You have to stray from the path if you want to go anywhere.

Samura: Nowadays there are these aggregator sites, and they have all sorts of headlines laid out. You also see headlines that you don’t look for, so you could read those.

Fujimoto: I also listen to radio to hear about things that I’m not interested in, so when I notice some phrase everyone keeps saying, I turn on the radio to listen. But when I’m drawing manga, I don’t hear anything. I just think listening to stories is something I should do.

Samura: You do tend to ignore unrelated things when you’re drawing manga. But even so, I think it’s good to learn about all sorts of things… If it’s something that I might draw later, even when I’m working I’ll listen carefully. Even when it just passes through your head, sometimes you still remember.

Fujimoto: If you can draw well, your art looks more convincing, right? I won’t be able to convey what I want to with mediocre drawings, so I need to improve… And the better you get, the faster you can draw, so I want to be as good at drawing as you, Samura-sensei.

Samura: It’s true that if you can draw better, then you’ll have the skills to go faster, but your body might not keep up, haha. My eyes are starting to get tired too. If I were in my twenties or thirties, I think I could have drawn Wave, Listen to Me! better. I turned 47 this year, and my eyes tire really easily now. It’s almost funny how every five years past age 35, your body wears down a little more. But I guess there’s no helping it, haha, so you should draw the manga you want to while you’re young.

Fujimoto: How can I draw as well as you? That’s what I keep thinking about. If you have some secret that’s been passed down the generations, I hope you’ll pass it down to me. That’s why I’m here today.

Samura: Haha. Now that you mention it, you’re at an age where you could be my son. But I’m sorry to say, I don’t have anything like that, haha.

Fujimoto: When I see a good artist, it makes me think that they must be cheating somehow. Like they got to redo their life, or something. Or else it wouldn’t be possible to achieve that level of skill. There are a few people I think of like that, and you’re number one. Another one is Kim Jung Gi-sensei. I feel like they all must have sacrificed something in their lives to get more time to draw.

Kim Jung Gi

Samura: He’s crazy, haha. He can draw something, then suddenly move to a different part of the canvas and draw something else in correct perspective. That’s beyond being a good artist.

Fujimoto: I also count you as one of those people…

Samura: Oh, I’m nowhere near that, haha.

Fujimoto: I drew a lot since I was little, but were you good at drawing from a young age, Samura-sensei?

Samura: I can’t say if I was good or not, but in elementary school they put me in charge of drawing posters, anthology covers, and so on.

Fujimoto: Did you spend time practicing art? Like when you were at prep school?

Samura: My art improved the most at art prep school. A lot of aspiring manga artists want to go to art colleges to get better at drawing, but I want to tell them that art schools don’t teach drawing, so you should go to art prep school instead, haha.

Fujimoto: That makes sense. I also studied oil painting in college, and since I got in through the admissions office [as opposed to entrance exams], I didn’t do any drawings from life. Even now I’ve only done a few of those. With oil painting you mostly go by feel, so my skill at drawing didn’t really improve.

Samura: I see. Right, doing drawings should be more useful than oil paintings. In art school, you get one or two weeks to complete an assignment. But art prep schools have you do a piece everyday or every other day, and it’s really tough, haha. Art prep school was a war with time. Besides that, my improvement depended on how many good artists were around me. In art prep school there happened to be talented students there too, so that contributed. And the teachers helped, of course.

Fujimoto: That really is true. It’s frustrating when there are people who are better than you.

Samura: It is frustrating, but you can learn to draw like them.

Fujimoto: There weren’t any prep schools near me, so I went to an art class with a lot of old people, where I did oil paintings in the corner. There were good artists there, so I decided that if I didn’t get better than them in four years I would kill them, and since I didn’t want to go on the run if I was a good artist, I just kept drawing. After that, I didn’t improve from doing oil painting, so I holed up in the library and did these kind of gesture drawings… I really should have done life drawings. I really regret that I didn’t do any. Once I finish my serialization, I’ll do that.

Samura: Unless you drastically change your style, I don’t think you need to set aside time to draw.

Fujimoto: Really? I also considered becoming an animator after finishing my serialization. I was thinking that so many good artists I know are animators, so maybe I should become an animator, but people made fun of me after I said that… There’s the Japan Anima(tor)’s Exhibition, and I watched a lot of those shorts, and seeing really good animations made me wonder how they made it move. If I had that kind of skill, I could draw whatever I wanted. That’s why I wanted to be an animator, but everyone told me that it doesn’t work like that.

Samura: I think you need different skills as an animator and as a manga artist. When I read a short story collection by Yaguchi Takao, the author of Tsurikichi Sanbei, I thought he was really good at drawing the Japanese countryside. Of course, he doesn’t do it photographically. It’s just stunning. It’s like he knows exactly how to use a pen to depict what he wants to, and then uses that skill to portray the background. I get captivated by seeing that kind of skill. It makes me want to do something like that.

On the other hand, while it’s the result of tremendous effort and sacrifice, Miura Kentarou-sensei’s Berserk has so much detail that I want to puke, it’s just that good. Manga really has that kind of power.

Fujimoto: I have your manga near my desk, and when I’m drawing manga I usually look at them, but if I’m in a hurry I don’t have time to. I’m nowhere close to imitating them. I have trouble with composing the poses too. If you have a elaborate pose, that alone makes an impact when you’re reading, but it takes time with the sketches and everything, so I’m forced to give up… I really wish I could draw the snow with more detail too, but I don’t have time. And I want to draw vapor coming out of the characters’ mouths when they talk, but when the deadline’s in a day and it’s like I’m going to die, I end up thinking “never mind about drawing the vapor.” It’s awful. I hate how many compromises I have to make.

Lack of snow detail in Fire Punch

Samura: If you keep feeling like you want to do something but can’t, one day you’ll be able to. Once you finish your serialization and start a new one, your art will definitely evolve. It’s much better to have regrets than to become indifferent to everything.

Fujimoto: I’ll remember that. …I’m also worried about my art style.

Samura: You know, many of the manga artists in my generation have been influenced by Akira. After they went pro, they kept thinking about how to break free from Ootomo Katsuhiro’s [author of Akira] spell. Back when I drew doujinshi and used pen, it looked like a copy of Ootomo-sensei’s work. To try and break out of it, I purposefully used brush pen and pencil, and a different style from Akira for the first chapter of Blade of the Immortal. If you do something like that, eventually you won’t have to worry about your art style. And I don’t think your style has obvious influences at this point. Fujimoto-san, you’re also inspired by Nihei Tsutomu-san [Blame, Knights of Sidonia], aren’t you? You don’t draw very extreme facial expressions, and you draw horror more dryly.

Fujimoto: Yes, that’s something I’m conscious of. I like his level of detail in Abara the most.

Abara

Samura: You have all of these influences on your own unique style, so I think you’re doing fine. Like I said at the start, there’s no advice I can give you as a monthly manga artist to a weekly manga artist. And all of the art nitpicks I mentioned are things you should only worry about if you have time. I can’t even imagine having to write a chapter of a manga every week, haha.

Fujimoto: No, not at all, I’ve learned so much from you. Thank you very much. …I should pay you for this.

Interview in Jump SQ (Heroine Part)

Fujimoto: I’ve loved your manga since high school… And my friends in college also read your manga.

Samura: Thank you very much.

Fujimoto: I was drawing chapter 1 of Fire Punch right when volume 1 of Wave, Listen to Me! came out. It had so much presence that I wanted to imitate it.

Samura: For Wave, Listen to Me! I decided not to make the drawings too detailed, and to leave them a little rough. But looking back, it just looks messy, haha.

Wave, Listen to Me!

Fujimoto: I’m not sure how to describe it, but I thought it was meant to look like life drawings. Were you the one who filled in the blacks for the backgrounds?

Samura: That’s right.

Fujimoto: I thought it was amazing that I couldn’t tell how much of the backgrounds were done by your assistants, and how much you drew yourself.

Samura: I think that for example, even if you use a photo to help draw backgrounds, the important part is who places the blacks.

Fujimoto: Oh, yes. I thought that it must have been you who did the blacks. They look great. They really do.

Samura: If you put too much black then it catches the eye, so you’ll have to make the rest of the panel darker. And you’ll have to draw hatching too, and that’s a lot of work when you’re in a hurry. For my previous manga Blade of the Immortal, I finished the storyboard in a day and spent the rest of the time on drawing, and even now I’m impressed that I could draw lines like that. I think the art looks sloppy in Wave, Listen to Me! myself, but I have to spend a lot of time thinking about and writing the words.

Fujimoto: There’s so many words, but they don’t feel like explanations, so it’s easy to read. It’s just like real girl talk and you can breeze through it.

Samura: When you’re reading Fire Punch you think “I wonder if this will happen,” but that turns into “What’s even happening with this manga!?” I think that’s what makes Fire Punch interesting.

Fujimoto: I had the idea for Fire Punch for a long time. It’s based on Anpanman [where the hero tears off part of his head to feed people], and so I was very conscious about that. But later on I didn’t think too hard… Samura-sensei, did you write Wave, Listen to Me! because you like radio?

Samura: Actually, I wasn’t into radio at all. But my editor likes radio, and he said he wanted to see me write a manga with radio, romance, and women at work, so that’s how it happened. I liked the protagonist Minare so much that before I knew it, there wasn’t much time spent on the men, haha. So around Volume 3 I started going into the other characters as well.

Fujimoto: The minor characters also have romantic plots. I thought that was unusual when I read it.

Fujimoto: Samura-sensei, I have a serious question, are you a sadist? I’m a masochist. Reading your manga makes me think that you’re a sadist rather than a masochist.

Samura: I’m both. In different proportions, but I’m both of those. My old artbook does just have girls being tormented. But despite the tone in those illustrations, I also have the desire to serve a strong woman. When I watched Rozen Maiden with my assistants, that made me want to live with a domineering doll like that, haha.

Samura’s eroguro artbook Hitodenashi no Koi

Fujimoto: I also like domineering and irrational women. In college, there was a girl who was mean to me, and then one day at school my bicycle had fallen over. I was wondering what happened, when she said “I knocked your bike over, ha ha ha!” I was so happy.

Samura: Haha. She was into you, wasn’t she?

Fujimoto: Not at all. But I really like girls like that, and from reading your manga I thought you also like those kind of girls.

Samura: I like women who are mentally superior to men.

Fujimoto: Right, I want to have women in higher positions than men.

Samura: So that’s how you get a monster like Togata, haha.

Collaborative Illustrations

thanks nopo

Memories of Love

Included with the Blu-Ray/DVD of ID:INVADED. Written by Maijo Otaro and voiced by the same voice actors, with the addition of Hondo Kaede. Link: MP3/FLAC.

Ayako was the oldest of three sisters. Jijo-kun was two years younger, and was tall with a cool and boyish kind of beauty. Everyone used -kun with her, so I ended up doing it too. She was a free spirit, and I didn’t see much of her or talk at any length with her, but spending time with her wasn’t so bad. Sanjo-chan was seven years younger, and maybe because her mother died right after she was born, she had always clung to Ayako. When I started going out with Ayako, she was in middle school and didn’t try to hide her hostility towards me, spending all her time sabotaging our relationship, meddling and spreading rumors, to the point where Ayako couldn’t get through to her at all, but after I got to spend half a day alone with her, she suddenly warmed up to me.

I didn’t do anything special. I just took off the kid gloves with her. She must have realized she wasn’t a poor little girl without a mother who the world would always be kind to. She was a smart girl, after all. But after that, she clung to both Ayako and me, and so dates with just the two of us became a thing of the past. On top of that, Sanjo-chan was a shutter bug, and whenever we went on dates, she would spend every free moment clicking away at the camera, and she even used to bring a tripod and set up the lighting, turning the date into a photo shoot. Incidentally, it was my job to carry the tripod and hold the reflector, which meant Ayako was the sole subject. Well, I enjoyed the novelty of it, but Ayako was at a loss with Sanjo-chan taking out her camera everywhere, from streets to restaurants, so she gave her a big scolding, and after that the only equipment that Sanjo-chan brought with her was her camera. She went off on me too, but I liked that. I also had a younger brother, and we were close in age but had always been distant, so something about their sisterly antics warmed my heart.

“Akinrou, when I take pictures of Sis with you, I hate how head-over-heels she looks.”
Despite saying that, she started taking pictures with just me.
“But when I take pictures of you, it’s like I can see Sis through you, and it’s great leaving you out of the shot,” she jabbed.
Now that she mentioned it, I used to hate having my pictures taken and seeing pictures of myself, but I didn’t mind how I looked in my pictures with Ayako, and I got comfortable with pictures of just me too, maybe because I was looking at Ayako who was outside the frame. But after losing Ayako, it became painful to look at pictures of just me, so I threw most of those away.

“You’d better get pictures of Sis and Muku-chi when I’m not there, too.”
Once she became a professional photographer, Sanjo-chan told me that and gave me a high-end camera, but Ayako got mad when I tried taking sexy pictures, and only let me take some safe pictures when she was in a good mood. I only have a few of those left. I’m glad for that. After I went rogue, killed the Challenger, and got sent to prison, I didn’t have anywhere to keep my belongings, so it’s good that I didn’t take any sexy pictures. Ayako always knew best. After I joined Kura, I got permission to bring in a few personal effects, so I begged Momoki-san to let me have a few pictures from Ayako’s family. Apparently, Sanjo-chan wouldn’t let me choose which photos to get, and didn’t even want to give me any, but Jijo-kun took some from her for me to have. That’s why they were very different from the photos Sanjo-chan developed and showed us before, which were carefully posed according to her taste, but I liked how candid they looked.

Even though it took so much effort to get the photos, it took time before I could look at them. I couldn’t hold them in my hands, and just seeing them stacked face-down on the floor made my thoughts freeze and my body turn stiff, so that for a few days I could barely move. Even when I could move, I wanted to keep diving into id wells instead of going back to my cell, so Momoki-san threatened to take them away, but I still confined myself to the cockpit, and partly I wasn’t used to becoming Sakaido, I nearly had a heart attack. The Face-lifter taunted me after I came back from the hospital ward, and three days later he was dead. After that, I could put the photos on the wall. The person I was in those pictures is gone. He went away with Muku and Ayako. It was a delight to look at those photos knowing that, and I could only laugh at how fake my tears were.

Photographs are strange things. They’re always about the past, but they don’t remember it, only record it. At the same time, they’re evidence of what happened, and as a former detective that was something I couldn’t ignore. They confronted me with the connection between my past self and current self. I had no idea that I was that kind of person. Someone who could lose himself to rage and send people to their deaths. A man who felt no remorse about using someone’s suffering, grief, and doubts to drive them to suicide. I could even convince myself that it was what they wanted, that they made the choice of their own will, but even after discovering that part of myself, I started to wonder if the upstanding man who could be a husband to Ayako and a father to Muku was still somewhere in me. Sometimes I struggle with that thought. I’m still not sure. So I just look at the photos. Sometimes I think that good and evil are contradictory existences within me, but if killing villains is the right thing to do, then they might even coexist and I’m still the man I was before.

On one of our first dates, I was driving and Ayako was sitting next to me humming, and the tune sounded familiar so I asked her what it was called. It was “Forever Memories” by w-inds. It was an old boyband song, so I was a little surprised and laughed, ready to tease her about her taste in music.
“Hee hee. I bet you think it’s a dumb song, don’t you?”
Ayako hit the nail on the head, which startled me, but it was her giggle that really grabbed my attention. She didn’t wait for me to answer and went on.
“But you know, even for songs like this, if you listen closely, the lyrics and melody actually really good.”
I was about to protest, “Well sure, but I’m just not into this stuff,” but Ayako kept going.
“And there’s some parts of a song that you can’t appreciate until you sing it yourself. Especially this song, you might, no I really think you’ll like it, Narihisago-kun!”
“You sure?” I asked, and hooked her phone to the car’s bluetooth so she could play it.
Uh, this isn’t anything special. Sure, the melody’s a bit catchy, but it’s seriously generic. Ayako laughed.
“Try remembering the lyrics and singing it yourself, like maybe when you’re alone.”
Uh, I’d rather not.

But somehow I did remember the song and ended up trying to sing it. At first, I just thought it was funny that I actually remembered it, but then the hook really got to me. It didn’t feel any different, but I couldn’t pronounce the words in that line. At “I couldn’t do a thing for you,” my voice faltered, and I started tearing up at “not even listen to your selfish requests”. By the time I got to “all I do is burden you” I couldn’t sing at all, and from “we always miss each other” on, the melody just kept playing on in my head. How could such a cliche song do this to me? It wasn’t something that I went through or experienced, and I’ve never been the sentimental type, or even reminisced over someone like that. It wasn’t the meaning of the words, but the way they sounded that shook something deep inside me. That’s when Ayako became a special person to me. I didn’t go out and try to treat her differently, she truly was precious to me. I would cherish her without a second thought, and when my thoughts wandered, I started to wonder what she was doing. Whenever I saw something, I wanted to show it to her. It was a first for me.

My memories are random, like the photos on my wall.

Our wedding was at a church by the sea.
“Did you know, the Narihisago in my name means gourd?”
“Huh? Ehehe, you’re telling me that after we turned in the forms?”
“Hehe. I had to wait until you couldn’t back out.”
Then I held her hands and kissed her softly.
“Don’t worry, I won’t back out. Besides, I already knew that! They dry out gourds and store sake in them, so there’s this sake brand called Narihisago.”
“Oh, really?”
“I did my research before becoming a gourd girl.”
“You sure did.”

After we got married, we went to a photo booth for the first time, when we hadn’t even gone to one on a date.
“Why a photo booth?” I complained. After we finished taking them, Ayako told me,
“I wanted to have something to watch over me when I’m waiting for you to come home. Like some of your goofy faces.”
“Oh, well uh, I dunno if I made any goofy faces.”
“Want to take some more?”
“Uhh, let’s not.”
“Hehe, don’t worry, your face is goofy enough.”
“If you say so.”

When I bought takoyaki, Ayako made me eat all of it.
“Here you go.”
“Ah, gwah.”
“Hehehe, have another!”
“C’mon, you hab some too.”
“They’re best hot, so open wide!”
“I’m shtill eating it, and i’z too hot.”
“Say ah!”
“Ah.”
Sanjo-chan, who was holding her camera, laughed.
“Pfahah. You seriously ate it. Akinrou, you listen to Sis too much.”
“Really?”
“You’re such a thoughtful husband. Thanks a bunch!”
But still, I bought the takoyaki for you.
“They’re weally good.”
“Yeah. But I’m good for today. Sorry!”
Later, I found out what was behind that.

On Ayako’s suggestion, we went to visit the hotel where we held our wedding.
“Why here?”
“It’s our starting point, isn’t it?”
“That’s true.”
“I thought it would be a good place to start something new.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“I’m pregnant!”
“Wha–?” “Huh?”
Sanjo-chan and I both shouted out, and I don’t know why, but we shook hands.

Ayako jogged as a hobby since before we started going out. It was a real drag at first. But I started to like it since it gave us time to be together.
“Hey, Aki-kun, gimme a piggyback ride,” Ayako said out of the blue, so I did.
“Are you tired? You didn’t hurt yourself, did you? Spit it out.”
“Nope. Sorry, the truth is, I just wanted you to spoil me.”
“Oh?”
“You’re not going to ask why?”
“You don’t need a reason, do you?”
“Oh yeah, heheh. You’re my husband after all.”
Even when she had morning sickness, she never asked to be spoiled that much.

I aimed my camera in the bedroom.
“Hey, what do you want a picture for?”
“It’s a record, y’know, a record. Look, the baby’s still in there!”
“Wait, you can take videos with that?”
“I just wanted to say that.”
“Hahaha! You really gave me a surprise! Hey, are you excited?”
“I can’t wait.”

I became a homicide detective in the fall of our second year of marriage.
“I’m joining the homicide division,” I said.
She said, “Congratulations,” with a sad smile.
“I might be busier now, so sorry in advance.”
After I said that, she surprised me by retorting, “I’m not worried about myself, you know? It’s your safety that I’m worried about.”
“Ah…”
“I’m serious, be careful. “
“Yeah. Of course I will.”
“But there are a lot of people out there who need help, and lots of bad guys, so do your best, Mr. Policeman. I mean, Mr. Detective.”
From behind us, Sanjo-chan murmured, “I should really start worrying about myself.”
I ribbed her with a “Yeah, you’d better,” but I was a little sad, despite agreeing with her. She definitely had the talent.

She told me in bed.
“It’s going to be a girl.”
“I c-c-can’t wait.”

Muku was born. I rushed in right before visitation hours were over, and Ayako said, “Did you have a long day? Look, it’s the lucky baby girl born from a gourd!”
“Ha, hahaha.”

I tried to get in the picture with Muku.
“Alright, Muku, today’s going to be your weaning ceremony!”1
Ayako’s parents were about to arrive, along with Jijo-kun and Sanjo-chan.
“That’s right, Muku can already sit up. She’s doing it a little earlier than the other babies.”
“Are you taking a video?” Ayako asked, smiling, from the kitchen.
I wasn’t, I just ended up talking to the camera.

When Muku was two. She took a tumble in the park.
“Kuh! Nngh…”
“Oh, she didn’t cry!”
“Wow, that’s amazing. You’re so strong now!”
After Ayako praised her, Muku said,
“Crying won’ make da hurt stop.”
“Huh?”
“Wow!”
We thought our little girl might actually be someone special, not just a cute toddler, but some kind of prodigy. We really fawned over her.

When Muku was almost three. She didn’t like the clothes we picked for an outing and was throwing a fit, so I went to help.
“Daaaddy, I don’ waaanna, gooo awaaay! Mooommy!”
She pushed me away, but she ended up letting me change her, so that worked out.
“Thanks! Sorry you always have to be the bad guy,” Ayako said.
“Don’t sweat it,” I replied.
It’s just like good cop, bad cop. Heh.

When Muku was three. We were playing tag.
“Ahahaha! No, no, go ‘way!”
“Mmmm. I got some nice no’s. Hahahaha.”
Ayako chimed in, “Eheh, Daddy got some great no’s.”
“I could almost fall in love.”

When Muku was three and a half.
“What bird zat?”
I replied right away, “That’s a springtime whooshybird. It’s the bird that brings in spring.”
“How?”
“They get in a line and flap their wings, and that whooshes in spring from all the way across the sky.”
“Oh… This flower!?”
“It’s a plumpygrass.”
“Ehehe. It’s plumpy?”
“When it’s done blooming, it grows these really tasty fruits called plumpyplops.”
“You eat it?”
“Once it grows plumpyplops.”
“Get one!”
“You can’t pick plants from the forest or damage them, that’s against the law.”
Sanjo-chan, who was walking up ahead and taking pictures, said, “Akinrou… It’s scary how good you are at making stuff up… Have you been tricking Sis too?”
Ayako laughed.
“I like hearing it, tell me more!”
I could spin that kind of nonsense all day long. I never knew it would come in handy.

Muku’s fourth birthday.
“Happy birthday, Muku!”
“Happy birthday, Muku-chan!”
Muku stared down her cake without saying a thing, so I asked, “Can’t think of a wish?”
“Why’s my wish come true if I blow out candles?”
She actually had a question, so I answered, “There’s a rule in the world that when one thing disappears, something else will appear in its place. That’s how you can get wishes granted.”
I made it all up, but it was eerie how true it sounded.
Muku asked, “I have four candles, can I get four wishes?”
“Haha. You didn’t even think of leaving some for Mommy or Daddy, did you?”
“Nope, Daddy doesn’t get any! But Mommy… Mommy can get one.”
“…”
Ouch, somebody’s playing favorites.
“Oh… But we can put more candles and you can have one.”
Only one even if there are more candles, huh. Oh, but that would just look weird.

When Muku was six.
“We’re moving to a new government house!”
“Mommy, did Daddy get a promotion?”
Click.
“This time he only got transferred to a different workplace.”
“Muku-chan. No, Muku-san. Your daddy didn’t become a policeman just to get promotions. I’m not even trying to get promotions. That’s because a police officer isn’t the kind of job where you try to make money, and for police officers, promotions are more like…”
“Aki-kun!”
“I’d better study for the promotional exams.”

When Muku was seven, at her elementary school entrance ceremony.
“Alright, Muku-chan, what’s your goal for elementary school?”
“To become a fantastic middleschooler!”
“Hm?”
“Oh? Is that good enough?”
“Well, whatever.”

When Muku was seven. Muku got tired so I gave her a piggyback ride, then she fell asleep.
Ayako said, “Oh, that’s nice.”
“Huh?”
“A piggyback ride. You gave me one that one time, didn’t you?”
“Did I?”
“You know, it was when we were jogging,” Ayako started explaining, but I did remember it. I just wanted to hear her talk about it. Sanjo-chan seemed to have seen through me.
“Akinrou… The camera discerns all truth,” she warned.

When Muku was eight. She became a second grader.
“Okay, say cheese. …Muku-san, what’s with the somber look?”
“What’s somber mean?”
“It means you’re filled with ennui.”
“What’s ennui?”
“When you’re somewhat melancholic?”
“What’s somewhat?”
“Sazae-san’s neighbors, hahaha.”2
“Who’s Sazae-san?”
“Huh? Wait, what?”
“Aki-kun,” said Ayako. “You shouldn’t assume that everyone’s seen it. Sazae-san is a cartoon show.”
“Seriously? Anyways, what’s wrong, Muku?”
“I was trying to get a picture of me farting.”
“What? Ahahahaha.”
“It’s so hard… Oh, I just farted!”
Her smile was incredible.

When Muku was nine. It was her third grade Field Day.
“First place!”
She actually got third place. In the corner of the grounds, she used the first-place flag for a forgery.
Ayako asked, “What’s wrong with third place?”
Muku shot back, “Third place is fine too. But I already know what third place feels like, so I wanna see what first place is like, too!”
“First place is a victory sign in front of the fla—” I started saying, but reconsidered. “Wait, is that it?”
“Aki-kun!”
“Right? And Mom and Dad, you’re happy to see me here too, right?”
“All that we can see is a sad attempt to fake your results.”
“Hahaha! Mom, you’re so serious!”
“Good grief.”
“Anyways, it’s great that the whole family is happy.”
I couldn’t help but say it.
“Aren’t we? Yaaay!”

When Muku was eleven, in fifth grade. We moved out of government housing and rented a house where Muku could have her own room. I was assembling the bed when they popped their heads in.
“Oh, that’s lovely!” said Ayako. Muku peeked out from behind her and said, “Thanks, Dad.”
I was struck speechless.
“Huh? Wait, don’t freeze up, haven’t I thanked you before?”
“Ahhhhh. So you didn’t say it out loud, but you thought it?”
“You have to say these things or we won’t get them. Aren’t I always telling you?” said Ayako.
Without thinking, I said, “I love you, Muku-chan.”
“Ah, that’s too much for me,” she said and backed off. Ayako laughed.
“Eheh, you got her good!”
Haha. I got her? Yeah, I got her real good.

When Muku was twelve, in sixth grade. Sanjo-chan sent us a photo.
“It was hilarious how serious the three of you looked, talking and staring at the TV. I snuck my camera onto the TV stand and took a picture. Do you remember what you were watching and talking about?”
None of us did. She said she took a video too, then we watched it after she sent it over.
“Mom’s complaining about Harry Potter again…”
“Be quiet and listen to her.”
“I mean, just look at Quidditch. The rules are too vague, it doesn’t make sense, and it’s plain dangerous!”
“Dad, are you even listening?”
“Of course I am, I’m waiting for the perfect chance to say ‘that’s right.'”
“In the first place, it’s just weird to have a sport with two separate objectives of catching a ball and scoring points!”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“Nngh.”

When Muku was twelve, in sixth grade. It was Sunday, and I had gotten home at dawn to sleep on a futon in the Japanese room, when Ayako lay down next to me.
“The sunshine feels so nice!” she said, and we both fell asleep, but before I knew it, Muku had joined us too. And then Sanjo-chan barged in and took our picture.
“Yo!” I said.
She saluted me and left without saying a word. Later, Sanjo-chan sent us the pictures.
“I hate to admit it, but you’re the ideal family. Gyarandu!”3
You sure know some old songs.

When Muku was twelve, in sixth grade. For breakfast, we had the open sandwiches from Laputa. Ayako was a genius for making them so easy to eat.
“It’s been so long since we all had breakfast together, hasn’t it?” said Ayako.
“Come over and eat,” I suggested.
“It’s ok, it’s more fun to watch you two eat,” she replied.
“C’mon, eat it while it’s warm. The yolk’s gonna run off,” said Muku.
She was right. You need the right timing to eat Laputa sandwiches. Or else you’ll repeat Sheeta’s mistake.4

When Muku was thirteen, at her middle school entrance ceremony.
“Congrats on becoming a middleschooler! What’s your goal for middle school, Muku-chan?”
“Is it to become a fantastic highschooler?”
“Nope, try again. To be number one!”
Click.
“You mean number one in your grade?”
“Nope, something way better. The best in the world!”
“You’re going to get the best grades? Wow!” Ayako said, surprised, and Muku looked confused at her reaction.
“What do you mean? Isn’t that impossible?”
A bit disappointed, I asked, “Then you’re going to be the cutest girl in Japan, right?”
“I can’t do that either.” I didn’t agree, but Muku kept going. “It’s ok, I just wanted to say it. Best in Japan, best in the world! Yay!”
Ah, that’s what this is. That thing with the first-place flag. It looked like Ayako remembered too.
“But at least we’re a happy family, aren’t we?”
Muku laughed and said, “The happiest family in the world! Hold on, aren’t we already?”
We totally were. That’s how it was supposed to be.

When I looked at the photos on my wall, I used to cry from remembering but not anymore, and I thought I was done crying over them, but there are still times when the tears well up on their own. It’s not because of my feelings or anything like that. It’s just a jolt from some unconscious part of me. That boyband song isn’t the only thing that does it. It also happens with the song Ayako sang to put Muku to sleep as a baby.

“The shovel in the garden got wet all day.
The rain lifted, and you sneezed.
The clouds cleared, the sun came out.
I look up and see, la la la.
A rainbow, oh a rainbow across the sky.
You’re feeling, oh you’re feeling better.
I know the weather tomorrow will be nice.
I know the weather tomorrow will be nice.”5

I tried to hold Muku and sing to her like Ayako did, but it was already getting dark. My voice faded out at “la la la”, nowhere close to “the weather tomorrow will be nice.” At this rate, Muku wouldn’t fall asleep.

Translation Notes

1Okuizome is a weaning ceremony held when a baby is 100 days old and given a special meal for the first time they eat.
2Sazae-san is a popular long-running manga and anime. Sazae, the main character, has neighbors called Isasaka, which has the same pronunciation as “somewhat” in Japanese.
3“Gyarandu” is a popular 1983 song, the lyrics start with “I hate to admit it, but I can’t stop thinking about you. Gyarandu, Gyarandu.” (The song’s title doesn’t mean anything, but later came to mean belly hair.)
4In Laputa: Castle in the Sky, the characters Sheeta and Pazu are about to eat fried eggs on toast (an open sandwich) when Sheeta asks Pazu a question. Their conversation is interrupted by pirates, and they can’t eat it until later.
5This is a children’s song called “Niji”, here’s a cover.

The Shape of Glory

By Nisio Isin, published in 2006 in Zaregoto Complete Box (as a 5 cm by 8 cm book).

They say you shouldn’t make your hobby a job, but having something that isn’t your hobby as a job sounded even worse, so for my first part-time job I did my best to turn my hobby into a job. Having decided on that, there was still something I had to consider. My hobby is reading. Reading, something not much different from having no hobby. What jobs can you think of that have to do with reading books? The first thing that comes to mind is an author or book critic, but I wasn’t quite up to the task, having just become a high school student. You do hear about authors debuting as teenagers or while still in high school and making a stir in the literary world, but I didn’t have that kind of literary talent (I won’t deny having written fiction, but I’m not so shameless that I would show my writing to other people), much less the aesthetic sense needed to become a critic. Besides author and critic, there’s also the job of editor, but that was even more out of the question for a mere high school student. Which left only one realistic option—working at a bookstore. That is, being a bookseller. It wouldn’t be too difficult for a high school student, and I would be surrounded by a not quite countless, but definitely overwhelming number of books, and just imagining how wonderful that would be made my heart race. As soon as I made my choice, I browsed through a job search magazine and headed to an interview. This might be self-conscious of me, but I felt bashful about working at the bookstore I usually frequented, and chose one farther away from my house, that for reasons of distance and geography I had rarely visited, but was nevertheless a national chain store with an irreproachable line-up. The interview was more like a casual conversation, and I was hired at my first job without much ado. It was very different from the interview when I applied to high school—they only asked me a few questions, like what my favorite authors were and what books I had read. But the last thing that my interviewer (and later coworker) said to me, that I wouldn’t last in this job if I didn’t like books, stuck in my mind. Authors, critics, and editors could all do their jobs even if they hate books, but not booksellers—apparently that was what he meant. At the time, I only vaguely saw his point, but it wasn’t until a week later that I understood it on a fundamental level. The gist of it is, when they say not to make a hobby your job, they don’t literally mean hobby. But at this point, it’s too late for me to be saying that.

My shifts at the bookstore were Monday to Friday, 5 to 8 PM. Three hours a day, five days a week. My hourly wages were 750 yen, which was 2,250 yen a day, 11,250 yen a week, and if you converted that to monthly wages (with 22 days worked in a month), it would be 49,500 yen a month. That might seem like too many hours for someone who didn’t particularly need a part-time job, but I treated it more or less like an afterschool club. There’s no point in writing out “A High School Girl’s Bookstore Chronicles”, so I won’t go into the details of my job. It’s nearly impossible for me to spin an amusing tale out of shrink-wrapping books one by one or lining up bookshelves until my wrists became sore. As I’ve said, I have no literary talent. And I really do mean none. Regardless of if I’m writing fiction or nonfiction.

So instead, I’ll tell you about a middle school girl that I met after having worked there long enough to establish trust in my abilities, and was trained on and stationed at the register. Like clockwork, she came in every day at 6:30, right in the middle of my three-hour shift, wearing a track suit as if she was on her way home from an actual afterschool club, and not just a metaphorical one like mine. I had often seen her even before working at the register. The breast of her jacket read “Class 1-3 Toyoyama Taato”, her name and class. You could call it the nature or karma of a booklover, but when I’m at the till, I can’t help but be interested in what books people buy—it’s just like when you’re on the train and wonder what book the person next to you is reading. The joy of seeing someone buy a book that you enjoy, the surprise of seeing someone buy a book that you wouldn’t expect—that’s the high point of working at the register. There’s nothing quite as thrilling as scanning the barcode of a volume of shoujo manga for an embarrassed high school boy. My first impression from working at the register was that everyone really does have a different experience with reading. Even now, that’s my favorite part about working at a bookstore. Once I began to recognize the tastes of the regular customers, it felt like I had taken my first step in becoming a bookseller. The middle school girl in the track suit, Toyoyama Taato, was one of those regulars.

To be honest, you couldn’t quite lump her together with the other regulars. In my opinion, at least, there was a clear divide between her and the rest of “the regulars”. But it was only after some time that I realized that. The first book that Taato bought—by which I mean the first book I saw her buy, or at least the first book she bought since I started working at the till, nothing as absurd as the first book she bought in her life—was a certain mystery novel. It was a famous, well-respected mystery novelist’s latest work in three years. I myself had bought it on release day. (Once I started working there, I bought most of my books at that bookstore because of the employee discount). As I’ve said, it makes me happy to see people buy books that I like—so I remember it clearly. It was the fifth in a series I had been following since my first year of middle school, featuring the beautiful detective’s brilliant deductions. I was moved that here was a middle school first-year reading the latest installment in a series I had started when I was in my first year of middle school. But not quite to the point that I felt the years going by.

Hardcover.

1300 yen.

1360 yen with tax.

That must put quite the dent into a middleschooler’s monetary resources. As I needlessly worried over her allowance, I put a cover on the book and handed it back to Taato. I remember that she happily hugged the book to her chest before leaving.

That was Monday.

The next day was Tuesday.

Taato came in at her usual time of 6:30. Thinking that she must have finished the book (it wasn’t especially thick, so that was plausible enough), I watched her go to the paperback corner, pick out a book, then walk straight to the register. It was the fourth book in the series. The fourth book of the beautiful detective’s brilliant deductions. Published three years ago as a hardcover, and recently re-released as a paperback.

I was baffled that she would read the fourth book in a series after the fifth. I had been assuming that she had bought the fifth and newest book having already read the first four books—but wait, could Taato have accidentally skipped the fourth book? It wasn’t as if the books had numbered titles, so it was entirely possible to skip over a book or two. Especially considering the limited information available to a middleschooler.

But that interpretation was all too naive—part of it must have been that I didn’t want to believe that someone would intentionally read a series so dear to me out of order. Over the course of the next three days, I learned that my optimistic interpretation of events was mistaken, or at the very least, off the mark.

She bought the third book on Wednesday.

She bought the second book on Thursday.

She bought the first book on Friday.

One book at a time, she bought the whole series.

This was something I only learned later, but Taato would only buy one book (or magazine) per day (and conversely, decided ahead of time which book she would buy that day), and as part of her almost pathological routine, she would only buy books on her way back from school, so ever since I started working the register, I had complete knowledge of which books she was buying and in what order—but my point is, all the way down to the last, or rather, first book, she bought the series in reverse order.

From book five to book one.

It wasn’t just a cultural shock, it was a Copernican revolution—I had never considered there would be people who read books in that manner. I didn’t even want to think about it, and even having witnessed it, I didn’t want to believe it. I tried to convince myself that she bought the series in the wrong order because of some misunderstanding. I couldn’t just sweep it under the rug as everyone having a completely different experience with reading.

Well, if that were the end of it, then it would have been fine. Not exactly fine, but I could have accepted it. While it was a series, each of the books was a self-contained mystery. You could read it in any order… I suppose. The idea that a series should be read in order was just a narrow-minded preconception born out of a fixation with continuity, or so I said to contain myself. I couldn’t manage to convince myself, but I could at least try to contain myself.

Until the next week.

Until Monday.

At 6:30, she came in the store, and brought the final volume of a certain shounen manga to the register. It was a four-volume cult hit that had concluded its serialization in a small shounen magazine a year ago. The author’s skill in weaving together elaborate yet carefully foreshadowed plot developments in an almost ludicrous setting was highly acclaimed—but only by those who read it in order. With a sense of doubt and then disbelief, I rung up Taato, put a cover on her book, and handed it to her (like always, she hugged the book tight to her chest as she left), and the next day, my feeling of dread crystallized into a dreadful reality.

Taato brought the third volume to the register.

By now, it should be obvious which volumes of what she took to the register on Wednesday and Thursday. She of course bought the four volumes of what would no doubt be remembered for years to come as a masterpiece in reverse order, from the final volume to the first.

It wasn’t a series, but a direct continuation.

Why would you read a single story out of order?

I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

I didn’t want to.

It was like I had encountered some kind of alien lifeform. I seriously considered asking the manager to change my shifts so I wouldn’t be at the register at 6:30, the time she came in. It might sound like I’m exaggerating, but that’s what I genuinely felt at the time. It’s just scary. To think that there would be someone out there reading books in a completely different way… Call me a purist if you like, but I couldn’t think of Taato as simply someone with “different experiences”.

Then it was Friday.

That was the nail in the coffin.

The finishing blow.

But it was still only the happenings at the cash register of a national chain bookstore, it was nothing dramatic—like usual, Taato only picked out a book from a bookshelf and brought it to the register, but like usual, the book she bought was the problem.

It was a mystery novel.

A mystery novel written by a different author from the series she bought last week, one who was fairly well-known but still new—specifically, the latter of two volumes of the novel.

Part one.

Of two.

If I were a detective out of a mystery novel, or the sort of person who could consider any and all possibilities, I could have entertained the entirely feasible, charitable interpretation that this time, she actually did have the first volume sitting on a bookshelf in her room.

But I couldn’t take it any longer.

I hit my limit.

That was my last straw.

After putting a cover on the book and giving it to her, I waited until she left the store to approach my coworker, who was stocking shelves. I told him that the customer who had just left forgot her change, so I would go return it.

That was, of course, an excuse.

Taato was very particular, and no matter which day of the week it was, she paid for her books with exact change, never off by even one yen. It was as if she had decided ahead of time what book to buy, calculated its price including tax, then had the exact amount ready in her wallet.

Luckily enough, my coworker didn’t seem to know about that peculiarity of hers, and with a sure, go ahead, he took over the register for me. I grabbed a handful of coins and chased after Taato with the store’s apron still on.

She stood out in her track suit.

So I found her in no time.

She was standing at a nearby crosswalk, waiting for the red walk sign to turn green. She was still holding the book she bought to her chest. It seemed almost precious to her—even though it was the last volume. If only it were the first volume, the sight would have warmed my heart.

I walked up behind her casually and quietly, and said “Excuse me.”

Taato turned around.

She looked at me and said “…Saply hawack ioh pibassazauh rabbima waraits ya ioh cuyre masaj kijaseooi gra masaj lewwpab menajjeramom kay coiky belremazaikef kay?”

Now that I thought about it, this must have been the first time I heard her speak—her gaze were always shyly downcast, and even at the register, she would put her book on the counter without saying a word, only nodding when I asked her if she wanted a cover for her book. Hearing her voice for the first time, I was simply baffled.

What’s she even saying?

“Saply hawack ioh pibassazauh rabbima waraits ya ioh cuyre masaj kijaseooi gra masaj lewwpab menajjeramom kay coiky belremazaikef kay?”

“…U-um—”

“Hm? Ah. At this point in Earth’s history, Lamplightian isn’t a lingua de franca yet, is it? That was my bad. Right, then, since this is the 21th century, will Japanese be alright?”

This time she droned on in a language I could understand—Japanese.

“Hello, Jibai Nakoto.”

I was startled because I hadn’t introduced myself yet, but then remembered the name tag pinned to my apron. It’s been two weeks now that she’s seen me behind the counter, so it wouldn’t be unusual for her to remember my name.

“Uh… Hello, Taato.”

“H—H-H-H—H-How do you know my name!?” she shrieked and drew back. …I’ve never seen someone stutter in shock before. Her reaction was so spectacular that if this were a book, it would be perfect for an insert illustration.

She had to be doing it on purpose.

What a weird character.

I pointed to the embroidery on her breast. Her book was covering part of it, but just like my name tag, it read “Class 1-3 Toyoyama Taato”.

“Well then.”

She puffed up her cheeks.

“That’s awful of you to sneak a look at someone’s name when they haven’t even introduced themselves. Are you trying to stick it in my face and lord over me? I don’t like you. You’re so mean. But never mind that. I might as well forgive you. How kind of me.”

I didn’t even know what to retort to.

She suddenly went from offended to forgiving to magnanimous.

“Humanity is so uncivilized in this era. I had better include this in my report. It’s no wonder that this country’s society will collapse in fifty years from this point in time.”

“…Um, Taato.”

I tried my best to ignore the whackjob nonsense coming out of her mouth and get back to the topic on hand. Or rather, I haven’t even brought up the topic. I had chased after her on an impulse, but was now overwhelmed by her unbelievable personality.

I had to do it.

I had to ask her.

To be honest—

I might have just been angry.

“You—”

“Did I forget my change? Thank you for taking the time to return it to me. That’s very diligent of you. I appreciate your kindness.”

Taato took a hand off of her book, and held it out to me. Returning her change was indeed my excuse for chasing after her, but it was nothing more than an excuse, and besides that, how did she know about it?

“I never thought that humans from an era without interstellar warp technology would be so considerate. Very well, I’ll have my change now. I believe it’s a billion yen.”

I must have come to the conclusion that she was mocking me, and that had shown on my face. Taato trembled, and retreated another step back. She had already backed off a fair distance, and was in danger of hitting a pole, but instead of worrying over such trivialities, she said, “Wh—Wh-Wh-What is it?”

“Could it be that you’re angry, Jibai Nakoto?”

“I’m…”

I must be.

“D-did I do something wrong? But no matter what I did, you shouldn’t glare at someone younger than you like that.”

One breath after mentioning Lamplightian and interstellar warps, she was saying something much more sensible. But really, she did have a point here. What am I doing, running out of the store after a middleschooler much younger than me? It isn’t as if she’s a shoplifter, the sworn enemy of bookstores. All she did was buy the last volume before the first—

“If you’re going to get mad at me, do it more like a tsundere.”

“…”

A tsundere…?

D-don’t get me wrong! I was only chasing you because I wanted to ask you a question! Geez, you’re hopeless! I’m definitely, definitely not mad at you, ok!

What, like that?

Is she stupid?

Am I?

“I don’t understand, but…I guess I did something wrong? I still don’t know…all I did was buy a book. But, well…ok, I’m sorry.”

“No, really, there’s nothing for you to apologize for…”

There shouldn’t be.

“Um…”

My body and head had finally cooled down, but by this point, it would be awkward to go back to the store, leaving her with a “never mind, it’s nothing.” I pointed at her chest again. This time, I wasn’t pointing at her jacket’s embroidery, but of course, at the book she was holding.

The last volume.

“Why did you buy the last volume first?”

“Huh?”

“I mean the last volume of that book.”

I tried to keep my voice level.

“You haven’t read the first volume yet… have you?”

“…Gosh.”

Now her cheeks turned red.

“You were paying attention to that? Do you keep track of everything your customers buy? I’ll have to be careful if I buy any porn mags.”

That last sentence sounded strange coming from a blushing middle school girl, but let’s not dwell on that. If I stopped to think about everything she said, I wouldn’t get anywhere.

“I do have to report to the publishers which books are bought and in what quantities,” giving her the corporate-approved response, before steering us back on track. “But it’s not exactly normal to buy the volumes of a book in the wrong order, is it?”

I couldn’t let her put me on the defensive.

“Is there some reason you did that? If so, would you please explain, Taato?”

“A reason…”

Taato looked puzzled.

“Do I really need a reason for something like that? …All I can say is that I wanted to buy the second volume first.”

“Taato. Before you bought that book, or even before then, you had an unusual way of buying books, didn’t you?”

I listed the titles of the four-volume manga that she had bought from volume four to one and the mystery series that she had bought from the latest to first installment.

“You have sharp eyes.”

She sounded briefly impressed, but that was it.

She had no other reaction.

“Why did you do that?” I asked, pressing the issue.

“There’s no real reason… That’s just how I buy my books…” replied Taato. “I think that as a customer, I should be free to buy my books in any order I like, and that as a reader, I should be free to read my books in any order I like.”

“That’s—”

Absolutely true.

But still.

“Don’t you think that’s disrespectful to the author?”

“Disrespectful? What do you mean?”

“What I mean is, well—-if you were the author, wouldn’t you want your books to be read in the order you wrote them?”

“I don’t get it.”

Taato shook her head dismissively.

“Who cares about the author?”

“…”

There are unpleasantly many people in all walks of life who try to win arguments by feigning ignorance and pretending to misunderstand what the other party is saying, but it seemed like at least in this case, Taato truly didn’t understand what I was saying.

Alright, let’s calm down.

She’s a middleschooler, younger than me.

I’m a highschooler, the older one here.

“Let’s talk about mystery novels, for example. You like mystery books, don’t you, Taato? You bought five of them in a week, after all.”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Can we agree that you shouldn’t read the solution to a mystery before reading the rest of the book?”

“…”

There was a tense silence.

But after a pause, Taato said, “Yeah, I agree.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. At least we had some common ground. Otherwise, there would be nowhere for our conversation to go.

“It’s almost as terrible as reading the afterword first.”

This was something I couldn’t quite agree with (I’m the kind of reader that reads the afterword first whenever possible), but I decided to concede that point for the sake of argument.

“It’s just like that,” I said.

“It’s only natural for authors to want their books to be read in order. The first book in a series, then the second, then the third. The first volume of a manga, then the second, then the third. The first volume of a novel, then the second. That’s the order that the author wants them to be read in.”

“Who cares about the author?”

Taato’s repeated question stung.

“This isn’t Japanese class, why do I have to think about what the author wants? That’s the trouble with you primitives. What difference does it make what someone’s feelings were when they wrote a book? All that matters is what kind of book they ended up with.” Taato continued, “The reason you shouldn’t read the conclusion or the afterword first is because books come in the basic unit of one volume.

“That’s the only reason why, because that’s the basic unit of a book. The author’s opinions don’t matter. I couldn’t care less what kind of person the author is.”

“Wait, but—don’t you get curious? If you read a good book, it’s only natural to wonder what the author is like. You can’t help but wonder how they ended up writing that kind of—”

“That’s as shallow as saying that mystery novelists spend their time thinking about how to murder people. Or like those people who dig up a serial killer’s written assignments for elementary school and pick them apart, thinking they’ve learned something. Only the final product matters, not who was responsible. You shouldn’t elevate the process over the end result. Even if you told me that every single book in the world was written by one person, I would believe it.”

“…”

Ah.

Hold on, we went off topic.

She did have a point, and the examples I chose were somewhat extreme. Now we were arguing about something else. You shouldn’t focus on the author to the extent that you lose sight of the work—that’s not something I need a middleschooler to lecture me about, it’s the basics of the basic for any reader.

Even so.

That’s no reason to read the last volume before the first.

When I told her that, she clicked her tongue with a loud “Tch.” So she was trying to deflect my line of offense by quibbling over a technicality. I had taken her for an airhead, but she’s craftier than I thought.

“To be honest, or well, to be blunt, you could say that it’s because I’m someone who reads the last volume before the first.”

“That isn’t much of an explanation… There are some mystery books that are also split into two volumes. You’re even holding one right now. Even with books like that, you would still read the last volume first?”

“Yeah.”

“But then you’ll read the conclusion first, won’t you?”

“Of course.”

“…Doesn’t that contradict what you said before?”

“No, it doesn’t,” Taato said. “I would just read it the wrong way.”

“…”

“Even though it’s wrong, I’d still do it. When I read the last volume first, I end up reading the afterword first. I would do something terrible. I know it’s wrong and terrible of me, but I would still do it. That’s all there is to it, Jibai Nakoto.”

She didn’t show an ounce of remorse.

“So what? I’m not bothering anyone.”

“…”

Here’s one of those youngsters who thinks she can do anything as long as it isn’t causing trouble now or bothering anyone. …Even as a fellow youngster, it’s more aggravating than I imagined.

“You really care that much about how other people buy their books? ….Hah.”

I was unsure of what else to say but couldn’t bear going back to the register without settling this, so I fell into silence, until Taato spoke and sighed emphatically as she gazed up at the sky.

She raised her hand up high, almost as if she was trying to get reception for her transmissions from outer space.

“Um…?”

“Hold on. Right now I’m taking the words I need to convince you and tuning them to this era’s common sense and accepted practices. If only you spoke Lamplightian, this would be so much easier, but since you can’t, I’ll just have to translate.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Mm. Tuning complete. Sorry for the wait, Jibai Nakoto.”

She lowered her hand and spoke.

“Books, you know, don’t get published all the time.”

“Huh…?”

What are you talking about?

Of course they do.

It’s booksellers like me that sell them.

“No, that’s not what I mean. There’s a gap between when one book and the next gets published. Once a book comes out you have to wait for the sequel to come out.”

“Well, that’s…”

True.

There is a gap between publications.

For the mystery book that was the first book she bought, it was a three-year wait.

“So my mom—she was hospitalized a while ago, by the way, and she’s a huge fan of this fantasy series.”

Hospitalized—past tense.

I suppose she’s been discharged.

“But the author—that existence that you always wonder about—was taking a very long time to release the next book and resolve the cliffhanger that the story was on. There were always rumors that the next book would come out in a month or so, but it never did.”

“Hm.”

It’s a common occurrence.

As authors becomes more popular, they release books less frequently. It’s a universal law that applies to all popular authors, regardless of writing speed, and booksellers call it the “laziness of popular authors.”

“And then,” continued Taato. “My mom died.”

“Huh?”

“She didn’t get to see how her favorite series ended.”

So that’s why she used past tense.

She had been hospitalized—

Eagerly awaiting the continuation of her favorite series.

“It’s really tragic, not being able to read the rest of your favorite series. When it’s on a cliffhanger or a high point, and you can’t wait to read what happens next, but then you can’t.”

“…It is tragic.”

“Well, I made up that stuff about my mom,” Taato said nonchalantly.

What, she was lying?

“That’s just an example of something that could happen. It’s an analogy to show you what I mean. That’s why I read starting from the latest release, whenever I can. So something like the manga I bought this week is my ideal. I want to read everything I can in reverse order, going from the last to first volume. The series I bought last week wasn’t complete yet, but the next book probably won’t come out soon, maybe not until I’m in high school, which means it might as well be complete, so that was a compromise.”

“So, what you’re saying is…you can’t help yourself from wondering what will happen next, which is why you only read completed series?”

If you worded it like that, I could just barely understand it.

I do have friends who read books in that way. It’s not exactly something I approve of, completely holding off on reading the series until the last volume is published, then reading the whole thing in one go. With that method, you miss out on long-running series and series with sporadic release schedules, so you would have to make an exception (or in Taato’s words, a compromise) for those cases. So it goes with only reading completed series—but even those people wouldn’t read the series in reverse order. That defeats the whole point of waiting for the last volume.

Hold on.

What is the point of reading a series in reverse order?

“If it’s because you can’t help but wonder what will happen next…but then, that would mean—”

“Wondering what will happen next is only half of it.”

“Half?”

“Th…That’s the first time I’ve seen you smile.”

“…”

There she goes randomly dropping a great line.

I wasn’t even smiling.

“Heh.”

And then Taato smiled.

“Another analogy…has this ever happened to you, Jibai Nakoto? You buy the first book in a series, go home, finish it, and really like it—so you spend the night dying to find out will happen next?”

“I—”

Wondering what will happen next.

Dying to find out what will happen next.

But that must be an extremely common experience, something that every reader has gone through. That’s not even an analogy. You want to drop everything and run barefoot to the bookstore to buy the sequel, but it’s the middle of the night and the bookstore doesn’t open until ten in the morning. That experience, that ordeal, that agony is something you grow as reader by overcoming.

What about it?

“And the day after you spend the night dying to find out what will happen next, you buy the sequel, but it’s not very good—has that ever happened to you?”

“There’s—”

No way.

That it hasn’t happened to me.

Some books you read are good and some are bad. That’s something that everyone has definitely gone through, an even more common experience. There are books that bored me but interested many other people, and books that everyone else disliked but I enjoyed. That’s how it goes. Taste in books being as varied as it is, there’s no escaping that. At the same time, it’s also a ray of hope.

For any reader.

“That night of agony turns out to be all in vain. What do you think about that? About being disappointed?”

“Nothing in particular—isn’t it inevitable? Sometimes you’re disappointed and sometimes you’re let down, that’s what happens—you don’t know what’s in a book until you read it, and just like that story about your mom, you can’t help but wonder what happens next, so—”

“Which is why, so that you don’t have to wonder about that, you read starting from the end.”

“Ohh.”

If you start reading from a book with no sequel, if you start reading from the end towards the beginning—like you’re looking back in time—then you won’t wonder about what happens next. And if you already know what will happen next, you won’t be disappointed. With no “next” to be worried about, that’s only natural. If you read starting from the first volume, you’ll worry about the next volume, but if you read the final volume first, there’s nothing after that—I suppose. Is that really the case, though? Couldn’t the opposite happen instead? What if you read the last volume and enjoy it, then get curious about the first volume, but it turns out to be boring…there are plenty of series with a mediocre beginning that dramatically improve in the following volumes.

How would you deal with those cases?

“The future and past have completely different connotations, right? It might be hard for someone from this era to understand… but the last volume is to the “future” as the first volume is to the “present”. “Wondering about the future” is completely different from “wondering about the past”, and so are “a dull future” and “a dull past”. The past will never become the present, but once you know what the future is, it becomes the present.

“When you’re dating someone, would you pry into their past? Or would you dream about your future together?”

Out of the blue, Taato made a crass metaphor.

At the same time, it made her sound like an actual middle school girl.

“As long as the present is good, that’s enough for me. That’s why I read starting from the latest release, the last book, and the final volume. If I like it, then I’ll look into the past. Like I’m diving back in time. That’s all.”

“…”

“I read the conclusion first and the afterword first—no matter how wrong or terrible it is, that’s what I want. All I want is to read the best part first.”

“But then…you won’t be able to watch how an author matures from their debut… If you fixate on the results, on the outcome, you’ll overlook—”

“I’m not the author’s mom, why should I care about how the author matures? Pros only have their final product to show, so I’m not fixating on the results, just giving it the attention it deserves—it’s not something you should look away from. I’m not going to judge an author based on their writing process. It’s the absolute worst when you can see the author’s effort.”

“Still—I don’t mean to contradict myself, but if you read the last volume first and it turns out the first volume is better, won’t you regret it? There are some series where the beginning is good, but by the end it fizzles out or jumps the shark—”

“I won’t regret it. I’d be glad. You’re right, the latest book in a series isn’t necessarily the best, but if you read starting there, then that doesn’t matter. It’s the difference between the present, the past, and the future. Reading might mean something different to you, Jibai Nakoto, but that’s what reading is to me.”

Everyone has a completely different experience with reading.

I suppose that’s what it boils down to in the end. My conversation with Taato gave me something of an explanation. I knew what she was thinking, what she was saying… what she wanted, and what she did.

But it wasn’t something I could do.

It was impossible for me.

Or should I have told her?

Should I have said that at the start?

Not that she was wrong, but that she was strange.

“I’ll be going now,” Taato said. “I want to get home as soon as I can and read this book—can I? The signal’s changed between green and red so many times. It must be waiting for me to cross.”

“Go ahead…” I said. “I’m terribly sorry for keeping you.”

“Don’t worry about it. …Oh, that’s right, since all I’ve been doing is telling you about my opinions, I’ll say something for you. Something personal to you, Jibai Nakoto, who always wants to know about the author. Speaking of being disappointed, why don’t you think about what it’s like to have people expect things from you that you don’t deserve?

“…”

“Luhamay papmi hew.”

After saying something that must mean “goodbye” or “farewell” in Lamplightian, Taato, Toyoyama Taato, crossed the street. It wasn’t long before that tracksuited middle schooler vanished from sight.

Today was Friday.

Next Monday—

She might come to buy the first volume.

But not if she didn’t like the last volume.

In that case she would buy a different book.

Either way, that’s the end of my account of the eccentric girl I met. I hope I conveyed even a fraction of the discomfort, of the disconcertion that I experienced. Still, ending my story without a good closing line would leave a bad aftertaste. Even with my lack of writing ability, that doesn’t sit well with me (but neither could I let her final line in Lamplightian become the closing line), so to sketch out a bit of what happened after Taato left, I was at a loss for what to do but didn’t want to linger there, so I returned to the bookstore. I shouldn’t leave my coworker to cover my register forever. He asked if I managed to return her change, and I told him that I had misunderstood something. It would be trouble if I tried to maintain my excuse and the till wasn’t balanced at the end of the day.

When we passed by each other behind the counter, he commented about how Taato didn’t come in on weekends. After I agreed, he chuckled, saying that he wished he didn’t either.

I knew exactly what he was referring to.

This Saturday was the release date for the final book of a long-running national-bestseller of a series. A shipment of so many cardboard boxes that it would be difficult to believe they were all filled with the same book was scheduled to arrive tomorrow. My coworker was responsible for stocking and displaying all of them. It was the kind of hard labor that would be unbearable if you didn’t love books.

It was the final book of the series.

That made me think.

I had no intention of reading the final book first, and besides, I had already read all the previous works in the series, but even so, that made me think.

I remembered something.

It was what Taato said.

To imagine what it’s like to have people expect things of you—that was a legitimate point. It might be my privilege as a reader to raise my hopes, feel let down, and come to acceptance all at my own convenience. It might be selfish of me. Of course, authors go into the business fully aware that this baggage comes with it, and naturally they profit from having high expectations placed upon them, but I wonder if they feel relieved when they publish something with no continuation, that is, the last book in a series, and are freed from the readers’ expectations.

As I was thinking that, my coworker said something.

That he was excited.

What would that author come out with next?

Translation Notes

At Japanese bookstores, you can ask for them to put paper covers on the books you buy.
Books in Japan are relatively small, so longer books often get published as multiple volumes.
The gender of Nakoto’s coworker (or coworkers?) isn’t specified, but I went with male.

Hitokui Magical Excerpt

Here’s a passage from Hitokui Magical, the sixth book in Nisio Isin’s Zaregoto Series. I don’t plan to translate the whole book. This is towards the end of the book, so there are spoilers for the book and series (in this summary as well).

The story up until now: Our protagonist, a college student, gets offered a well-paying summer job. He isn’t particularly interested, but signs up after he hears about his neighbor Asano Miiko’s money troubles. As part of the job, he and his neighbor Yukariki Ichihime spend the night at Associate Professor Kigamine Gaku’s remote lab. After waking up, he finds that everybody else at the lab had been murdered. Bewildered by the sudden turn of events, he goes to his long-time friend Kunagisa Tomo for help, then decides to abandon everything else and live with her. But before then, he has a few things to pick up from his apartment…

Continue reading

Urobuchi Gen Thunderbolt Fantasy Interview

DpJehp9VsAA_Til.jpg

Published in Febri Vol. 38 in November 2016. Interviewer: Maeda Kyuu[?]
Urobuchi Gen talks about the process of making Thunderbolt Fantasy and its characters and themes. Contains spoilers for Thunderbolt Fantasy.

Congratulations on getting a season two for Thunderbolt Fantasy: Touri Ken Yuuki!
Thank you. It was only decided right before the episodes finished airing, so it might take some time before it’s available.

I’m also curious about the second season, but before that I’d like to talk about the first season. What’s it like working on it?
It’s rare to have a production that’s this blessed, I’m pleasantly surprised at how nice it is in many ways.

In many ways?
First, I never thought I would be so welcomed in Taiwan. I’m surprised at the atmosphere at the studio, at how high the morale is. The president of Pili was really glad, he even gave out puppets of Su Huan Zhen [main character in Pili’s show], Tan Hi, and Shou Fukan. It’s such an honor. I also thought that the preexisting puppet fans would treat this as a gimmick, but they really welcomed it. …Seeing how happy everyone in Taiwan is makes me feel like it was really worth it.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Su Huan Zhen(素還真)

I hear it’s very popular in Asia.
This traditional puppet theater is originally from southern China, and I thought it would be more widespread in China, but that’s actually not the case. It was novel there and because of that it has a lot of views on Bilibili (Chinese video site. It officially hosts many anime.)

This production started out as a way to introduce puppet theater to Japan, but we were considering a bigger market from the start, too. We also introduced Thunderbolt Fantasy at American conventions. We were really surprised by how much interest there was in North America. Puppets are an art form in Europe, but puppet animation is mainly for children in North America, so we thought there was no foundation for people to be interested in puppets.

And so looking back, getting so much attention was a happy miscalculation.

How’s the reception in Japan?
From talking to people and what I hear second-hand, people really like it, so I’m glad. Since I’d like to develop it further, things are going well.

It’s been a long time since I’ve watched something that made me so excited for what will happen next week. I’m saying that anime is bad, but I’ve gotten used to seeing it. This is somewhat of a luxurious complaint, but…
I think it would be fresh. Anime is a medium with symbols and abbreviations, but live-action puppets have much more visual information. Still, puppet theater is somewhat more 2D than tokusatsu [live-action shows with heavy special effects] like Kamen Raider and GARO where there are actors. If we say that theater is 2.5D, then puppet theater is about 2.25D, haha. But it has its own strengths like detail, texture, amount of information, and intense motion. So I don’t think you can compare it to any other kind of art form.

The story is also very compelling. The first half, where the main character gathers companions is also good, but the second half where you don’t know who’s betraying or deceiving who is amazing.
I had to rewrite those developments a few times, haha. Up until now, I’ve been given a plan to start writing from, so I would know who the audience was. But this time I’m trying to pull in an audience from the start, so I’m writing for an audience who hasn’t seen it before, and because of that I’ve been able to do as I please. I’ve never worked so freely on a project. I don’t think I’ve been this central to the planning of a project since working on bishoujo computer games with Nitroplus.

It does feel like the plot developments are dense for an Urobuchi work. For example, Shu Unshou [the archer] would normally just be a cool side character. But he’s actually underhanded…
I think he has a cool kind of underhandedness, haha. He has a kind of pragmatism that’s a part of my own professional mindset. But later I thought that being that much of a pragmatist looks much more underhanded in a fantasy setting compared to a realistic setting. And he’s also the biggest tsundere, haha. He’s only nice to his friends.

I see. Another thing that stood out was how vivid the deaths were. I hope this doesn’t give the wrong impression, but Setsu Mushou’s death was splendid.
This is wuxia [Chinese heroic fantasy] after all. Getting sliced up and killed is the whole basis of samurai movies, and I wanted to treasure that tension. I want to keep watching of Pili’s shows, and I don’t want to write a story with less impact then theirs. Their characters have a very low survival rate.

Is that so?
So I gave myself the restriction of making a gateway to wuxia and puppet theater. But on the other hand Pili’s setting matches my tastes, so in that way I’ve been able to do what I want.

Towards the ending, it seems like the focus is on what swords are to people.
The story is all about swords. Even the final final boss, Youjarei, is part of a story about swords, haha.

Swords are for killing people and your relationship to them also dictates how you live. What do you think about to write characters like that?
I think my thoughts about swordsmanship came through directly. Because swords are tools that affect life and death, I think confronting them will naturally give someone’s life philosophical meaning. It might just be because I live in a country that’s filled with temples. I really want to dig down into the mentality of someone who always carries a tool for killing people.

And besides that, swords are more direct way to kill people than guns. I wonder what it feels like to have to carry a sword everywhere. I think that’s what draws people here towards period dramas. They’re more emotionally attached to them than Americans are for Westerns. I think Japanese period dramas and wuxia both have the appeal of letting you imagine that kind of mentality. They’re at least closer to each other than to Westerns.

Guns are a cruder way to kill people. There’s no martial arts for guns.
It’s a superficial similarity.

Which of the characters have a view about swords that’s closest to yours or to your ideal?
That’s hard to say. They’re fictional characters, and I’ve never had to resolve myself to kill someone. But with that disclaimer, I think that Shou Fukan has the most optimistic outlook. He thinks that swords are just tools. It’s completely up to the people wielding them, and I think that’s a universal kind of heroism.

Honing your skills, but not being confined by them.
That’s right. You shouldn’t be too afraid.

So what do you think about Rin Setsua?
He has a twisted way of life. In a way, he’s living in despair. He polished his swordsmanship, only to find that it wasn’t enjoyable at all. I think that’s when he became twisted.

Do you feel that emotion as a kind of pride?
No, Rin Setsua is completely mysterious. He’s not supposed to be relatable to the audience, haha. He has an extreme way of thinking, so he has the same role as robots, cyborgs, and aliens do in science fiction. His value system is incompatible with normal people. But this is fantasy, so you can have characters like that.

But even Rin Setsua has to protect the world for normal people so that he can keep having fun. On the other hand, when Betsu Tengai, who in a way is an honest person, follows his ideals to their conclusion, he decides to “let the world go to ruin.”
That’s how an overpowered cheat character like Rin Setsua is completely defeated.

Is that what you wanted to show?
Yes. The strongest and most self-indulgent character letting victory itself slip through his fingers. That’s what happens when your idea of victory is too vague. Actually, that development was very polarizing at the script meeting, haha… The people who liked it really liked it, but the people who didn’t just shook their heads. Rin Setsua is a strange character after all. But thanks to the puppet’s acting and Toriumi Kousuke’s voice acting, it came out really well.  At the meeting, even I wasn’t sure what kind of scene it would be. I really have to thank all of the staff. I’m so moved with everything about the show, the quality was so much better than what I had imagined.

Do you have a favorite scene?
I can’t rank them, but having said that, if I had to choose, Rin Setsua vs. Betsu Tengai was too amazing. It had amazing quality. We asked for them to put slightly more effort into the first and last episodes, but it was still a few times better than what I expected.

In the last episode, besides their battle, Shou Fukan finally gets serious and even pulls out a black hole…
That was because Pili’s puppet theater also has aliens and vampires, so I wanted to show that these things were out there. It’s not just about sword fights, there are science fiction elements too.

To get back on topic, after watching the final episode, Rin Setsua seems even more mysterious. It feels like we’ve only seen the tip of the glacier by the end of the story. I’m quite curious how you came up with a character like that.
I’d like to show a bit of that in the next season.

So you want to explore that in the next season?
I do. Each of the characters must have come to a resolution in their own way. I want to portray that. And for Rin Setsua there’s also the question of “just how old is this guy?”

I really want to know, haha.
Despite how he looks, he’s old enough to say “when I was young”. Swordsmen in wuxia are almost like immortals, their appearances don’t tell you much about them. You can’t say how old someone is by looking at them.

I wonder where he got all of his gadgets.
His pipe is like a magical girl’s stick. It can transform into different things, shoot flames, and pick locks.

What about that cloth that made Shou Fukan’s face look like Rin Setsua’s? Did Renki [his old master] make that?
Rin Setsua learned how to make them from Renki, and made a few himself.

So he made that himself. He really is a jack of all trades…
He’s a thief who’s good with his hands, and can do anything. To be honest, when I play Skyrim or Oblivion, I usually make characters like that. First they gain a lot of levels in Sneak, and then they gain a lot of levels in magical tools, haha.

So he’s based on your video game playstyle!
That’s usually how I play open world games, haha.

What about the other main character, Shou Fukan? It’s revealed in the second half that he came from the west after finishing some work there. Have you decided what happened there?
Yes, vaguely.

Does he have a family?
He’s probably lost his family. He acts nonchalantly, after all. But he should have friends.

Friends that he left behind in the west?
Yes. Because of what he’s been shouldering, there are friends that he had to leave behind.

I really am curious! After all, he has 36 magical swords, so he must be shouldering a lot…
When I was writing the script, it was 108 swords. But then just how many did he get in a year? What kind of adventures did he have? I realized that at the last minute. I didn’t want him to be that superhuman, so I changed it.

But that’s still quite the pace even with 36 swords. It would take three years at one sword a month, haha. On that note, I’d like to hear where season 2 is at this point.
I’m really enthusiastic about it and I do have some ideas, so I want to start working on it as soon as I finish my other jobs… I wonder how it’ll go. I don’t want to leave people waiting too long. But I’m definitely not a fast writer, so that’s a struggle. One thing I can talk about now that isn’t related to the story is that next time I want to use the character modeled after Nishikawa Takanori.

He’ll appear as a character, and not just sing the opening song?
That’s right. I want to have him in the key visual too. And while I’m at it, I want to have him as a fairly main character, and not just a minor character. I want to make him a recurring main character.

Will Shou Fukan and Rin Setsua reappear as a duo?
I hope so.

They’re a good duo.
Well, they really don’t get along, haha. It feels like a long time since I’ve written two buddies who get along that badly.

But on the other hand that gives them good chemistry, haha. I also liked the buddies you wrote in Kin no Hitomi to Tetsu no Ken [2011 light novel], but do you like writing buddies?
I like having conversations between them. Then you can have their value systems clash, too. It’s one of the standards for a story.

Finally, do you have a message for the fans?
We started this project as a first step, or rather a foothold, to spread this new culture to wider groups of people, so please don’t let this satisfy you. Please voice your demands to Nitroplus, Pili, and Good Smile Company. That’s what gets production companies moving. Our ambitions are only partway there, this is still just the first step. We talked about translating Pili’s puppet theater into Japanese, but Pili is still reluctant. Basically, the barriers to translation are too high. They said “We want to wait until wuxia is more popular”, so there’s still a long way to go. They want more people to be immersed in puppet theater and jianghu [a martial arts underworld] in wuxia. So please tell your friends, so that the whole genre will be more popular. Thank you!

Nisio Isin and Araki Hirohiko Interview (2006)

Nisio Isin and Araki Hirohiko talk about Jojo, shounen manga, inspiration, and writing vs. drawing. Published in Nisio Isin Chronicle, a mook about Nisio Isin’s books. Contains some Jojo spoilers.

Nisio Isin: Author of Monogatari Series, Katanagatari, etc. At the time, he just concluded his Zaregoto Series. The first few arcs of Bakemonogatari have been published in a magazine, but not yet as a separate book.

Araki Hirohiko: Author of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures. At the time, he’s in the middle of Part 7, Steel Ball Run.

Interviewer: MYST

Points in common between Araki’s and Nisio’s works

Interviewer: So apparently, Araki-sensei made his debut in the same year that Nisio-san was born.

Nisio: I was born in 1981.

Araki: I made my debut in the 1981 New Year’s issue [of Weekly Shounen Jump].

Nisio: It feels like fate…if you can call it that, haha.

Araki: That’s amazing. At 24, you’ve already written so much in 4 or 5 years.

Nisio: I’m not sure how long I can keep writing, but for now I’ll keep writing as much as I can. I’m on my 15th book now.

Interviewer: Araki-sensei, did everything go smoothly after you debuted?

Araki: Not at all, it feels like I only started polishing my skills after I debuted. They let me debut before I had any style or originality as a manga artist. I had to learn a lot then, and it wasn’t until Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures that I really got started.

Nisio: I also loved your manga before Jojo, like Mahou Shounen Biitii, Gorgeous Irene, and Baoo Raihousha. Your manga all feel like my roots, there’s so much I’ve learned from them.

Araki: Oh yes, your novels do seem to have some points in common. I’ve started reading from Kubikiri Cycle [first book of Zaregoto Series] and haven’t read your latest books, but your characters all seem modern. It might also because a lot of them are geniuses, but they all think they’re superior and don’t respect others. It was interesting how the main character tries to confront those geniuses despite feeling inferior.

Their dialogue sounds like advertising slogans. I like that. Like those lines at the beginning of each chapter. The main character keeps banging out lines like that. That was very fresh and interesting.

Nisio: Thank you. My hands are trembling. I’m so happy that you’ve read my books.

I think Jojo is a wonderful manga, and I wish I could have all of humanity read it. It’s so good that it makes me want to recommend it to other people…somehow it feels like I have to go out of my way to say how much I like it.

Making characters seem powerful using powerful lines

Nisio: Earlier you said that I write lines like advertising slogans, but I think that’s partly because of your influence. It’s more than a verbal tic, it’s a single line that encapsulates a character. A line that only that character could say…

Araki: I try to include a character’s personal philosophy in what they say. Their unique way of thinking.

Nisio: That might why you’re different. Even in another story, no one else could say those lines. Even if somebody else used your lines, they wouldn’t become famous quotes. “Road roller!” only leaves an impact because it’s Dio who says it.

 

Araki: You have some great ones, too. “There’s always someone better, but at the top they’re all below you.” and a lot of others. Those are really good. They make you think. I think everyone likes those. They make you stop and think ‘that’s true’.

Interviewer: They’re cool and hook you in, and they’re convincing.

Araki: Lines like that make characters seem more powerful. It makes you wonder what would happen if that character was the culprit. It’s hard to stop reading.

Nisio: Jojo had a big influence on that. The enemy characters in Jojo all have depth.

Araki: Yes, I was going for that.

Nisio: There are no throwaway characters. Especially after Stands come into the story, there are Stands that seems weak but can be strong depending on how they’re used. Like (Stand: Bad Company. Only 10 cm tall, but 500 in number!) might just be the strongest.

B6

Bad Company

Araki: That’s right, haha. Well for manga in the eighties, the enemies always keep getting stronger and stronger. But there has to be a limit somewhere, and it gets tremendously exhausting.

Nisio: Like when they go ‘the one you just defeated was the weakest of us.’

Araki: To break through that, I tried to have characters that are strong from an alternate point of view, or who are only strong in a single aspect.

Nisio: So like ‘There’s no such thing as strong or weak.’

Araki: It’s so exhausting to write manga where the enemies keep getting stronger and stronger. It’s like, “they’re already this strong, and they’re still getting stronger!?” and every week you worry about what you’re going to do. And then you get to the height of the bubble and it’s like, what now? It’s a very scary writing method. It’s fine if you do it once. When the strongest enemy gets introduced, you’ll get so popular that the publisher tells you not to stop. But as a writer, you can’t go any further.

Nisio: I wonder who started this inflation of power. It must have been a really crazy idea at first… Whoever it was, using this technique is like reaching a dead end or slash-and-burn farming. I think Jojo was a revolution in that area.

Araki: It was more like an escape route than a revolution, haha. But I think that’s how people work.

It’s like how someone with a strong punch isn’t necessarily strong.

Nisio: Someone you could beat depending on your strategy, I guess.

Interviewer: If you’re fighting Bush and he has nuclear missiles, you still might beat him with a bat. For example, Hara Tetsuo wrote Fist of the North Star so that whoever says the most powerful lines wins.

Nisio: That makes sense.

Araki: That seems like something you’d be familiar with.

Nisio: Novels are only words, after all. The main thing is dialogue. So characters that say powerful lines do become stronger.

Araki: I’ve also noticed something unique about your characters. They’re mentally strong somehow. They’re complete geniuses, but also lacking things or searching for things. That’s something refreshing, and it makes the story’s world interesting.

Nisio: Thank you. I have no words. Speaking of characters, I like Part 4 of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures because it has so many unique characters. I like Tonio the most, but it’s such an all-star cast.

Araki: Thank you. I hear that the writer Otsuichi-san [mystery/horror writer] also likes Part 4 the most. I wonder if it’s a generational thing.

The appeal of Jojo and its impact Nisio Isin as a grade schooler

Nisio: When I read your manga for the first time, it was when Ebony Devil, that doll from Part 3, slices off a hotel worker’s face with a razor. I remember it being really scary.

x14

Ebony Devil

Araki: That must have been tough to read as a kid.

Nisio: Of course, I didn’t understand what Stands were, and that made it even scarier. I was creeped out by this weird armored warrior, but thought Jotaro was really cool. I didn’t understand the logic or style of it so it was completely mysterious, but I could tell that it was in a different vein from the other manga being published at the time.

Even now, Jojo hasn’t fallen behind to imitators. Nowadays Shounen Jump has more manga with Stand-like abilities, but Jojo still sets itself apart. It’s not that it’s the original, but there’s something clearly different about it.

Why Nisio Isin became a writer

Araki: What made you decide to be a writer? How did you get started writing?

Nisio: To be honest, I originally wanted to be a manga artist. But I quickly realized that I couldn’t draw. No matter how I practiced, I wouldn’t get better. Then thought that since writing gets printed, it doesn’t matter if my handwriting is bad or anything. So in a way, I’m writing the novelization of a manga that’s in my head.

Araki: So you might get your novels adapted into manga?

Nisio: That’s true. There are many scenes in my head that I have an image of. Like someone standing in front of the sound effect “ゴゴゴゴゴ.” I think Kadono Kouhei-sensei said something similar. [author, mainly known for Boogiepop series]

Araki: So you start with an image and replace it with words. The desire to write feels like something that comes welling out, but I wonder how that works.

Nisio: When you read something good, it makes you want to try it. Of course, reading your manga gives me motivation. It’s something like that.

Araki: Like ‘I could make something a little better’.

Nisio: When you see something wonderful, you can’t help but want to try doing it.

Araki: That’s true. Drawing is like that for me, like when I see a drawing that makes me wonder how it was drawn. It’s like a riddle I want to solve.

For example, there are manga artists who can draw lines in unbelievable directions. Normally you go from top to bottom or right to left, but they’re clearly doing it differently. Like Hara Tetsuo. I don’t know how he draws those lines, if he does them upside down or what.

For painting too, I wonder about things like how someone made a color. It fires me up somehow.

北斗の拳16_068

Hara Tetsuo’s linework

Interviewer: Did you solve Hara’s riddle?

Araki: Not quite. I tried to draw beautiful smooth lines like him, but it wasn’t the same.

Nisio: I’ve thought something similar when reading your manga. When I read Janken Kozou for example, I was surprised at how you could portray Rock Paper Scissors. I thought that I couldn’t casually play Rock Paper Scissors anymore. To me, you’re not just a manga artist, you’re an artist.

Araki: I can’t really see that, haha. I’ve always felt lacking as a person somehow, and I want to become a full person. I’m not sure exactly what a full person is, but I’ve always wanted to become one since I was young.

Interviewer: Nisio-san, when you finished your Zaregoto Series after 9 volumes, you’ve said that “after finishing this piece of work, I’m not a rookie anymore.” Araki-sensei, with which manga did you feel like you’ve finished a job?

Araki: I don’t think there is one. My publisher keeps telling me I should write something new besides Jojo, but it feels weird to start something new before finishing Jojo. So I might keep writing it.

Nisio: For your entire life?

Araki: I don’t know.

Nisio: As long as there are Jojo stories, at least.

Araki: That’s true. But I’m writing about human relationships, so it never ends. Until humanity dies out.

Interviewer: How about when you stopped feeling like a rookie?

Araki: That would have to be when new manga artists come out. Before I knew it, the only one who’s been in Jump longer was Akimoto Osamu [author of Kochikame, the longest-running series in Weekly Shonen Jump, running 1976-2016], and I thought, “Huh, there’s only Akimoto-sensei?”, so I definitely couldn’t think of myself as a rookie anymore.

Interviewer: That’s quite some time since you debuted. [8 years?]

Araki: Yeah. I was trying to write with a youthful feeling. But then at like parties, when I looked around everyone was younger than me, and I went “Wha-?”. They would say “we can’t get started until you drink”, and I thought “Oh, this is bad”. Nisio-san, a time like that will come for you, too. It’s a lonely feeling. It really is nice to have some elders around.

Defeating enemies without inflating power levels

Nisio: Before, I said that Part 4 was my favorite, but sometimes it’s Part 1 or Part 2…

Interviewer: You like all of them, haha.

Nisio: I like how the enemies were defeated in Part 1 and Part 2, before Stands were introduced. They were mental, tactical battles, and it might just be because I like mystery books, but I love those kind of strategical tricks. Even after Stands came into the story, the mental battles were the most captivating.

Araki: Ah, yes. In shounen manga, there’s this pattern of beating enemies using willpower. I couldn’t accept it. I thought, “Are you really going to use willpower here?”. There is that amazing strength people that have during fires. That makes sense, but I still couldn’t accept it. Like, “If you’re going to do it with willpower, show it in your attitude.” I wanted some kind of logic behind it.

A long time ago, Shirato Sanpei-sensei used to write ninja manga (such as Sasuke, Ninja Bugeichou, and Kamui Gaiden), and they don’t defeat enemies with ninjutsu or magic in those. They used these kind of tricks, things with logic behind them. Like digging a hole in the ground and setting off gunpowder. It made me go “wow”. That influenced me.

x1

Kamui Den by Shirato Sanpei

Nisio: Like this thing you have to explain.

Araki: It won’t seem interesting unless there’s some kind of reason.

Nisio: In Part 2, did you just come up with the idea for the battle with Wamuu to be on chariots?

x2

Araki: No, I think I was inspired. In shounen manga, I like when the battles are one-on-one in some kind of arena. This arena could be a narrow clifftop, or one where you lose if you leave the arena, and it’s fun to make a lot of rules. I think that’s where the idea for that chariot battle came from. Having some restrictions, so it’s not everything goes.

Nisio: In Jojo, the fights are one-on-one, or at most two-on-two, aren’t they?

Araki: That’s true. If there’s too many people, it’ll become like one of those old war manga. That seems tiring to just to write, so two-on-two is the most for me.

Backgrounds in manga vs. having to describe in novels

Interviewer: As a writer, is there anything you’re jealous about Araki-sensei for?

Nisio: I’m very jealous that unlike novels, you can draw backgrounds in manga. It’s hard to portray backgrounds in novels.

Araki: But even if you don’t write anything, the reader can imagine something.

Nisio: Drawings have incredible persuasive power. There are things that you can draw, but when you write about it, it turns into an explanation.

And then, you go “oh, I wrote an explanation” and feel intense regret… It won’t be a slogan anymore. I have this obsession that once I write an explanation, it’s all over, and it’s hard to deal with. So when I have insert illustrations in my books, it makes me feel that I can’t match the strengths of visual information.

Araki: I once read a story about a beautiful picture. There wasn’t any description about the picture. But the readers can imagine something. If you wrote a manga with that story, you would have to draw the picture. Even if it was Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, it would just be a copy. It’s something that gets ruined if you draw it. But if you don’t describe the picture like that story did, if you just say it’s amazing, then the reader will believe it.

Nisio: Purposefully not writing something.

Araki: I think it’s better if you don’t write about it.

Nisio: I’ve used a technique of writing something that’s impossible to visualize a few times. I think that’s the only way to explain something that isn’t there… You can write about things that you can’t even draw.

Oh yeah, I’ve used that technique in Shin Honkaku Mahou Shoujo Risuka, which is illustrated by Nishimura Kinu-sensei. I wrote about a ‘jacket like a safety pin.’ It was supposed to be clothing from a fantasy world, and then Nishimura-sensei ended up drawing it. I thought ‘oh, it got drawn.’

risuka

Shin Honkaku Mahou Shoujo Risuka

Araki: That’s impressive. I’ve also drawn a few insert illustrations. There was a character who has an arm injury throughout the book. So I drew an injured arm, but then at the end it said that the injury was on the left arm, and I had drawn it on the right arm. I thought, “do I have to redo the whole thing?”

You really have to read carefully. Insert illustrations are hard to draw, too. That’s why it’s impressive. Figuring out what a jacket that’s looks like a safety pin is like…

Nisio: When I know that there will be insert illustrations, I try to make it easier for my illustrators to draw them.

Araki: The illustrations for Zaregoto Series have an atmosphere to them too.

Nisio: Take-san is the one drawing them. I remember at first, when I was talking to my editor, I asked for them to be ‘Jojo-ish’, haha. That was supposed to be about the level of realism or reality in the illustrations…and then they came out like this.

Araki: It’s nice to see that the Jojo-ish part came through. When you line up the 9 volumes like this, you can really see an improvement in skill. I like these pop-style backgrounds, too.

 

Which writer is the biggest Jojo fan?

Araki: Nisio-san, which authors do you like?

Nisio: I’d have to say Kadano Kouhei-sensei. He’s famous for being a Jojo fan. He’s the biggest Jojo fan among writers.

Nisio’s editor: Just a while ago, when I told him that you were going to see Araki-sensei, he went silent for a few seconds and coldly said, “Oh, is that it so”, haha.

Nisio: A long time ago, when I read an interview between you and Otsuichi-sensei in Yomu Jump [magazine associated with Weekly Shounen Jump], I was so jealous that he got to meet you.

Araki: Otsuichi-san was writing for Shueisha [company publishing Jump], after all.

Interviewer: Nisio-san, if you were going to write a novelization of Jojo, what would it be like?

Nisio: I would write about Part 2, or maybe Part 1. Where the enemies are vampires and ultimate lifeforms.

Araki: Not violence.

Nisio: I would choose not to use Stands. That way there wouldn’t be anything in common with Otsuichi-sensei is doing. [Otsuichi’s Jojo novelization is set in Part 4]

Araki: You don’t want to do the same thing as him?

Nisio: I really don’t to do the same thing as anyone else. If I did, it would turn into a contest with Otsuichi-sensei. What if I lose? If winning makes you the bigger Jojo fan that’d be terrible.

Interviewer: You can’t stand losing, not as an author, but as a fan?

Nisio: They might say “you call yourself a Jojo fan, but that’s all you can write?” or “you don’t love Jojo enough”, and make fun of me, haha. So if that happens I’ll say “Oh, my favorite part is Part 1” to get away.

Interviewer: For Part 1 and 2, there’s the issue of viewpoint. Whose perspective would you write from?

Nisio: Part 4 is Kouichi-kun. For Part 1, it’s Speedwagon. Part 2 was…did he have a name? That pickpocket boy at the beginning…ah, I can’t remember. This is bad.

x16

The pickpocket boy (his name is Smokey)

Araki: He was there, haha.

Nisio: Otsuichi-sensei and Kadano-sensei are laughing right now, haha.

Interviewer: When did you understand how Stands worked?

Nisio: I somehow figured it out as I was reading. Like how when Stands get injured, their users also get injured. There was an explanation of what Stands were at the beginning of one of the volumes, and it all made sense after that. That was really helpful.

Araki: It’s a good thing I wrote that, haha. Most people said they didn’t understand Stands.

Nisio: I liked the battles with the D’arby brothers. That’s how I learned how to play poker. I was in elementary school and didn’t know the rules of poker, so I didn’t know what kind of battle that was, haha. So I went to a bookstore and browsed through a poker rulebook.

Araki: Oh really? When I was writing that I assumed everybody knew how to play poker. It seemed like everybody at least knows poker.

Nisio: I was in elementary school, after all. After that I really wanted to play poker, haha. I wanted to say things like, “I bet all six chips.”

x19

Interviewer: You’ve learned a lot from Jojo.

Nisio: That’s absolutely true. I want to keep learning more and more.

Araki: Thank you. I can tell how strong your feelings are.

[Note: Some of the mentioned writers later wrote Jojo novelizations. Nisio Isin wrote Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Over Heaven, Kadano Kouhei wrote Purple Haze Feedback, and Otsuichi wrote The Book: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure 4th Another Day.]