After the old F-san left, the new F-san’s personality completely changed.
When I first met him, he was sitting next to the old F-san, sort of shrunk down. The second time I met him, he was sitting slouched on the sofa of a coffee shop with his legs splayed out.
“Since I’m the supervisor now, I’m going to change Umizaru a bit,” he said suddenly, as he peered up toward the ceiling and blew cigarette smoke out of his mouth. “First, stop using impact lines. Please don’t draw unusually-shaped panels anymore. And please make every first page a spread page. Also, I’ll request that you please keep all speech bubbles inside the frames. These are basics when it comes to manga. Perhaps no one ever taught you them?”
At this point, he was practically lying down on the sofa, as he stared up at the ceiling and continued to smoke.
Every single order he gave me was a “basic of manga” as taught to him by the editors’ office, not something he came up with after thinking about the manga itself. I had used my own personal style during my entire career with this magazine, and suddenly changing it would no doubt throw the readers off. Besides, I knew all the basics, and was breaking the rules on purpose. But what was I supposed to say to all that?
“I don’t have much experience as a manga editor,” he had said, despite the condescending nature of all his later orders. He made sure that he ended all of his sentences on a polite note, but he considered me to be an amateur artist, and it was clear that he looked down on me. To him, it probably all made perfect sense. The publisher was the one paying out the money, and the artist was the one receiving it, so the artist was required to listen to every command he was given. On the surface, he acted like a newbie editor, but he spoke in a condescending tone, and an obsequious smile ever warped his asymmetric face.
This guy is so creepy, I thought, but I didn’t have time to explain to him every single detail about how I went about my work. So, I just sort of let his orders go in one ear and out the other, and drew my manuscripts as I always did.
As he read them, he would mutter things to himself. “Huh? I thought I told you not to use impact lines. Weren’t you listening to anything I said? This is a problem… Sato-san, you’re drawing this manga because the editors’ office hired you to do a job. Do you understand that? Why don’t you listen to anyone?” he asked, assuming the role of the client.
“And here… and here too…” he sighed, tapping the paper with his finger, as he pointed out every single instance of an out-of-bounds speech bubble.
The style I used in planning my panels was the same style that my teachers, F-san and T-san used. It wasn’t anything extraordinarily special, and also didn’t ignore standard publishing format. But to him, what his senior editors had taught him was law, even though it seemed extremely irrational to me.
In the end, I had to force out some kind of reply. “This manga has been going on for a while now, so changing the style all of a sudden would be unnatural. On top of that, you’ve joined this project in the middle of its run, so please try and realize that your level of understanding is still low at the time being. Artists have different styles when it comes to planning panels, so focusing only on that will not necessarily be constructive toward the quality of the manga.”
“But I’m the supervisor now,” he said, “so it’s only natural that the style of the manga changes. Otherwise what point would there be to changing supervisors?”
If he really wanted to change the manga, then I wish he would have looked at it not from the surface, but a deeper point of view. Rules in the editors’ office are really only local rules, and since they can’t apply to everything, they shouldn’t be forced on outsiders. It wasn’t like I was drawing anything that was unprintable.
When he first looked at all the storyboards, he’d say they were good, but then afterwards, if his seniors told him it wasn’t good, then he’d have no qualms about completely changing his mind. “This is interesting. I like how you make him say this line in this situation,” he’d say at first, but then when I handed him the manuscript, he’d say “Huh? Why did you leave this line like this?” as if he was completely shocked.
“But you liked it last time,” I said.
“I don’t remember saying that.”
I could hardly believe I was speaking with the same person. A few times, I even asked him outright, “You ARE F-san, aren’t you?”
Eventually, all our conversations would devolve into endless disputes, over things like “You said that,” or “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” And in the end, when I would just give up and ask him what he wanted me to do, he’d tell me to change the entire line.
And when he did, he sounded exactly like the old F-san. He was like a little F-san.
Since he had such little experience as an editor, after giving me the OK on the storyboards, he probably took them to the old F-san or to another senior editor to get their approval. All he had to do was say “a senior editor said that this line should be changed,” but instead he pretended like he never gave the OK in the first place, asked me a passive-aggressive question like “Huh? What is this line doing here?” and forced what his seniors had said upon me.
In one chapter, I drew a malfunctioning jumbo jet crashing into the ocean. In order to prevent secondary damages, the Coast Guard blocks off the crazh zone and then withdraws to wait until the damage subsides. However, after looking at the storyboard, Little F-san said “Please draw this scene so that fishing boats nearby all gradually gather near the crash zone, and the Coast Guard shines light on the ocean so that it can be seen easily from planes.”
I tried explaining the situation better to him. “The Coast Guard has to evacuate because it’s dangerous, and allowing fishing boats to come near would only add to secondary damages, so they would never allow it.”
But he wouldn’t hear any of it. I tried explaining to him how unrealistic and unbelievable it was, and how it would only drain the realism out of the manga, but it meant nothing to him.
“Readers will be moved when they see this page – how even though it’s so dangerous, the fishermen got up the courage to draw near to the scene of the accident.” That was all he seemed to care about, and frankly, it left me speechless.
“Sato-san, this is a manga… unrealistic things happen all the time in manga, so realism doesn’t really matter. Don’t you understand that?”
“Precisely because it’s a manga, and precisely because you could draw any sort of unrealistic thing in it, is why a level of realism needs to be set and obeyed, or else the it won’t make sense to the readers. I’ve drawn Umizaru at a set level of realism for ten volumes so far, so I don’t think we should suddenly change it here.”
“Readers want to read good manga. If they see the fishermen risking their lives for people, it’ll move them.”
“No, they’d be trespassing without permission, and only causing problems for the coast guard, so no one would be moved by that. They’d only increase the secondary damages, and the coast guard would tell them to go away.”
“‘But even so!’ Don’t you understand the emotional punch you get from that sense of courage? ‘Even sooooo!’”
“No. It’s really dangerous. Tens of thousands of steel are falling through the sky at a rapid rate. And the plane’s malfunctioned, so with only a little deviation, it could end up being a total tragedy. That isn’t courage, it’s something that shouldn’t be done.”
“But even so!”
“But even soooooooo!!”
Finally, he said “You really intend to stay that stubborn for the rest of your life? You’re only going to isolate yourself even more,” and then ran away.
In the end, I ignored his opinion and continued drawing the manga as planned. And what did Little F-san say when he saw the completed crash scene?
“This is really intense. It’s physically impossible for the fishing boats to be nearby a crash scene like this. Yeah, I see…” he said, nodding like everything made sense.
At that moment, I just couldn’t resist. I had to say something. “See? I told you from the beginning that it would be impossible.”
At first, he ignored me, but I wasn’t going to take it. I repeated what I had said, but he ignored me again.
“F-san, we’re having a conversation completely alone in a coffee shop. Don’t you understand that I’m saying something to you?”
He ignored that as well, so I went on. “I told you from the beginning that it would be physically impossible for them to be there, but you had to keep pushing it. Why?”
Then, all of a sudden, he acted like he had come out of a deep thought, and nonchalantly said: “Ah! That was an idea from the editor-in-chief. I didn’t really think it would be good for the fishing boats to be there either.”
I stared blankly at him. “Well, it’d be quicker for me just to talk to the editor-in-chief in person, so I guess I don’t really need you, do I?”
Little F-san clammed up for a bit. “The editors’ office hired you to draw this manga, so you have to follow our orders.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It was the editor-in-chief’s order. Why did you go against it?” he asked, with an angry glare.
In the end, our conversations accomplished nothing, and only left me with wasted time.
One time, when I sent in a storyboard to the office, Little F-san gave me a call, but he sounded a bit strange. Like he was having trouble saying something. His words didn’t sound clear, and I could hear a weird crunching noise in the background.
No way, I thought at first, but it clearly sounded like he was eating something on the phone.
Patiently, I ignored the noise and listened to all his orders.
“But if I do this here, then that won’t make sense,” I said, arguing as usual.
“What, do I have to figure out everything now?” he complained, sort of muttering to himself. “What kind of meetings did you used to have before I came along?”
Usually he used the “Boku” pronoun, which can work in both casual and polite situations, but sometimes he would mix in “Ore,” which would be considered rude in any normal workplace.
As he continued crunching, he said: “Fine. Just leave it then. Go on and draw it that way. This last half hour was an entire waste of time, wasn’t it?”
I had hated the old F-san and his petty arguments so much, but this new F-san was at a level so much lower, the argument itself became impossible.
To Be Continued