Sato’s Road to Manga #42

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!”


“Umm, no…”


“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

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Sato’s Road to Manga #41

I feel guilty about drawing manga.


At its core, manga is nothing more than “entertainment.” I was creating a story about marine accidents just for the sake of “entertainment,” taking real tragedies and turning them into money that I could live off of. No matter how you construe it, it’s the truth.


I struggled to find a way to get rid of the guilt I felt. Changing these tragedies into entertainment in order to pull some simple emotions from my readers is what made me feel so guilty. As a creator, I shouldn’t have manipulated my readers like that. It even made me feel like I was looking down on them.


I planned the plane crash story that begins in Umizaru Vol. 10 to be the very last story of the series. Why was I drawing manga? What point was there in making the readers read through all my made-up stories? Why did these stories exist?


I decided to throw away the story and just draw “life.”


After staff members N-kun and M-san left, quick replacement staff members kept coming in and out of the studio, until finally I managed to cement down a new team with K-kun and S-kun, two men introduced to me from the editors’ office. They were both 21, and amateur mangaka who had brought in pieces to the same magazine Umizaru was serialized in. They were also put under the care of the same editor, so they were desperately competing against each other.


K-kun did his work quietly, without worrying about what was going on around him, and also scheduled many meetings with his editor in order to plan his own debut. Meanwhile, S-kun couldn’t seem to stay on schedule, and seemed to be irritated that K-kun wasn’t seeing him as more of a threat. K-kun handled things calmly at his own pace, while S-kun did nothing but run round in circles. Watching this struggle from afar was a bit disconcerting, and sometimes I found it hard to talk to them.


Our staff was composed of people who wanted to become mangaka, so ideally, it should have been a place for people to hone their abilities and talk freely about manga, but instead, asking about how others’ storyboards were coming quickly became a taboo subject.


And so, we continued to work together, as I tried to think about how those two could get along better. Usually, they acted normal and could hold conversations without any malice laced in their words. Then again, I was someone who had given up talking to his editor, and only mumbled responses on the rare phone calls I got, so I wasn’t really one to talk.


My relationship with F-san had reached a new low. I never answered him, so F-san stopped talking, and our meetings no longer lasted even ten minutes. We had both reached our limits.


Then, at one meeting, I spoke for the first time in a while.


“Please let this be the final arc of the series.”


I think my face looked very strained when I said this. “I want to quit soon” is something I had told him several times up to this point, but this was the first time I had given him such an exact request.


I had already figured out how the last episode would go. Suddenly cutting things off would cause problems for the magazine, so I intended to draw three more volumes. My guilt in making entertainment out of tragic incidents was something that I just needed to figure out how to deal with, so it wasn’t really the mean reason. The problem was that I had built this story up so that readers couldn’t simply enjoy the accidents alone as entertainment. Things were going upwards, and we were at the climax, which meant that I had to outdo myself, and would have to continue to outdo myself for as long as I continued. “If 50 people die in this accident, then 100 will have to die in the next.” This is why I needed to end the manga here, and I explained this to him.


“So, you’ve finally said it, huh?” F-san said sarcastically. “It’s still popular, you know. Don’t you think you can keep it going for a bit longer?”


“You mean you want me to drag it out?” I replied, and then we both fell silent.


I’m sure he understood that I wasn’t joking about any of this. It’s true that manga is business, but I don’t think that manga should be allowed to drag on simply for the sake of business. When the story reaches its endpoint, it should end without delay.


“Have you ever imagined how many people this manga is supporting?” he asked. “This is business. It isn’t something you can decide on your own.”


Here he goes with that approach again, I thought. He was an editor at a publisher who had cut off mangaka left and right as soon as they became even the least bit problematic, so nothing he said held any weight anymore. Had they ever once considered the livelihoods of the mangaka they threw away? No – it was only when a series became popular, and then they would toss all of the responsibility on to the author. That’s how these people do things.


If they could talk about whether or not they thought it was right for the story to end here, then we could have a conversation, but all it ever came down to was their ridiculous “business” theory. It was nothing but a waste of time.


“Please tell the editor-in-chief he can wait until next week to answer me,” I said, and then left.


I felt like F-san said other things there, but I don’t really remember them anymore. In retrospect, they probably weren’t worth remembering anyway. But I remember what happened next week very clearly.


I met F-san in a coffee shop near my studio, and saw that he had brought with him someone I had never seen before.


“Whooo is it? Who is this mystery man?”


That was the first thing F-san said to me.


The mystery man was my new editor. His name also started with an F.


The new F-san said hardly anything at he meeting, while the old F-san explained how the exchange of power would go, and I could do nothing to stop it. Obviously, the relationship between me and the old F-san had gone off the deep end, and I had nothing against this new editor, but seeing all this decided without me having any say in it seemed completely unreasonable. I didn’t even know what kind of person this new F-san was, and just because he was suddenly my new editor, it certainly didn’t mean I was going to get along with him. If anything, this sudden change only deepened my distrust toward the editors.


“You’re pretty much a veteran now, Sato-kun, so we want you to teach this guy how manga goes. Sorry for springing this on you so suddenly, but we’ve got to raise up new editors, as I’m sure you understand. You can handle all your storyboards on your own, so let him use them to study manga.”


As F-san explained this, the new F-san rubbed his shoulders. He was skinny, and looked a bit frail, and bowed his head down as he said: “Please teach me all you can.” I think he was in his late 20s, and had little to no experience as an editor.


He was sitting right in front of me, yet for some reason he wasn’t looking me in the eyes. Something was wrong, and I only noticed it after I stared at him for a bit. His face was crooked.


I drew a median line down his face with my eyes just to be sure. I had heard about how most people’s faces aren’t symmetrical, but this guy was something else. As he spoke, one of his eyebrows trembled, and I started to get a bad feeling.


I had thought they had called me to this meeting in order to give me the editor-in-chief’s answer about ending my serialization, but of course, they said absolutely nothing about that.


Realizing that they were trying to use this editor switch as a way to put it off, I said “Please tell me the editor-in-chief’s answer about ending the serialization.”


“That again?” the old F-san said. “You can just discuss that with your new editor now.”


When the new F-san heard this, his face took on a very exaggerated look of surprise. “He wants to end it?” he asked in a small voice.


“Yeah, Sato-kun’s got a lot on his mind, apparently. Lend him your ears, would you?” F-san said.


The new F-san opened his eyes wide, and that one eyebrow began trembling again.


What horrible acting, I thought, as I silently despaired.


To Be Continued

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Sato’s Road to Manga #40

Here was my plan:


“The main character is ordered to change his post from the patrol boat he’s been on thus far, along with a senior mate. He goes through marine guard (fighting) training on this new ship, then realizes that the purpose of the training was so that they could go to the Strait of Malacca and arrest the pirates there. Soon, his ship heads for the strait. After they arrive, the pirates appear. As the main character’s ship chases after the stolen ship, they start fighting the pirates. During the battle, the senior mate dies. The pirates escape, and the main character vows to get revenge. And so, even though he’s done nothing but rescue missions so far, he picks up a weapon, even though he’s conflicted. Then, the pirates appear again, and the final battle begins. Will he be able to shoot the bullets that are loaded in his gun?”


In Vol. 8 of Umizaru, I resisted my editors’ objections (obstructions?) and killed the senior mate, as I planned.


The pirates end up killing the senior mate, who had been a main sub-character since the very beginning, and the main character vows revenge. Then, he bids his farewell to his girlfriend, a news reporter, telling her that he can never again embrace anyone with his hands. After that, his girlfriend visits the senior mate’s wife. His wife is pregnant, and I planned to overlap the birth scene, the girlfriend doing a report on it, and the main character’s battle with the pirates as the final climax of the story.


After the incident with the pirates ends, the main character returns to Japan and reads his girlfriend’s report. Then, she calls him on the phone. On the other side, he can hear a baby crying. The next page is a spread where the characters are all gathered around the baby in the hospital. The final page of the manga is a picture of the senior mate pushing the baby in the stroller, with his wife next to him.


I had planned to end it this way from the very start, and I drew it all without ever speaking a word of it to the editors. Right up to the end, my manga continued to be the most popular series in the magazine.


Around this time, M-san, a female staff member who had been with me since Umizaru began, quit working for me. She always carried with her a tanuki stuffed animal that she had loved since she was a child, and when I spoke to her, she would often speak to the tanuki before answering.


For example, if I asked “what do you want to eat today?” she would say to the tanuki: “What do you want? Hmm, huh? Ginger-fried pork? You ate beef yesterday?” before answering with something like “pizza.”


She could converse normally, but whenever things got a bit difficult, she would often use the tanuki to escape.


At the time, I was going out with W-san, my other female staff member, but we hadn’t made it public to anyone else. Apparently, though, they found out somehow, and I suppose at least one of them didn’t like that very much. Once, when I was working at my desk, M-san walked up behind me with her stuffed animal, and said to it: “Does Sato-san really think we haven’t noticed? We’ve seen a lot though, haven’t we?”


Not much time had passed since N-kun, my latest male staff member quit. As I wrote earlier, before he quit, N-kun spent a couple of weeks trying to justify himself to the other two staff members, telling them that people who worked as art staff for a long time had a lower chance of becoming a mangaka.


It seemed like he had influenced M-san, because before I knew it, she started saying the same sort of things he had. “I don’t want you to influence my art style,” “I want to draw gag manga, so I don’t need to master how to draw backgrounds,” etc.


I worked in a different room than them, so I usually didn’t hear their words directly, but W-san was my news source. She was also surprised by how suddenly critical M-san became of the workplace. If it was simply a matter of her not listening to me, I could deal with it, but gradually she became more and more defiant.


“You don’t need to let me influence you, but you need to learn how to work faster, or you’ll have a tough time working as a pro. That’s why you need to focus on getting better,” I told her.


“Sato-kun just told me I’m bad at drawing!” she said to her tanuki.


When I said “I’m trying to have a serious conversation here, so stop talking to your stuffed animal,” she silently went back into the staff room. After that, she complained about me to W-san, who hesitated about telling me everything that had been said. This cycle continued several times. Gradually, she started telling W-san that apparently, I had told her that it would be impossible for her to become a pro with her current level of skill, which left me at a total loss.


I guess this the pattern people fall into before they quit, I thought. First, they fall into despair over how things aren’t going the way they planned, then they started blaming their job and superiors. Then, after rationalizing their decision, they say something like “I can’t answer up to your expectations anymore, and I don’t want to keep causing you trouble. Besides, I think there are other people out there who can do much better than me,” vaguely putting the blame on themselves, and then leave. I have to be wrong in order for them to be right, so talking bad about me behind my back is the default choice.


When she told me she was going to quit, I told her that she was free to do as she liked, and turned the other cheek. Afterwards, I deposited 300,000 yen into her bank account as a severance fee. I did the same thing for S-kun, who I fired, and N-kun, who quit in a pretty bad manner. That was a way for me to rationalize things for myself. I’ve done all I could, and I paid them what I could pay. I’m done with them now.


After that, many people started coming and going in my studio. Until I could decide on my next staff member, I had several candidates join in on the art work, in an exam that spanned several days. It definitely wasn’t a comfortable situation, and I started to get depressed. Did I just not understand how to get along with people properly? This turn of events only made me remind W-san over and over again how she was the only one who understood me.


I didn’t know much about women, and that ended up surfacing in the manga. The heroine in Umizaru was an older woman who chased the main character around. She just appeared, without him asking for it, which was a very shonen manga approach, or perhaps a product of male idealism. Honestly, she wasn’t a very realistic female character. On top of that, the manga started out with her having a fiance, but as the story went on, and she spent more time with the main character, I started to think about her. Is she just supposed to throw her fiance out on the street now? Does she cheat on him? Or should I just avoid touching on that? It didn’t take long for me to realize that her character was something of a paradox.


When I was still speaking to my editors, they said “this is a manga aimed toward men, so it’s fine the way it is.” But I wanted to do something about it.


That’s when I realized that even though I had intended for the pirate arc to be the finale, I still had more to draw in order to make the story end properly.


After the senior mate’s death, the main character ceases to be a “newbie” coast guard, and he is faced with the task of raising up other new coast guards. He ends up where his senior mate started, which seemed to make the manga come full circle. And so, while I explored his growth that way, I decided I would clean up his relationship with the heroine.


Years back, I had dated a woman even though I knew she had a fiance. At the time, I felt guilt toward her fiance, conflict over the fact that she was in a relationship with both of us, and a desire to have her all to myself. There were a lot of dark thoughts swirling around inside of me. “Let’s stop this,” I’d tell her, and we’d hurt each other, and then have really guilty sex afterwards. Because of this experience, I was so happy about being able to love W-san with all my heart, and really made sure to treasure her. But I started to wonder if there still wasn’t some sort of impurity or egotism in the way I felt. I was experiencing a real romantic relationship, yet in my manga, I was drawing a male fantasy. It felt like a lie.


At the same time, a band I really liked named Blankey Jet City broke up. Their last live album, LAST DANCE, went on sale, and I felt it was time for me to dance my last dance as well. I couldn’t keep giving my editors the silent treatment forever. It was time to end this once and for all. Should I introduce the main character to his new pupils, have him marry the heroine, and end the story, or should I think up one more big incident and frame the events inside of that?


I decided to make a plane crash.


A plane would crash into the ocean, and into that zone where life and death exist simultaneously, the main character would dive, thinking once more about what it really means to live and die. I didn’t it to be a simple happy ending where everyone lives, or a simple bad ending where everyone dies. I wanted it to make people think about what people feel and experience when they’re trying to rescue others.


I wanted my story to be neither happy nor unhappy – just a story that shows what it means to choose life.


To Be Continued

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Sato’s Road to Manga #39

Umizaru Vol. 8 was about pirates.


For the story, I researched an actual pirate incident that happened in the Strait of Malacca in 2000, where a Japanese ship loaded with 6,000 tons of palm oil was seajacked on its way from Malaysia to India by pirates armed with guns and swords. The crew were given meager amounts of food, loaded on to lifeboats and let loose into the waters. After floating adrift for a bit, they were all safely rescued. This is the account that I based the manga’s story on. In my manga, the members of the coast guard are the main characters, so I had to recreate the pirate incident from their point of view.


In this arc, there was a scene where the pirates and main characters point guns at each other. I was planning to try once more to express the theme I originally had in mind for Vol. 5. “One person has to risk his life to save people at times, and kill them at others. Why does he have to save them? And then, why does he have to kill them?”


My plan was to spend a lot of time developing the main character into a hero in volumes 6 and 7, then destroy that hero in volume 8. I wrote some very long, intricate plot threads. I was heading toward the end now, so I planned to shave off every last plot point I had planned, one by one.


This was my plan:


“The main character is ordered to change his post from the patrol boat he’s been on thus far, along with a senior mate. He goes through marine guard (fighting) training on this new ship, then realizes that the purpose of the training was so that they could go to the Strait of Malacca and arrest the pirates there. Soon, his ship heads for the strait. After they arrive, the pirates appear. As the main character’s ship chases after the stolen ship, they start fighting the pirates. During the battle, the senior mate dies. The pirates escape, and the main character vows to get revenge. And so, even though he’s done nothing but rescue missions so far, he picks up a weapon, even though he’s conflicted. Then, the pirates appear again, and the final battle begins. Will he be able to shoot the bullets that are loaded in his gun?”


But would the editors allow me to kill the senior mate – a main character who had been in the series since the beginning? And would they allow me to draw my hero vowing to get revenge?


In the beginning, things went fine, up until the point where the pirates appeared. It may sound presumptuous of me to say this, but the editors wouldn’t have let me draw each chapter if they didn’t think they were good. Things went very smoothly, right up until the scene where the senior mate dies.


I didn’t tell anyone about what I was planning. If I did, I knew they would be against it. But no matter how much they argued, I still intended to draw it this way.


I didn’t even have a meeting with the editors before I drew that scene. Once I finished a manuscript, I would always take it to Renoir the next day, hand over the manuscript to F-san and have a 30 ~ 60 minute meeting there. This time, however, I finished the manuscript late at night, and when I took in my weekly manuscript, I brought the finished storyboard for the next chapter with me.


Normally, at the 30 ~ 60 minute meeting, F-san would give me his thoughts about how the next chapter should go. During that time, I had long accepted that it was my job to shut my ears and merely nod in approval to make him feel like he was doing his job. With this chapter, however, I knew there would be conflict, so I brought the next chapter’s storyboard with me, finished ahead of time.


When I pulled the storyboard out, F-san looked happy. “Woah, really? You finished it already? Wow! That means I don’t have to do any work this week!”


But, as he flipped through the storyboard, his face began to darken, and when he finished it, he was silent. After a while, he sighed, lit his cigarette, and thought for a bit.


Then, he said: “This is bad,” and started telling me what was wrong with it.


I nodded, wrote all his points down, then went back to my office. I fixed the storyboard up in two hours, then faxed it to the editors’ office. After fixing up the storyboard, I ended up running out of space and wasn’t able to fit the death scene in, so that storyboard passed with no problem.


At the end, F-san made sure to jab me. “Let’s have a meeting next time.”


When I finished my next manuscript, I stayed up all night writing the next storyboard, then brought it with me again to Renoir.


“You did it again?” F-san asked me, as he took it.


Just like last time, he sighed, smoked a cigarette, and said: “I can’t decide this on my own,” and started listing the parts of my storyboard that were hard to follow.


I quickly fixed up the storyboard again and then faxed it to the editors’ office. After an hour, I got a call from F-san.


“Give me some to think about this,” he said.


“I don’t want to miss my deadline, so I need an answer fast,” I told him, but he didn’t call back that day.


I started working on the manuscript without waiting for his answer. I knew I wasn’t going to listen to him anyway.


The next day, he called me and said that he needed to meet me in person. And so, I went out to Renoir again, and found F-san there along with K-san, the data supplier and original creator. Apparently, he had come all the way here from Hakata.


“I don’t want to kill the senior mate,” K-san said. “As the original creator, I can’t accept this. This manga doesn’t belong to you alone, Sato-kun,” he said.


Wow, this guy still thinks he’s the original creator, I thought.


I only saw him once every few months, yet he somehow he still seemed to believe that he was the original creator. Honestly, I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Obviously, the art was all mine, but I had written the entire story as well.


Then, F-san jumped in. “If you were a veteran mangaka like Adachi Mitsuru or Takahashi Rumiko, and you wanted to kill a character, I wouldn’t say anything. But you’re still a newbie, Sato-kun, and you don’t have much experience. If I let you do as you want here, the entire manga will be ruined. Authors should be allowed to do what they want. It’s an editor’s job to catch them when they start taking things too far, so that they can push things back onto the right path. Sorry, but I’ve worked as an editor for an entire decade so far. I’m pretty sure this plot point is a bad idea.”


I didn’t think it was right to let someone’s career determine something like this, but from his words, I was able to understand that F-san was thinking seriously about the manga.


Before, he had told me that he couldn’t decide it on his own, but now, he continued to bombard me with his own arguments. I didn’t like how he had called K-san there, as if he was trying to outnumber me and tire me out, but he never connected what he felt to the editing policies, and stuck to his own personal policy on how manga should be. But if I was to listen to him, then I thought it was only right that he listen to me as well. That’s what it means to have a proper conversation, right?


“You aren’t doing this on your own. A lot of people are working together to make this manga, so you can’t just decide things like this on your own,” F-san said.


“But I’m the one writing it. It doesn’t matter how many people work on this manga – I don’t want to let people draw it for me. If I say I want to do something a certain way, you never agree to let me do it. You just want me to obey you. That’s the way it’s always been.”


“How can you say that?! We’ve let you do practically whatever you wanted so far! You’re the one drawing it. But come on, you’ve got to understand – this is my job! It’s just manga! Why do you have to get so upset over it?”


“I’m a manga artist. What’s wrong with me being serious about my work?”


“Nothing’s wrong with it. There’s just no point to killing a character in a manga!”


“Maybe you’re misinterpreting my manga then, F-san. To me, this is real manga. I can only draw the type of manga that I believe in.”


“You can believe in whatever you want to. But I’m not putting this in any magazine I’m involved in.”


“If the manga’s bad, I’ll redraw it. But if you won’t put good manga in, then that just means that good manga isn’t important to your magazine.”


“It’s good! I can’t lie about that. But being good isn’t the only important thing, right?”


“So you’ll admit that it’s good. Thank you very much. It’s alright, though. You don’t need to put it in the magazine. I’m still not going to change it.”


“What do you mean? I’m telling you, I’m not going to let this storyboard pass. It’ll never get into the magazine!”


“I know. I already told you, you don’t need to put it in the magazine.”


“You don’t get it, do you? I don’t care what happens to you, just as long as the right manga gets in the magazine!”


I was wrong to think I could have a conversation with this person. He said a lot of other things, but in the end, I didn’t bend. If anything, I only became more rigid in what I believed.


Soon, F-san was at a loss, and turned to K-san. He said: “If the series ends, we’ll stop paying him manuscript fees, and he’ll be in real trouble.”


I was still in the red even with the manuscript fees. Sure, I’d be unemployed if my series ended, but what did it matter at this point? K-san’s reply was so peaceful, it made me laugh.


“You don’t need to worry about the manuscript for today,” F-san said. “Anyway, K-san’s here, and it’s getting late, so let’s go get something to eat.”


He took me to the editors’ office, and instead of simply getting something to eat, he sat me down next to the assistant editor-in-chief, and my first editor, E-san, who spent all night trying to convince me to change my mind. They sounded like people trying to convince me to join a cult – the publisher cult. I was being gangraped by publisher cult zealots. But I just continued to shake my head left and right, and before I knew it, everyone around me had become my enemy.


When I got back to my office, I silently began working on the manuscript. That’s when I understood what an editor’s job truly was: to get in my way. Once they left me alone, I was finally able to draw in peace. I was a manga artist, after all. It hurt so much that I cried as I worked.


That was the last time I ever spoke at a meeting. Whenever they said something to me, I would nod in some way, but that was all. I was no longer able to show any kind emotion in front of those people.


To Be Continued

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Sato’s Road to Manga #38

I like myself.


They say that Dazai Osamu was deeply attached to himself through his self-hatred. The inverse nature of his inflated ego and self-love is what he’s famous for.


Authors all love themselves. They can talk about their stories for as long as someone will listen, and they’re shockingly apathetic about things that don’t interest them. When we say that authors dig up truths from deep within themselves and make it into art, it sounds cool, but it basically means they only care about themselves. I’m the same way, and I imagine that most of the authors around me are all the same way.


When I asked my author friends “If you only had a week left to live, who would you go see?” many of them answered “I’d see this person and this person and this person, then on the seventh day I’d face only myself.”


They aren’t simply conceited, selfish people who only talk about themselves, but when they have a serious discussion, they can pretty much only see things through their own personal filters. And they use the word “I” a lot. Not “we” or “society.” They don’t lump themselves into groups or organizations. Authors often begin sentences with the phrase “I think…”


Volume 7 of Umizaru begins with the climax to the sinking ferry arc, then switches over to a disturbance in the main character’s office, and some mysterious training begins. This is where I started to think about how to end this manga. I had done all that I set out to do, I had said what I wanted to say, so I started shearing the mountain of plot I had set up in order to give myself and my readers a proper conclusion. In my head, the structure was all there.


I can probably end it in two or three volumes, I thought. There was a ton of stuff I wanted to draw, so I just decided to go about it in order. I never had to worry about plot developments or coming up with ideas. No one died in volume 6, and it was a pretty “wholesome” plotline, so I guess the editors’ office probably thought that I had experienced a change of heart. They stopped being so hard on me, and I continued to act like I was listening to them, and kept on drawing my manga in silence.


I often handed my manuscripts over to my editor at a cafe called Renoir in Takadanobaba. I don’t think we had Starbucks yet back then. That was when I also decided to quit smoking. I often went to drink at a bar called Cotton Club. (Apparently it still exists.) A famous actor named Sato B-saku often went to a French restaurant nearby on his way home from rehearsal, and his recommendations were written on the back of the menu.


Some day I’m going to become more famous than him, and get my own comments on the back of a menu! I thought.


When I told this to a friend, he said, “In that case, why don’t you change your name to Sato A-saku?”


At that point, I no longer really cared about the editing policies or the editors’ tenacity. Once I gave up trying to talk to them, I just lost all interest. All I needed to do was keep drawing the manga I believed in. I lost interest in the outside world, and quietly kept fostering my own self-love. I was a heavy smoker who smoked two or three packs a day, and the only way I was able to quit was because a woman told me “I’ll go on a date with you if you quit smoking.”


“Fine then, I’ll quit,” I said, and I got to go on a date with her.


That woman was W-san, from my art staff. We started going out after our first date. She had been with me since day 1 of Umizaru, and in a way, she was the only person who really understood me. I could count on her opinion for anything related to manga, as well as any personal issues, and she always gave me the answer I was looking for. To the outside, it just looked like I was taking advantage of one of my staff members, but oh well.


She and manga were all I had. I had no place to belong to in the vast outside world. Drawing manga and loving her were the only two rights I had been granted. With her, I found a place to call my own, which helped push me forward to draw the ending to my story.


In Umizaru Volume 7, I made another attempt at the theme I had failed to depict in Volume 5, with the unidentified vessel arc. In that story arc, I had attempted to draw a story about the truth of the Maritime Safety Agency. How their job is to protect the coast, which means saving drowning people as well as pointing guns toward people who threaten that safety. Sometimes, a member of the coast guard saves lives, but other times, he has to take them. Why can’t he save them too? Why does he have to ill them? I really wanted to depict that hypocrisy.


I didn’t want to make my main character just another hero. Drawing a manga where he saved people in every chapter would only be depicting one part of the real story. I wanted to show his feelings about failing to save people, as well as his feelings about taking life. And then, with all those feelings swirling into his head, I wanted to show him thinking, wondering: “Should I really continue working here?” Unfortunately, due to the editors’ unauthorized changes in Volume 5, I wasn’t able to achieve my goal. This time, I decided to make it happen along with the climax.


I knew the editors would be against it if I told them about it. They wanted me to draw a “cheerful, wholesome hero.” I wasn’t allowed to draw him failing to rescue people, let alone people getting killed. But I was intending to end this, and I didn’t want to leave anything left over. If failed to fit something into this series before finishing it, then I had no right to draw it in the first place. The job of an author is to make people think about the world. “This is what I think.” It’s using yourself as the subject. There are ways to sell this business-wise, and I don’t think it should be abandoned.


I continued to question myself, as I resisted the editors. I became a mangaka so that I could do what I wanted, right? I didn’t want them to tell me what to draw. I wanted to draw it myself. And so, I decided to challenge myself one last time. But against what? Obviously, I was fighting with myself, but I was also fighting with the editors. Would I really be able to draw what I wanted and get it all the way to the magazine?


In short, it meant I had to face the editors one last time.


To Be Continued

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