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