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

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

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

Sato’s Road to Manga #37

Soon, the changes made to Umizaru in the magazine started to turn everyone’s heads.


Until then, series that had been pillars of the magazine were ended one after another, and the series that began to take their places were nothing but sterilized, bland manga.


Even the editors themselves were starting to get upset. “I know the editor-in-chief has all the editing power, but isn’t it wrong of him to keep ending good manga and starting bad manga like this?”


The only answer they received was “The magazine is better than it ever was now. Artists don’t have the right to argue about editing policies.”


Nothing constructive ever came from discussing this issue with the people who thought the new manga was good, so at the meetings, I closed my ears and drew my drafts and manuscripts as I liked. In order to make the editors feel like they were doing their jobs, I made sure never to forget to act like I was listening to what they said for about a half an hour each meeting.


My manga was always in the top five of the popularity ranking, so there was nothing to be worried about.


This magazine won’t live to see the next decade, I thought absently.


I also realized that it wasn’t where I belonged. And so, in between my weekly chapters, I started drawing another one-shot. Once I finished it, I planned to send it in to another magazine’s amateur contest. I was so busy that I was hardly able to perfect it, but working on that manuscript late at night, after finishing my work, seemed to help me stay true to myself.


I think that’s about the time when it happened. N-kun was a male staff member in his early twenties who joined after I made S-kun quit. One day, half a year after he started working with me,  W-san, a female staff member who had been working with me since the serialization began came up to me and said “N-kun wants to speak with you.” I followed her, and saw N-kun sitting on his knees crying.


“I can’t draw the way I want to. I’m useless, so please fire me,” he whimpered, as he continued to cry.


Apparently, he just wasn’t able to draw a Maritime Safety Agency helicopter. He was crying, so I had no choice but to console him.


“It’s your life, so if you want to quit, I have no right to stop you. If you really want to quit, then you may, but why do you need to get so bent out of shape over not being able to draw something?” I asked.


From the beginning, I never expected to use any of my staff members to do my work for me. In fact, I made sure never to have any special expectations for anyone.


“You’re probably having so much trouble because you’re trying to recreate my images,” I said. “Just draw it the way you imagine it. You don’t need to worry about the work quota.”


N-kun had won an amateur contest in the same magazine that Umizaru was being serialized in, so he had been recommended to me by the editors’ office. Apparently, at first, he had thought that I was just some amateur, and that he was way better than meHe even admitted that he thought that when he came to my studio, he’d be a ton of help, and might even be able to teach me a few things as well. He believed that he would be able to go independent in no time.


But I kept making him redraw things, and not only did he never get his own prized serialization, he couldn’t even get a one-shot into the magazine. Realizing just how unskilled he was tortured him day in and day out. In other words, he wasn’t thinking about quitting because he thought he’d be “useless.” He simply realized that the simple image of success that he had in his mind was never going to happen, so he was trying to escape from reality.


“Running won’t solve anything. I won’t give you any extra work to do, so why don’t you try drawing a bit slower?” I asked.


This was his reply: “I’m going to stop working and cut off all sources of income, so that I can force myself to become a good mangaka. I was naive. I took your kindness for granted, and I can’t stay like this forever. I need to push myself to my limits and get serious.”


As he said all that through his tears, I realized just how naive he really was. It’s harder to draw a manga while working, and thinking that things would suddenly change if he quit his job didn’t make much sense. It also sounded like he was negating the path that his fellow staff members had chosen.


“Think about which decision is the best for you,” I said, and then left him there. A few weeks later, N-kun quit.


Apparently, he had tried to justify himself with my other two staff members for the several weeks before he tried to give up. “I can’t draw the way I want to” became “There’s no point in me staying here.” He claimed that people who stay as manga staff for too long have a lower chance of becoming mangaka, and that really famous manga only worked as staff members for a short period before they quit and sought out their own unique styles.


“Are you just going to stay here forever? Don’t you care about developing your own unique style?” he preached to them. “People can become mangaka even if they can’t draw backgrounds. Being a mangaka is something completely different than this, and Sato Shuho is a bad person for hiding that from his staff members. I’m so glad I realized it this soon.”


It’s like when a kid quits a sports team and says “There’s no point in staying here, so why don’t you come with me?”


I had to be the villain in order for him to justify himself in his fantasy world. It all made me feel really hollow, and when he came up to me again and said “I’m quitting,” I didn’t try to stop him.


I also suffered from the enervation and sense of meaningless that came with continuing to draw my serialization. At this point, my series was secure, its volumes were being published, and I didn’t have to worry about money anymore. But the magazine it ran in continued to deteriorate, the editors wouldn’t pay attention to me, and it was a very difficult workplace to build up human relationships in. People were only just barely starting to use the internet, so I had no way of getting in touch with my readers, and wasn’t really sure of whether there was any point to what I was doing.


All my friends from university had joined companies and were doing well at their jobs. But I was a mangaka, some weird anomaly, so there was a lot of distance between us. It didn’t even feel normal for me to contact them anymore.


There was one friend I still kept in touch with, though. She was a girl who I had often shown my manga to before I became a mangaka. She had a fiance, but I still had feelings for her. We often shared long phone calls in the evening. I had told her about my feelings, and she had accepted them.


The first time we spent a night together, she told me: “I want to go to the zoo.”


My staff members were going to arrive at 11. It would soon be time for us to check out from the hotel, and then I would have to go back to my office. I had a deadline every week, so every day was precious.


“Who cares about that?” she said to me. “Let’s go somewhere.”


I hesitated. I often wondered if drawing manga was meaningless, but at the same time, I didn’t have the courage to abandon everything and face the truth head-on. If I had done so, perhaps she would have abandoned everything as well, and chosen a life with me instead. But, I hesitated. That’s the extent of who I was. I wasn’t serious about her.


So, I returned to my office and started drawing manga.


At the time, I was working on the sixth volume of Umizaru. For this arc, I had done research on a large ferry accident, since I felt like the magazine itself was turning into a sinking ship. I didn’t believe that a magazine that continued to betray its readers and artists would live on forever.


I wanted to draw a story about people who got rescued from a sinking ship. I was currently working on a manga series in a magazine along with artists I had always worked up to. My dreams had come true, yet I didn’t feel satisfied at all, and I couldn’t even do anything for the people who needed me. In the end, all I could do was draw manga.


That was my desire. The reason I was alone, I realized, was because I wanted to be. The magazine changed, and all the people I had looked up to started to disappear from my side.


I’m going to survive.


That’s the thought that remained in my mind as I drew the sixth volume of Umizaru. Manga was all I had. Looking back on it now, I see that drawing manga was my way to escape.


To Be Continued

Sato’s Road to Manga #36

The new editor-in-chief’s “policies” were steadily crossing the line.


Up until now, I had politely argued every single policy they tried to force me to comply with. I believed only in what I drew myself, and I kept claiming the top spot in the popularity rankings. In a way, that process itself was wholesome. When I received orders to “not draw people dying” and to “draw a bright, wholesome manga that children can enjoy,” I armed myself with logic that I could use to excuse myself from complying, and consequently ended up hardening my own beliefs and guidelines.


I hate to admit it, but maybe F-san was sort of right when he said it was all thanks to him fighting me all along the way and then giving up at the last second. What I threw at him didn’t come straight back to me, but in terms of deflecting my opinions and challenging me, F-san had been an excellent wall. What he threw back was so far out of range, though, that in the end I refused to argue any more with him. Now, I suspect I would have been able to handle him a bit better.


In Umizaru Vol. 5, I modeled the story after a real invasion incident in Japanese waters. In the real life incident, a suspicious boat entered Japanese territory from an unknown source, so the coast guard and the Maritime SDF were sent out toward it. The coast guard shot warning shots at the ship, which caused diplomatic strain, and became a bit of an uproar in Japan. The news later reported that the ship docked at a harbor in North Korea, which meant that it was a North Korean ship. Even the crew from the ship that fired the warning shots asserted that there was no doubt that it had been a North Korean vessel. The coast guard possesses documents on all types of boats that pass through Japanese territory, so they can usually identify suspicious ships on sight. But the presence of the SDF made it a very imposing situation, and not all people were in agreement as to whether or not warning shots should have been fired at a North Korean vessel.


In the manga, I wanted to express the conflicts with people at the bottom of a system, who are required to carry out their orders, and the true meaning of those bullets that were fired. Up until this point, the main character had been only saving people, but this time he was put in a hypocritical situation where he had the potential to take human life, despite both types of jobs being equally important in terms of protecting the safety of the coast. The answer the main character pulls out of this situation is the entire theme of the manga. I wrote it in a way so that people reading it would be able to remember the case that actually happened, so that my story would be more than simple fiction.


I was thankful that the editors allowed me to tackle such a delicate subject, and I made sure not to waste this chance. I worked very hard to gather data, create a time chart, and recreate the incident as realistically as possible. As I studied the time chart, I noticed several inconsistencies with the news reports, and I also included that in the story.


Whenever I had a meeting with an editor, I refrained from saying hardly anything, and would just show them my finished drafts. My stance was basically “I don’t want to talk with you, so let’s use the drafts to communicate.” Whenever I finished one, I’d fax it to them, and then in about one or two hours, F-san would call me and tell me what he thought and what he wanted changed. His comments were all in regard to how well the draft looked, and there was no way I’d ever make a perfect first draft, so I did my best to take to heart every one of his opinions. F-san gave very accurate advice when it came to completing a draft, so I trusted him in that regard. After the phone call, I would fix up the draft, repeat this process a few times, and then turn the finished draft into a manuscript. If we ever had a disagreement, in the end, F-san would bend, and I would draw what I wanted to draw.


One day, I opened up the magazine to check out the latest chapter, and couldn’t believe my eyes. This was yet another chapter that I had finished using the process above, but for some reason, something completely different from what I had drawn was in the magazine. The words I had put into the manuscript were completely different from the words in the magazine. And it wasn’t just one instance.


I had gone to collect data with the editors numerous times, and none of them had ever raised any objections about my draft at any stage of the process. They took my manuscript without a word, but for some reason, the dialog had been changed. The story in the chapter concerned a suspicious North Korean ship entering the waters, and whether or not to fire warning shots at the ship and potentially damage diplomatic relations. In the magazine version, however, all mentions of “North Korea” or related words had been erased and replaced with completely different words.


At the very least, they should have told me about this beforehand. I can understand how a person would think that using a real name like “North Korea” in a fictional manga would be going too far, in which case I could just alter the story so that the name of the country was never mentioned. The country name didn’t need to be set in stone in order to uphold my original theme.


Remember, at this time, we had just gotten a new editor-in-chief who had greatly altered the policies of the editing office. For example, a sci-fi manga that had been fairly popular was suddenly canceled because it didn’t adhere to the new ‘policies,’ and with another manga, they put mosaics over the violent scenes that the artist had drawn. One-sided, unreasonable decisions from the editors were all over the place. The great purpose of the new policies may have been to “create a wholesome magazine,” but the way they were enforced were incredibly unwholesome. As their suspicious machinations continued, more and more of my lines kept getting changed, and I started to lose all my trust in them.


They accepted something as OK, but then when it came time to put it in the magazine, they changed things on their own without informing the author.


This is something that can destroy the relationship between author and editor from the root up. After all, there’s no guarantee what the artist draws will even appear in the magazine at all. And when I argued with them, all they ever did was yell back at me, saying: “What, you think you can take responsibility if some kind of trouble happens?!”


It was true that at the time, “North Korea” was a touchy subject. Why did they even let me plan that kind of story in the first place, then? I was thankful that they had allowed me to step into such a delicate zone to begin with.


Their argument was that they had changed the dialog in order to avoid complaints, but still, they should have informed the artist of what they were doing. In the event that the dialog did create some kind of problem, the responsibility lied with the publisher only in the sense that they were the ones who spread it out into the world, but the copyrights to the work belonged to me, the author, so I was the one who bore responsibility for the content. That also meant that I bore responsibility for all the words that they put in without my permission, regardless of what they might be. On top of that, the very action they were taking – the unauthorized altering of a work by a third party – was a direct violation of my copyrights.


But when I tried to explain these things to them, they just acted like I wasn’t making any sense. They even went as far as bringing in K-san, the data collector and the one who thought up the original idea for the work, and made him say: “If my family were to be put in danger because of this work, I would resent you, Sato-kun. You shouldn’t draw a manga like that.”


“You shouldn’t even be involved with expressing something if you aren’t prepared to release it into the world. Expressing something means being prepared to be murdered by someone who doesn’t like it. That’s what it means to step up on to the stage of expression.”


Of course, I didn’t say this to him, because it was clear that he didn’t have the “preparation” I was thinking about.


The worst part about the changed lines was that it meant the story had to be changed, so in the end, I had to change the following chapters as well. I had been planning to go with one ending, but because of the changes, it became impossible, so the ending of that entire arc had to change.


To the editors, authors were just one of the many tools they used to create a magazine. Once they received the manuscript, they believed they had the right to change the words or art as they pleased. And so, I pushed through my intolerable frustration and finished the arc. I knew there was no guarantee that they’d publish exactly what I drew, and in the end, they didn’t, but I still managed to reach some kind of goal in the end, through many, many changes.


In return, I lost all the remaining trust I had in the editors’ office.


When I talk to artists who’ve had careers, they can all remember at least one shocking thing they’ve been told by their editors. I know an author who had a 39 degree fever, and called in to say that his manuscript would be late. In return, his editor screamed at him and said: “That’s your fault for catching a cold!” Another heard his editor say “The manga is a child, and manga artists are the mothers, while we’re the fathers. They give birth to the manga, but we’re the ones who take shape it and cheer it on.” In response, the artist said: “How many authors are you in charge of? How many people have you had children with? And you can always switch them out whenever you want!” Once, when I heard about an editor who helped a busy author out in his private life, I said “That’s very admirable.” He smiled and responded with: “Dogs obey the people who feed them, don’t they?” These sorts of stories are a dime a dozen.


If I had to pick two things F-san said to me that stuck in my mind, they’d have to be “You don’t care what happens to yourself, as long as your manga gets published in the magazine, right?” and “You can rebel all you want, just don’t come crawling back here when you’re out of a job.”


To Be Continued