Sato’s Road to Manga #44

That night, 40 voice messages were left on my answering machine.


After slamming my fists on the table the restaurant and walking out on my editor, I went back to my studio/home. 30 minutes later, my doorbell rang. I ignored it, and then my telephone rang.


“I won’t tell the chief about this. So please, just answer the phone, sensei. Please!”


Streaming out from the answering machine was the voice of the second generation F-san. I just couldn’t pick up the receiver. “Talking with you is just a waste of time. Just hurry up and bring the chief here already,” I had said. So why, then, did he reply with “I won’t tell the chief about this?” I couldn’t believe how he could possibly act like he was doing me a favor here.


After that, every 30 minutes, my doorbell rang again and again. My phone also continued ringingly endlessly.


“I know you’re in there. Do you know what’s going to happen if you keep doing this?” he asked in a low voice, during one call. And then, just when I thought he was about to threaten me, he went… “Sensei! Please! I still haven’t told anyone about this! Please just answer the phone!”


“Hey, Sato… cut it out already, or I’ll really bring the chief here.”


“I’ll wait just one more hour! I bear no responsibility for what happens afterwards!”


“Today, I’ll wait just one day for you… so just answer the phone.”


“Sorry about earlier. I’ll forgive you this time, just please, answer the phone.”


Apparently, the new F-san was walking around outside my apartment, hoping he could catch me, and calling me over and over again. Now I couldn’t take a single step outside. My refrigerator was empty, and I was starting to get hungry, but my editor was standing right outside my door. Even after it got dark, I didn’t turn on the lights, and since I had nothing else to do, I decided to go to sleep, and curled up on my futon.


As I did this, a vague thought passed through my head. “Guess I’ll just have to give up manga now.”


Right after telling my editor that I wanted this arc of Umizaru to be the last, he had switched himself out for a new one, who absolutely refused to take any part in a discussion concerning the end of the manga, and no matter how many times I called the editor’s office and asked them to let me speak with the chief, they wouldn’t let me.


What was I supposed to do?


If I had pushed my way into the editors’ office and gone on a rampage in the reception area, screaming “Let me see the chief,” would they have let me? If I had committed some crime and got on the news, would they have let me end my serialization? I had only ever spoken with the chief once, right after the old chief left, when I introduced myself to him. After I finished speaking, all he had said to me was: “Your art’s too black. Can you make it a little whiter?”


Unfortunately, Umizaru was a very popular series. And as long as a series was still making them money, they were going to try and make it drag on as long as they could. I knew that was how they did things. I liked Umizaru. The characters in that manga felt like they really existed. To me, they were no different than living people – they lived inside of me. And the only one who could let their story come to an end when they asked for one was me. It was a way for me to show my love to them and the manga. The circumstances of the magazine had nothing to do with me. I knew how the editor’s office was cutting off “fatty” manga one after another, in the name of the new editing policies. I also knew what the editors’ office said to those authors.


“This is the joint opinion of the entire editors’ office. How many people do you think are involved in this magazine? How many mouths do you think it feeds? You can’t expect us to listen to the selfish requests of a single person.”


Please cancel my series, just like you did theirs. I know this magazine won’t last for another decade anyway. I don’t want to draw manga as someone’s dog.


Releasing a work to the world is the same thing as killing someone. Someone who reads your work may be influenced, and may even go off and commit a murder. That’s how horrifying a thing drawing manga is. How could you do something like that while being ordered around by someone else?


As the dozens of calls continued, I got a call from W-san, the woman I was dating. When I heard her voice flow through the answering machine, I picked up the receiver.


“I think I’m going to stop drawing manga,” I told her. She didn’t object.


I had no idea what I was going to do after I quit. I’ll have to move into a smaller room, I thought. And once I leave my studio, I wonder how much severance I’ll have to pay my staff members?


I thought back to when we had started going out. The day I asked her on our first date, she said something to me while we were riding the train toward our destination.


“I also got asked out by __ yesterday.”


When I heard that, I felt said, but I mustered up all my courage and gave her a reply.


“Can I like you too?”


If I stopped drawing manga, would she start to hate me?


Soon, it became late, and the doorbell chimes began to dwindle.


If the next chapter of Umizaru doesn’t appear in the magazine next week, what will the readers think?


The next day, I received a call from my old editor, the first generation F-san. After hearing his voice on my answering machine, I picked up the phone.


Several hours later, the old F-san appeared at my apartment and sat down at the table across from me. And then, I repeated something I had said many times before.


“Please let this be the last arc of Umizaru.”


F-san replied quietly. “Alright. We’ll let you end it here.”


That was the moment in which Umizaru’s end was finalized.


To Be Continued

Sato’s Road to Manga #43

One day, a page I had drawn appeared in the magazine upside-down.


It was a spread double-page bird’s-eye-view of Hakata Bay. But in the magazine, it depicted the landscape in the opposite way you would see it on the map, and there were no text indicators, so readers who hadn’t looked in a map in a while might have gotten confused.


Ever since the second F-san became my new editor, his low-level mistakes and misunderstandings continued in rapid succession, but even I was shocked by what he had managed to do this time. I immediately contacted him, told him that the manuscript had been published upside-down, and asked him to fix it. It was just such a basic, unthinkable mistake.


I was shocked by how he responded.


“In this situation, does it really matter whether it’s upside-down or not?”


For a moment, I didn’t quite understand what he was trying to say, and just replied with: “Huh?”


“There are no words, so it doesn’t really matter, does it?”


“Of COURSE it matters. It’s upside-down. Please fix it. The magazine’s already been released, so I know you can’t fix that, but please fix it so that it appears right-side up in the volume.”


“Sato-san, it’s already appeared in the magazine like this, so I think that if we change it now, it’ll confuse the people who read the chapter in the magazine. And that isn’t good, is it? I think you’re being too selfish here.”


“What are you talking about? You’re the one who made the mistake here. North and south are upside-down. It’s like publishing a map of Japan upside-down. There’s no possible way that this could be OK, no matter how you look at it.”


“No, I’m just saying that it’s not good to confuse the readers. Sato-san, don’t you understand what I’m saying? This is a really important thing, you know. Sheesh…”


He even made sure to throw in a few calm sighs as he spoke. In short, he didn’t want to let his superiors know that he had made an irreconcilable mistake, so he was trying to twist it around on me, insisting that no one would realize that Hakata Bay was upside-down. In order to make it all the way to the magazine like that, it had to have passed through proofreading, which means that none of the editors must have caught it. Although these sorts of things kept happening over and over again, I was still shocked by how he wouldn’t even acknowledge his mistake, let alone apologize, and just kept trying to pass it off as insignificant.


Because of this sort of behavior, it became extremely difficult to talk to F-san about ending the serialization. Hardly any time had passed since he became my new editor, but I still had to break into the topic somehow.


“The previous F-san told me that I should talk about this with you, so that’s what I’m going to do. I want this arc to be the final arc of Umizaru.”


After approaching him as directly as I could, F-san pretended not to hear me. Ignoring things that were problematic to him was something he had tried numerous times before. I changed my approach.


“F-san, I’m sitting here in a coffee-shop with you, trying to talk to you. Can’t you tell that I just said something to you?”


As he continued to ignore me, I continued to speak.


“Before you came along, I had been talking with the old F-san about ending Umizaru. You became my new editor in the middle of that discussion, but it hasn’t ended. I believe that Umizaru has reached its endpoint. If I just decide to end the series without contacting the editors’ office, it may cause problems for them, so I want to discuss the matter beforehand. Please let this arc be the final arc. I think I can finish it in about two volumes.”


He ignored that as well, so I said one more thing.


“F-san, I’m speaking to you alone in a coffee shop. Can you hear me?”


Then, he finally opened his mouth.


“I can’t. I can’t hear a single thing you’re saying.”


Wow. There are actually adult, fully-employed males who behave like this… I was shocked out of my mind. And so, as if explaining something to a child, I slowly explained why the manga had to end. As I did this, F-san glared at me, and further distorted his asymmetrical face.


He was trying to intimidate me, as unbelievable as it may seem.


Then, when I finished speaking, he lit up a cigarette and replied. “It’s not gonna end. Because I don’t think it should.”


Now, he just sounded like some low-level thug. He switched from the polite pronoun ‘boku’ to the rude, more informal pronoun ‘ore,’ and tried to sound tougher to me.


“Sato-san, man… what is it with you? The editor-in-chief changed, and we’ve switched out a bunch of series. You have no idea when they might cut you off as well… if the editor-in-chief wants to keep doing it, then that’s what we’ll do. It’s not your decision.”


After hearing this new speech pattern of his, I opened my mouth to reply, but he cut me off. “Shut up. You’re going to keep drawing, it right? In times like these, you have to say ‘Yes.'” He wasn’t even going to listen to me anymore.


By this point, he was mixing polite and rude speech together, and none of it made any sense to me.


My clenched fists were shaking. “When I try to discuss things with you, we never get anywhere. Please let me talk to the editor-in-chief,” I said, and left. I had to. I felt like if I stayed there any longer, I’d end up punching him.


After that, I kept requesting to speak with the editor-in-chief. But whenever I mentioned anything about ending the serialization, he would always start trying to intimidate me with threats and menacing statements. Our discussions never got anywhere, so I just kept asking him to bring the editor-in-chief out. Every time we had a new meeting, I’d think “OK, this will be the week he finally brings the editor-in-chief” only to be disappointed.


There was a lot I didn’t like about the old F-san, but he would always explain his editing policies and how that related to his own opinion, so for better or worse, at least he never lied. That’s why, even though I didn’t like him, there was still something about him that I could respect. People who have no personal pride are trouble. The only thing the second F-san had pride in was his role as the “gatekeeper,” and unless the artist decided to agree with the editing policies unconditionally, he’d just keep trying to shoo them away.


The old F-san probably realized that I could keep drawing manga without an editor, which is why he entrusted me to this idiotic guard.


Eventually, I just got fed up with him, so whenever he would come to my studio to pick up the manuscript, I’d keep my face glued to my desk, leave a bag containing the manuscript by the door, and force him to leave immediately, among many other childish things. But I thought that if I kept giving him these strong signs, the problem would spread to the entire editors’ office, and I might finally get a chance to right things.


Hm? You think that instead of trying all those roundabout tactics, I just should have tried calling the editor-in-chief and speaking to him directly? Of course, I tried to call him. Many times. His secretary wouldn’t even give me the time of day. I imagine that at the time, not letting Umizaru end was a supreme directive of the editors’ office. The volumes were selling well, and it was a popular series. Ever since the editor-in-chief changed, the magazine had forcibly cut off every series that didn’t fit with the new editing policies. But Umizaru was drawn by a newbie author, so they thought that instead, they could mold me and fit me to their own devices.


But there’s nothing worse than an editor who won’t work for the sake of the manga. I didn’t expect him to do any work for my sake, and since he was an employee at a company, it was only natural that he would do work for their sake, but unless it was benefiting the manga in some way, it wouldn’t really end up benefiting the company. Mangaka bet everything they have on their manga. Of course, I know that there are some artists who don’t think like that, but still. I wasn’t trying to end the manga for my own sake. I was doing it for the manga. I wanted it to end when it was still at its best.


At that time, to me, Umizaru was everything to me. OK, maybe not everything. Sometimes, I would think about perverted stuff. I always thought about W-san, as well, who I was still dating, and I also racked my head over my staff members and their salaries. But despite all that, the majority of the time I spent at work – in other words, all my waking hours – was spent thinking about Umizaru.


One day, I brought up the topic of ending the series again to F-san. However, since I knew he had a hearing problem, I made sure to say it in a very big voice, one that would surely reach his ears.


“I’m the author, and I’m serious about this. Talking with you gets me nowhere, so please bring the editor-in-chief here!”


This happened about two or three months after he became my new editor. I had reached my breaking point.


“If you continue to ignore me, then I’ll stop drawing the manga. I just can’t anymore.”


This is how F-san replied.


“You cocky little newbie. If you keep saying things like that, then I’ll tell them to the editor-in-chief. And then you’ll be the only one in trouble, because you’ll lose your job. Wouldn’t you agree?”


Something inside me snapped.


“Please, hold on a second. What are you going to tell the editor-in-chief? I haven’t even said anything yet. I just keep asking you to let me speak with him.”


“I can’t hear you.”


“You have ears, don’t you?”


“Who are you? Who are you talking to? I’ll really bring him here. Are you sure you want that?”


“Yeah. Bring him here. Talking with you is just a waste of time. Just hurry up and bring him here already!”


“How will bringing him here change anything?”




I slammed my fists down on the table in that family diner as hard as I could, stood up, and walked out.


To Be Continued

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

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

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