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