Discussion Translation: Kentaro Takekuma x Ken Akamatsu, Part 3

Translator’s Introduction: This is part three of the five-part conversation between manga artist and J-Comi founder Ken Akamatsu and manga editor, writer, and professor Takekuma Kentaro. Previous parts, as well as a more detailed introduction, can be found via links on the index below.

Part 1:
“People are Noticing the Possibilities of Viewers Featuring Dynamic Advertising”

“Out of Print Titles Mean a Certain Standard of Quality and an Assurance of Not Being Too Erotic or Violent”

“Monkey Manga 2.0 was Planned to be a Media Mix”

Part 2:
“The Oil Crisis Led to the Model Where Graphic Novels, Not Magazines, Make the Money”

“If the Function of Magazines Moves to E-Publishing, New Artists Won’t Sell”

“Places for New Artists to Debut and Editors to Practice Will Disappear”

Part 3:
“Freelance Editors Will Increase, and Their Success Will Depend on Skill”

“When Manga Artists with Producing Skills Fade Away, the Industry Will Snap”

“Present-Day Japan Doesn’t Have the Time or Money to Read Manga That Isn’t Guaranteed to be Interesting”

Part 4:
“We Might Start Seeing More Manga Artists with Six-to-Eight Million Yen Salaries in the Future”

“As Long as an Artist Pays Their Own ‘Entertainment Fee,’ They Won’t Make Money”

“Manga Artists Will Independently Hire Editors, as Lawyers or Accountants are Hired”

Part 5:
“I Want to Do Something that Amuses Others, Not Myself”

“Our Job is to Provide a Place to Debut for Those with the Fundamentals Down”

“Let’s Meet Again in Five Years. We’ll See Then Who’s Laughing and Who’s Crying”

[Original Article: Masahiro Yamaguchi, ITmedia.
Copyright 2011 ITmedia Inc. All Rights Reserved.]

Part 3: “When Manga Artists with Producing Skills Fade Away, the Industry Will Snap”

“Freelance Editors Will Increase, and Their Success Will Depend on Skill” (Takekuma)

Akamatsu: Established circles are still healthy at Comiket, as well. There’s lots of circles that have been wall circles1 for over ten years. The circles with the longest lines are always the same ones. There really haven’t been any new artists that have made themselves stand out. Once the people running these old circles reach their 40s or 50s and retire, the number of buyers are going to drop suddenly, too. Of course, the people buying comics are getting older, as well.

Takekuma: When you think about post-war manga history and ask why manga culture grew so large as an industry, I think that it’s because publishers would never fail to constantly keep publishing works by new authors. This was possible because the industry had the power of editors, who were able to find these new talents. But, just as Mr. Akamatsu discussed earlier, this system is crumbling.

I’m going to repeat myself here, but I see the number of freelance editors increasing. Because freelance editors don’t have the name of a publisher to back them up, they’ll have to truly compete based on skill. Factors like whether they’re able to pick out good talent, or if they can give good, accurate advice. Mr. Nagasaki (Takashi)2 or Mr. Kibayashi (Shin)3 are like this, as they’re the type of editor who gets closely involved in a series, or it might be more accurate to say that they basically act as the story writer. Mr. Nagasaki has said that it would be good in the future to have an even balance of freelance and employee manga editors. In other words, companies need to employ at least a certain minimum number of editors in order to continue doing business, but freelance editors who actually create a work along with an artist are very important.

—Out of curiosity, if you were to say it as directly as possible, what kinds of skills do editors need to have?

Akamatsu: In my case, it’s got to be “correction abilities.”

—Though, there are some artists who hate doing corrections.

Takekuma: As an editor, it’s important to be able to give feedback to an artist in a way that they can accept.

Akamatsu: If an editor’s correction clearly makes my manga more interesting, I’ll make the fix.

Takekuma: I’m currently running a seminar at Kyoto Seika University with Ms. Kaori Mikawa, the editor responsible for “Nodame Cantabile”, and she’s an exceptional freelance editor. She says that the most important part of an editor’s job is to “judge.” Since Ms. Mikawa has worked for this long as a freelance editor for companies like Kadokawa and Kodansha, she’s worked with all sorts of different artists, and has developed clear methods as far as what an editor should do.

For the seminar, Ms. Mikawa took a plot by an artist that she supervises at Kodansha, and with their consent, handed it out to the students, told them that there are problems with the plot, and that they should to try to correct them.

Akamatsu: Was it a written plot?

Takekuma: Written. The author is actually a veteran shoujo manga artist. In the seminar, Ms. Mikawa gave a lecture on how editors read plots and thumbnails, and there were lots of times when I’d hear something and think, “oh, I see now.” For example, there’s the kishoutenketsu narrative structure, but Ms. Mikawa has her own style when it comes to that structure. For example, it’s good to have two developments that could be call “twists”4. You’ll see similar advice if you read books about Hollywood screenwriting, but they don’t have the concept of kishoutenketsu there. Those narratives are generally based on the three-act play, but at the same time, they say that it’s still important to have two plot twists.

Akamatsu: Though, you could also blame script doctors for making every Hollywood story the same.

Takekuma: Of course, there’s that problem, but I do think that there are some basic rules. If you look at it that way, then only the freelance editors who have a grasp on those rules and who have editorial skills will be able to stay around. For example, if an artist loses popularity, they lose their contract. But, the editor of the series doesn’t get fired, right? The reason the editor stays is because they’re company employees. It’s not easy to fire a company employee, but it’s very easy to fire a freelancer. With a freelance system, the editor gets fired if the manga they’re editing loses popularity.

Akamatsu: So, in other words, free-market principles will make the quality of editors rise?

Takekuma: I think so. Am I being naive?

Akamatsu: Looking at the situation as a manga artist, there are a lot of manga artists who want to focus just on drawing. There are people who just want to draw thumbnails and get corrections back, and not deal with other people or listen to fans’ opinions beyond that. Artists like that really need someone to manage them, or someone to write a story for them, and I think that there’s room for a division of labor in that regard.

Only, I think that people like that will appear less and less from now on. Now, people are going through the trouble of uploading their own works on pixiv, then hearing feedback from everyone who has an opinion through their blogs or on Twitter. I think that because of this process, artists with a sense for business production will become more common. If there are artists like me who are starting their own business, there should be at least be people out there creating a manga with an anime adaptation in mind from the outset. As a result, it seems to me that the people who will rise to the top are going to be the ones with producing skills.

“When Manga Artists with Production Skills Fade Away, the Industry Will Snap” (Akamatsu)

Takekuma: We’re coming from different standpoints, and I think we’re saying the same thing, just coming from different places. I’ve said this on Twitter, too, but artists do also need producing skills. While I think this, though, if that really happens, then the distinction between artist and editor is going to disappear.

Akamatsu: That’s true. There’s been a polarization, where you have people who just want to draw, and then people with producing skills, and since new artists don’t have producing skills to begin with, they end up only being able to draw, never having learned those skills. Writer/editors can definitely develop alongside artists like that. However, those guys whose works have sold from the beginning and already have an audience, not to mention who draw and correct their own thumbnails, will have the run of the place for the next five or so years. I have a hypothesis that when these artists’ careers are up and they fade away, there will have been no place for young editors to learn, and the entire industry will snap, probably causing the Japanese manga industry to go extinct.

Takekuma: I think that you say that because you’re speaking from the position of an artist. As someone from an editorial background, I wonder if we can’t develop a new way of creating manga. An editor could act as a producer, and like how anime is made, creates a project plan to gather funds to pay staff with.

Akamatsu: But there’s no more money to go around. Also, it’s risky to gather an entire staff up, like you would when making a movie. That means that you can’t allow for the possibility of failure. One of the great things about manga is that even if a manga fails, there wasn’t much of an intial investment to begin with. I think that the moment you start involving a group of people, you make things a lot more dangerous.

Takekuma: It is important to make a careful decision about how many people you start off with, but I do also think that you have to start with artists who have prior results.

Akamatsu: Then what about young artists? You need money for them to be able to develop their skills, and there’s no place to publish their work.

Takekuma: What if we just say that there are plans to collect enough money. (laughter)

Akamatsu: What I’m afraid of is that new artists won’t be able to debut in the near future. With no correction abilities, editors won’t be able to grow any longer. It’ll be the same whether they’re freelance or employee editors. If the people who sell well now keep selling for the next five years, the Japanese manga industry will be over once they all retire after that. Of course, I don’t want this to happen, but…

Takekuma: I understand what you’re saying. I also think that the industry contracting is an inevitability. Only, I can’t see manga just disappearing from the world entirely. If the industry shrinks, then small-scale manga publishers, including doujinshi authors, will survive, and I think that it’s from there that the next generation of manga production methods will develop. Basically, I think that it’s possible to operate like a small business, creating manga via moderate investments while making sure your financial losses are reasonably small at worst.

Akamatsu: Looking at television dramas these days, you mostly see manga adaptations, so manga certainly still works as a primary industry. Manga might not be a bad industry to invest in.

Takekuma: Although, it’s very difficult to raise funds domestically in Japan. I think that movie producers are having a difficult time, too. You have to create a production committee to split the risk.

— How about finding a talented young artist, then getting a fund of 10 million yen or so together to hire some assistants and get something out there all at once?

Akamatsu: But isn’t that exactly the kind of high-risk business I’m worried about?

Takekuma: I wouldn’t try that method, either. As you said, the cost to produce a manga is cheap. If you compare it to anime, you’re talking about being tens, or even hundreds of times cheaper. That’s why it only costs 10 million yen to do a full-year weekly serialization of a series by a new artist.

Akamatsu: What happens if the manga is boring? You mentioned getting a “talented young artist,” but just because they’re talented doesn’t mean that their manga is going to sell. I’ve seen plenty of talented manga artists, but I also end up often having to wonder about them, “why doesn’t someone this good sell?”

Takekuma: That’s right. Focusing on new artists means always taking gambles.

Akamatsu: And investors don’t put their money on gambles.

—Then how about doing it with people who already have fanbases, or giving popular creators at Comiket a chance to debut?

Akamatsu: The artists who sell from spaces on the walls at Comiket might not fix their manuscripts when you give them corrections. After all, they’ve been selling well without having to make any corrections, and lines form for them at these events to buy a manga of whatever the artist feels like drawing, so they’re flawless as it is. Even if an editor tells them to fix something because they say it’s boring, the artist would just refuse. If that happens, then there’s no more use for editors.

— I see. So they consider what they’re doing to be final drafts.

Akamatsu: They’re done with the work as it is. They’ll sell 20,000 copies in one day, and even if they’ll never sell more copies of a work than that, they’re happy that so many people will line up to buy something that they’re drawing for fun, and since they can make a few million yen an event, they’re fine financially. And well, if they go sell through a doujinshi store after that, they can make even more.

“Present-Day Japan Doesn’t Have the Time or Money to Read Manga That Isn’t Guaranteed to be Interesting” (Akamatsu)

Takekuma: Are there no plans for you to serialize a new work of your own on J-Comi?

Akamatsu: No, there aren’t. I’ve been raised by Kodansha, and don’t have any intentions of betraying them. Mr. Ryu Murakami created G2010, but since titles going up there are new ones, publishers can’t be happy. The reason that publishers don’t mind me is because I’m only dealing in out-of-print books. I absolutely want to get along with publishers, because we need publishers in order for new talent to mature. Only, I think that there’s a problem, where their ability to actually do that is growing weaker.

— What’s needed in order for publishers to continue acting as development facilities for new artists? If they can’t keep doing that, it seems like their futures are going to be very grim.

Akamatsu: The problem is that readers have less and less spare time and money. Present-day Japan doesn’t have the time or the money to read manga that isn’t guaranteed to be interesting. Who does have those things are foreign readers. Foreign readers might have the spare time to read manga that might end up not being interesting. There’s no choice but to expand overseas. That’s why I want to make it so that a reader in China could go on J-Comi and immediately click through a translation of a manga.

Takekuma: I completely agree with you. At the same time, you also hear people talking about payment systems, where a chapter is only something like ten yen, so you can collect a lot of small payments from many readers around the world.

Akamatsu: Only, if you charge money for a new artist’s work, people won’t buy it unless they know it’s interesting. It’s a different story if the manga is free. People might think they’ll give it a little try, just to see. Asking people to pay without letting them try first doesn’t work anymore.

Takekuma: So what you’re saying is that if you give the content away for free, using an advertising model, you have a chance as long as you can expand globally. In that case, there might be a future for works by new authors.

Akamatsu: You could also release titles by famous authors on an advertising model, then add a newcomer’s manga on at the end of the volume. That way, there’s the possibility that a reader will continue to read the newcomer’s manga after the big-name title.

Takekuma: That’s also a possibility. I mentioned it earlier, but I think that manga production companies that own the rights to a certain character might start appearing, like how some American companies work. Those companies have producers, and a pool of talent, including newcomers, at their disposal. For example, you never know who’s drawing an issue of Batman or Superman, but the characters are incredibly famous. What about a system like that?

Akamatsu: It’s the same line of thought as anime production. Though, there’s not much to dream about if a lone artist can’t get rich quick with one huge hit.

Takekuma: The reason I’m talking about this system is because of my job teaching at a university, basically passing myself off as someone who’s training manga artists. If there was a system like this, there are lots of students out there who might not have the skill to make it as an author, but could be a good assistant. Because of that, I think about how if there were lots of American-style manga production studios, those students could work as staff, helping to create popular titles or popular characters, just thinking about employment for these students.

Akamatsu: Will the students be happy with that? They’re basically like animators at that point.

Takekuma: It might not be easy to convince them, but there are a lot of students who become seniors and realize that even if they’ve been learning manga-creation skills, using those skills to debut as an author is a whole different question, and become terrified. But, all they’ve been learning about for the past four years is manga, so they can’t afford to waste what they’ve been taught. There’s currently a strong image of assistants as apprentices, training to become an creator in the future, but if you could change this to more of an image of a career path, I think it would be good. After all, there are some veteran assistants (“pro assistants”) who keep doing it into their 40s or 50s. Take Koike Yes. He was the chief assistant on “Haguregumo” for thirty years, and could easily consider himself as an accomplished professional background artist, but instead he humbly says, “Oh, I’m still a long way from being a true artist.” I think that’s a problem with the manga industry.

Akamatsu: Except you can’t sustain that system unless your titles sell. That’s why I think it’s a bad idea to think about manga systems like that. It’s the same with movies, where you can think of all sorts of systems, like getting a talented director, or making sure to use a beautiful actress, but if you don’t hit the mark, you’re in a lot of trouble. Manga is really the best. There’s a large market, you don’t need an initial investment, and you can fail over and over again. Isn’t it a bad idea to destroy a system like that?

Takekuma: Listening to you, it sounds like you’re saying that whether a title sells or doesn’t sell is basically up to luck, and that know-how or any sort of methods to success can’t be inherited by others.

Akamatsu: Right. You really can’t help it. Even if I have an established “Akamatsu Method”, there’s no way of knowing if one of my assistants will also succeed by using it.

  1. Generally at Comiket, circles that the Planning Committee determines are likely to have large crowds are placed around the circumference of the exhibition halls to help manage their lines. []
  2. Editor and close collaborator with Naoki Urasawa []
  3. Former editor for Kodansha on titles such as GTO and writer for series including Kindaichi Case Files, GetBackers, and Drops of God []
  4. the “ten” of “kishoutenketsu” []

3 Responses to “Discussion Translation: Kentaro Takekuma x Ken Akamatsu, Part 3”

  1. inazuma dunk shoot» Blog Archive » dunk shoot: weekend bullets says:

    […] of ITmedia’s interview between Ken Akamatsu and Kentaro Takemura – pt1, pt2, pt3, pt4, […]

  2. Jeridel says:

    Akamatsu-sensei has a point about readers first spending money just to try a new read. Before Tokyopop started their free preview volumes/manga sampler at conventions, you could only read about new authors or titles from the end of a manga volume or printed magazines (that is, if you didn’t look). But when I picked up my first free preview volume at the San Diego Comic Con, I found new titles to collect and discovered manga-ka to admire. I owe my completed series of Chobits, Meru Puri, and Tail of the Moon as well as the beginnings of Debut!, Ouran High School Host Club, and Beast Master to preview volumes. They’re of newer manga titles and virtually unknown manga-ka in America, but I didn’t want to pay for them unless I liked them. This makes Akamatsu-sensei’s J-Comi such a great idea and platform for discovering some older manga. There needs to be more platforms like this!

  3. art afficionado says:

    I wish there was a way to tell Takekuma some fundamental downsides of working toward American-style comic creation. Especially the fact that it annoys many readers to no end when certain characters are portrayed differently in personality and appearance by different writers and artists which obviously don’t know or care as much about the character as their creator who is actually well equipped enough to represent them accurately and truthfully. There is no “soul” in work where the creator and his original vision are absent and replaced by arbitrary artists who are called in to continue the story like heartless job-required work, or so it seems. The never-ending plots in so many comics are apparent evidence of a story which is continued only by a corporation only seeking to continue making money off of the love of fans who liked characters/stories since before they lost their true direction. Perhaps the key to success for aspiring manga-ka in the future will be in a good digital publishing format/website that hosts established artists among new ones and offers cheap prices with free previews. Most importantly, the manga-ka will have to have good ideas or work behind a good project. I don’t think the manga business is one that should be entered to make a stable living and/or good profit, but for passion of the nature of the business and the idea that one wants to develop and present to the world.

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