Translator’s Introduction: This is the final part 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.
“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”
“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”
“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”
“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”
“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 5: Where is Manga Going?
“I Want to Do Something that Amuses Others, Not Myself”
Takekuma: You know, when this talk gets written up, it’d be a good idea to frame it as us opposing one another. At first glance, it might have looked like we had similar ideas, but once we actually met and talked, it’s clear that we’re coming from completely different places.
Akamatsu: Completely different. Our predictions for the future are different, and our standpoints are different, too.
Takekuma: While we do both look at the situation and think, “the industry will collapse within a few years if it keeps going down its current path,” our explanations are different. It’s actually interesting just how opposed our ideas are to the other’s.
Akamatsu: Yes, this isn’t going to be the kind of discussion that we can neatly wrap up with a “That’s right” and a “Yes, I agree.” We’re not agreeing on a single point.
Takekuma: Actually, how little we’re agreeing with each other is amazing. We must simply have different life philosophies. We start at the same place regarding present conditions, but go in such different directions because of our standpoints. I’m sorry if this is rude to say, but Mr. Akamatsu’s way of thinking is the way the successful think.
Akamatsu: But if you think about whose outlook is grimmer, it would have to be mine. Your outlook has optimism and dreams in parts of it. What I’m saying is that it’s a lost cause, so we should think of the next way of doing things.
Takekuma: Yeah. As far as I’m aware, your outlook on the industry is the most severe, realistic one out there. But looking at how quickly the internet is evolving, there’s no telling what will have happened five years from now. There might be some sort of new system or content that we can’t even imagine right now. So, we can worry about those things when they happen. Only, I personally want to do something that I find interesting.
Akamatsu: I’m different. I want to do something that other people find interesting.
— I see, that’s the fundamental difference between you two.
Akamatsu: What Mr. Takekuma just said about doing something he likes is precisely what I consider to be an “entertainment fee”1 . That’s why it sets off all my warning lights like mad.
Takekuma: But for the past thirty years, I’ve been doing what I like doing. I’ve had my fair share of painful and difficult experiences, but it’s been fun. Of course, I’m not completely satisfied.
Akamatsu: You have an incredible vitality.
Takekuma: Only, after my stroke four years ago bringing me close to death, I started really thinking about my mortality. I think to myself that I have ten years left to live. I obviously don’t want to die as soon as that time is up, but I don’t have an image of my future past that point. My goal right now is to do everything I want to do before then.
— What kinds of goals, specifically?
Takekuma: I have about three works that I want to create, which would also ideally help train new artists. These are ideas I’ve had since I was around 20, and I feel like now might finally be the time that I can turn them into a reality. Only, I’m not confident that I can finish all of them in ten years, but there’s one that I really want to do. However, it’s an idea that I’ve been unsuccessfully pitching to publishers starting ten years ago, so I have no choice but to build a system in which I can create it.
— Is it just a manga, or something bigger, with a manga at its core?
Takekuma: It’s an overall expression, with manga at its core. That’s the only way I can put it, really, but I’ll announce it soon.
— Of the two of you, Mr. Takekuma seems more like the so-called artist-type.
Akamatsu: You’re right.
Takekuma: Someone once asked me which I’d prefer: my dreams coming true tomorrow, or ten years from now. I replied by saying ten years from now. After all, the fun part of plastic models is building them, isn’t it? People who enjoy building models don’t find anything interesting about completed ones.
Akamatsu: I’d rather have the model be done tomorrow, then start on the next one the day after that.
Takekuma: And that’s what’s fundamentally different about us. (laughter) Honestly, I’d be fine with not even completing it.
Akamatsu: Whaat? (laughter)
Takekuma: I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve almost never built a plastic model to completiono. (laughter) I get sick of it halfway through. That’s why I was never able to become an artist who could see something through until the end. It’s very difficult for me to struggle through to the end of something, but Akamatsu-san must be where he is because he can do that.
“Our Job is to Provide a Place to Debut for Those with the Fundamentals Down” (Akamatsu)
Takekuma: I don’t have high demands to begin with, so if we were to have another conversation five years from now, I think that I would be satisfied with the way things are.
Akamatsu: You can’t let yourself be satisfied. Don’t you think about wanting more people around the world seeing what you do?
Takekuma: I do. But I don’t have the confidence that a book I release will sell a million copies in a year. Another way to put it is that I think that there’s work where it’s okay to only sell five digits. There are works like Mr. Tsuge (Yoshiharu)’s manga that couldn’t possibly sell a million copies. The fact that he hasn’t reached that level of sales doesn’t take anything away from his value as an artist, though.
Akamatsu: You could call Mr. Tsuge a pioneer, someone who influenced artists who came after him. In academics, influences like that would be called “basic research”, but you shouldn’t do basic research, because it’s not good business. I tell my juniors in the business this, but you shouldn’t do basic research, and you should match the title you bring to a publisher to the publisher. If you ignore those two things, you’ll have fun, but death is waiting for you.
Takekuma: If anything, that seems like worldly wisdom.
Akamatsu: That’s right. Manga worldly wisdom.
Takekuma: So, you would say that the fundamental ability to draw manga is something that an artist has in them from the beginning? That there’s no need to foster it.
Akamatsu: Like you said earlier, there are a lot of people with the fundamentals. I think that what our job is, is to provide a place to debut for those with the fundamentals down. We have to get them ready to leave the nest. Right now, even though there are baby birds with beautiful feathers and the ability to fly, in reality, they end up just falling to the ground and dying.
Takekuma: I was able to meet Takao Saito before, and he told me that geniuses like Tezuka (Osamu) who are able to exhibit their talent in every aspect of manga are very rare. However, even run-of-the-mill artists might be good at something, like dialogue, or drawing mecha, to the point where they’re better than even Tezuka at that one thing. What Saito Pro does is to gather individuals with skills like that, then have them work as a collective. When he first tried to create Saito Pro by calling out to his manga artist colleagues, they had pride as artists, and were too individualistic to all gather together. Anyway, they wouldn’t have been able to stand being told “you draw just the mecha, and you draw just the animals.”
What surprised Saito-sensei was that everyone thought that they were geniuses. It’s a ridiculous idea. If everyone was as talented as Osamu Tezuka, the manga industry never would have formed. That’s why he was thinking about how to create a methodology where run-of-the-mill artists could work. I think that Saito-sensei is a pioneer, in that he was the first person in the industry to create a methodology for “manga (gekiga) as a business”.
Akamatsu: So that’s why you were talking about an American comics-style division of labor. My response to that as an artist is that, like you said earlier, everyone thinks that they’re a genius, so I don’t think that a system like that would go well. Everyone who wants to become a manga artist does it thinking that they’re going to sell a million or even two million copies, so they can’t accept your system.
Takekuma: There are definitely artists who are like that, but there are also some who aren’t. If I thought that becoming a manga artist is meaningless if you don’t become a million-seller, I wouldn’t be teaching at a university. It’s not something that everyone can do, and I don’t have that kind of experience myself, either. I think it’s fine if you’re just paying the bills with manga. In other words, if it means a career drawing manga, then it’s fine to just be a professional assistant.
In that case, though, I think there should be a system where an individual can have their work drawn and released. They would submit their thumbnails or plot, and if it was accepted, they would act as a supervisor as the work is created by a company. I’m not saying that absolutely everything should turn into an American comics or Saito Pro-style arrangement. What I do want to say, though, is that talented people like Mr. Akamatsu who sell a million copies right off the bat are very rare, and that you can’t go in front of a class of students and tell them to all debut and become million sellers. It’s not something that’s realistic.
Akamatsu: Hmm… In that case, I feel like that after all, there are some fundamental problems with the idea of academic art education.
Takekuma: There’s something contradictory about the idea of “training talent”. I certainly have times when I feel ashamed about it.
“Let’s Meet Again in Five Years. We’ll See Then Who’s Laughing and Who’s Crying” (Takekuma)
Akamatsu: Our talk seems to have ended without us agreeing on anything. I wonder how it’s going to be written up.
Takekuma: Why not honestly show how little we agree with each other? I think it would be interesting for readers to see how I call myself an editor but act like an artist, and how you’re much more of an editor or producer-type than I am. We should settle this by meeting again in five years. Well see then who’s laughing and who’s crying. It might even be that we’ll be in a world that neither of us could have even imagined.
Akamatsu: Though, talks like this typically are wrapped up with some sort of harmonious ending.
Takekuma: That just means that this talk will get more attention. So, let’s meet again in five years, and do something like a look back at the last five years then.
Akamatsu: “Let’s meet again in five years” is actually a favorite phrase of mine. In high school and college, when I’d have a difference of opinion with someone, I’d often say, “in that case, let’s go for drinks again in five years.”
Takekuma: We agree on the general framework. We’re both doubtful that the publishing and manga industries can last for another five years. We also both think that e-publishing could offer a solution. I think we agree on at least that much.
Akamatsu: Yes, we do. (laughter)
Takekuma: In that case, I’ll see you in five years.
Akamatsu: Well, let’s keep giving it our best.
Takekuma: If I was responsible for writing this up, I’d be going crazy trying to figure out how. (uproarious laughter)
The talk, which began at 9 at night, ended at 4 in the morning, after changing locations multiple times. While both men agreed on the current state of the manga industry, and that they both felt a sense of danger, many of their arguments ran parallel to each other, and their different values soon became quite clear. By the second half of the discussion, both men found this huge gap in opinion to be interesting in itself, and began to talk and joke about it. It goes without saying that this writer was on the edge of his seat the entire time.
It is probably an overly hasty conclusion to say that the reason that the two men were at such odds is because one is a manga artist, and the other is an editor. Mr. Akamatsu is most certainly a manga author with a producer’s intentions, and conversely, Mr. Takekuma is an editor with an artist’s intentions, both strongly clashing with the standard notions of “manga artist” and “editor”. Despite their near-complete agreement regarding the current state of the manga industry, as well as the dangers facing it, their radically different approaches to these problems must surely be a result of their difference in life philosophies and personal keys to happiness. The exchange where Mr. Akamatsu replied to Mr. Takekuma saying, “I want to do something I find interesting” with “I want to do something that other people find interesting” epitomizes this.
Mr. Akamatsu, an active manga artist currently undertaking a weekly serialization, and Mr. Takekuma, a professor who spends his busy days traveling back and forth between universities in Tokyo and Kyoto. It would not have been unusual if these two men were to cut the talk short after realizing that they disagreed on nearly everything, but instead they exchanged ideas for over seven hours. This could only have been because each was interested in the other’s approach to solving a common problem.
While Mr. Takekuma saw J-Comi as a possible platform for the discovery of new talent, Mr. Akamatsu is proceeding towards the official opening of the site resolved to only use J-Comi as an archive for out of print titles and as a way to generate returns for manga authors. Mr. Akamatsu already had future plans for J-Comi in his mind, and Mr. Takekuma told us that he had “ambitions” of making his own work into a reality while also discovering new talent in the process. While the conversation adjourned with the two men promising to talk again in five years, based on the content of this talk, one will likely be able to further understand what each man is risking by watching their activities in the manga world from here on. (Afterword by Mr. Masahiro Yamaguchi)
- see day 4 [↩]