Discussion Translation: Kentaro Takekuma x Ken Akamatsu, Part 5

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.

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 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)

  1. see day 4 []

14 Responses to “Discussion Translation: Kentaro Takekuma x Ken Akamatsu, Part 5”

  1. vinhnyu says:

    Thanks again for translating this very long but also fascinating interview.

    It was interesting to see how different their opinions are eventhough they both led to the same conclusion, the downfall of manga. In my opinion, I think they’re both right, manga artists should draw a work which is interesting for readers (gaining popularity and making money in the process) but they should also do something they enjoy and try new things eventhough it doesn’t please their readers.

    I wish we could have their point of view about “Shingeki no Kyôjin”, the million starter which sells incredibly well after only 3-4 volumes while the settings and story are pretty original and not “shônen-like”. For a manga without an anime, goods, multimedia support and is even the debut serie from an unknown author, that sure is an amazing feat.

  2. kransom says:

    vinhnyu: thanks for reading through the whole thing!

    Akamatsu and Takekuma actually were involved in a bit of a Twitter chat about Shingeki no Kyojin, which can be found here in Japanese: http://togetter.com/li/106764

    While I obviously can’t translate it all right here, Takekuma begins by saying that the way in which the series succeeded has nearly no precedent, and that looking at its success, it feels like we’re now entering a new phase in how manga sells. Most of these points mentioned in the conversation as well, and it’s not a terribly insightful thought, but my personal gloss on it is that the series managed to resonate perfectly with the current state of manga and its readers, and that the big keys to its spread were online word-of-mouth (2ch, blogs) as well as its winning a number of major yearly manga awards. Not dissimilar to Thermae Romae, really.

    Anyway, late night anime starting, gonna sign off for a bit!

  3. vinhnyu says:

    Thermae Romae will grow even more popular after the drama’s broadcast with Abe Hiroshi and Aya Ueto. >:)
    I remember watching a show about magazines giving comics feedbacks and providing a ranking for any new and interesting manga they read. There might too many manga made, that might be why that kind of magazine is required to know which comic is worth to be check, read and bought.
    It does look like a new manga phase with unusual and interesting manga growing popular thanks to internet and critics’ opinions.

    Anyway, happy Walpurgis night, heh!

  4. ghostlightning says:

    Read all of it. Incredibly fascinating and instructive. Thanks for sharing this.

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

    […] If you have any interest in the Japanese manga industry do read Kransom’s translation of ITmedia’s interview between Ken Akamatsu and Kentaro Takemura – pt1, pt2, pt3, pt4, pt5. […]

  6. AstroNerdBoy says:

    Thanks for all the hard work in translating and sharing this. As I said before, I love Akamatsu-sensei’s works and I believe his J-Comi idea is the right way to go. It was very interesting reading all of this and their thoughts on the declining manga industry.

  7. hiero_yo says:

    Thanks again for the translation. I can understand Akamatsu not wanting to step on the publishers’ feet with J-Comi but hopefully someone will start something similar for new artists to debut with. Somebody like Pixiv could probably make but I imagine if they were to do it, it wouldn’t be under favorable conditions for the artist.

  8. Kurogane Shiroikaze says:

    Thanks for translating this article. I’ve got a new found respect for Akamatsu, especially with his theory on the “entertainment fee”.

    It makes a lot of sense once you try to think of it outside the bounds of merely just making manga. Probably because i have been in situations similar to what Mr. Takekuma told about a female student of his that came to Comitia at 3pm.

  9. proscientia says:

    This was very interesting. I think that Ken Akamatsu’s idea is brilliant: relatively fair to all parties (authors, readers, publishers), promotes the medium (manga), and is legal.

    I wish Mr. Takekuma’s vision finds an outlet as well; it would be nice to find a good way to keep the manga industry healthy for many years (or at least have manga influences drift to other countries where the industry is healthy), so that future generations can enjoy creating and reading manga.

  10. neon says:

    Wow, thank you for all your hard work translating this. I’m puzzled why it hasn’t gotten more comments. The differences in their points of view were fascinating, but I get the feeling Akamatsu’s opinion carries more weight, given he’s been drawing manga for so long, and he understands the pressures on an artist.

    I really like Akamatsu’s “entertainment fee” concept, since I can see it applied to other industries as well. I think it’s important that manga artists remember that keeping one’s audience in mind is important if they hope to generate profit.

    But regardless, I do agree that the manga industry is in decline. I imagine the online selling of magazines, comics, etc. will be inevitable in the industry, but somehow that makes me a little sad…online reading hardly compares to holding a hard-copy or phonebook-style magazine in one’s hands. And it definitely will lower the amount of exposure for new artists.

  11. choux says:

    I’m shocked that there aren’t more people talking about this too. Thanks so much for translating!

  12. BakaTanuki says:

    I’m quite late, but finally got around to reading the discussion in its entirety. I compiled it all into a word document and printed it out- I recommend others do the same.

    The discussion is fascinating, and I couldn’t be happier to have the opportunity to read it in English. Not enough articles of its type make it into English, which is a shame.

    Also, while I can’t read Japanese and thus have no reference to comment on the accuracy of translation, I was very impressed with how natural and smooth the wording came across. The thoughts and intentions of the two came across excellently, without any awkwardness in translation. Fantastic work, and I appreciate your contributions to the English speaking fandom. I’ll be sharing this article with my anime club comrades and anyone else I think would be interested.

  13. art afficionado says:

    Thank you so much for the translation, man. Insightful, inspiring, informative… this discussion and it’s content will always be at an integral section of my thoughts and actions toward and in the manga world from this day forward. Again, thank you – for translating the essential discussion of history and probability between two established legends.

  14. Jesse Long says:

    I have read the interview and I must say that both Akematsu AND Takekuma make a lot of valid points. However, they, as well as American comic authors, need to realize that fan fiction is NOT ripping off of their works, or the works of other manga-ka and anime series producers or producers of other media by and large, but, rather, that said fan fiction is the key to quit getting them to be lazy jerks that only plod on in a poor to mediocre state.

    What is happening is essentially what I refer to as “the Madden Syndrome.” What I mean is this, folks. Madden NFL is an extremely popular American football franchise system in the USA when it comes to video games. However, it is not as good as it once was, nor is it as popular due to some legally questionable moves by Electronic Arts (EA), its parent company. The reason for this is because it is, as they say, the only game in town (no pun intended). These two authors hit on that point earlier in the conversation and they were right to point out that the new artists always get crowded out by systems that, were they in the USA, would be considered as monopolistic and illegal in my country, that is, if crooked politicians and special interest groups did not have their way to skirt or rewrite the laws to their liking, which also meant going over things like the Sherman Antitrust Act and essentially nullifying such laws in my country. Japan has a LOT of issues with monopolization and when you allow monopolization, you essentially make it the corporate equivalent of a dictatorship under Communist, Socialist, Fascist, Nationalist, and related principles.

    However, the thing that probably irritated me the most is people like Takekuma said essentially that they were too scared to actually MAKE an actual ending to a story. Were I a publisher of a manga or anime company, or a producer, I would show the person the door for such an attitude. I honestly do not care whether the person or cultural mindset is Japanese, for a good story has to have a definitive beginning, middle, and end. A good example of this happening in another genre of storytelling, namely, literature, specifically classical literature, is from the “Sherlock Holmes” series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In one book, which was supposed to be the “last” book of the series, Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty (or however his name is spelled) went over a cliff and plummeted down apparently to their mutual doom. People got angry to the point of literal riots in the streets of London and elsewhere because of what Doyle did to his characters. Likewise, this mentality in manga and anime is very persistent and this is essentially one of, if not THE main reason of why you even HAVE fan fiction in anime and manga franchises.

    The bottom line is that not only do anime, manga, and, yes, even video game writers need to make story lines that have a definitive beginning, middle, and end, but, if they can not do so on their own, then, at the very least, have a contest for people, or a team of people to look at the best fan fiction from people that are paying homage to the series, have them have their skills perfected through editing, correction, and teaching them how to better hone their craft, and thus make a better series as a whole. I may not have the conventional manga and anime viewpoint, but if I see talent, then I should know better to arrest a talented artist as opposed to hiring said artist to work for my company because if that artist actually made MY work better, as well as caused me to rethink my work and to show me how arrogant, egotistical, prideful, mediocre, sloppy, elitist, complacent, and incompetent that I had become to not only my own work, but to my own fans, then, yes, it is time for myself to take that bit of humble pie and apply it to my own work and my own life. Sometimes, we NEED that little jarring bit of reality in order to make ourselves better writers and artists.

    We have also allowed ourselves to become the anime and manga equivalent of the Biblical Pharisees. We impose all of these laws that were never meant to be placed upon other laws in the first place and then we twiddle our thumbs and wonder to ourselves and say, “Well, why do people make fan fiction?” The answer is simple and that is people simply do not agree with how you are handling the story. The best way to reduce, or possibly eliminate it, is NOT to threaten people with legal action, rather, it is to handle it with hiring good fan fiction writers to also work on the franchise. Yes, as art aficionado said (and you misspelled your name, sir, by the way), we CAN have issues with people that do not pour their heart and soul into a franchise, but, at the same time, we could also stifle growth within a series if we do not take that risk. Yes, some of the Marvel and DC writers past 1976 ticked me off to no end on how they handled their franchises, but in the companies since that time, and even more so in anime and manga where the same staff always handles a franchise, it is like dealing with a schizophrenic Hydra and good writing needs to be consistent.

    Finally, I honestly could care less if I make a legendary anime and manga writer mad because I did not stick to “their” dream. The reality is that, like it or not, if you want to have a dream, then you are going to have to realize that, in order to have that dream, that the people that will buy into your dream are the ones that are essentially making your dream stay alive, and not yourself or some ding bat special interest group of some sort, regardless of their agenda or political ideology or bias. I say let them come after me because if they were to truly understood their own works, the messages that their own works convey, and their fans, then they would understand, as well as the publishing studios, that it is the FANS that give them the roofs over their heads, the vehicles that they drive, the gasoline, fluids, and other things that make their vehicles continue to run, that put the food on their tables, inside of their refrigerators, and in their cabinets, that pay for the sports and educations that their children have in their lives, and that essentially give them their lives, period.

    This is how things REALLY work and if they do not like it, then maybe they need to seek another line of work and to have a dose of humble pie until they learn to grow up and abandon many of these self-destructive ideologies and to change the system, adapt to a new system, and to survive. The point that I am trying to make is that they simply will not last long in a pair of swimming trunks when they are in the middle of the North Pole or South Pole, so they will have to adapt how to survive there and by that, I mean they will have to wear lots of fur and bundle up in an ice shelter or some other kind of dwelling that is reasonably well heated or else they are going to become a human ice cube, period, full stop. Likewise, the people that work in the anime, manga, and video games industries are going to have to accept this as the new reality of things and if they do not, then they will essentially become Ourobouros, as in the snake that turned on itself and became a cannibal of its own body. I do not want people to turn these industries into that kind of mindset, but if they do not change the status quo, then they WILL become as I said that they will become, period, full stop.

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