On July 30th 2017 at the Kinokuniya in New York City, representatives of Kodansha talked about their work as manga editors on Weekly Shonen Magazine. Heading the talk was Ben Applegate, Director of Publishing at Kodansha Comics USA. The guests were Kiichiro Sugawara, editor and chief of Weekly Shonen Magazine, Tetsuya Fujikawa, the editor of Aho Girl, and Megumu Tsuchiya, the editor of The Heroic Legend of Arslan and Fire Force. Throughout the talk, they explained the process, answered some audience questions, and even showed off some materials.

“Even though I asked him to do it, I wouldn’t want to do it myself”

The weekly manga cycle is very difficult. This was explained many times over the course of the hour. Each issue of Weekly Shonen Magazine is about 400 pages. Each mangaka has to make 20 pages. The issue contains about 20 works. As you can tell this is quite draining work, leaving very little free time for the Mangaka. Each page takes about four hours to complete on average. Sugawara mentioned that by the end of the year, the editors have looked at over 10,000 pages of manga.

Sugawara also noted that the reason why manga is black and white (or at least one reason) is because color would take too much time on a weekly schedule. This isn’t to mention the times where mangaka creates two chapters in one week, such as recently when the magazine ran two chapters of Days back to back. Sugawara commented that “even though I asked him to do it, I wouldn’t want to do it myself”.

“Though [4koma manga] is very different, the behind the scenes is the same”

Fujikawa talked at length about the process behind editing a 4koma manga like Aho Girl. Hiroyuki-sensei, the author of Aho Girl, is apparently very quick with his manuscripts, and has a healthier lifestyle than some other mangaka. Fujikawa jokingly theorized that Hiroyuki is a ninja. He stated that “though [4koma manga] is very different, the behind the scenes is the same.” He also noted that Hiroyuki is quite easy to work with.

Later on, a story was mentioned about the preparation needed for serialization. One editor (not Fujikawa) suggested that Aho Girl could be more of a moe manga, and that Yoshiko’s cuteness be upped and made the appeal. This was a matter that Hiroyuki-sensei would not budge on. “I’m not making that manga moe. It’s a manga about life” is what Fujikawa stated that Hiroyuki-sensei responded with. It’s hard to imagine Aho Girl as a moe manga!

Hiroyuki-sensei, like a growing number of mangaka, does all his work digitally. Some images of his process were shown to the audience. His rough drafts were quite detailed and were very close to the final work. “Hiroyuki wants the draft to look as close to the final as possible so that the editors know what it will look like”¬†Fujikawa stated, describing the rough drafts. It seemed Fujikawa had nothing but praise for Hiroyuki, later calling him a genius. “It’s amazing, that’s it” he later said in English, illiciting a laugh from the audience, which was not the only time he proved himself to be a fun guy.

“Arakawa-sensei always needs to know the ending before she starts her manga”

Tsuchiya began by talking about working with Arakawa-sensei (of Fullmetal Alchemist fame) on The Heroic Legend of Arslan. Being an adaptation of another work, it seemed there was a lot of thought put into the work during pre-production. Apparently, Arakawa read the original novels three times during pre-production! Character designs went through a lot of trial and error (we even got to see some of them). Tsuchiya also noted that Arakawa spent a lot of time around the topic of a villain strong enough to be the big one. “Arakawa-sensei always needs to know the ending before she starts her manga”, claimed Tsuchiya, noting that Fullmetal Alchemist‘s ending is essentially the original one thought out.

Tsuchiya then moved onto the topic of Fire Force, the new manga by the author of Soul Eater. He mentioned that Fire Forces setting, which Applegate commented was one of the most appealing parts of it,¬†“Ookubo-sensei was inspired by the idea of what if World War II never happened and the Taisho era never ended.” He also mentioned that a way it differed from Soul Eater was that Soul Eater was about schoolkids, but Fire Force has a professional setting.

Messages from the authors

The audience was treated to some messages from some of the authors of Kodansha manga. Hiroyuki-sensei was glad that people in America were enjoying Aho Girl. Ookubo-sensei’s message was completely in katakana! (apparently he is very good at English).

But the biggest surprise was a message from Toshiya Wakabayashi, the author of Tsuredure Children. He mentioned that he was a big fan of Glee, and that it was one of his influences writing Tsuredure Children. He noted that the way that they casually talked about sex. It inspired him to write more freely about that kind of thing. The large cast of both of the series was noted. He mention that he loved lots of other American shows but didn’t have time to list them all.

“If we kept thinking about [cancelation] we couldn’t start these new titles”

During the questions segment, an audience member asked if mangaka were comfortable with doujinshi. Fujikawa answered that Hiroyuki-sensei does doujinshi himself (and created a manga called Doujin Work) so he’s fine with it. There isn’t a firm stance among mangaka, some like it, while others felt like people were riding off coattails.

One person asked if there were any times that any of the editors felt that a manga that got cancelled would’ve been popular if it had been given a bit more time. Sugawara responded to this question. He said that they start 10-15 manga a year and they all want them to succeed. Sadly some end up being as short as two volumes. He went on to state that “If we kept thinking about [cancellation] we couldn’t start these new titles.” The risk of cancellations is just part of the trade.

Final thoughts

In total the hour was spent quite productively, and was a thoroughly interesting experience. Meeting the people that have brought fans the manga from Weekly Shonen Magazine every week isn’t something I can do everyday. So next time you read a chapter of your favorite manga, think about the people working hard behind the scenes to bring it to you.

Posted by Alex Jackson

Avid reader of otokonoko manga and fan of slice of life. Interests include otaku cultural studies and writing fiction. Alex Jackson is a pen name.

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