I know nothing about China
Araki: This is kind of embarrassing, but the only book of yours I have read is Bokkou. But, you know, it still made me feel we have a few things in common. There tends to be some sort of disconnect between the beginning and the ending when writers simply write guided by their feelings, but everything about your writing advances logically. I’m thinking we’re alike here.
Sakemi: I don’t actually follow a logical thread, but since I write about various historical events, it’s only natural for my writings to move along in a logical manner. Truth be told, I don’t actually have an elaborate plan.
Araki: So you have been researching China for a while?
Sakemi: Well, no, I actually don’t know anything about China. I’m making it up as I’m writing, so it’s a little embarrassing.
Araki: I see. There are a lot of manga artists who do this too, you know. A lot of lies written about kenpou, for example.
Sakemi: But it’s still a little scary to write something you have no idea about. If someone in the know or someone who’s worked in China told me my stuff is wrong, I’d be done for. It hasn’t happened so far, but I feel like it might happen in the future.
Araki: Although you could say that it is fictional history in a way.
Sakemi: Everything I write is made up by me. Still, I don’t invent weapons and don’t randomly destroy existing countries either. I have my limits.
Araki: Still, when historical figures do show up, you already know when they’re going to die. You need to have them die as they should.
Sakemi: It’s all right, Bokkou barely features historical figures.
Araki: Oh, I see. As soon as I saw kanji I totally thought they were real people.
Sakemi: Basically it’s like this: imagine someone makes a movie, finds a wasteland and places their sets there. That’s what it’s like. The fortress is also something I made up myself.
Araki: I have seen it serialised in Big Comic. Do you think the art style suits the story?
Sakemi: It’s more like, I had no idea what the clothing of the time was like, so now that I’ve seen it, I felt like I learnt something new.
Araki: Interesting (laughs)
Sakemi: We do know what kind of clothes nobles used to wear, since we have illustrations, but we have no idea what common people wore or what they ate. There are no castle walls left either, so I stumbled onto a lot of problems.
Araki: Not even ancient ruins?
Sakemi: There are a lot, but it’s kind of difficult to find something from 2500 years ago. Those in Egypt or Greece were preserved because they were built from stone, but in China’s case, they were easily destroyed because they were apparently made of hardened clay. This is why you can say my novel lies in this matter.
Araki: I didn’t think for a moment it was a lie.
Sakemi: That’s why I’d really, really hate for a China expert to read it. I also write science fiction, so it’s not like I only focus on China.
Betraying reader expectations in an interesting way
Sakemi: I noticed Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure features combat sport. Do you practice it?
Araki: I never have. I have done some kendou though.
Sakemi: Have you seen it live perhaps?
Araki: I haven’t, but I do watch it on TV. I don’t really feel like drawing combat sport. I believe we are similar in this respect — tactics and strategy are more interesting. That’s why, to be completely honest, I hate pro wrestling and anything of the sort.
Sakemi: Pro wrestling actually has a very similar concept: you have to draw out enough of your opponent’s strength and then finish them off. Basically, if an unknown fighter attacks you, you can’t defeat them unless you bring out their special technique. You should defeat a wrestler after you have witnessed their strength several times. I think it’s the same in manga. To put it clearly, it’s better to kill a dangerous guy immediately, but once you have witnessed how threatening the enemy is, you turn the tables in one move. This is a must.
Araki: One-shot kills definitely wouldn’t fit among Jump’s traditional long battles (laughs)
Sakemi: This would have been a problem for UWF during Maeda Akira’s time. You can actually defeat a weak guy in about one minute. But defeating him after he has displayed his technique is much better. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is called match fixing nowadays.
Araki: There’s a 50-50 in this case.
Sakemi: That’s exactly it. A while ago, during a boxing match between Trevor Berbick and UWF international Takada Nobuhiko, instead of letting Berbick show off his crazy punches and then defeat him, Takada just started kicking him all of a sudden and Berbick ran away.
Araki: That’s also a fighting style.
Sakemi: Berbick’s punch is over 300 kgs heavy, so receiving one of those would have been the end. He kept kicking before that. It’s correct in fighting, but wrong in pro wrestling. It was important to show how dangerous Berbick was, stagger on his feet, then turn the tables. That’s why “Cement” are mostly boring.
Araki: What are “Cement”?
Sakemi: Games played in earnest. I’d say it’s not that good when it comes to pro wrestling and I think we can say the same thing about manga. Even in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure losing a battle to win the war happens quite often. There are all kinds of enemies, like the guy who can only move through mirrors or the stand that attacks in dreams, so it’s fun to see every week how they’re going to be defeated.
Araki: Before I start drawing, I usually have a broad idea about the direction of the fight, but I may change my mind halfway through.
Sakemi: I can usually tell what’s going to happen in a manga, but not in your case, like how an enemy is going to be defeated and so on.
Araki: Some people hate that.
Sakemi: No, it’s great. You betray the readers’ imagination and expectations, and in an interesting way on top of that.
Araki: That is why “Bokkou” impressed me.
Sakemi: That’s because my characters get defeated after their strength is revealed.
Excitement, every single week
Araki: I said earlier that we have something in common. That something is “psychological battles”. It’s interesting to see this in all your novels. We’re kind of similar here.
Sakemi: I know you since you received the Tezuka Prize for Poker Under Arms; it really showed off your talents and style. Those poker tricks made me think you like gambling. Am I right?
Araki: Yes, well, I usually do it. I win most of the time. I’m the kind of man who stops while he’s still winning.
Sakemi: Did you also gamble abroad?
Araki: I did. There was this Grand Casino in Egypt, so I went there alone.
Sakemi: How did it go?
Araki: I won. I got all my souvenir money back through gambling.
Sakemi: Was it card games?
Araki: Exactly. I had to move pretty fast.
Sakemi: As I thought, you’d rather have a human for a partner than a machine, even in gambling.
Araki: That’s right. Even when it comes to roulette, a professional dealer, will definitely have the skill to enter your favoured number. When your partner is a pro, it feels like they can see behind your every move, several moves ahead. It’s a great psychological battle.
Sakemi: And yet you can’t really win.
Araki: You can’t stop as long as it’s profitable. You keep thinking you’re going to play just a bit more. I, for one, stop playing after I win, since the fun of gambling are tactics anyway. I think these psychological battles are also one of the fun points of my manga.
Sakemi: This is why I find your fights between strong characters really interesting. It’s rather impossible for an amateur to capture those psychological battles in games like shougi or go, even when people wave their fans or make a good move. On the other hand, the fights between powerful people in sumou, for example, are easy to follow. That is why it’s popular.
Araki: What about pro wrestling?
Sakemi: Well, organisations have their own rules and plans, so there won’t be matches between the strongest people, but the psychological part is insane.
Araki: Pro wrestling is quite profound, huh.
Sakemi: It’s too profound, really, I actually feel sorry for the people who talk about match fixing or clean matches. I think, for example, there are “fixed” manga and “clean” manga too. Same with novels.
Araki: I agree.
Sakemi: Attacking after you draw out your opponent’s power to the utmost, since you do have to show it off, like in your manga: you have the enemy display their power, like in pro wrestling, meaning more suspense for the readers, then have them punctually defeated. You aren’t afraid of showing all your ideas.
Araki: There are also times when I test myself. I don’t know how to defeat the enemy, so I momentarily make them strong and drive the characters into a corner.
Sakemi: I don’t do that too often, since I end up not knowing how to save my characters. I just can’t have them fight in situations that end up too disadvantageous. In that respect, you have the enemies defeated right on time. It’s a good thing. You don’t mind showing your ideas one after another. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure has had dozens of defeated enemies, but it was great every single time.
Araki: I had to come up with about thirty different stands, since you need to make every new weekly chapter fun and exciting. The story will obviously have its ups and downs, but it will stop being enjoyable if it keeps having downs, even if they’re necessary for the story itself.
Sakemi: This is why the way you construct your ideas is great; “hamon” is one of them.
Araki: I came up with it while thinking about ways to reach your body limits, like to what extent you can transform. There’s been scientific research conducted about this “air” people have, this aura that would show up if scanned with infrared. There are also other strange ideas, like energy coming from the universe and so on. I figured all these have one thing in common and came up with the concept named “ki”, or more like “hamon”, to make it easy to understand for the readers.
Sakemi: Is it the same for stands?
Araki: Let’s say they’re more similar to guardian spirits. Anyway, I named them “stands” because they stand by your (bed)side. I ran out of ideas soon though.
Sakemi: No, no, it’s better than putting them off.
Araki: You wouldn’t be able to survive in Jump if you did that. You must have highlight scenes every week, since everyone only knows about what’s coming next the following week.
Sakemi: It’s also because manga requires a degree of perfection more than novels, right?
Araki: Well yes, I’d say you need constant excitement every single week.
It’s easy to simply focus on the story
Sakemi: The good thing about manga is that developing characters is the most important part. They gradually grow when you give them new skills, new particularities and so on.
Araki: Yes, definitely. If you don’t build up your characters, the manga will not be able to stand by itself either. I rack my brain every week to find something that appeals to the readers. The biggest problem is coming up with stories that highlight the characters’ best parts.
Sakemi: Novels are different. It’s more about writing people than characters.
Araki: Isn’t this the same thing?
Sakemi: It’s not. You basically can’t write over-the-top people when you’re told to write people. I think that’s stupid, but apparently this is how things work in the novel industry. It doesn’t matter anymore when it comes to my generation, and to put it bluntly, I think you’re better at this.
Araki: Is this how it really works? What I can say is that in the manga industry you need more than just a coherent story. It’s easy to simply focus on the story, but it’s difficult to include certain episodes necessary for the characters and make the story coherent too. My head just goes numb after I send my weekly chapters.
Sakemi: When it comes to novels, there are writers who don’t really want to use all their ideas, and the stinggier ones even consider putting them aside for other short stories. I’m the type who writes everything I have in mind, so my mind goes back to zero when I’m done writing. I have to wait for new ideas to pop up. But that’s just the way it is. Basically, it’s natural for professionals to use one idea in one short story in mystery novels; there are a lot of calculated people. I think that if you have three ideas, then you should just use all three. That is why I’m still soft.
Araki: I am the same. Still soft.
Sakemi: I’ve only been around for about two years. I’m still inexperienced.
Araki: I think you’re great. Bokkou was the first novel I truly found interesting in quite a while. I think you have a distinct image of your novels in your head that might be suited for manga or movies too.
Sakemi: I’ve been told they are easy to turn into drawings. But you’d need a budget the like The Silk Road’s for a good movie.
Araki: If Bokkou were turned into a movie, I have a feeling it would rival Seven Samurai.
Sakemi: It never even crossed my mind, but I have been told this quite a lot.
Araki: It feels rather daring and impressive. I wish Kurosawa Akira at the height of his career directed it.
Sakemi: I’m not sure Kurosawa Akira would like to repeat himself. He wouldn’t do the same movie twice and that’s something I love about him. He’s an amazing person, wanting to do new things at his age.
Araki: There really hasn’t been another auteur to follow in his steps in the Japanese film industry.
Sakemi: Movies have been really boring lately. However, Kurosawa Akira not only understands the true meaning of entertainment, but he has also used strange experimental techniques. Doing only experimental things from a young age and being known as a rather strange fellow is not particularly pleasant. (laughs)
Araki: Yes, it’s about doing strange things besides having a grasp of true entertainment.