The Manga Life: A Chat with Masakazu Ishiguro and Masahiro Ohno

Young King Ours may not be as well known as Shonen Jump, but as manga magazines go, it has spawned some popular series, including "Hellsing," "Trigun Maximum," and "Excel Saga." Its tagline is "The Most Eccentric Manga Magazine," and while critic Erica Friedman thinks that's a bit of an overstatement, it is true that Young King Ours is the home of some wacky stories.

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One of those stories is the delightful "Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru," often abbreviated to "SoreMachi," the story of a high school girl, Hatori, who works in a seaside cafe with a collection of goofy characters. It's a cafe comedy with a bit of story to it, drawn in a clear-lined, expressive style by manga-ka Masakazu Ishiguro, and it has been adapted into an anime released by Sentai, "And Yet the Town Moves."

Unfortunately for English-speaking readers, "SoreMachi" is currently published only by the digital manga service JManga, which will shut down on May 30. However, we have a preview of the manga below, which will stay up, and before it disappears altogether I wanted to post the lively interview I had at New York Comic Con with Ishiguro and his editor, Masahiro Ohno. Interviews with manga creators and editors tend to be frustratingly shallow (my favorite color is yellow, I collect interesting fabrics) but Ishiguro and Ohno really cut loose in this interview and talked frankly about their lives in the business.

[caption id="attachment_115593" align="aligncenter" width="561"]Young King Ours editor Masahiro Ohno, left, and SoreMachi Manga-ka Masakazu Ishiguro, right Young King Ours editor Masahiro Ohno, left, and SoreMachi Manga-ka Masakazu Ishiguro, right[/caption]

The interview began with Masakazu Ishiguro.

MTV Geek: How did you come up with the details of the maid café and Hotori's world--do you frequent a café, or did you go to one for research?

Ishiguro: I have never been to a real maid café before. The café that comes out in SoreMachi, Seaside, is the traditional Japanese style of coffee shop.

What makes Hotori special—how did you come up with the idea for her?

Ishiguro: Visually she is not very special, but she has quirks about her personality, like she is really interested in detective novels. Hotori's personality has a little bit of my own personality, and I think of Hotori as my daughter. The character has become more and more deep as I have created the character and my feelings toward the character have become stronger.

Sometimes in manga all the characters look alike. Your characters have very distinct faces with strong expressions. How did you develop that skill?

Ishiguro: I am really happy that you feel that way about my work. When I was in elementary school, I drew a manga about ninjas and my mom found the manga and she was looking at it and said how they were drawn she couldn't tell who the main character was—they all looked the same. Since then, I have tried to work hard to make all the characters have unique characteristics. It has been a passionate point for me in drawing manga.

Many people find it hard to write comedy. What suggestions can you give from your own experience?

Ishiguro: In writing comedy you shouldn't try to make things stand out too much. You should take a look at your surroundings. You should see how real human interactions take place and emphasize those.

You have been writing this manga for seven years. You probably wouldn't go to the same café for seven years. How do you keep it fresh and interesting?

Ishiguro: As a manga-ka I have an extremely busy schedule. I have no days off, no time for a vacation or travel, so I find myself living vicariously through the manga characters, going places I want to go, maybe places I found reading a novel. I can do and experience interesting things through my characters. That's how I get through it.

We often hear that manga creators work very hard. What is your work day like?

Ishiguro: I wake up at 9:00 every day and start drawing and continue drawing to 2 or 3 in the morning every day, over and over.

Do you have assistants?

Ishiguro: Yes. One assistant that comes to help me three days a month.

Do you ever read manga for fun?

Ishiguro: Unfortunately, not too much, but when I do get to read, I like to read titles by artists like Fujiko Fujio [the creator of "Doraemon"} and Otomo Katsuhiro-sensei [creator of "Akira"].

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At this point, I turned to Masahiro Ohno, Ishiguro's editor at Young King Ours. Ishiguro followed the conversation and jumped in from time to time.

I understand one of the hallmarks of your magazine is the interesting characters in the stories. How do you encourage that? Do you look for specific artists, or do you pick someone and guide them?

Ohno: It's a wonderful question. Shonen Gahosha has a kind of special relationship between the editors and the manga-ka. They have a really close relationship, and within Shonen Gahosha, they approach artists that they feel have a powerful or unique style and do their best to give them the freedom to draw the manga that they would like to draw. This is kind of the traditional philosophy of Shonen Gahosha.

Furthermore, there is a variety of different kinds of editors. They can be separated into three categories—editors that wanted to become manga-ka themselves, editors that love manga, and editors that love stories. Shonen Gahosha in particular is mostly in the second category, editors that love manga.

Ishiguro: Now I understand Shonen Gahosha!

Several of the stories in your magazine have been successful as manga in the U.S.—"Excel Saga," "Trigun," "Hellsing." Why do you think that is?

Ohno: I believe the reason is that Shonen Gahosha has a lot of monthly magazines and the artists really put their effort into the fine details, and they have the time to put the effort into the fine details. I feel the reason these manga are popular abroad is they have very strong artistic intricacies that appeal to the readers. They put a lot of time into the titles. For example, "Hellsing" went into just over 10 volumes but it took ten years. "Trigun" was mainly done 30 pages at a time.

Ishiguro: I believe that these titles might be popular abroad because they possess a kind of unique world view or perspective. There is a Japanese view of vampires [for example], and this kind of unique perspective from the Japanese point of view may be why the titles are popular abroad.

What do you think are the elements of a good manga?

Ohno: It's confidential! [Laughs]

From an editor's perspective, the most important thing is the relationship between the editor and the manga-ka. If it's a good relationship and the editor is trusted by the manga-ka, they can work together to make good works.

Ishiguro: I agree with Ohno-san that the relationship between editor and manga-ka is of extreme importance. As they are creating the works for the magazines, when the plot first is created, when the names are first given, the first person who sees it is the editor for the title. From a manga-ka's perspective, I want to do something to impress or surprise Ohno-san.

As an editor, what do you find is the most frequent mistake that young manga creators make?

Ohno: There is a specific type of person that can become a manga-ka and generally the people who have difficulty becoming manga-ka are too confident or not confident enough.

Concerning myself as an editor, I have kind of a scary face, so I do my best to put things in a delicate or vague way, not make things too concrete and try to help the manga-ka come up with ideas on their own. A lot of younger editors tend to put a lot of strength behind their instructions and tell the manga-ka what they are looking for, and that can make it difficult for the manga-ka to do the work that needs to be done. One thing that could make it easier is to find an editor that they have good chemistry with.

What sort of balance do you look for in the magazine as a whole—do you try to have certain types of stories, or more of one particular kind of story?

Ohno: The magazine is really dependent on the manga-ka's talent and the manga-ka's desires. So the direction of the magazine is very influenced on what the manga-ka want to draw. This is a very unique style to Shonen Gahosha.

What is your favorite part of being an editor?

Ohno: I love interacting and conversing with manga-ka. I don't want to play myself off as cool, but I love to play, I love to go out, going to New York Comic Con. Being able to propose things to manga-ka, have them interested, and having it go through are the happiest moments.

Right now I am overseeing four manga-ka and ten new manga-ka. It's become a really low number. Before, I was overseeing up to 15 serialized manga-ka amongst four different magazines, but now I am also overseeing Shonen Gahosha's digital division, so I am doing that and editing at the same time.

What manga did you like when you were a child?

Ohno: There are two titles in particular I really liked, "Doraemon" and "San Chome No Yuhi (The sunset in San-Chome)." "Doraemon" is a title for kids, and "San Chome no Yuhi" is aimed at older adults like 40-year-old men. The reason I liked both as a kid is my mom gave away our family dog and I was really sad. Reading both of these titles, I found similar stories about people losing their dogs and I could identify with them and from there fell in love with both titles.

How did you become a manga editor?

Ohno: I am a little bit embarrassed, but I got it through my connections.

Ishiguro: That isn’t the best answer. Maybe a better answer is that as a kid he was really interested in manga and wanted to work in manga, found a job in manga, and worked way thru company

Ohno: I had a friend who was working for the magazine Animedia, and he said "Do you want to work in manga?" I said "OK." I went to work for the company in manga, and when the manga division closed, I changed jobs three times and now I am where I am.

Enjoy this preview of "SoreMachi," © Masakazu Ishiguro / Shonen-gahosha Co., Ltd.

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