Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Golden Sunday (Takahashi and Noda Interview).

Hello all! It's your "barely there" host Sakaki here with another update! At this point I guess it's safe to say the blog will be where I dump little reviews and interviews while the twitter is where the real action for the weekly magazine will go. I hate to do it this way (especially when I made it seem like I'd at least do weekly updates) but the twitter does seem to be easier for people to go to. That being said, I will keep trying to have things to post here as well! So on that note you're probably wondering what's up today. Well, how does an interview between Satoru (Golden Kamuy) Noda and Rumiko Takahashi sound? I thought you'd like that. As usual this was translated by me so the warnings of accuracy and whatnot are present and I am very open to crtiques and comments. We good? Good. I dunno if I'll be able to translate part two (I hope so!) But if the opportunity comes up I certainly will. For now here's the interview as it was presented in issue #41 of Weekly Shounen Sunday.

(Top text- Commemoration for MAO's first volume: A special project!!!)

Satoru Noda x Rumiko Takahashi

The two artists who draw the “Meiji” and “Taishou” in the Reiwa era –Special Conversation!!

Ms. Takahashi, you're probably familiar with 'Golden Kamui' which is beloved by it's fanbase, but what was your first opportunity to read the series?

Takahashi (To be known as T for now on): My editor really likes the series so they brought me volume one and asked me to read it. I read it and it was great so I immediately went out and bought the rest of them!

Noda(To be known as N): Thank you so much!

T: When I first read it I thought “This is too scary! It's super realistic!” (Laughs) After getting over how scary it was, I thought that the inclusion and research of the Ainu culture was fascinating and carefully implemented. Did you do a fair amount of information gathering yourself?

N: It felt like I had to go around all of Hokkaido at least once. Even then it wasn't enough so I find myself making time during the serialization to gather more info. It was during that time too that I wanted more information on Horses, so I went looking for that too. The Dosanko are horses native to Hokkaido, but western horses are smaller and wider like in this photo....

T: Ahh yes, it's like....they're taller but a bit smaller too. Is it so that one can put a saddle on them and go for a ride?

N: That's right. However the Dosanko are different than the western horse in that when they walk the front legs move simultaneously with the back, and there is little fluctuation in their movements.

T: Oh? So that's how the Dosanko moves, but the western horse isn't like that?

N: One can ride the western horse too, but because they're so tall they move a lot when they run and it can be scary.

T: So then you'd probably go with the local flavor, right?

N: I'm not quite sure. Since all Hokkaido has are the dosanko, their distinct way of walking is all I know. So I went to Hokkaido to do research so that I don't carelessly draw a horse and readers can tell I'm drawing a western horse.

“What were your thoughts when you first started drawing 'Golden Kamuy' Mr. Noda?”

N: To put it simply my Grandfather went to 203 Hill, and I wanted to draw that. My editor went and got a novel about hunting and I thought it was really interesting, so I combined that with the story I wanted to draw. Furthermore the Ainu culture was still very prevalent during the Meiji era –in short a story that isn't modernistic.

T: However the Ainu culture has a certain relevance to it too. It's the kind of world that you have to depict properly without fail. I think it's amazing you tackled such a subject forthright, and furthermore kept it interesting.

N: The editorial department also put their resolve on the line. There were a few folks who spoke up and said it'd be fine if it were a fantasy work, though. In the end we said that fantasy Ainu isn't the same as real Ainu and stuck to our guns.

T: Sounds like everyone had plenty of resolve. So then was the first thing you gathered research materials on the Ainu culture?

N: I inquired with the Hokkaido Ainu association, and it was there that I was introduced to and linked with a very dependable person. Though from the very start I was simply told to draw what I wanted to, and since then no one has interfered. Not a single time was I told to draw this way or that way. “Whether it be good or bad, let Satoru draw whatever he wants without fear.” Is what they said. So since I was given so much freedom, I was somewhat nervous to ask about doing research. Though when I had a few drinks in me I was a bit more frank.

T: It's thanks to that we're able to read “Golden Kamuy”, right?

“So then, how were you able to create the protagonist Sugimoto and the others?”

N: I just thought that a guy returning from a war had an appeal to him. Beyond that I thought about what kind of feelings my Grandfather felt after the Russo-Japanese war, and that ended up being Sugimoto. After creating him I wondered if I needed a character that acts as his guide to the Ainu culture, but then after some discussion we thought a manga filled with just old guys wouldn't be very popular. (laughs). So I came up with a girl –(Asirpa). Although she's a young girl, she's still a hunter and very well versed in the Ainu culture.

T: Huh? Really?

N: For the Ainu, the duties men and women had were completely different. However even knowing this for the sake of entertainment I thought it was okay to have a little lie. Of course there were objections to this at the beginning of the serial. It was only after some time in the distant future that we knew of stories where girls were hunters.

T: That's true.

N: It might seem surprisingly bold, but stories like that are real and amazing.

“Now then. Ms. Takahashi what was your reason for choosing the Taisho era as the stage for 'MAO'?”

T: The origin of the setting came from the head editor of Sunday being a big fan of the Taisho era and implying to me “how about this” for my next story. I thought to myself that he really does like the Taisho a lot doesn't he? (laughs). I said I'd think about it. From current time that's about 100 years ago. Since the sticking point was the Taisho, I started thinking to myself that this would be my first opportunity to draw it.

N: Is that so! Do you have reference books on the subject?

T: I've read all kinds of books on the Taisho era, but I forgot most of them. In any case I figured since I had forgotten them that I'd just draw all kinds of things like the books I had and proceeded that way. By the way, Mr. Noda, I recall your previous work about Ice Hockey “Supinamarada”. It must have been a lot of hard work for you, but it was a lot of fun. On that note it feels like from when Supervisor Nihei appeared the standard of overwhelming characters rose and the series suddenly became more light hearted.

N: Thank you. Even though chapter one is precious to me it was also the most painful. Well, I'd say really the first three were painful, but chapter one especially. I'd love to go back and correct my mistakes. Well, no not only that, but the character designs and stuff too. Everyone was wearing helmets, so the shape of their hair and their silhouettes are important. Being able to see into the crevices of the helmet means getting a peek at the angle of their eyebrows, the width and size of their eyes...unless you were a person who really liked them it'd be hard to tell them apart.

T: Is that how “Golden Kamuy” stayed alive?

N: I had decided from before the serial's start that this time relative ease would be the most important thing.

T: Through that the character's individual quirks stand out quite easily and it makes them interesting.

N: It really pleases me to hear that.

“On that note, Ms. Takahashi have you ever used celebrities as models?”

T: I haven't used celebrities as models, no. Surprisingly enough they're all in my head. Because my art is manga art. For me molding characters is first and foremost having them stand out, and beyond that causing reactions. “How will folks react to this character” is how I decide on when I'm creating them.

N: Reactions?

T: People are surprisingly akin to the way they look. Like upon seeing someone one immediately thinks “Oh they must be this way” and such. That's why one does the character design before the storyboard to keep from over designing a character. A storyboard can get pretty messy when one is adding this, that and other various things.

N: It's at that time that you come up with the finer points of the character design?

T: Well, it's one of the points you do hammer out as the story progresses. For the most part one just wants to get their quirks and such solidified. A long time ago when drawing manga they'd tell you to create a character that's easily identifiable by their silhouette, but that seems unnecessary nowadays.

N: That's true. That kind of character doesn't really show up in seinen manga.

“Ms Takahashi, you've drawn a myriad of characters with different personalities. Have you ever up until now used a person you've met as a reference for a character?”

T: I haven't. Honestly speaking I have a tough time remembering people's faces, and since names and faces are usually linked together well, (laughs). Though if I dare to say it myself, the characters that I admire in the manga I've read up until now have deep down had some similarities to me.

“Then what did you have trouble with in conceptualizing the characters in MAO”?

T: From the very beginning I haven't been able to get a handle on what kind of heroine Nanoka is, or what kind of person she'll be....though when I was redrawing the storyboard for chapter one for the umpteenth time...

N: Whoa. You have to redraw storyboards over and over again?

T: Yep (laughs) It was around the fourth time when I was drawing the scene where she drank the vegetable drink that her reaction came to mind and I realized “this is what kind of person she is.” Maybe we had finally got to know each other after being so stiff around each other at first. It really did feel like I didn't know anything about the world at that point.

N: I see.

T: That's why after doing the character design doing the storyboard became surprisingly easy. Other than the three leads no one else really appeared so I didn't have any more difficulty after that.

N: On that note, you have many series that are 30 volumes and 50 volumes long. Do you decide from the start that they'll be that length?

T: Ah no, that's just how things end up in the end. My previous series “Kyoukai no Rinne” was more of a comedy manga so I thought to myself “It's probably better if this one doesn't go on too long” and ultimately decided on 40 volumes.

N: It's incredible that you're able to continue all of your works and allot a proper ending.

T: No, no, I'd say that “Golden Kamuy” is pretty incredible too. Everyone has a unique personality and I think that's great. I love both Sugimoto and Asirpa, but lately Koito has been really entertaining too.

N: Koito! I knew it! I thought you'd like him most as well.

T: Oh? Why's that?

N: Because in “Urusei Yatsura” and “Ranma 1/2” you had characters like him –young lords who are mischievous swordsmen appear. Mendou, and Kuno and such. They were the most foolish characters, I think! So I figured you must like those characters the most.

T: (Laughs) It's not just that. During the circus troupe arc he got so caught up in being entertaining that he forgot the reason he was there. Watching him negotiate with Sugimoto was really funny.

N: Thank you so much! Though while thinking that I brought the signed present for Sunday readers –an illustration of Koito. I'm glad I was right on the money!

T: Amazing! May I have a copy?

(The continuation of the interview will be in Weekly Young Jump Issue #42 out September 19th).

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Komi-san vol 2 review

Greetings Sunday readers! I apologize for the long, long, long time without any updates on the blog, but circumstances are what they are. I still want to talk about the last few months of the magazine in some way, so stay tuned for that! In other news, I reached out to Viz Media and they were kind enough to provide me with a review copy of Komi-san and a few other Shounen Sunday series! I figure it's better to have something on the blog than to stay completely radio silent, so let's dive right in with the first of hopefully many English language Shounen Sunday manga talkbacks!

For this occasion I have also purchased the Japanese version of Komi-san --or Komi Can't Communicate. I won't be comparing translations since the pros at Viz are way above my pay grade. (For many reasons one of the most prominent being that their translators are doing this for a job and not as a hobby like me), but I thought it'd be interesting to have the Japanese side by side with the translation --and it's the one unique viewpoint I can offer that other reviewers may not. From the covers, one can see that Viz has put an admirable effort into replicating the Japanese original while adding their own flair. 

The opening pages of the volume give out the basic premise, but I'll recap. Komi has it all --looks, brains, and the admiration of her class. You'd think she'd be set for her high school life, but she has one little problem --she can't communicate with others. In comes her "ordinary" Classmate Hitohito Tadano who finds out about her secret, and declares he'll help her find friends. A task easier said than done when you're in a school known for it's eccentric characters! 

It's a simple premise and Oda (not that one) gets pretty good mileage out of it because his character writing hits that oh-so-sweet mid ground between shounen silliness and unabashed feelings. Not only that, but the characters names themselves tell you what to expect. Take the first chapter of this second volume featuring a one-sided rivalry between Komi and a girl named Makeru Yadano. Makeru having a contest in her head where she bests Komi at a physical of all things is funny enough, but her name pun really gives the reader all they need to know. See, "Makeru" in Japanese means "to lose" while "Yadano" is something like "Don't wanna/I don't like". Part of the fun of Komi is being told what the joke is, and then seeing those expectations get obliterated as things get progressively wackier. 
Another part of Komi-san's winning formula is Komi's effortlessness in being well, herself. As Makeru pulls out all of the stops in defeating her (self-proclaimed) rival in the second chapter of the volume, she cites how much faster, cuter and more feminine she is than Komi. In the end however, Komi outpaces her and she just casually admits how beautiful she is rendering her rant moot. Komi's not trying to brag, or even push herself. To her, this is another school day. It's even funnier at the end when Makeru acknowledges Komi as a fierce opponent all while the latter wasn't even aware they were competing! 

This volume also introduces the audience to Komi's mom: Shuko Komi --who's the polar opposite of her daughter. She even uses the "eternally 17" gag made popular by anime voice actress Kikuko Inoue. So is the an anime fan too?  Once again, Oda sets up expectations and bowls them over expertly making for some great humor for us and awkwardness for Komi's friends. (They try so hard to not bring up her mom when they go to her room, just to find themselves saved by her when the dearth of conversation becomes too oppressive.) 

Even in awkwardness the series doesn't forget it's premise --flipping through a photo album, Tadano quickly realizes that she is alone in all of her photos. It's an interesting gap --Komi is so admired by her classmates to a point of fascination. It's because of this however that none of them have tried to approach her. Despite being in a position to be widely well liked and accepted, she isn't. The desire to communicate without the ability has left her in an odd limbo. The one thing she really wants is the one she hasn't been able to grasp. 

This volume also introduces (or well, reintroduces) Ren Yamai who asserts herself as a normal high school student. Her name literally means "lovesick". Which sounds cute enough, no? 

Except in true Komi fashion, there's more than meets the eye here --she's in love with her classmate which is fine on it's own, but this love is a borderline obsession! (Also I have to point out here that the letterer/editor for this page did an amazing job with this panel. The English font actually does a great job of looking slightly more...deranged?) Ren's obsessive and stalker-ish tendencies are treated as a joke in-universe, but I could see them possibly rubbing some readers the wrong way. She does even go as far as kidnapping Tadano so she and Komi can have some alone time. It's dark humor that's in step with what came before it, but I can see it rubbing some readers the wrong way. 

It'll be up to the reader to decide if Komi's moment of character development when she stands up to Ren and declares that she'll decide on who her friends will be makes up for the creepy vibe the whole kidnapping scenario sets up, but it is one of the strongest parts of this second volume. Especially when Tadano shares the same sentiment later when Komi worries that a friendship with her might put him in more danger. They do even make up with Yamai, but she's not one to give up on her tendencies, unfortunately. (I can say to some extent she gets a little better later, at least.) 

One small translation note --and one I really like is how the term "Chuunibyou" was handled. To avoid dragging this whole review into a tangent I'll lightly touch on Chuunibyou for those who don't know. It translates out to "Middle schooler syndrome" (some translate it as "Eighth Grader Sickness") and it denotes those who exhibit delusional behavior of 13-14 year olds. In short, it's going through a "phase" which is exactly what another new character Omoharu Nakanaka is going through. (Her name doesn't have a straightforward gag per se, but it does mean something along the lines of "A considerable thought springs" so that's a thing. She's convinced she's a dark hero of sorts and Komi, er, Komilia is her princess. (If you needed any more understanding of what Chuunibyou was, that should give you a fair understanding.) Tadano remembering his own Chuunibyou phase is the best part of his interactions with Nakanaka --how can he refute what he once was? (In fact a bit of his own "phase" is shown in the chapters after this.)  He can't even expect any help from Komi who's completely caught up in Nakanaka's fantasies! Guy's got it hard. 

We've all been there, buddy.  Rest in peace. 

Komi Can't Communicate is still in it's formulative stages, introducing characters and testing the limits of it's premise. The nice thing about being behind the Japanese releases is knowing there's plenty more where this came from with volume 14 releasing in Japan only a few days ago. I won't spoil too much about later events (it was hard enough not divulging the entire volume here!) but this series really does only get better as it gathers it's main cast and begins to flesh them out. It might feel as if the jokes and story have given one all they can expect with these two volumes, but the stories these characters have still have a lot of promise, as seen between the brief pit stops between comedic moments. The series is moving at a brisk pace but not so much that it's rushing us somewhere which really does feel like the way Sunday series like to operate. Special thanks to John Werry for the stellar translation (those awful puns in one chapter had to have been a nightmare to deal with, but the adaptations were still pretty hilarious!) And Eve Grandt for the touch up art and lettering. I'm constantly impressed with how well the font and design choices were handled in this volume. 

Oda (not that one) doesn't make your lives easy, and I applaud all of your hard work. Most of all, a shout out to Viz for bringing this fan favorite over! I've heard that despite Komi-san having a thriving internet fandom, the sales of Viz's English edition have been super impressive. That makes an old Sunday guy like me extremely happy, and I'm glad to contribute in some way to the continued success of the magazine by writing reviews! So by all means pick up volume two of Komi Can't Communicate and support the cause! Until the next review, enjoy your Sunday....both of them!