Interview from the Gintama Official Character Book "Gintama Grade 5."
Sorachi Hideaki Long Interview ~ Five years of running ~
It's probably rare to see Sorachi-sensei giving such serious answers?
What did you think about the field trip* to gather material?
The visit to the printing factory really shocked me. I’m one of the last to hand in my manuscript within Jump, always making others wait till the middle of the night, and that actually creates trouble for so many people... This way I won’t be able to sleep in peace, but then again, there’s no way somebody can’t sleep... The people in charge of phototypesetting probably really want to come here and beat me up right now, and the people who produce plates probably want to turn me into a plate more than anything else, right? I keep feeling that one day, it won’t be surprising at all if the people at the factory attacked me with a chainsaw like in Resident Evil 4. To everyone in the factory, I’m a freak infected by the Hand In Manuscript Late virus. I’m also as handsome as Leon... I’m really sorry, everyone. I’ll try my best to finish the manuscript on time.
* there's a documentary of Sorachi's visit to the mayonnaise factory and printing factory as well as a visit to Sorachi's apartment right before the interview in the character book
Gintama is about to celebrate its 5th year anniversary. Please share your thoughts.
In summary, time flies. It feels like only a year has passed, probably because this is a weekly serialization, and I think in units of weeks.
When do you think you’ll reach the point of “This work will be alright after all!” since you started serialization?
After the first tankobon volume was published, I secretly went to many bookstores to check out the sales situation and found a lot of notices saying, “Gintama vol 1 is sold out.” That made me really happy. Despite knowing it was sold out, I would still go up to the staff and have a conversation like “Excuse me, do you have Gintama?” “It’s all sold out.” “Oh... I see...” And then I’d secretly smile, feeling accomplished. But I heard later on that Shueisha sales department was afraid it wouldn’t sell, so they only printed the minimum amount.
During serialization, was there a time that was extremely difficult for you or a time that you felt lost?
The hardest time was at the beginning of the serialization, when I felt like I really didn’t care about anything anymore. Before that, I was still an idiot who’d spend a whole day on one line of dialogue. Suddenly asking me to be serialized... I didn’t know my pace, I didn’t know how to draw color pages, I didn’t know how to use assistants, I had no friends, Tokyo is a really scary place, and so on and so forth. It really felt like sprinting in the dark. The only good thing was, because I was a country bumpkin who didn’t know anything, I didn’t realize how desperate my situation actually was based on things like readers’ ranking. When my editor [Oonishi] told me the results for the first chapter of Gintama, I had a “Ah... I’m screwed” death penalty feeling, but because I didn’t know any better, I thought, “Even though it’s not doing so well, new series all get about this ranking, don’t they?” Now that I think about it, it’s like a newborn baby is immediately sent to the guillotine, and he’s not wearing white like dead people do, but a giant red T-shirt that says ‘Kill You’... But he’s killed anyway. Even though I came up with this, I’m naturally optimistic, so even if I see the guillotine, I won’t panic... I think. In that desperate situation, I was still cheerfully drawing – it was fortunate that I was so naive back then. If that happened now when I know a lot more, it would be much more difficult.
In these 5 years, what is the memory that stands out the most?
The anime tour. Before Gintama was made into an anime, I’d only read letters from the readers and never met any of them, so it didn’t feel real. But at that time, I saw their reactions for myself. “Oh! Everyone really knows Gintama!” I was thinking this and started to cry. The area was dark, so even though my editor was sitting right next to me, I don’t think he noticed. But then the girl sitting on my other side gave me a scary look, like she was thinking “What is this disgusting ossan doing...” So I immediately sobered up.
In future chapters of Gintama, is there a theme or a character’s past you want to examine further?
To put it simply... Before the end of the series, I hope to draw the stories of all the characters, but I haven’t had the chance... I think it’s quite a pity. But there’s also parts where I don’t want to examine too much. If you know everything, it’s not interesting anymore. It’s because you don’t know that there’s an element of mystery that makes you want to understand the person more.
In Gintama, is there something that made you think “This is a failure”?
The story is full of failures, but the most severe one is the idea that “anything can happen.” No, the world in which anything can happen is very grand and very useful, but if you go overboard and relax the rules of the game, it becomes difficult to maintain suspense. In the beginning, I would impose a lot of rules on myself before I started drawing. “Don’t do this, don’t do that...” And restrict myself with these rules. But because of the pressure from weekly serialization, it became harder and harder to care about this, so I slowly abolished the rules, and now it’s completely out of hand.
Oh yeah... Have you planned the ending of Gintama?
In my mind, I already have a vague idea of “I hope to draw the ending this way,” but I’m still in the process of figuring out how to get there. Besides, the characters in the story won’t behave the way I planned just because I want them to. If I draw someone who does exactly as planned, that won’t work. So even though I don’t know how the story will turn out exactly, I want the ending to give people the feeling “Ah... I want to see them again!” or “Such a loss!” Something like that. Then again, the person who feels the biggest loss at the end is probably me.
How much longer is Gintama going to run? Also, if Gintama ends, what kind of work do you want to draw next?
If I really wanted to, I can draw any kind of story with Gintama, because it covers a broad range. From something like the hotpot to something like Yoshiwara, I can draw them all. So to be honest, I’m not pressured to think “I want to draw this kind of story,” because if I wanted to draw something, I’ll force it in. Even though sometimes I want to draw stories set at a school or in modern day, if I have to outline the topics leading up to that point or stop when I run out of topics, this isn’t something I want. This is also rather rude to the people supporting Gintama, and especially rude to the characters that I spent much time and energy creating. At this moment, I intend to give all my creativity to them. On one hand, if I can’t persist to the end, I’ll be very disgusted with myself. On the other hand, I don’t want to have the thoughts “I should’ve done this” or “I should’ve done that” down the line. Of course, if the popularity drops before this point, then it’ll have to end (laugh). But as long as there’s response... As long as I feel like I can continue to draw this, I’ll definitely do it, because this is no longer something that just belongs to me. If I use up all the topics in my brain by the time the series ends, and I think “What should I draw next...” That’ll be the best. If nothing comes up, I’ll deal with it then.
After reading the works by other Jump authors, is there anything you envy?
I’m often jealous. I’ll think, “Everyone more talented than I am should go to hell!” (laugh) So I often wish the Jump authors would die. But please don’t misunderstand me. This is the highest praise I can give someone. Especially when new authors get very high rankings from the beginning, I don’t feel great losing to them, but on the surface I would still say something like, “Ohhh, good job. But the scary part of Jump is just starting!” But at home, even though I’d be wearing western-style pajamas and sitting cross-legged, I’d be crying and waving the wine glass in my right hand, the red wine inside making splashy sounds. And the Persian cat that I grabbed onto my lap would protest “Meowwww” aggressively.
If you can acquire a talent of a manga artist, what would you like?
I want to cut off my right hand and replace it with Obata-sensei’s hand.
You mentioned earlier that you “had no friends,” so have you made any friends recently?
Still the same, I have no friends in Tokyo (laugh). Even so, I have no friends back home either, just acquaintances who’d send me crabs every now and then. Going out just means drinking with my assistants. Anyway, for me, my assistants are less employees and more comrades. They’re my friends, but I don’t know if they think the same? Because we never meet up outside of work.
Has there been anything that made you unhappy lately in your daily life?
A while ago, I was drinking coffee when something stuck to my mouth. I was thinking, “Ew... hair, gross!” But when I looked, it was actually hair from X, so I poured the coffee onto the floor. Later, I washed my mouth several times with mouthwash and was too scared to swallow my own saliva for the rest of the day.
Well, did anything make you cry?
When I was meeting with my editor, he mentioned the second ending of Doraemon. Most people would cry when they hear that. But why were we discussing that during our meeting? We should be discussing Gintama!
What troubled you?
Around new year’s, the busiest time, I had high fever for two weeks. I thought I was finally getting better, but the fever went up again. At first I thought I was really going to die. But I could still draw manga with a 40-degree fever, so I’ve become more self-confident.
What’s the happiest thing for you?
The 5th year anniversary! See! I came back to this topic so elegantly (laugh)!
Finally, please leave a message for the Gintama readers.
Thank you for your support over these 5 years! It’s because of you that we were able to publish this silly manga. I think... there might not be a chance like this again (laugh). If everyone is able to experience the joy in Gintama, I’ll be very happy. Thank you for reading this stinky and long ossan interview all the way to the end.
Questions About Editor Saitou
Q: You seem to be comfortable interacting with Saitou. Has anything surprised you since you’ve known each other?
A: Uh... You missed it because you were late that day, the day we went out to collect material, after we left the mayonnaise factory. We went to Jojoen for lunch, just the three of us – Saitou, the photographer, and me. This was before you showed up. Saitou was really mad that you were late, so the entire atmosphere was very awkward. It got to the point: “Oi! The mood is terrible, how are we supposed to collect material?” I don’t care how we gather material (laugh), so I was busy stuffing my face. I have a habit of leaving salad to the last, so I didn’t touch the salad but ate everything else instead. Then Saitou said, very unhappily, “Sorachi-sensei, if you’re not gonna eat your salad, can I have it? I love Jojoen salad.” And he just started consuming my Jojoen salad... like a horse. Hey hey hey hey, I love it tooooooooooo!! You’d get it if I put down my chopsticks at this moment for a cigarette, right? “Oh, Sorachi-sensei, are you done?” he said when I started smoking. I just finished half my plate – how is that even possible! His observation skills suck! But because the atmosphere was too heavy already, not allowing me to show my discontent and say “No,” I had to go with the flow and say, “Uh... go ahead.” I fail! C’mon, think about it! Who on Earth would dislike Jojoen salad? You’re not the only one who wants to savor the tasty melody composed by the sauce and the soft vegetables! I really wanted to shout all of this at that time. It’s your fault for being late.
Q: On the other hand, is there anything about him that you respect?
A: This is actually Saitou’s last job. After Gintama, he’ll be leaving the editor position. Because of that, I have to say some things upfront. Even though I complain a lot about his problems, like stinky feet, otaku, give me back my Jojoen salad, and so on... even though I won’t take back what I said, even though his expression when he was eating my salad pisses me off, even though he’s an editor but he’s younger than I am, I respect him. The so-called editor, if you get to the bottom of it, is a terrible species that goes back-and-forth between the manga artist’s home and the hotel (laugh). But he said, “If I have time to go to a hotel, I’d rather rent a movie to watch at home and study how other people created it.” So he resisted all the temptation. If he has time, he’ll read manga, watch movies, read novels, and put effort into studying. He might be even more studious than manga artists. But that’s because he’s otaku! It’s normal if he’d rather lock himself in his room than go to a hotel. But if he just likes it, he won’t be able to carry it out to that extent. He devotes all of his personal time to study production, and as a manga artist, I think I can learn from that. Over the holidays, he forced his girlfriend to watch 15 hours of Future Boy Conan with him. Where are you going to find a man like that? His first date with a girl, he looked forward to it, and he looked forward to it, then he brought her to G.I. Samurai. Where are you going to find a man like that? Someone put down his chopsticks, so he decided to consume the manga artist’s Jojoen salad. Where are you going to find an editor like that? But there is one, and that’s a man named Saitou Yuu. If he keeps that up, the ladies will dump him, and the manga artists will grumble, “Give me back my salad!” But y’know... the angel of manga will definitely spread her legs for him and let him spill sauce over the salad of manga. Because he’s always thinking about manga, because he’s always studying his ass off. Usually, young editors would remain editors for a long time in order to learn from the manga artists, but I have nothing left to teach him. Or maybe I should say... I learned a lot from him. I’m really sorry, Saitou, and I’m really grateful. Saitou, you taught me a lot of important things. From now on, I’ll eat my salad first.