Interview from Quick Japan 2009.
Say everything you want to say – it’s over 10,000 words, you bastard!!
Gintama Creator: Sorachi Hideaki
“Gently painting the life of a loser, a really likeable kind of humanity and reality.”
Born in 1979 in the Sorachi Subprefecture, Sorachi Hideaki describes the soul of his work Gintama, a series running for over 6 years in Jump, which is well-known for its tough competition.
30 questions to celebrate his 30th birthday and the manga making to its 30th volume. The man is like his manga, swinging back-and-forth between humor and seriousness like nobody’s business.
Quick Japan is the only place to read a 10000-word fax interview with Sorachi-sensei!!
01. Congratulations on making it to Volume 30! You once said that you’ll end the series after you reach Vol. 30, but it looks like you’ll keep going for quite a while. Please share your thoughts.
I thank all my readers for their long-term support. That summarizes my thoughts. I was aiming for an interview with Quick Japan, so now I can end the series with no regrets. It’s a fashionable ending.
02. Gintama uses future material (sci-fi) but presents it from the past perspective (historical drama). It’s also full of current events, and the main characters do odd jobs. Do you think “anything goes” when you draw?
When I was preparing for serialization, my editor told me to hop on the Taiga drama “Shinsengumi!” bandwagon, but the problem with historical fiction is that I’m limited by what I can write because of the historical content. I can’t use current events, and Shimura Ken doesn’t exist, and I can’t even use the phrase “I’m screwed!” This is like clipping the wings of my creative freedom, and I wind up saying “I’m screwed!” Setting this during Bakumatsu and changing the foreigners to aliens, I’ve somehow managed to create a crazy world where I can use historical and current topics. It’s not that I did it on purpose. It just happened.
03. The idea that “anything goes,” what’s the fun part and what’s the hard part?
It’s as the words say, anything goes, so the good part is the lack of restraint. I can draw whatever I want, so it’s easy to get excited. The hard part is also anything goes, because I have to start over every time I come up with a new story. It’s tiring.
04. What’s attractive about the Shinsengumi and the Bakumatsu period?
I feel like crying when I see the Shinsengumi. Commoners and punks jumped into this hell hole, trying to be samurai during the period when samurai were dying out. It’s like chemical wash for jeans. You already told them “It’s not fashion anymore, nobody will wear that,” but country folks just don’t get it. They even gathered together like bees and made their own shirts by embroidering mountain patterns on the sleeves. Looks cool, but in the end, chemical wash for jeans had internal strife and they split into two. I want to laugh and cry when I’m faced with this type of people. But I like emotional people like them.
As for historical periods that see great changes, like Bakumatsu or Sengoku, you witness humanity under extreme conditions, and it brings out the good and the bad of humanity. I like that.
05. You didn’t focus on the Joui Movement that wanted to change the country. Instead you set the story after everything was over. Why is that?
Even though Gintama does a lot of crazy things, I’m trying to present my idea of a samurai through this manga, but probably nobody else feels this way. (laugh) When we talk about samurai, we’d have to talk about “the way of the warrior (bushido).” It’s better to illustrate bushido in a world where bushido no longer exists. That way you can highlight its existence. Besides, if you create a story where there’s “loyalty to one’s master,” it might not resonate with the readers. So you might as well go to the extreme. This bushido is just “what we should do,” a type of virtue, and it’s something that anyone can have. The samurai lost, and they don’t have masters anymore or anything to protect. They’re jobless, penniless, at the low point of their lives, and it’s not time to act cool, but even so, they need to keep living. That train of thought.
When I showed Gintama to the editors, they said, “This guy totally misunderstood bushido.” (laugh) Well if it’s a misunderstanding, then it’s a misunderstanding. That’s what bushido is nowadays, you bastard.
06. He’s nihilistic, yet he’s romantic. He looks cold, but he’s fiery on the inside. How did you create the main character Sakata Gintoki?
My editor told me to “draw a story about the Shinsengumi,” and I’m a fan of “Burn, O Sword,” so I wanted to make Hijikata the main character. The easiest way to focus on one member of a group is to make the other members forgettable, but I like the Shinsengumi too much, so I ended up making everyone weird. Even though an alliance of weird people is possible, the story would’ve been centered on the group.
But I didn’t want to draw something like that. I’m like an elementary school student who wants his doodle on his pencil case to be a piece of art. (laugh) I want a strong main character. I can’t have someone part of an organization, so I changed my design. I created someone who’s not part of an organization but is more like someone who disregards the laws. Then I put into a pot what I look up to in various people, and broiled it together. As far as I can remember, his character quickly became fixed the moment I got down the nickname “Gin-san.”
07. What about Shinpachi, a Nobi-type failure character who looks up to Gin-san?
Shinpachi is the yardstick in Gintama, so his design is very standard. Actually it’s more like a bit below standard. He’s the reader perspective, so he can’t be annoying to the readers. In any case, he can’t be ahead of the readers. (laugh) But he can’t be too weak, so he’ll fight when he has to.
But every time he takes action, there’ll be some subtle shift, so he’s probably above standard by now.
08. What about Kagura, the first female lead to throw up on screen and to add “aru” to the end of her sentences, which is historical but novel at the same time?
I’m afraid of female leads that act cute and unnatural. I’ll always be irritated and point out “There’s no such people!” (laugh) So basically I approached the design from an anti-female lead perspective. Making her throw up is like a challenge. I wanted to create a female lead who could throw up but still make people think she’s adorable, so I didn’t think much and made her throw up first. It’s like I’ll cuff my hands first and deal with the consequences later. Then I realized, “There’s no such people either.”
09. The cast is big. What do you pay attention to when you create new characters?
I pay attention to their flaws rather than their strengths. Because I think flawed people are more attractive.
10. Compared to the team spirit in One Piece and the peer spirit in Naruto, Gintama Yorozuya is filled with family spirit. The atmosphere where they accept weak people and communicate across lands is very warm. Is this what you look forward to, some sort of utopia?
I often hear that Gintama is very kind to losers. The thought that “a failure like me can still keep living when I read this manga.” But I didn’t intentionally draw losers. I’ve been told that it’s because I’m a loser too. Well, fine. But honestly, I think everyone’s a loser. The only difference is the skin we put on. Once you open the lid and look inside, everyone’s the same. People who’re known as successful people, non-losers, they just have prettier skin. They have better acting skills. On the other hand, if their skin or acting skills resulted from them facing their weaknesses and trying their best to improve themselves, carving out who they want to be, and pursuing it, then I admire them.
Still, that skin will get damaged sometimes. You can get a glimpse of their inside and discover that they’re still losers. I like that. I think it’s full of humanity. For me, the characters in Gintama just pasted together all those loser aspects and broadcast it to the public. They aren’t losers at all. They’re great people. (laugh)
So if this reflects my idea of utopia, then it’s something like these losers facing the ugly sides of themselves, the negative feelings, and turning it into small talk, exchanging it with a smile and laughing together with their friends. Something like that.
11. In Gintama, the verb that repeatedly appears isn’t “to fulfill dreams,” “to achieve,” “to win,” but “to protect.” There isn’t a goal for the future. What’s the reason behind choosing a passive theme “to protect”?
To be honest, I also wanted to do something like goals for the future. But when I realized it, the story no longer let me declare things like dreams and hopes. Words like “to achieve” or “to win,” they really need a main character that “changes,” but in Gintama, it’s the opposite. This is a story where the main character “doesn’t change.”
After the amanto invasion, a lot of things disappeared and a lot of new things came. In times of change, the last thing that can’t change, mustn’t change. That probably leads to a story about protection.
12. If a gag manga becomes serious, it’s hard to return to humor. Why is Gintama able to go easily back-and-forth between comedy and seriousness?
Because I get tired of the same things easily. Besides, I never really treated Gintama as a gag manga. Creators of gag manga are those tough guys who’ll laugh and cry no matter how painful things are, like Usuta Kyousuke-sensei or Ooishi Kouji-sensei. I’m just a punk manga artist who draws whatever nonsense he feels like.
Anyway, Gintama is probably the hotpot of seriousness and comedy. I don’t really think about it. I’m just a punk who does anything he wants.
13. Why is Gintama so funny? What do you consider when you draw comedy scenes?
The cheap explanation (laugh) is that the sillier things get, the more serious you gotta be. I try not to make things too cute, and if you’re laughing while acting silly, it’s not as fun. So I try to make the characters act properly when they’re silly even if they have to lie.
14. Please tell us about your favorite comedies (manga, hosts, variety shows). (Sorachi-sensei is from Hokkaido. Do you watch “How do you like Wednesday?”)
I like all kinds of variety shows. The Drifters and Tunnels and Downtown, I’ll watch those whenever I have time. Especially for my generation, Downtown is a legend. Even the leaders from my middle school class would read Matchan’s Isho.
And then there were midnight radio programs that I listened to when I was studying late. Like Akashi Eiichirou’s Attack Young, though probably no one knows about it now (laugh). Akashi is an announcer from Hokkaido. During the day, he looks like a proper uncle who wears glasses and reads newpapers. At night, he becomes very obscene and collects xx hair from the audience. I loved listening to it, and it’s the inspiration for my dirty tactics. Ooizumi You from “How do you like Wednesday?” is also a star from Hokkaido, but to me, Akashi-ossan is the sun of Hokkaido.
15. Why does Gintama also make people cry? What do you consider when you draw serious and emotional scenes?
That’s probably because I’m drawing and crying at the same time (laugh). Tears are tears, but I don’t want to draw tears that aren’t proactive. The feeling “Ahh, it’s so sad” when people die and it’s all over, it doesn’t feel quite right. Even though a lot of people died in Gintama (laugh). Even if people die, it’s not the end. I don’t want to draw tears that fall and stay at the same place, but droplets that sprinkle along the road to one’s future.
16. Sorachi-sensei, you must’ve also read and watched countless stories. Which one made you cry the most?
When I was young, I’d wake up and find my dad watching some movie like The Champ in the early morning. Who watches that in the morning? Can your stomach hold everything? He’d also watch stuff like It’s tough being a man (Otoko wa tsurai yo) or Shine, so I had to watch these at breakfast before I went to school. I really wanted to say “It’s tough being us, ok?” But the one he played the most was A Distant Cry from Spring starring Takakura Ken. That’s enough. How many times do you have to play the same movie over and over again, you bastard. I wanted to say this every day at breakfast, but every time we got to the part where Ken-san was handcuffed and Hajime Hana was delivering his monologue, I’d think, a good film is always a good film no matter how many times you watch it, you bastard (laugh).
Every morning, I’d watch these movies and then go to school, so I’m awkward every morning, I’m always awkward*. In this sense, the movies made me cry.
* “because I’m awkward” (bukiyou desukara) is a famous phrase from Takakura Ken
17. So, which work do you think is the best romance for men?
I really like historical fiction, so I have a weakness for novels like Ryouma Coming to Us (Ryouma ga yuku). Men should be like that or something.
18. Why does Gintama have so many dirty scenes that are terrible but not offensive? (laugh) What do you consider when you decide between what is dangerous and what is acceptable?
The young kids all like poop and shit and stuff, so I also believe they’ll be able to hold it and I do my best throwing poop. Actually the one who likes all that is me.
19. A lot of current events and parody of famous quotes would show up in Gintama even though they could be outdated. How do you plan each lesson?
Every time I finish a story, my plot bank has zero savings left. So I try to find out what’s in the news, what’s popular these days. Basically, I find inspiration from gossip. I never really think about whether it’s outdated or not. It’s not like I’m trying to create a classic that lasts through time (laugh).
I never really think about trying to make the readers laugh every time they read it, no matter how many times they read it. I’m satisfied if they laugh the first time they read it.
20. There’s no power-up or killer moves in Gintama, but “words” show up as killer moves. All those famous lines from Gin-san, what do you consider when you come up with those lines?
To be honest, it’s not hard to write those key lines at all. The story’s already headed in that direction, so it’s like all the gears are in place and there’s not much of a choice. To me, the key lines are actually those that are completely unimportant, and where I put in the most effort. If it weren’t for those unimportant lines creating the atmosphere, I wouldn’t be able to go with the story flow or be excited, and the story and key lines will end up forced (laugh). Deciding on the story’s atmosphere and coming up with exciting lines are the toughest part of creation.
21. We have to mention 8th-Grade Syndrome (chuunibyou) when we talk about Gintama (laugh). What were you like when you were in 8th grade?
I was super self-conscious, always concerned what other people would think of me, and couldn’t really act for myself. If my hair wasn’t parted down the middle by 1cm, it’s as if I was putting myself in life danger, like it was off by 10m. It was tough whenever my family went out for dinner. I maintained a distance of 20m, and was always worried that I’d die if my classmates saw me, even though there’s no reason why I should die (laugh). When we were at Victoria restaurant, my dad would lick his bowl clean like an idiot, so I’d say stuff like “Why are you doing such embarrassing things! I’ll die if my classmates see it!!” (laugh) I tried to tolerate him licking the third bowl, but I really couldn’t stand it anymore when he was on the fourth bowl, so I kicked him, and he kicked back with three times the force (laugh). So I kicked back with five times the force, and he kicked back with eight. We kept kicking each other until my mother stopped us. Our table was the only one squeaking at Victoria restaurant.
22. What made you want to become a manga artist?
There’s a lot, but the main reason was Castle in the Sky. I always feel like I’m chasing after a castle in the sky (laugh).
23. What kind of manga did you read to create a manga like Gintama? Among the manga that you enjoyed, which one influenced you the most?
My first favorite was Wanpakku Comics. It had a lot of series based on Famicom games (laugh), and I followed it until it stopped publication. Then I started reading GeGeGe no Kitarou, Saint Seiya, and Dragon Ball. I had no more discipline after that. But I think variety shows, late-night radio shows, and historical fiction influenced me more than manga. My father would watch historical films, my mother would watch detective films, my sister would watch TV drama. It’s a hotpot of everything, so there’s not a bit of discipline in this manga.
24. Could you tell us about the rocky path you took before the serialization of Gintama?
I drew a story and sent it to Jump when I was in college, but it went straight to the paper shredder. I decided I’d take on this challenge one more time before I started working, and I became a NEET after graduation (laugh). I turned my inability to fit in with society into motivation to draw manga, but it’s really just running away. I don’t have to face reality if I think about drawing manga all day (laugh). And then that manga won some random award.
Then the outline sketch of the serialization when I was in my hometown. Because I’d wander around the neighborhood since morning, my neighbors thought I was some weird guy (laugh). Stuff like “What exactly is the Sorachi kid doing after graduation?” Or gazes like “Where is this weird man from?” Like countless arrows to my knees. So like before, I focused all of those negative feelings toward manga creation, until serialization.
It wasn’t that rocky, to be honest. I’m pretty lucky. Able to trick everyone by using negative feelings.
25. Please tell our “Shounen Jump” souls what we should keep in mind for weekly serializations.
Don’t be late with your manuscript, even though I’m often late (laugh).
26. Sorachi-sensei, you were born in 1979, so you’re part of the Lost Generation. Do you feel that way? Furthermore, did you notice any necessity in drawing Gintama in this day and age?
Suddenly a question of the Quick Japan style (laugh). Um, speaking of the lost generation, this will be a long story so let’s not talk about it. An hour will be “lost.” No, it’s not that I don’t get it.
As for the necessity of drawing Gintama in this day and age, if the readers think it’s necessary, then it’s necessary, and if not, then it’s not (laugh). There’s a flood of information and values today, so there’s quite a bit of overlap with the Gintama world. If the people who’re tired or lost in today’s world will regain some of their energy through reading Gintama, I’ll be very happy. Even though it has nothing to do with anything (laugh). I’m throwing the ball at all the middle schoolers who love poop and stuff, so if they become energetic, the society will revive as well.
It’s getting a bit long, so let’s talk about the lost generation next time. No, it’s not that I really don’t get it.
27. What do you think of the opinion that all the stories have been told, so there’s nothing new to add?
This is a tough question for someone who ruins or makes fun of other people’s stories (laugh). I’m barely a creator, but I do think that all stories will repeat. I’ll even reuse my own stories when I run out of material. “Oh, didn’t I draw this before?” (laugh) Actually I don’t have any grandiose goals, wanting to try out new things that I’d never seen before. The phrase “brand new things” sounds attractive, but inheriting stories and re-interpreting classics of our predecessors is also very charming. When you create something, you’ll be influenced by things that you’ve seen previously. That’s obvious, because nobody starts creating on a completely blank piece of paper. In the end, whether your creation is new or old, nobody knows, and it’s not important at all.
The important thing is whether or not you did your best, overcoming pain after pain to squeeze something sweet out of your ass. Let everything that comes after do its own thing (laugh). As long as you put in all your effort, doing your best, until you squeeze blood from your ass, then if you’re lucky, you might squeeze out silver poop that you’ve never seen before (laugh).
28. What do you think of phrases like “cool is lame,” “hot is cold”?
I think they’re fine. Or should I say they’re not (laugh). It’s just a phrase mocking cliches. But the more you say them, the more they’re going to become cliches, so we’re running around in circles. “People who say ‘cool is lame’ are lame.” (laugh)
The point is, whatever you do, there’ll be minorities. It’s an endless loop. If you keep looping, “cool” and “lame” will start meaning the same things. Like “disgustingly cute,” don’t you think (laugh).
29. The anime is on its fourth year, and there’s been quite a few anime original episodes. As the creator, how do you find joy in it?
Oh man, I always think I’m incredibly lucky to have such excellent staff handling my work (laugh). I always reflect on myself to make sure I don’t create something that’s not as good as the anime.
30. Finally, why don’t you say something to our readers who have never read Gintama?
Dear Quick Japan readers, nice to meet you. I’m Sorachi Hideaki, creator of the Weekly Shounen Jump series Gintama. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I’d always thought of Quick Japan as a magazine created by punks who wear their sunglasses backwards, a magazine that’s trendy and hipster and awesome. So when they wanted to interview me, I thought they’d drag me to Village Vanguard and kill me with jazz CD. I wanted to turn them down. But ever since they wanted to interview about Gintama, I stopped thinking of them as trendy, so it wasn’t until after I accepted their request, thinking it was a fluke, that I realized my first impressions were wrong. Maybe there are other people who misunderstood Quick Japan and admire them from afar, but to all of those people, I want to say: the ones who edit Quick Japan are just some messy-haired peasants. Like peasants who grow carrots, pouring all of their heartwarming love to produce a magazine called Quick Japan. So it’s fine if you just want to flip through it at the bookstore, and you over there who’s afraid of trendy things, don’t be afraid. Take this magazine, walk to the checkout counter, and pick up Gintama along the way. It’s not important whether it’s interesting or not. Just treat it as a 1500 yen investment. Gintama is like Quick Japan. Everyone’s born a peasant, and some only have the love to grow good carrots. So, please support Quick Japan and Gintama.
Exclusive to this magazine
Lake Touya Summit 2009
“Chatting about what goes on behind the scenes, about our Gintama, about what might happen in the future, and somehow 8 hours went by. Hey, didn’t we talk too muuuuch?!”
Sorachi Hideaki x Oonishi Kouhei (1st editor) x Saitou Yuu (2nd editor) x Nakasaki Atsushi (current editor)
In Gintama vol. 25, Sorachi Hideaki and the editors of Shounen Jump held the Lake Toya Summit 2008. The main plan was “(probably) to extend the serialization of everyone’s favorite Gintama, so the people involved held an emergency meeting!” Roughly a year later, the four men, including a new editor, discuss the road leading to 6 years = 30 volumes of Gintama and its bright future. We’re not Madao!
(The Friday before Silver Week, at a shabu-shabu restaurant somewhere in Tokyo. The 2nd editor Saitou arrives first. The 3rd and current editor Nakasaki arrives with him. Sorachi arrives a bit after. The 1st editor Oonishi still hasn’t arrived...)
—— Let’s chat a bit before we start the formal discussion. What do you usually talk about with the editors, Sorachi-san?
Sorachi: It’s different with different editors. With Oonishi-san, it’s stuff like cases and news. With Saitou-san, it’s usually gossip. As for Nakasaki-san... it’s dirty topics.
Nakasaki: We probably spend the first 5 minutes talking about what the next chapter should be about, then it’s downhill from there. What else do we talk about? I feel like we often say, “Didn’t we talk about this before?”
Sorachi: Yeah, we said that a few times (laugh). Guess it’s true that people become useless once they hit 30...
Saitou: We’d talk and decide on the topic for the next chapter, but sometimes our idle chit-chat would show up as a candidate topic in Sorachi-san’s head a few months later.
Nakasaki: Recently, there was that story about bees? I think Saitou mentioned it last summer, about a monk who wanted to burn a beehive but ended up setting his temple on fire. Then this summer, there was a beehive outside Sorachi-san’s window and I got rid of it with a stick.
Sorachi: So I said, “I’ll draw this.”
—— Eh? (laugh) But this kind of spontaneous topic really tests an author’s skills, and you pretty much finish the stories in one chapter.
Saitou: I’m just gonna be honest today. In terms of planning stories, he’s a genius among geniuses. A senior I respect once said, “He’s wasting his talents by drawing shounen manga.”
Nakasaki: Yeah, he did say that. “He’s too talented.”
Sorachi: What are you doing. Don’t talk about that. Just pick on the problems.
Nakasaki: Oh, so “Gintama sucks at this!” Like that?
Saitou: When Oonishi-san gets here, our conversation will definitely turn out like that. Once he gets here, everything will turn vicious.
Nakasaki: Let’s order some beer! Let’s get drunk first!
—— (laugh) The story conclusions are also perfect.
Sorachi: Wait! Not perfect! They’re totally not perfect!
Saitou: Look at all the plot holes in the arcs.
Sorachi: You don’t have to put it that way!
Nakasaki: I really want to ask, “Did you actually discuss this?!”
Sorachi: I have a deadline to meet, so I have to draw. If only I could spend 2-3 weeks to plan one chapter, that’d be great, but it’s not possible for a weekly serialization.
Nakasaki: So you have to focus your energy on the weekly 19 pages. “I’ll deal with the next chapter next week.” How can you create a story like that? Ah, he’s here!
(Oonishi arrives. Sorachi and the three editors are all present now.)
Nakasaki: You’re late~ Anyway, cheers everyone. Cheers! Cheers for my beloved wife!!
(Editor’s note: Nakasaki just returned from his honeymoon.)
Sorachi: What’s up with this mood? (laugh)
Oonishi: Can’t keep up (laugh).
—— Is there going to be a difference between two glasses of beer and no beer? (laugh)
Sorachi: Did we drink that much already... (laugh)
—— So, Oonishi-san, who knows more about Sorachi-san than anyone else, could you tell us something about the origins? You were the one who brought Sorachi-san from Hokkaido to Tokyo, right?
Oonishi: The piece he submitted won an award, and I was assigned to be his editor, so I took a trip to the snowy Asahikawa. We agreed to meet at a coffee shop, and I saw this man with messy hair coming from afar. Based on the manga style, I thought he’d be someone of an older age, an ossan, although he’s pretty ossan anyway. How should I put this, a young ossan...
Sorachi: What do you mean a young ossan (laugh).
Oonishi: That was my first impression. I don’t know. Maybe he was lying, or maybe someone else came.
Saitou: You didn’t have to be that suspicious.
Oonishi: It’s not like I’ve met him before, so how should I know. His style just wasn’t like the style of someone barely older than 20. At that time, everyone was drawing stories about beating up demons and monsters. Only this one person drew a story about love and revenge of an old man and an old woman (“Dandelion” collected in vol. 1). I was sure this guy faked his age, and I was still suspicious for a while after meeting him.
Sorachi: As you can tell, we never built our relationship on trust. But since the editor came all the way to meet me in Hokkaido, I felt like I had to work harder.
—— How did you create the Gintama world?
Sorachi: He asked me, “What do you like?” And it went from there. I said I liked historical fiction and stuff, so we decided I should hop on the Shinsengumi bandwagon. Even though I didn’t really want to (laugh). I didn’t want to draw something I liked. My art’s terrible. Nowadays, I’m fine drawing what I like. It’s not like I have much say in the weekly serialization.
Oonishi: It’s the same with the award-winning piece. It wasn’t actually very popular. We were afraid if we just let him draw what he wanted, the story will be a bit old-fashioned. Jump can be pretty cruel, so we had to change it up a little. Add some heroic elements, some battle, some comedy. As we talked, we slowly came up with the prototype.
—— And the serialization started in the 2nd issue of 2004.
Sorachi: It just so happened to be the 2nd week of Death Note’s serialization. There was no~ reaction whatsoever. Everyone was too excited about Death Note, so even if you told them Gintama started its serialization, they’d say, “What’s that? Where did this dirty thing come from?”
Oonishi: Well, if you compare with Obata (Takeshi)-san, the difference in art skills is too large.
Sorachi: The reader ranking for the first chapter was beep.
Nakasaki: The first chapter was beep, yet you still survived till today, that’s amazing. I guess Gintama’s the only one in Jump to have done that.
Saitou: I wasn’t working here at that time. I read Jump... but I skipped over Gintama (laugh). But occasionally I’d also think “oh this is pretty interesting,” like the lesson where Gin-san and Katsura search for Prince Hata’s pet, the angel and demon dancing together one.
Sorachi: Oh, the transvestite one... That’s really late! That’s when it finally had a presence?
Saitou: The dialogue is very unique.
Nakasaki: I’ve never really liked it...
Oonishi: No editor likes it (laugh).
Nakasaki: It’s not that. Since I was going to be in charge of this manga, I read it. It’s pretty interesting. I quite like Gintama.
Sorachi: Oi, didn’t you just say you didn’t like it?
Nakasaki: I mean, if we’re talking about liking or not liking it, it’s not that I don’t like it. Actually it doesn’t really matter (laugh).
—— How was the ranking after that?
Oonishi: The ranking for the second lesson fell into the danger zone. The third one went up a bit.
Sorachi: It went up, but it was still beep. Nothing changed.
Oonishi: Usually it’ll keep dropping. But it went up some more for the fourth lesson. Ibaraki, the editor-in-chief at that time, told me, “Oonishi! You’re safe!”
Sorachi: Oh, the Shinsengumi showed up in the fifth lesson.
Oonishi: We didn’t spend too much time designing the Shinsengumi characters. We knew the series wasn’t popular, so we wanted to introduce some new characters as an igniter. It took about a week to draw this lesson, but these characters are very interesting from the beginning.
Saitou: The assistant editor-in-chief during my time said Sorachi-san’s characters are quite memorable.
Nakasaki: Quite charming. When I was reading it, I felt like everything became interesting when the Shinsengumi showed up.
Sorachi: Actually, the ranking went up significantly for the lesson with the old man and the dango shop (lesson 11). First time the ranking was that good.
—— That was the first time the series depicted a character’s death and an emotional scene. It went all out with a tear-jerker scene.
Oonishi: This lesson was quite rich, but the little kids reading Jump might not understand it. Anyway, we wanted them to think “these characters are interesting” before we created a bittersweet story. If someone they didn’t care about did a small thing, it’ll be over. So I remember telling him specifically to hang on until this lesson before he could draw this kind of story.
Sorachi: I feel like we’re doing an interview about Bakuman (laugh).
Oonishi: Yeah, it’s like Bakuman (laugh). Quick Japan also did an interview about Death Note, right? I’ve always been waiting for an interview about Gintama.
—— Sorry for coming so late (laugh).
Sorachi: My wish has come true!
Oonishi: “Quick Japan, did you finally realize it?” That “we’re the coolest” or something.
Nakasaki: Yeah, it really is cool. Gintama is a mess but it’s really cool, even though what I’m going to say isn’t going to be helpful... (omitted)
Saitou: It really wasn’t helpful!
—— The Jump style in Gintama, I think each of you have different interpretations of Jump style, what do you think?
Nakasaki: I don’t think it has Jump style at all. I was new when it started serialization, and Oonishi-san was my mentor. At that time, he told me “if you want to draw something powerful, there’s already One Piece.” I thought he had some sort of counterattack.
Oonishi: I feel like if a new person followed the usual convention, they’d never succeed. So it’s a good thing not to fit in with the Jump style.
Saitou: It’s tough. It’s a problem if you don’t have it at all.
Sorachi: But everything that stayed in Jump didn’t start out with the Jump style. Everyone had something different, and it wasn’t until they were popular that they started adding the Jump elements.
Oonishi: Slam Dunk didn’t really have the Jump style when it started... I feel like you are talking as if you know everything already (laugh).
Sorachi: I was thinking about it recently, and that’s what I concluded. Hey, don’t misinterpret my words when you publish this (laugh).
Oonishi: It’s not like you read much Jump to begin with. You only read the volume releases of Dragon Ball and Slam Dunk, didn’t you?
Sorachi: Because I watched TV. I watched TV and comedians, I didn’t really read manga.
Saitou: Did you watch a lot of TV dramas? Pretty much everyone has seen the dramas of the 90s.
Sorachi: It’s more like I watched whatever my family was watching. When I came back from school, my mom was watching Hagure Keiji Junjoha. In the morning, my dad always watched movies like Star Wars or It’s Tough Being a Man (Otoko wa tsurai yo). I probably learned a bunch of cliches from these shows. Ah, if you combine Star Wars and It’s Tough Being a Man, you get Gintama.
—— If we had to pick one, Gintama’s slogan would be “Sci-fi human nature just kidding historical drama comedy.” Are the sci-fi elements in the Fuyo arc from Star Wars?
Sorachi: Oh that. I was watching I, Robot when I drew it.
Nakasaki: But it’s not plagiarism. It’s inspiration. He still changed things according to his style.
Saitou: Through the Sorachi filter.
Sorachi: They’re all like this. Taking all the information I gathered and mixing them into a messy pile. Then it becomes something farfetched.
—— Let’s talk about individual lessons. Oonishi-san, was there a story that was particularly memorable when you were the editor?
Oonishi: That flower something something and an investigation on a possible extramarital affair (lesson 107). Usually, he barely makes his deadline, but he’ll still say “I’ll make it, I’ll make sure.” But that day, after I stopped by his studio, he told me “This time I might not make it...” He’d been drawing for three years, and that was the first time he said that to me. I figured he was really screwed.
Sorachi: Oonishi-san was really nice that time, it was creepy. Normally he’s always mean.
Oonishi: It’s over if I also panicked. Even though I was worried, I still said “You’ll make it, you’ll make it.” Such a thing happened (laugh).
—— Sorachi-san, what do you think?
Sorachi: The cherry blossoms viewing one (lesson 17). I challenged myself to see how many characters I can draw. When I was drawing that lesson, I was thinking, “Oh, it’s coming, I can feel it!”
Oonishi: It even got a color page. Using this method and these characters to keep drawing Gintama is, in some sense, a gamble. We also wanted to confirm the hint of popularity.
Nakasaki: Which lesson did you think was particularly well-done?
Sorachi: The hotpot one (lesson 100). I have special feelings for that one.
Oonishi: That one was parodying the style of Death Note. The thinking in Death Note is to first say what you think, then in your head go “No wait,” and change your thinking. Then the other person would say what they think, go “No wait!” and back and forth. It’s kind of fun (laugh). Except the reader ranking didn’t do so well...
—— How about Saitou-san? Please tell us the most memorable story from when you were the editor.
Saitou: The one I really like is the street vendor one (lesson 238). There are two times when I thought Sorachi-san was brilliant.
Sorachi: Only two times?
Saitou: The other time was when I read the draft for 13. The street vendor one was also when I thought this man is a true genius. Normal people wouldn’t draw something like this. Except that one wasn’t popular either.
Sorachi: A beep ranking in a long time (laugh). But that was the two of us plotting to do something weird. It had nothing to do with reader ranking.
Saitou: We wanted to see if we could reach the final destination of the manga horizon. Sorachi-san said he wanted to try something where “we only see the dialogue and not the characters,” and I responded “that’s not possible!” but he actually did it. It’s amazing. It’s great to be able to end a story in one lesson.
Sorachi: In some sense, it’s a failure if I don’t end it in one lesson. It’s basically a one-lesson short story.
—— Is it because this is a gag manga?
Sorachi: No. It’s because everyone else is steadily going forward, so I had to use a machine gun to charge forward. When I started serialization, almost nobody was drawing manga that ends in one lesson. Everybody else was drawing long arcs, playing it safe. I was the only one casually drawing short stories that end in one lesson, so I had support. At that time, this thinking was strong, like “I must finish this in one lesson otherwise it’s over!”
—— What about what you draw?
Sorachi: I’m not really picky about that.
—— In some lessons, the characters only show up in 3 panels or so, and everything else is mostly background with dialogue. Is it because you think the main part of the manga isn’t the art but the dialogue?
Sorachi: In the beginning, I’d planned to do a good job with both the story and the art. But certain people kept saying my art sucked, so it slowly became like this (laugh).
Nakasaki, Saitou: It’s all Oonishi-san’s fault! (laugh)
Oonishi: No, I didn’t say it sucked! Only that it’s rough, rough.
Saitou: His art skills are great, but because it’s rough, it looks bad, that’s all.
Nakasaki: The sketches and compositions are all amazing.
Saitou: When he draws battles, I’d honestly think this guy is amazing. He’s amazing, but he doesn’t spend a lot of time on the art...
Sorachi: Alright, alright, I’m amazing! My skills are indeed great! This is great~
—— In the beginning, the dialogue on each page would take up about 3 columns. Now it’s 4 columns on average. Ever since the hospital lesson in volume 6, the amount of dialogue is frightening...
Sorachi: Before, I’d finish the rough draft and then work on the manuscript with my assistants. Around that time, I’d ask my assistants to start drawing before I finished the draft. There’s no time for editing, so any line I think of ends up directly on the manuscript.
Oonishi: When I saw the draft for his short story, I told him “primary school students won’t be able to read a manga that has so much material in the rough draft.” I told him to try to hold back on the number of lines, but... well, readers are probably getting used to it. Or maybe I should say the readers probably gave up, thinking Gintama is full of text, so they just gotta read it.
Saitou: Oonishi-san wanted to write “The manga with the most dialogue in Japan” on the cover.
Sorachi: That’s not good... but somehow it feels like I earned it.
Nakasaki: So he’s much slower than normal when he sketches his draft!!
Saitou: The month that Nakasaki-san took over Gintama, my overtime work decreased by 50 hours. If only the first editor had corrected this bad habit, we wouldn’t have to work so hard...
Oonishi: He’s pretty fast when he draws, but he works on the draft on the weekends.
Sorachi: I’m always trying out different introductions, so I’m very troubled afterwards. Then the deadline is approaching, and that’s when I decide “let’s go with this one.”
Oonishi: That’s this guy’s goal. Or maybe I should say he has high expectations of himself. Also thinking “I need to draw something more interesting.”
Sorachi: What do you mean!
Oonishi: I’m praising your ambition. Always thinking that you can draw something more interesting, so you start over after 5 pages, draw some and start over again.
Sorachi: The dialogue is the life of this manga, so chewing on it more will produce something better.
Saitou: There was once when he really wasn’t going to make the deadline, so he was working on the manuscript in the taxi. That was hell in hell, please never again.
Sorachi: That time was really bad. But my speed has increased a little bit. I give up sooner, but I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
Nakasaki: Never mind whether you give up early or not. Meeting the deadline is the most important thing.
Sorachi: Deadlines are none of my business! That’s your job. My job is to draw an interesting manga! You should share some of the burden.
(Nakasaki-san moves from drinking beer to drinking shochu.)
—— So, who are your favorite characters?
Sorachi: These people aren’t interested in Gintama at all!
Saitou: No, no, no. My favorite is Kanemaru.
Sorachi: That’s equivalent to saying you hate every character in Gintama!
Oonishi: So many characters, yet you like Kanemaru...
Saitou: When we discussed this, we simply said, “Let’s draw a story about the Yorozuya past, and it’ll be interesting if a surprising character shows up.” Then after the actual manuscript, the feeling of a curve ball hitting you in the face contains the element of surprise.
—— Oonishi-san, who’s your favorite character?
Oonishi: I like Tama. Out of all the Gintama characters, Tama is the most well-behaved child.
Saitou: Because she does everything out of kindness.
Sorachi: But that’s because she’s not human. Any human will definitely have something that’s bad. But I don’t think this kind of badness is a bad thing. In fact, it’s more human nature. There’s good and bad, so it’s more attractive.
Oonishi: Even though having some badness isn’t a bad thing, I feel at ease when I see Tama. There’s no definitively good person in this manga, so I want to cry.
Nakasaki: I see! I like Hasegawa. I can relate to his uselessness. And to be honest, I like the terrible friendship between Hasegawa and Gin-san. “I’m bored, let’s drink.” So they drink till morning. “Let’s leave?” And then they depart. It’s a great feeling, like a useless person complaining to another useless person.
—— The friendship quality in Gintama is really high, not the kind where they cling to each other.
Sorachi: Yeah, because I don’t like that kind of clinginess. If there’s no tension, that kind of interaction is disgusting to me. Like “I really admire you, you’re so awesome.”
Nakasaki: No such relation between Sorachi-san and Oonishi-san.
Sorachi: None, right?
Nakasaki: Like “Oonishi, I love you.”
Saitou: Or “Your pain is my pain.”
Sorachi: Besides, it’s not like I like him.
Oonishi: But I do (laugh).
Nakasaki: Because Oonishi-san can’t love other people...
Oonishi: What do you know about me!
Sorachi: ...Um, how about discussing something more suitable for Quick Japan?
—— Ah, but this kind of conversation is quite suitable for Gintama (laugh).
Saitou: Tripping each other...
—— Let’s get back on topic. Gin-san is the type of character that even guys would like. He’s usually useless, but he can do it when he has to.
Sorachi: Cool but weird, it’s not very common. So how should I do this? I need to draw some weaknesses, the weak part of human nature. It’s not only Gin-san. I put in all my effort to create the weird parts of every character.
—— I have a lot of favorite quotes, such as Gin-san’s “The secret to enjoying life is to hold on to the kid inside you.” (lesson 7) This is an invaluable advice for both adults and children. Is this how you feel?
Sorachi: How should I put this... Let’s call it the middle school philosophy. I think the philosophy behind this manga is the middle school philosophy.
Saitou: Middle school is very important.
Nakasaki: Let’s just forget about what we did in middle school.
Saitou: At that time I was always reading JoJo and (Revolutionary Girl) Utena.
Oonishi: I was playing soccer.
Sorachi: I was fighting to protect my position (laugh). My “a little bit interesting fellow” position in class.
Saitou: I understand. Totally, totally understand (laugh).
Oonishi: We care a lot. It’s the same whenever characters first appear. We’d compare them to the type of people they’d be in a classroom. We always use middle school classroom as the standard.
—— Instead of forcing it, Gintama is a manga that slowly presents different kinds of feelings and experiences to the readers. If I read it when I was a kid, I probably wouldn’t be able to put it down. Like City Hunter or Jungle King Tar-chan... The examples I’m giving all have a lot of dirty jokes (laugh). But Gintama also contains a lot of terms that children won’t understand.
Saitou: Like the “soapland” one. (lesson 127) I can’t believe we published that one.
Nakasaki: Because we didn’t do anything.
Oonishi: We were acting dumb, but there’s no way we tricked them.
Saitou: When they said “the mat is wet,” it’s already beyond saving (laugh). But after Sorachi-san mentioned “kids hate kids,” I understood. Things that adults find interesting, kids will read too.
Sorachi: We as creators want to draw something more mature, but kids can tell. They’ll think “so what, don’t underestimate us.” Even if it’s a ball that adults toss with all their strength, the kids will catch it. And then look down on you.
Saitou: You’ll never draw something that kids like, right.
Sorachi: Well, rather than say I’m drawing for adults or children, let’s say I’m drawing for myself.
Sorachi: In the end, I won’t find out if other people like it or not until they tell me their reaction. So I can only draw something that I find interesting first. That’s how it is in the end.
Saitou: But when I talk to you on the phone, the word “readers” would appear from time to time.
Sorachi: If I drew something like this, readers won’t like it. I have some self-awareness. If his pants get pulled off here, readers won’t like it. Even though I’ll still draw it.
Saitou: You really drew it (laugh).
—— How about the longer arcs? I remember Nakasaki-san said he likes Yagyu arc...
(Nakasaki is fast asleep. Silence.)
Oonishi: It’s because we haven’t had any stories where the Shinsengumi and the Yorozuya work together, so we came up with the Yagyu arc. For the earlier Benizakura arc, we took the serious plot very seriously. It’s also the first story where we were working with a long arc, where Takasugi, who doesn’t know how to be boke, shows up. But once Takasugi showed up, we couldn’t stop the story anymore.
Saitou: Looking back, the long arcs all end up at a very different place from where they start out. The beginning and the ending are too different.
Sorachi: If I only focused on the humor, the story won’t develop normally, so I try my best to join them together, but the story takes a different turn.
Oonishi: He only thinks about ending each story in a single lesson, then decides to extend it. So of course, he won’t think about things like endings.
—— This kind of story exists too?
Sorachi: Yeah, it exists. Starting in the middle, the story will become “oh, so this works too!” (laugh)
Saitou: This is his talent. There’s actually plenty of holes, but he won’t let readers notice.
Sorachi: Same with the MonHun arc. Saitou-san and I were having a tough time. “What should we do? How should we conclude?” Then “We turned his dick into a screwdriver in the beginning, so might as well use it.”
Saitou: “Like that!” (laugh) I still remember that great feeling. It’s like we planned it from the start. Like we heard Nakajima Miyuki’s “Earthly Stars.”
Oonishi: Like “Sorachi is annoying, dick is screwdriver” or something (laugh).
Sorachi: The answer is in “the past.” Like, we said it before, the answer is there!
—— Like in a detective show! Put what shows up first at the end.
Sorachi: Those moments are quite frequent. A lot of inspirations that suit the story suddenly appear like a miracle (laugh). Like the feeling that this excuse is very fitting.
Saitou: It’s not quite the same as a miracle. It’s more like some strange freakish phenomenon that happens to Sorachi-san. Sorachi-san drew the “Maybe Driving” lesson in volume 15 when he had high fever and was barely conscious.
Oonishi: Yeah, yeah. He had fever, ate some cold medicine, and was drowsy.
Saitou: Sorachi-san always draws some weird stuff when he has fever. When I was editor, he had fever a few times as well. So he drew that haunted spring and his excellency story, or that Gandhara.ve.hotel and Ghibli story.
Sorachi: Basically, when I have fever, I’d draw some crossover stories. My fever was around 40C when I drew Gandhara.ve.hotel... A kind of “Save me!” feeling when I was drawing. My brain seemed to be oozing with some sort of anesthetic. Can’t even rest when it’s burning at 40C.
Saitou: That lesson was really popular. So sad.
Sorachi: It’s not something I can think of under normal circumstances.
Saitou: ...Sorachi-san, could it be that you’re taking some sort of drug?
Sorachi: Of course not! Let me go!
Saitou: I mean, as an artist, please don’t start taking drugs because your work is too hard. Be careful.
Sorachi: What do you see me as, this? (laugh)
—— As we saw, we’ve gone through the history of Gintama, so I’d like to ask all of you about your thoughts on the future.
Oonishi: What future. This manga never had a future. Only a past.
Sorachi: There is one in my heart. These guys will never have an end.
Oonishi: You mean an end to what happened in the past?
Sorachi: The situation in Gintama is similar to the modern world? A kind of shut off feeling, a world that started after everything you previously had was destroyed. People aren’t trying to win some new things, but trying to protect, from the bottom of everything, what’s most precious to them, and live on.
Oonishi: Usually in manga, characters would head in the direction of wanting to overturn a system or wanting to change the world. In Gintama, it feels more like “Let everyone find their own small happiness.” Usually, if they aren’t happy with amanto rule, why not beat up all the amanto.
Sorachi: But how’re you supposed to kick all of them out? There’s a lot of foreigners coming to Japan right now, so isn’t this telling all the foreigners to get out? I don’t want that, but rather to accommodate and embrace each other and live together. Can’t we have that?
Oonishi: But some people would still want to eliminate others.
Sorachi: I don’t want that kind of “one side falls” thinking.
—— Indeed, this is a manga that contains realism.
Sorachi: We’re wrapping up, aren’t we? Well then, let’s say that! (laugh) Of course readers won’t be excited if they can’t relate to the story, so the content needs to show the feeling of “these guys are doing their best.”
Oonishi: Otherwise it wouldn’t be realistic. Normally people wouldn’t think of rebelling if they aren’t satisfied with society. Characters in One Piece and Naruto are fighting for their dreams and goals, so even though manga going toward dreams are absolutely necessary, if all manga are like that, some readers might think “well, where should I go if I don’t have any dreams?” Or “what should I do if I didn’t do my best every day?” Then, they read Gintama and see everyone in there is living a lazy life, they’ll feel more at ease. Even if you’re lazy, you can still walk down your path of life, and you need to live well, like that.
(Nakasaki wakes up.)
Nakasaki: Everybody, drink! Alcohol is the best! Drink and escape!
Oonishi: You’re really surprising (laugh).
—— … (laugh) Please use your own words to say “Let’s keep up the good work.”
Sorachi: You think it doesn’t matter.
Oonishi: No, I’m still pretty worried. Occasionally when I read the dentist story, I’d wonder if you’ve gone bonkers.
Saitou: Dentists modifying the human body, it’s really scary (laugh). I was also a bit worried when I saw that one.
Oonishi: That lesson and the one after and the few after were all terrible.
Saitou: The two of us have discussed if there’s something wrong with Sorachi-san’s head...
Sorachi: There’s always something wrong with my head.
Saitou: It was especially bad that time (laugh).
Nakasaki: You’re right!
Oonishi: What do you mean “you’re right”? You were the editor (laugh). But it’s already over 30 volumes. It’s shocking. Never thought about it when the series first started.
Saitou: Jump won’t let you drag a few chapters before ending. If suddenly someone says “You need to end it this week,” I don’t know what Sorachi-san would do. I’m worried about this.
Sorachi: Oh that. What to do. I’ll just gather some stories suitable for ending and store them away early.
—— Anyway, you’ll still be serializing for now?
Sorachi: It won’t end now (laugh). I can do anything for the story, so I’m not pressured by the ending. Well, if its popularity drops, then it might end (laugh). The loneliness when it ends, will it be bad? I like that kind of sad feeling. I want to experience it. And then when it ends, readers would think “Don’t end!” It’d be good to draw something like that.