Making of ‘SPY x FAMILY’, Editor Interview

A master spy who goes by the codename “Twilight”. Along with Anya, a telepath, and Yor, an assassin, he forms a family in order to carry out his secret mission. The work has risen to great popularity with fans, regardless of age or gender. This time we talked to Shihei Lin-sensei, the editor who has been working with Tatsuya Endo to bring the world of SPY x FAMILY to life.

                                                          【The Birth of SPY x FAMILY】

Q – When did you become Tatsuya Endo’s editor?

Lin: Two years after I joined the company, as we were preparing for the launch of Jump Square. At that point we’d already known each other for more than ten years. I also was the editor for most of his first serialization, TISTA, although the editor changed partway through.

Q – What kind of person is Endo-sensei?

Lin: He’s an author with many preferences. That hasn’t changed since I first met him. In order to improve the quality of his work, he reads many manga, novels, and new books. He’s passionate about learning. He’s the type to really think through every detail of the plot, so when I propose something crazy in a meeting, he’ll quickly point out any contradictions. That’s how the story comes together. Also, his attitude toward manga is very thoughtful and earnest, it’s great. My involvement with Endo-sensei has also had a positive impact on other authors I work with. For example, when I handled Fire Punch by author Tatsuki Fujimoto, I had Endo-sensei come onboard as an assistant, in order to learn from the experience.

Q – What is your fondest memory of working together?

Lin: We had a lot of good memories on our trip to New York to gather material for his work, TISTA. We didn’t have a big budget at that time, so it was a really thrifty trip (laughs). We had such a good time together though that none of it really mattered.

Q – What was the process of serializing SPY x FAMILY like?

Lin: After finishing TISTA and Gekka Bijin in Jump Square and publishing three one-shots, I was moved to the Jump Plus editorial department. When I told Endo-sensei, he said, “Any editorial department is fine, so let’s work together again.” And so, we slowly started drawing up a plan for a work that would suit Jump Plus.

He had published three one-shots for Jump Square; “Rengoku no Ashe”, “Ishi ni Usubeni, Tetsu ni Hoshi” which was written about Medusa’s child, and “I SPY”. SPY x FAMILY takes on the strengths of all of those works, so it can be said the series was born from those three titles. For Jump Plus, we circulate each draft around the department and get everyone’s feedback before taking it to the meeting that decides whether it’ll be serialized or not. With SPY x FAMILY, the reception from the editorial department was so good that its serialization was practically decided before even going into the meeting.

Q – What kind of title do you think SPY x FAMILY is?

Lin: I remember talking extensively with Endo-sensei about making this a cheerful title. In both TISTA and Gekka Bijin, the characters and plot were made to be dark, so for this third serialization we both wanted to switch things up and create something more positive. Endo-sensei is talented at creating deep, well thought-out characters, and showing their shifts in psychological state. When a dark storyline continues on, both the author and reader can fall into a slump. That’s why I wanted to make SPY x FAMILY a bright and cheerful manga. I remember banning him from drawing anything dark (laughs). Endo-sensei agreed to this, and I was happy to see him draw the series with much enthusiasm.

Q – How did the title for SPY x FAMILY come about?

Lin: I just slapped a placeholder name on it at the draft submission stage. Endo-sensei sent in this draft for a serialization without deciding on the title, so we just worked with the title “Spy Family” written in Japanese characters for the time being. And then, when it was actually going to become a real thing, we decided we’d better have a proper name for it. It took us forever to decide on anything! (laughs) I thought “Spy Family” written in Japanese was just fine, but Endo-sensei was worried it was a little too… straight-forward. I swear, he came up with over a hundred names and we went over all of them together. And at the end of it all, we just took the name we had and put it in English characters, with a cross between the words. We talked about how the title of “HUNTER x HUNTER” is super simple, and it how it has the same thing going on.

Q – What about the characters in SPY x FAMILY? How did they come to be?

Lin: Anya’s design was inspired by the main character of the one-shot “Rengoku no Ashe” in Jump Square. They do resemble each other, with Anya having extrasensory perception and Ashe being a witch. Anya’s ability to read minds came fairly early on in the planning stage. I do remember us deciding in a meeting just how broad her abilities would be. The way her abilities are used for comedic effect in SPY x FAMILY is one of the title’s virtues, I think.

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Q – What, would you say, is the appeal of SPY x FAMILY?

Lin: The art itself of course, but also how action is shown, the panel work, and just generally, as a manga, how well made it is. The illustrations are clean and sharp. The characters’ emotions, and how they express them, slip easily into your mind. This is a feeling you don’t get much in other manga. That conveyance of emotion is the culmination of Endo-sensei’s efforts to hone his skills. It’s definitely something I hope people take notice of. Making something easy to read is actually really difficult, and I think it’s truly amazing Endo-sensei can achieve that.

The manga’s appeal is actually showing in its sales. SPY x FAMILY has a broad readership, attracting fans regardless of age or gender. Both adults and kids alike can read it from their own perspectives, and I think that is the main reason the readership is as wide as it is. Also, since it’s a spy manga, there are of course violent scenes. There’s a line where violence is given a pass because it’s for comedy, and we are always very conscious of that. I think that’s another reason why our readers stay with us.

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Q – When making a title, are there any things you keep in mind regarding readers outside of Japan?

Lin: That’s a big question… I think rather than say we’re being aware of foreign readers, I’d say we work without thinking too hard about Japan itself. If you’re making a work reflective of a particular period, then you need to be aware of the locations and cultures of that period, but that doesn’t really apply to SPY x FAMILY, does it? There are a lot of people in younger generations than us who spend a lot of their time watching non-Japanese titles on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. I think the perception of what is “domestic” and what is “foreign” will go on to become more ambiguous.

                                                                     【The Role of the Editor】

Q – What do you think an editor is to an author?

Lin: Ideally speaking? Something like family. But sometimes things don’t go so well between the two of them (laughs). Depending on the person it can be something like two brothers who are very close with each other, a couple who head towards their future together, or occasionally comrades-in-arms who struggle together through hard times… What’s important is adjusting the emotional distance between the two of you to suit the writer as an individual. Although, if you get too close with each other, it may become difficult to say what you really want to, and that isn’t ideal. With Endo-sensei, we have a good level of closeness with one another. We can be direct with each other. We rely on each other. It’s not just that we just simply get along. Endo-sensei treats me with decency. We’ve known each other for over 10 years now, and yet the vibe is the same as when we first met. I’d love for it to stay this way forever.

Q – What is SPY x FAMILY to you, as a work?

Lin: We’ve only released up to the second volume as of now, but the characters and story still have lots of room for development. At this point, the universe and characters’ fundamental qualities have been laid down, and from here we’ll be able to start drawing stories that are a little on the longer side. We’d like fans to get even more into the characters and setting, and from around the fourth or fifth volume start introducing slightly longer narratives. That said, once the relationship between characters changes, it can’t be reversed. We want to be vigilant of that. At any rate, each chapter is very carefully drafted by Endo-sensei, so I feel at this rate if everything continues as it is, SPY x FAMILY as a title can keep on climbing up.

Isshin 一心

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