Making of Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku, Editor Interview

The Edo-period ninja adventure, Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku debuted in January 2018 on Jump Plus, the free to read manga application and website. The series has come to fame with its delicate yet powerful imagery, an enchanting setting, and an overwhelmingly charming cast of characters. It is now rising in the ranks of Jump Plus, with older volumes getting reprinted even as the series pushes out new releases. This time we spoke to the editor who helped build the series up from its beginnings, Hideaki Sakakibara-sensei.

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                                                   【The origins of Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku】

Q – So it was the previous editor who started up the series?

Sakakibara: Yes, that’s right, the plan for Jigokurau was created while the previous editor was in charge. About 2 years ago in 2017, the editors at Jump Plus were shown the storyboard for the first 3 chapters of a new series by Yuji Kaku, who had already been published in Jump Square. When asked who was interested in working on the series, I eagerly volunteered. When I read the name I was amazed, it looked so interesting! I was passionate about taking it on, and ended up editing chapters 2 and 3 for Jump Plus, and took them to the review meeting myself.

Q – Was there competition between the editors?

Sakakibara: There was no competition like what you see in the pages of Jigokuraku (laughs). It’s not clear who the other candidates were, but I did hear a number of people were being considered. That’s why I directly voiced my desire to take on this project with the Chief Editor (laughs).

Q – And where did that desire come from?

Sakakibara: First off, I love Kaku-sensei’s illustrations. I’ve been a fan of his drawings, especially those big impact panels, since seeing his series FANTASMA, which was published in Jump Square. In my opinion, they’re not only drawn well, but have the power and charm to attract readers. My personal feelings were also in the balance. At the time, it was my second or third year since becoming an editor, and I felt pressure to build up a series that would become popular with readers and be a big seller in print – I felt as if there was a wall before me, it was a very big goal. Amongst all that, I knew that Jigokuraku would be the title to overcome that obstacle. Besides that, it had been four years since Jump Plus was founded. Amongst all the great manga that were made possible due to the digital medium, it was still missing a mainstream battle fantasy manga. A series like One-Punch Man, which was huge hit. There was a great a need for such a mainstream battle manga on Jump Plus as a whole. We all had the shared goal of making it the number one digital manga magazine, and creating a new hit on Jump Plus. Considering all this, I knew that Kaku-sensei’s title would be the one to live up to that and so I passionately appealed to take it on by saying “I would definitely like to take charge of this!” (laughs).

                                                           【Becoming Kaku-sensei’s Editor】

Q – What was your first impression of Kaku-sensei?

Sakakibara: I had originally seen them on television. It was FANTASMA’s section on Jump’s TV program. I had just stumbled across it and thought, “What a cool author!” – that was my very first impression. Meeting him in real life, he was actually really cool (laughs).

Q – How did you pick up from the previous editor?

Sakakibara: The previous editor was a little crude. Even though it was the first time we had met, he just said, “Your editor has changed” to Kaku-sensei. Then he was just like “Well, good luck! See ya!” to me (laughs).

Q – What did you talk about then?

Sakakibara: I asked Kaku-sensei about what he wanted to do with Jigokuraku, and what he wanted to express. At that point, the character designs had already been made, so he told me what he wanted to do with each of them, and how he wanted them to unfold. By the second chapter, a lot of the characters made an appearance and it’s really exciting, isn’t it? I remember looking at all their prototypes and being all like “So cool!” and “Awesome!!” (laughs).

Q – Are there any characters that were changed?

Sakakibara: The number one favorite in our first character popularity poll, Shion. When I first heard about him from Kaku-sensei, I thought he was such a crazy character. I imagined him like Kazuo Kiriyama from Battle Royale. After talking it over, we decided to make him into the kind teacher he is today. That crazy personality he had the time was eventually taken up by Shugen instead (laughs).

Q – What else did you talk over with Kaku-sensei?

Sakakibara: I still remember Kaku-sensei wanted to make it like a buddy film, or a multi-protagonist story. I was worried about the latter. We already had all these elements like the prisoners, executioners, and the island’s strange creatures; while I thought it would be interesting to add that Battle Royale style story development, in manga, the actions of the main character are huge focal point. If we were to add that kind of multi-protagonist view, we’d have to split the pages up between characters, which would lead to a badly paced story, and we wouldn’t be able to show the main character in action as much – that was my biggest worry. However, it turns out that with Kaku-sensei’s genius, there was no need to fear (laughs). What I mean is that in Jigokuraku, the characters are drawn in quickly and simply. What in other works it would take pages or even chapters, Jigokuraku expresses in only a few panels or pages. Thanks to Kaku-sensei’s talent for drawing, we were able to make this multi-protagonist story with so many characters, while still maintaining good pacing (laughs).

                                                                     【Life After Serialization】

Q – What do you keep in mind when making a title?

Sakakibara: The pacing, and seeing it all objectively from the perspective of being its very first reader. I take on that role with the draft, and I try to give a straight, honest opinion. Also, as Jump Plus isn’t anywhere near as well known as Jump itself, I need to keep working hard to spread the word that Jigokuraku exists and that it’s good. I mean, ceating a social media account and advertising on it is simple enough. But setting up an exhibition as we did at the launch of the fourth volume was very different from the everyday work of an editor; every from the planning, to setup, to execution was a first for me, so it was pretty rough (laughs).

Q – How about things you think of in terms of aiming to make a mainstream battle fantasy title? What are they?

Sakakibara: For Kaku-sensei himself, he absolutely must make his female characters cute! We thought about what works well in a web-based manga, and from the very first chapter there are some pretty extreme illustrations. It’s resulted in high interest and popularity among our readers, but on the other hand one concern is that we don’t have a lot of female readers, and it’s hard for new readers to get into. That’s the issue of the day for us, and Kaku-sensei and I both would love to see more of those female votes, so to speak.

                                                                     【Meetings With Kaku-sensei】

Q – How do you handle your meetings with Kaku-sensei?

Sakakibara: We first decide what’s happening for a set of 10 chapters – a whole volume, in terms of comics. With that as a basis, we then meet week after week to keep each other up to speed. We meet in person when handing over the drafts. And when it’s really hard for make the time for it, we talk by phone.

Q – We talked before about those big impact panels being one of Jigokuraku’s charms. Are those parts covered in your meetings too?

Sakakibara: No – things to do with illustrations are completely up to Kaku-sensei. He draws how he wants to draw, and I really value that. I’ve asked him about characters in meetings in the past. All the characters that show up in Jigokuraku are ‘main characters’ that Kaku-sensei has brought to life. Not just Gabimaru – every character that shows up in Jigokuraku. They’ve each got their own details and back stories, so much so that I find myself thinking “if only these could be put in the manga…” – it’s like that because Kaku-sensei loves each and every character. Without that love, we wouldn’t often have these moments in our meetings where he’ll drop some information like “actually, this is a thing in the story” and I stand there saying “really? I didn’t know that…” (laughs). There’s this ‘realness’ that Kaku-sensei is conscious of. He said it was brought to his attention as an assistant to Tatsuki Fujimoto back before Jigokuraku was serialized, and the idea really blew his mind. He used the word ‘realness’ to describe emotions, actions and lines the character would play out ‘in the moment’, as if these characters are actually existing at that point in time. Kaku-sensei can do that kind of thing because all those details and stories are there in his head, even if they don’t make it on to the page.

Q – Are there any memorable moments from your meetings that you could share with us?

Sakakibara: With Kaku-sensei being a former editor, there are times when I don’t have to explain everything in fine detail for him to understand. If there are ten things I want to tell him, all I’d need to mention seven or eight and he infers the rest. He has deep enough knowledge of things that if I come to him with something out of left field, or requests for things outside of manga, he’s quick to get it. It’s a huge help! (laughs) In addition to that, I remember one conversation we had about “working on silencing the editor voice inside” – as a manga author, you often seek out the fun illogically and put it on the pages. That’s how great works are made. But in contrast to that, the editor will try to organize things objectively. They point out things that are hard to understand. They fix things that contradict. Kaku-sensei himself very much has this editor’s way of looking at things, and it comes out even when drawing manga. He said he unconsciously hits the brakes, and fun for its own sake, things that he wants to do simply because he wants to do them, fall by the wayside.

Q – You mean the very fact he was a manga editor was actually getting in his way?

Sakakibara: I feel like editors have this tendency to make things ‘normal’. But once an author breaks that down, big hits get made. I think Kaku-sensei probably noticed this while creating manga that was heading towards that ‘normal’ direction.

                                                            【The Role of the Editor】

Q – What should an editor be to an author?

Sakakibara: There probably are as many different ways of interacting with authors as there are authors themselves. What they all have in common though is that you put your author and their work first. You often think about what the author is hoping for and support that, filling in the gaps, so to speak. For Kaku-sensei, he always wants an objective perspective, and I make sure to thoroughly support him with that.

Q – What is your relationship with Jigokuraku?

Sakakibara: What I’m about to say is my personal belief as a manga editor, but there are plenty of editors out there who know more about manga than I do. The same is true for authors that have read more manga than me. When I ask myself what my strengths are, what I can say for certain is that the things I’ve read and have gotten obsessed with have gotten a lot of praise worldwide. Looking at that another way, if I truly find a manga to be good, and that manga goes out into the world, you can be assured that others will also think that it’s good. I operate with that mindset. I think Jigokuraku is good. And as the person responsible for it, I’m really going for it in a number of ways: as the person in charge of it and as a member of the Jump Plus editorial department, I feel I have to make Jigokuraku into a heavy-hitter. I myself am striving hard for that. There’s also the face that in Jump Plus, and speaking more broadly, in the world of web manga, there is still no web-born title that everyone can agree is a mega hit as of yet. I believe that Jigokuraku is the title that has the potential to go the distance, into that uncharted territory. It’s my duty to go as hard as I can every day in order to make that happen. In addition, I want to break 1 million copies of the first volume sold!

They often meet face-to-face to pick up drafts, but very occasionally have meetings by phone. A small conference room on the editors’ floor is used on those occasions.

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Sakakibara’s desk complete with Sakakibara himself, who is the prim-and-proper type compared to others in the editorial department. Mini acrylic Jigokuraku figures launched that in September 2019 sit next to his monitor.

Isshin 一心

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