Making of ‘ACT-AGE’, Editor Interview

ACT-AGE is the first of its kind, taking on a genre that had never graced the pages of Jump before. The manga offers a detailed and realistic take on the entertainment industry, giving us a look into the actors’ emotions, behind the scenes negotiations, and even introduces us to the characters backstage. Following the success of their one-shot, creators Matsuki Tatsuya and Shiro Usazaki continue to challenge this topic. This time we interviewed the editor who has been supporting them, Shu Murakoshi-sensei.

                                                   【Meeting Matsuki-sensei and Usazaki-sensei】

Q – Tell us about the series of events leading up to the serialization.

Murakoshi: Matsuki-sensei was a semifinalist in the story category of Jump’s Divisional Manga Award. I was in charge of the finalists at the time, and so I met with Matsuki-sensei and we began putting the title together.

Q – How did you meet Usazaki-sensei?

Murakoshi: At the time, I was working on the series “Summon the Summoner” (herein referred to as “Summon”). I was searching social media for quality fanart of Summon, when I found this amazing work from a particular artist, and thought it’d be nice to reach out to them sometime. Around that time, I was meeting with Matsuki-sensei to discuss potentially publishing something in Jump. I remember saying “We need to find an illustrator if we’re going to publish. Do you have anyone in mind?” and Matsuki-sensei responded, “I have an illustrator that I really like.” The illustrator Matsuki-sensei recommended, out of sheer coincidence, was the same person who drew that fanart of Summon, Usazaki-sensei. We got into contact shortly after that (laughs).

Q – Is it rare to be approached by the editorial department?

Murakoshi: No, not at all. Lately we’ve been scouting for potential manga artists on Twitter more and more. In this case, I wanted to contact them from a legitimate looking account so that they would trust me. Although Summon really had nothing to do with it, I thought it was fitting to contact them from the Summon official account and sent them a direct message (laughs). They wrote back saying they were interested. It turned out that Usazaki-sensei was living in the Kansai area and was quite young, so I decided to meet them face-to-face just to make sure everything was alright.

Q – You went all the way to Kansai just to meet Usazaki-sensei?

Murakoshi: Right as we were getting in touch, the editorial department here was travelling all over the country, meeting hopeful manga artists as a part of the Jump Scout Caravan event. We got into contact just before the event in Osaka, so I was able to kill two birds with one stone. When we met up, Usazaki-sensei told me that they’ve only ever drawn illustrations, not manga, but that they were willing to try. They also spoke about how they loved Jump and looked up to manga artists. A few months later, Usazaki-sensei illustrated Matsuki-sensei’s award-winning story, “Welcome to Asagaya Art Academy’s Film Program” (herein referred to as “Asagaya”).

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Q – There was quite a large gap between Asagaya, which was published in 2017, and the serialization of ACT-AGE.

Murakoshi: After being published in Jump, Asagaya became very popular. I think a lot of people expected we would’ve create a series based off the one-shot right away, but for me, it was important to let Usazaki-sensei draw a few more one-shots in order to build up some experience and understand the collaborative process of creating manga. If we serialized something right away, it would have not only been their series debut, but also their first time living alone after moving to Tokyo. It would have been physically and mentally exhausting. That’s why at first it was about them getting practice, drawing one-shots, meeting with serialized artists in their studios and taking it all in, while at the same time getting used to living independently. With all that going on, it took us quite a while to get around to Matsuki-sensei’s storyboards (laughs).

                                                   【The Birth and Serialization of ACT-AGE】

Q – Were there difficulties in coming up with a good draft?

Murakoshi: They wanted to serialize it in Jump, and so they went out of their way to write to the tastes of magazine at first. The end result was that Matsuki-sensei couldn’t do what they do best. And so, we went back to the drawing board and changed it to be about the actors. The resulting draft was a one-shot length ACT-AGE. It was good. I didn’t want to let it get away, so to speak, and instantly changed course to turning it into a series. From Usazaki-sensei’s perspective, we were supposed to be building up their familiarity with manga by drawing a few more one-shots, but it went straight to serialization without giving them more time to practice, so it was a real scramble to make their debut (laughs nervously).

Q – Why did the main character end up different to the one in Asagaya?

Murakoshi: In Asagaya, the director Sumiji Kuroyama was the main character. But for a Jump series, a director would make a difficult main character. Take for example Nodame Cantabile, which is themed around musical performances, and Blue Giant, which is based on jazz gigs. Both have these high-energy, climactic points, but I felt it was going to be really hard to achieve that with a director as the main character. On the other hand, with an actor as the main character, we could highlight their actions and emotions while in role, with those big developments on stage being the climax. We chose to make that change and went with it. Also, for younger readers, the idea of a director might be a bit too abstract for them to understand and empathize with. Actors, on the other hand, are right there on the television on a bunch of different programs. They’re much closer to home. Finally, there was the manga Glass Mask, which was a huge hit. Sure, there might be differences between shonen and shojo manga, but Glass Mask was able to entrance young girls across the country, and I thought surely we could do that too at Jump (laughs).

Q – It feels like Jump has predominantly male lead characters.

Murakoshi: I had Matsuki-sensei writing a male main character at first, but it just seemed to flow better with a female character. Rather than fuss over having a male main character because it’s Jump, I figured it was better to have a female main character which would bring out Matsuki-sensei’s individuality and strengths as a creator. As long as you give the readers a character with a personality and plot developments they can get behind, it’s fine, regardless of the gender of the character.

Q – Were there any difficult or challenging points?

Murakoshi: ACT-AGE isn’t an action or battle manga where someone throws a punch or unleashes a special skill and you instantly know who has the upper hand. It has its own special style of battle, and with that comes logic, narratives and ideas required to have readers buy into the story. That’s where a lot of effort goes. Something we’re mindful of is that it’s necessary for the reader to share in the experience, like thinking “right now, this character’s emotions have been upturned by that other thing that happened, and so the story is heading in this direction.” And so, we often do a recap at the beginning of each chapter, in order to prevent the reader from having to remind themselves what was going on. The issue with that is if you do it too much, you mess with the pacing of the story and it all ends up being counterproductive. We’re trying to work out a balance. We’re also conscious of the dialogue; if it’s too abstract and out there, people won’t get what you’re trying to do. We choose our lines so the reader will be able to get a solid understanding of what’s happening and identify with the emotions via similar experiences in their personal lives.

                                                                  【The Making of a Story】

Q – Tell us about your meetings.

Murakoshi: During meetings with Matsuki-sensei, references to Bleach often come up. Things like “This is the scene where we make Yonagi unleash her Bankai”, “OK, what’s in her Bankai?” or “What’s led her to unleash her Bankai?” and such. I’ve worked with Tite Kubo-sensei before, and Matsuki-sensei and I both love Bleach. We have this language we speak through Bleach that’s easy for us to understand (laughs).

Q – How do you go about with a work in progress, and how you handle each chapter?

Murakoshi: Every week, we decide on a loose idea of the characters and narrative to draw and lay out the general composition while considering how to best showcase the character’s emotions. For example, in “Scene 88. How I’m Defined” where Ogami’s character starts to be despised by the audience, the idea of Yonagi and Ogami having a conflict came first. From that we thought about what kind of acting would show a new side of the ever-popular Ogami. And as we did, a conversation about how famous people often get haters on social media attacking them led us to realize: that’s what it means to be big and famous. For all the fans you gain, there will be a proportionate number of haters. That’s life as a star, and we were able to link that back to Ogami’s development.

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Q – Are you actively reading any other genres in order to drum up ideas?

Murakoshi: I haven’t really done much, but if you don’t have any real experience with the topics then you won’t have much to go on in meetings, so I’ve started going to musicals and theatre performances here and there. When starting the Princess Iron Fan arc, I did wonder how action would play out on stage, so I went to see some performances by famous troupes and featuring well-known actresses. I’m still new to the world of theater, but the presence and behavior of actors onstage really hit me. I guess it really drew me in (laughs).

                                                                    【About the Authors】

Q – What are the pros and cons of having the work divided between the writer and illustrator? 

Murakoshi: The good thing about them being separate is that we can have time to spare, so Matsuki-sensei can spend time planning out the plot, and Usazaki-sensei can draw heaps of wonderful color pages. Usazaki-sensei is also really good at drawing facial expressions and can draw up things above and beyond what Matsuki-sensei indicates in the storyboard. Even with vague direction on what kind of nuance the character’s expression should have, Usazaki-sensei is able to produce a look that exceeds our imagination. We’ve slowly come to rely on Usazaki-sensei for this, but Matsuki-sensei and I are always in agreement that we shouldn’t only be banking on their artistic abilities, and that we need to be putting good ideas down on the storyboard to begin with. That said, the writing and the illustration working off each other the way they do is a good example of things working together to be more than the sum of their parts.

Q – Has Usazaki-sensei’s art changed much?

Murakoshi: You can tell by comparing the first few chapters of the manga to the most recent that it’s improved drastically. There’s clearly been a change, and it’s surprising when you look back at older stuff. I definitely want people to read everything, even if just to see the illustrations develop (laughs). A particularly noticeable growth started from the scene where Yonagi and Chiyoko are running together in “Scene 20. Karen and Keiko” through to the climax of Death Island. There’s a dramatic level of improvement from there. And in the same vein the coloring has gotten better as well. I’ve seen firsthand how quickly young creatives can improve.

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This drastic change in artistic ability coincided with the story’s climax in Scene 22, which was the center color page in Jump that week.
                                                                     【The Role of an Editor】

Q – What is an editor to an author?

Murakoshi: First of all, you should endeavor to be like a mirror that the author looks into to see their readers. When the material is good, of course you say it’s good, but when there’s something the author thinks is really great, but does not convey well to the readers, it’s really unfortunate. When their intent isn’t translating onto the page, I tell them straight. I’ll then rephrase it to them and then we try and nail down as specific a solution as possible, together. Really, I guess you could say that editors pull out what the author feels is entertaining and ferry those feelings over to the reader. Editors are also there for the creators to bounce ideas off. The more opportunities to work a creative’s imagination, the better. I bring up every idea I think of. I work under the pretense that even if you bring 100 ideas to the table and only one is of use to your author, that’s still a job well done (laughs).

Q – What is ACT-AGE to you?

Murakoshi: I’ve always liked the creative arts, so it’s a title I enjoy working on. Aside from that, I get to make links between the fictional world in ACT-AGE with the real world, and work on things that make it seem like these fictional characters are a part of real life: getting a poster of Yonagi in a magazine, setting up an official homepage for Studio Daikokuten (https://www.shonenjump.com/studio_daikokuten/) and such. Also, ACT-AGE is a title where the flow of emotions and a clear establishment of logic are necessary, and so I feel it allows me to grow as an editor.

                                                                      【Recent Interests】

Murakoshi: While I do watch Japanese drama shows and anime, I’ve recently been really into popular shows from overseas like Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, and Marvel films. I’ve also been watching Terrace House. I’ve been jumping on a lot of bandwagons (laughs).

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When Matsuki-sensei’s storyboards or Usazaki-sensei’s illustrations hit a snag or they’re troubled by something, we’ll end up talking on the phone for hours. During those calls, I’m mainly at my desk, in this position. As a result of holding this pose for such a long time, my posture has changed for the worse.

Isshin 一心

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