The making of ‘Kimetsu no Yaiba’, Editor Interview

Rising into the books of Weekly Jump’s history, “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba” has made a splash with it’s unique world building and unrivaled battle adventure narrative. It is the story of Tanjiro Kamado, a kind-hearted boy who takes up the blade to seek revenge against a demon that murdered his family and turned his younger sister into a demon as well. The series has begun to shine now more than ever, and has come to play a significant role in Weekly Jump. This time we talked to Mr. Tatsuhiko Katayama, the first editor in charge who supported this rising title from the start.

Q – Please tell us about the process leading up to the serialization of “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba”.

Katayama: In my fourth year at the company, I had finally returned to the editorial department after working elsewhere in the company, and Gotoge-sensei was one of the first manga artists I was put in charge of. At that time he had just finished his second one-shot manga in Jump, “Rokkotsu-san”, and I was the one who submitted it. Afterwards he told me he wanted to create a series, and we started working on “Haeniwa no Zigzag”, which after failing to be serialized would become his third one-shot publication. I continued to mull over how to make best use of Gotoge-sensei’s style and talent. I came to the conclusion that an easy to understand theme would be best. With that in mind we chose to work off of his award winning debut title, “Ka Gari Gari”. It has simple Japanese motif to it. I thought without a clear motif to the outfits and other elements, it would be difficult to draw up a plan. And so, we borrowed from a theme that everyone is familiar with. The stage was already set in “Ka Gari Gari”, the base was routed in reality, and the concept of the swords and demons needed no explanation to the Japanese audience. With this we created a storyboard based on “Ka Gari Gari”, which came to be known as “Kisatsu no Nagare”. However, due to its serious tone, lack of comic relief and dark story, it didn’t make the cut for serialization. I thought it wouldn’t be able to get through unless the main character wasn’t switched out, and so I asked Gotoge-sensei if there wasn’t a brighter, more normal character in the world he had created. That’s how Tanjiro and “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba” came to be.

Q – How did you come up with the title “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba”?

Katayama: We originally were going to go with “Kisatsu no Yaiba”, but we felt that the character for “satsu” (殺, meaning kill) was too strong. We discussed what to substitute it with and came up with a few ideas. Out of those ideas “kimetsu” (鬼滅, with the second character meaning to perish) seemed the easiest to understand. Although no one actually says the word “kimetsu”, Gotoge-sensei thought it would be interesting if the title were abbreviated that way. “Kimetsu” has a strange ring to it, doesn’t it? Although it’s easy to pronounce, it has an unusual quality about it. And that’s how the title of “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba” came to be. As for “yaiba”, it doesn’t just imply any old sword, but particularly a Japanese sword, so we decided on that.

                                     【Behind the scenes of “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba】

Q – What was the part you struggled in the most with in creating the series?

Katayama: Honestly, I don’t remember struggling that much. That’s probably because Gotoge-sensei is such a hard worker, and always puts his all into creating the storyboard. He just keeps drawing and drawing, so much so that it’s hard to keep up. (laughs) I guess that’s why I didn’t feel it was a struggle. If I were to talk about something I has to be careful about… there was a demon called “Teoni” or the “hand demon”, wasn’t there? After defeating him, there’s a scene where Tanjiro holds his hand, praying that he would never turn into a demon again. Although it was a really heart wrenching scene, Gotoge-sensei wanted to cut it out of the storyboard. When I first heard of that scene, I thought there was no other main character quite like Tanjiro, and I got goosebumps. The enemy too has experienced his own sadness, and in squeezing his hand Tanjiro shows mercy. I remember saying “No wonder that enemy is all hands… everything’s connected. That’s amazing, isn’t it?” I was shocked when Gotoge-sensei replied with something the likes of “Oh, is that so?” (laughs) And so I had to make sure that none of Gotoge-sensei’s strong points slip past. Maybe there was a bit of a struggle in that. I feel I have to bring up those unique qualities in the discussion, or else there’s a chance they may get cut. Gotoge-sensei has an oblivious side to him, and sometimes he can’t objectively see his own strengths. Even when it comes to Tanjiro he makes comments like “He’s too normal, I can’t decide if he’s interesting”, so I have to insist that he’s fine that way. There are points that while I think are great, Gotoge-sensei thinks nothing of. It’s just how he is, so I have to make sure that those interesting qualities don’t get missed.

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The storyboard for “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba” chapters 1-3 along with Katayama’s notebook.

Q – Are there any memorable interactions with Gotoge-sensei that you could share with us?

Katayama: Sure. There’s the character Urokodaki, right, and when we were in the storyboarding stage his design had his real face showing. I suggested to Gotoge-sensei that it was too plain. All he said was “OK. I’ll fix it.” What ended up on the page is what everyone sees now. He said something like, “I couldn’t think of anything good, so I covered his face.” I thought that was hilarious. The design itself had impact, so I OK’d it immediately – the only ones who know what Urokodaki’s face actually looks like are myself and Gotoge-sensei. He’s a real dandy-looking prince, with a balanced face. Oh, and on the subject of character designs, Tanjiro originally didn’t have any scars or earrings. I had Gotoge-sensei add them when making the draft. I said there was no impact in his appearance and that I wanted something to him that made him pop, like how Rurouni Kenshin has that scar. He said a simple “got it” and made Tanjiro as he is now. I first thought the earrings were a little feminine, but they really accentuate his character.

Q – In what order did the characters come about?

Katayama: The important characters were on our minds from the beginning. Kibutsuji for instance was definitely there in the first chapter, as well as other characters central to the plot. Zenitsu too. I don’t know if Inosuke’s name and appearance were the same as they are now, but I remember hearing from Gotoge-sensei that Tanjiro had four companions, and all of them stood apart by excelling in one of the five senses: Tanjiro’s sense of smell, Zenitsu’s sense of hearing, Inosuke’s sense of touch, Genya’s taste, and Kanao’s eyesight. You definitely see it once you know about it.

Q – What part of the story would you like people to be aware of the most?

Katayama: The dialogue. I still remember one interesting example – I was reading the storyboard in the middle of the night and got to the scene where Giyu reprimands Tanjiro for leaving himself defenseless. “Whoa, what?” – it woke me up. When that line showed itself I thought “here comes an interesting character… why is he so angry?!” (laughs) I asked Gotoge-sensei how he’s able to write such interesting lines, and he said he had actually been reading books on how to write novels. I’m not sure if that’s really why, but there’s a number of lines in the manga that resonate well like that. They’re lines you can’t imagine yourself. I’d definitely like there to be more of those in the future.

                                                                  【The role of the editor】

Q – What should an editor be to an author?

Katayama: I think it depends on the author, but I feel they should be a motivator. It’s important that they stir up the desire to keep authors going. To put it more specifically, they should be giving feedback like telling their authors what parts are interesting or how they should be doing a particular thing. There’s the manager-esque parts, where they have to make the work more interesting and pick up authors when they’re down. And then there’s a bit of a producer’s role in there, where you have to suggest to them how to sell things. Editors should be a force that draws out everything a writer has; their talent, their motivation. If they’re a new talent, you also have to help them realize their full potential, but that also falls under the role of being a motivator, I think. Being an editor is not that specialized a role, though.

Q – What elements are necessary for a serialization in Shonen Jump?

Katayama: For “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba”, I think it’s uniqueness. People don’t pay for works of entertainment unless there’s something different about them. Going back to what I said earlier, the dialogue is something that’s not really been seen before. In terms of character design, too, I think Tanjiro is a type of male main character that you don’t really see much. He’s so kind. He has Nezuko, so he’s coming from this position where he can’t just say all demons are absolute evil. He’s in the gray zone. His sister Nezuko is an incredibly key player in that, and it’s because of her that the events in “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba” are going in such an original direction. I digress, but that was what I meant by uniqueness being necessary. Aside from that, to continue a serialization for a long time, the author themselves needs stamina and to be able to come up with ideas. That’s fundamental. Also, other writers and senior editors have been saying this, but when the series starts, it needs to be getting everyone’s attention. The secret to getting a long serialization is in your opening moves: you cleverly set up entertaining developments that get everyone’s attention, and build trust with your readership.

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Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Chapter 11 ,“Suggestion”: Fire with fire: Nezuko, a demon, responds to the threat to Tanjiro’s life by another demon.
                              【Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba: “Hyper-Mainstream”】

Q – What is “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba” to you, as a first-generation editor?

Katayama: I believe that the fastball of mainstream entertainment is shonen manga. I feel like manga like this has become more rare as of late, but I want writers to draw more mainstream works. I think “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba” is “hyper-mainstream” – it strongly captures human nature. Its humans overcome adversity, grow, and fight villains who deserve to be fought against. It is both mainstream and unique. It is a great work of entertainment that anyone who likes manga can enjoy, regardless of age or gender. I want it to be just that. That’s what “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba” is to me.

Isshin 一心

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