Last time, we reported on the Manga Taisho 2021 Awarding Ceremony where Sousou no Frieren by Kanehito Yamada and Tsukasa Abe took home the Grand Prize. Here’s Part Two of our report, focusing on the Q&A Session with Mr. Katsuma Ogura, the editor-in-charge of Sousou no Frieren.
And congratulations on winning first place! May I ask how you feel about this?
Mr. Ogura: Honestly, I’m really honored and I can only say “I’m happy.” (laughs)
I’ve been told that both the writer and illustrator keep their identities private and will not be joining us today, so we’d like to ask you, Mr. Ogura, to answer some questions on their behalf as well. First, how did the work Sousou no Frieren (Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End) come to be?
Mr. Ogura: I guess the first thing Kanehito Yamada-sensei did was come up with the storyboard. After several meetings together, Yamada-sensei wrote up the first chapter, and then I brought it to Tsukasa Abe-sensei and they told me that they wanted to have a go at the illustration. So that’s where it started.
Until then, Yamada-sensei had been working on his own manga, both the story and the art, right?
Mr. Ogura: Right.
What was the process behind deciding to have Yamada-sensei focus on the story?
Mr. Ogura: Yamada-sensei’s previous work Bocchi Hakase to Robot Shoujo no Zetsubou Teki Utopia from my perspective, as the editor in charge, is a masterpiece, but it didn’t sell well. So when we were discussing what to do next, Yamada-sensei and I both came up with the idea of adding an artist, and we naturally decided to go for it. That’s how we went about it.
Someone said that Sousou no Frieren has a very special atmosphere and that it contains various elements, whether it is trying to make people cry or to make a comedy. What was the order for this?
Mr. Ogura: After many meetings, I couldn’t come up with a storyboard that spoke to me, and since Yamada-sensei’s first award-winning work was a hero story, I asked him if he could go along those lines again, just to reset our minds. And then I asked him to write a gag manga.
Were you planning to make a gag manga?
Mr. Ogura: Yes, that’s right. It was a gag one-shot if we’re being specific. So one day, he comes to me with a storyboard – which would be the first chapter of Sousou no Frieren – and I looked it over and laughed while thinking, “this is not a gag manga at all.” But I thought it was funny, and I wanted to take it forward somehow, so I did a short read-through, but at the beginning, we planned to run it as a short intensive series.
At that stage, you hadn’t decided on Abe-sensei as the illustrator yet?
Mr. Ogura: Oh, no, sorry. When Mr. Yamada finished the first storyboard, before sending it to the editorial department, I contacted Abe-sensei and asked them to draw a character chart, and when Yamada-sensei said “I think it’s very good,” I asked them to do it, so they drew the first storyboard and then we submitted that as a project to the editorial department.
So, you were in charge of Yamada-sensei already, but how did you meet Abe-sensei?
Mr. Ogura: I was assigned to Yamada-sensei in 2009 when I had just joined the company, and I was assigned to Abe-sensei in 2014, seven years ago now, after I saw their work on the internet and asked them to work with me.
So Abe-sensei didn’t bring their illustrations in, but you saw them online?
Mr. Ogura: Yes, I had a chance to look at it, and I found the information on their site, so I contacted them directly.
With Yamada-sensei’s popularity, and Abe-sensei’s illustrations are really wonderful, did you come up with the idea of combining the two creators?
Mr. Ogura: Oh, yes.
Then you gave the storyboard to Abe-sensei and how did you show Yamada-sensei the illustrations of Abe-sensei drew?
Mr. Ogura: Well, the first thing I did was to give Mr. Abe the storyboard of the first chapter and ask him if he felt he could draw something which I thought was important. I think it was an A4 size drawing, but it was a bust-up of the main character called “Frieren.” Personally, I thought it had a very human touch to it, and there was a lot of emotion in it, so I asked Yamada-sensei with confidence, “How about this person?”
And like you said earlier, Yamada-sensei also thought “This person is good.”
Mr. Ogura: That’s right. So we were able to move forward.
I think he’s really this overwhelming protagonist, this atmosphere… and it’s a manga with a story that brings it to life. When you finished it, did you feel a sense of accomplishment, like it was all worth it?
Mr. Ogura: Yes, I did, for sure. When I first submitted it to the editorial department, I was nervous, but as the drafts for the first and then the second chapters started coming in, I had a strong feeling that it would turn out to be a wonderful piece of work.
I read the previous work by Yamada-sensei that you mentioned earlier, and there’s a line where Frieren says, “Hmmm…” I think a lot of people thought that was really cute, but those catchphrases were all by Yamada-sensei, right?
Mr. Ogura: Basically, Yamada-sensei does all the dialogue and writing, but sometimes Abe-sensei adds to the text as well.
The production system, does Yamada-sensei come up with a very strong and complete storyboard, and then Abe-sensei is able to work on it with their very rich and dense illustrations?
Mr. Ogura: Yes, it is like that.
The title of Sousou no Frieren also has a lyrical feel to it, and I think it’s very atmospheric. Did you come up with the title yourself?
Mr. Ogura: Oh, no, we had discussions about it with Mr. Yamada, but the editorial department and I couldn’t decide on a fitting title, so sometimes we have these editorial meetings, and for one particular meeting, we asked everyone, especially the younger editors, to come up with title ideas. And actually, I said to everyone “Whoever can come up with the best title, I will give you 10,000 yen as a prize.”
Of your own money? (laughs)
Mr. Ogura: Yes. And when brought up the 10,000 yen, the vice-editor-in-chief participated for the money. But in the end, I thought, “I’m really glad I offered the prize.” (laughs)
It truly is a great title, as if a copywriter had made it. But it came from your boss, the vice-editor-in-chief, right?
Mr. Ogura: Yes, my boss came up with the title full of confidence. I ended up consulting with Yamada-sensei and Abe-sensei and said, “How about this title?” And that’s how the title Sousou no Frieren came to be.
And you gave your boss 10,000 yen out of your own pocket.
Mr. Ogura: I gave it to him, and he accepted it without a second thought. (laughs)
I mean, I guess he won it fair and square, huh.
So, if I were to compare Sousou no Frieren to an RPG, the story starts right after the game is completely cleared, and I thought that was one of the things that made the work completely different right from the start.
Mr. Ogura: Yes. Yes, it was. It was 100% Yamada-sensei’s idea.
From that point on, a lot of unpredictable and detailed stories unfolded one after another, but have you decided how far you’re going to take it?
Mr. Ogura: It’s just my personal opinion, but I think everybody has been supporting this work, so I’d like to see them write and illustrate freely for as long as they can, but of course it’s up to them. Also, I’m sure they and I have the same mindset where we believe it’s not good to unnecessarily lengthen the story for the sake of prolonging it and sacrificing the richness of the content.
If we look at the lifespan of Frieren, it could go on for thousands of years. (Laughs)
In terms of the production system, there’s a writer and an illustrator, which I think is a traditional system in the world of manga. How do the two creators communicate and work together?
Mr. Ogura: So the two of them have never met face-to-face.
Oh wow, they’ve never even met?!
Mr. Ogura: Yes, Yamada-sensei writes the storyboard, and then I go over it and hand it to Abe-sensei who then either asks me questions about it or we all email in a group, and that’s how it’s been working out.
So, this illustration that Abe-sensei drew to commemorate this award, it’s signed by both Abe-sensei and Yamada-sensei in the bottom right corner. Is this quite rare?
Mr. Ogura: Oh, yes I suppose it is. Abe-sensei doesn’t live in Tokyo so they signed it, and someone from the editorial department went to pick it up, and then we handed it to Yamada-sensei for him to sign. It’s a step-by-step process.
The two creators’ signatures on the same piece are basically non-existent then?
Mr. Ogura: Yes it is. Well, there are digital signatures, of course. But I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen an autograph like this.
So they’ve never met before, but you can still work no problem?
Mr. Ogura: Yes, it’s going well.
I understand that both Yamada-sensei and Abe-sensei gave you their comments today in the form of a letter. Would you please read them out loud for everybody?
Mr. Ogura: I would like to start with a comment from Kaneto Yamada-sensei.
“Thank you all very much for your very high evaluation of our work. I really didn’t expect to win the grand prize, since there were so many interesting mangas that were nominated. It is thanks to Abe-sensei, who wonderfully expresses the atmosphere of this manga and the editor in charge who I enjoy meeting with. I am really happy to have won the 2021 Manga Taisho. Thank you very much to the Manga Taisho Executive Committee and all the members of the selection committee.”
Thank you very much for the comment.
Mr. Ogura: Next I would like to read the comment from Abe-sensei on their behalf.
“Thank you very much for selecting our work for the Grand Prize. I have known about this award since I was a child, so it is really great and I appreciate it. Yamada-sensei, the editor in charge, the assistants, my family, my friends, and the readers have supported me a lot, and that support is why I’m here now. I will continue to work hard so that I can draw even better things and deliver them to you. Thank you very much.”
Thank you very much. We’ve been running the show for a little over 10 years, and this is the first time I’ve heard anyone say, “I have known about this award since I was a child.” Many things to think about…
Moving on, Mr. Ogura has agreed to take questions today, so if any reporters have any questions, please raise your hands.
Thank you very much. I felt that this manga would leave a different impression on you depending on which stage of life you are currently experiencing. On the production side, did you have a feeling you wished to invoke in the readers? Did you discuss this with the creators?
Mr. Ogura: Thank you very much. I think it’s difficult to answer this question, but on the surface, the story focuses on the idea of death, so I think one of the things that they tried to do is to carefully depict the fact that death is something that everyone is actually familiar with. I think there is a sense of positivity and affirmation when you delve a little deeper into the story, and I think Yamada-sensei was very conscious of this when he wrote it, and although it’s a sad story, it’s very pleasant to read and somehow gives you a sense of light and runs towards emotions and life. It is a sad story, though. Personally, I think it’s a work that captures and conveys interest in people and humans.
Congratulations on your award. I think that the death of a comrade is a very important point in this story, but is there a message that you wanted to communicate with the readers?
Mr. Ogura: Yes. This may sound a bit repetitive, but I think that the way people perceive the death of their loved ones may be different from each other, but there may be some common moments that everybody is familiar with. The moments that you realize that someone irreplaceable is no longer there and the emotions that you face just as that realization settles. I think it’s rare to find a work that carefully depicts all of this in an isekai fantasy world. It’s a beautiful thing and I think it’s precious, and I think Yamada-sensei and Abe-sensei have created a work that illuminates such moments beautifully to pass this idea onto the readers.
Congratulations on the award. As an editor, what do you find surprising or amazing about working with the two creators?
Mr. Ogura: This is going to be a very simple answer, but when Yamada-sensei writes the storyboard for the Weekly Shonen Sunday, it’s 18 pages long, but it is almost completely unchanged from the first iteration. I’m amazed at how he’s able to assemble the story so well, think about it, and incorporate it into the storyboard, and I think it’s really interesting. I think it makes my work more fun. I hand it over to Abe-sensei, and they draw it in the manuscript with great care, and I’m simply amazed at how they draw it from the name. I think there are very delicate emotions in the story, and they draw very beautifully, and it seems like each line holds the weight of the emotion it’s depicting, especially the facial expressions. Whenever I read the manuscript first, I can’t help but smile and think, “Wow.”
That made me think of something… This is a weekly series, right? The fact that the two creators can come up with such a high quality of work every single week… I mean it’s obviously amazing, but I’ve just had another moment of realization that it’s so amazing.
Mr. Ogura: I guess so. (laughs)
18 pages of rich content…
Mr. Ogura: Yes, all I can do is bow down to them.
Congratulations on your award. I think that this work may fall into the “isekai” genre, but I personally think that it may appeal to people who don’t read much or know much about this genre. What do you think, as an editor?
Mr. Ogura: Well, of course, it’s a story set in an alternate universe, so I’d be happy if people who like the alternate universe genre could read it. If I were to talk in extremes, I would say that it is a shonen manga, but it can be read by people of all ages and genders, and if you read it as a child and then read it again as an adult, you can read it with a slightly different feeling. So I think that this manga is a very versatile and flexible piece of work.
Congratulations on your award. This is a little related to what you just said, but Abe-sensei posted the first and second chapters on Twitter which served as an opportunity for a great number of readers to get acquainted with the story, and from there it spread and became a topic of conversation. I’d like to know if there was any kind of development or strategy in that area on the editorial part.
Mr. Ogura: Yes, the story was shared on Twitter. In this day and age, it is very important and effective to get a story or piece of work out there by the means of the internet. It reaches people far and wide, just as this manga did after being shared on Abe-sensei’s Twitter. I was very happy to hear that it reached a lot of readers.
Thank you. So, you had the hopes that it would reach new audiences through such means?
Mr. Ogura: Yes, we did. We wanted more and more people to see and read this manga.
Was the response as expected? Or did it exceed your expectations?
Mr. Ogura: Oh, it exceeded my expectations.
Thank you very much.
Thank you everybody for your questions, and thank you Mr. Ogura for taking the time to come here today and answer all of our questions.
Sousou no Frieren has been licensed by Viz Media as Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End and will release the manga starting this fall.
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