Quick Japan Interview, Part I
March 18, 2013 4 Comments
This is a J->C->E translation. There used to be a link to the J->C translation in this post (scans in Japanese also available), but it seems like the original translation post was moved or deleted.
Say everything you want to say – it’s over 10,000 words, you bastard!!
Gintama Creator: Sorachi Hideaki
“Gently painting the life of a loser, a really likeable kind of humanity and reality.”
Born in 1979 in the Sorachi Subprefecture, Sorachi Hideaki describes the soul of his work Gintama, a series running for over 6 years in Jump, which is well-known for its tough competition.
30 questions to celebrate his 30th birthday and the manga making to its 30th volume. The man is like his manga, swinging back-and-forth between humor and seriousness like nobody’s business.
Quick Japan is the only place to read a 10000-word fax interview with Sorachi-sensei!!
01. Congratulations on making it to Volume 30! You once said that you’ll end the series after you reach Vol. 30, but it looks like you’ll keep going for quite a while. Please share your thoughts.
I thank all my readers for their long-term support. That summarizes my thoughts. I was aiming for an interview with Quick Japan, so now I can end the series with no regrets. It’s a fashionable ending.
02. Gintama uses future material (sci-fi) but presents it from the past perspective (historical drama). It’s also full of current events, and the main characters do odd jobs. Do you think “anything goes” when you draw?
When I was preparing for serialization, my editor told me to hop on the Taiga drama “Shinsengumi!” bandwagon, but the problem with historical fiction is that I’m limited by what I can write because of the historical content. I can’t use current events, and Shimura Ken doesn’t exist, and I can’t even use the phrase “I’m screwed!” This is like clipping the wings of my creative freedom, and I wind up saying “I’m screwed!” Setting this during Bakumatsu and changing the foreigners to aliens, I’ve somehow managed to create a crazy world where I can use historical and current topics. It’s not that I did it on purpose. It just happened.
03. The idea that “anything goes,” what’s the fun part and what’s the hard part?
It’s as the words say, anything goes, so the good part is the lack of restraint. I can draw whatever I want, so it’s easy to get excited. The hard part is also anything goes, because I have to start over every time I come up with a new story. It’s tiring.
04. What’s attractive about the Shinsengumi and the Bakumatsu period?
I feel like crying when I see the Shinsengumi. Commoners and punks jumped into this hell hole, trying to be samurai during the period when samurai were dying out. It’s like chemical wash for jeans. You already told them “It’s not fashion anymore, nobody will wear that,” but country folks just don’t get it. They even gathered together like bees and made their own shirts by embroidering mountain patterns on the sleeves. Looks cool, but in the end, chemical wash for jeans had internal strife and they split into two. I want to laugh and cry when I’m faced with this type of people. But I like emotional people like them.
As for historical periods that see great changes, like Bakumatsu or Sengoku, you witness humanity under extreme conditions, and it brings out the good and the bad of humanity. I like that.
05. You didn’t focus on the Joui Movement that wanted to change the country. Instead you set the story after everything was over. Why is that?
Even though Gintama does a lot of crazy things, I’m trying to present my idea of a samurai through this manga, but probably nobody else feels this way. (laugh) When we talk about samurai, we’d have to talk about “the way of the warrior (bushido).” It’s better to illustrate bushido in a world where bushido no longer exists. That way you can highlight its existence. Besides, if you create a story where there’s “loyalty to one’s master,” it might not resonate with the readers. So you might as well go to the extreme. This bushido is just “what we should do,” a type of virtue, and it’s something that anyone can have.
The samurai lost, and they don’t have masters anymore or anything to protect. They’re jobless, penniless, at the low point of their lives, and it’s not time to act cool, but even so, they need to keep living. That train of thought.
When I showed Gintama to the editors, they said, “This guy totally misunderstood bushido.” (laugh) Well if it’s a misunderstanding, then it’s a misunderstanding.
That’s what bushido is nowadays, you bastard.
06. He’s nihilistic, yet he’s romantic. He looks cold, but he’s fiery on the inside. How did you create the main character Sakata Gintoki?
My editor told me to “draw a story about the Shinsengumi,” and I’m a fan of “Burn, O Sword,” so I wanted to make Hijikata the main character. The easiest way to focus on one member of a group is to make the other members forgettable, but I like the Shinsengumi too much, so I ended up making everyone weird. Even though an alliance of weird people is possible, the story would’ve been centered on the group.
But I didn’t want to draw something like that. I’m like an elementary school student who wants his doodle on his pencil case to be a piece of art. (laugh) I want a strong main character. I can’t have someone part of an organization, so I changed my design. I created someone who’s not part of an organization but is more like someone who disregards the laws. Then I put into a pot what I look up to in various people, and broiled it together. As far as I can remember, his character quickly became fixed the moment I got down the nickname “Gin-san.”
07. What about Shinpachi, a Nobi-type failure character who looks up to Gin-san?
Shinpachi is the yardstick in Gintama, so his design is very standard. Actually it’s more like a bit below standard. He’s the reader perspective, so he can’t be annoying to the readers. In any case, he can’t be ahead of the readers. (laugh) But he can’t be too weak, so he’ll fight when he has to.
But every time he takes action, there’ll be some subtle shift, so he’s probably above standard by now.
08. What about Kagura, the first female lead to throw up on screen and to add “aru” to the end of her sentences, which is historical but novel at the same time?
I’m afraid of female leads that act cute and unnatural. I’ll always be irritated and point out “There’s no such people!” (laugh) So basically I approached the design from an anti-female lead perspective. Making her throw up is like a challenge. I wanted to create a female lead who could throw up but still make people think she’s adorable, so I didn’t think much and made her throw up first. It’s like I’ll cuff my hands first and deal with the consequences later. Then I realized, “There’s no such people either.”
09. The cast is big. What do you pay attention to when you create new characters?
I pay attention to their flaws rather than their strengths. Because I think flawed people are more attractive.
10. Compared to the team spirit in One Piece and the peer spirit in Naruto, Gintama Yorozuya is filled with family spirit. The atmosphere where they accept weak people and communicate across lands is very warm. Is this what you look forward to, some sort of utopia?
I often hear that Gintama is very kind to losers. The thought that “a failure like me can still keep living when I read this manga.” But I didn’t intentionally draw losers. I’ve been told that it’s because I’m a loser too. Well, fine. But honestly, I think everyone’s a loser. The only difference is the skin we put on. Once you open the lid and look inside, everyone’s the same. People who’re known as successful people, non-losers, they just have prettier skin. They have better acting skills.
On the other hand, if their skin or acting skills resulted from them facing their weaknesses and trying their best to improve themselves, carving out who they want to be, and pursuing it, then I admire them.
Still, that skin will get damaged sometimes. You can get a glimpse of their inside and discover that they’re still losers. I like that. I think it’s full of humanity. For me, the characters in Gintama just pasted together all those loser aspects and broadcast it to the public. They aren’t losers at all. They’re great people. (laugh)
So if this reflects my idea of utopia, then it’s something like these losers facing the ugly sides of themselves, the negative feelings, and turning it into small talk, exchanging it with a smile and laughing together with their friends. Something like that.
11. In Gintama, the verb that repeatedly appears isn’t “to fulfill dreams,” “to achieve,” “to win,” but “to protect.” There isn’t a goal for the future. What’s the reason behind choosing a passive theme “to protect”?
To be honest, I also wanted to do something like goals for the future. But when I realized it, the story no longer let me declare things like dreams and hopes.
Words like “to achieve” or “to win,” they really need a main character that “changes,” but in Gintama, it’s the opposite. This is a story where the main character “doesn’t change.”
After the amanto invasion, a lot of things disappeared and a lot of new things came. In times of change, the last thing that can’t change, mustn’t change. That probably leads to a story about protection.
12. If a gag manga becomes serious, it’s hard to return to humor. Why is Gintama able to go easily back-and-forth between comedy and seriousness?
Because I get tired of the same things easily.
Besides, I never really treated Gintama as a gag manga. Creators of gag manga are those tough guys who’ll laugh and cry no matter how painful things are, like Usuta Kyousuke-sensei or Ooishi Kouji-sensei. I’m just a punk manga artist who draws whatever nonsense he feels like. Anyway, Gintama is probably the hotpot of seriousness and comedy. I don’t really think about it. I’m just a punk who does anything he wants.
13. Why is Gintama so funny? What do you consider when you draw comedy scenes?
The cheap explanation (laugh) is that the sillier things get, the more serious you gotta be. I try not to make things too cute, and if you’re laughing while acting silly, it’s not as fun. So I try to make the characters act properly when they’re silly even if they have to lie.
14. Please tell us about your favorite comedies (manga, hosts, variety shows). (Sorachi-sensei is from Hokkaido. Do you watch “How do you like Wednesday?”)
I like all kinds of variety shows. The Drifters and Tunnels and Downtown, I’ll watch those whenever I have time. Especially for my generation, Downtown is a legend. Even the leaders from my middle school class would read Matchan’s Isho.
And then there were midnight radio programs that I listened to when I was studying late. Like Akashi Eiichirou’s Attack Young, though probably no one knows about it now (laugh). Akashi is an announcer from Hokkaido. During the day, he looks like a proper uncle who wears glasses and reads newpapers. At night, he becomes very obscene and collects xx hair from the audience. I loved listening to it, and it’s the inspiration for my dirty tactics. Ooizumi You from “How do you like Wednesday?” is also a star from Hokkaido, but to me, Akashi-ossan is the sun of Hokkaido.
15. Why does Gintama also make people cry? What do you consider when you draw serious and emotional scenes?
That’s probably because I’m drawing and crying at the same time (laugh). Tears are tears, but I don’t want to draw tears that aren’t proactive. The feeling “Ahh, it’s so sad” when people die and it’s all over, it doesn’t feel quite right. Even though a lot of people died in Gintama (laugh).
Even if people die, it’s not the end. I don’t want to draw tears that fall and stay at the same place, but droplets that sprinkle along the road to one’s future.
16. Sorachi-sensei, you must’ve also read and watched countless stories. Which one made you cry the most?
When I was young, I’d wake up and find my dad watching some movie like The Champ in the early morning. Who watches that in the morning? Can your stomach hold everything? He’d also watch stuff like It’s tough being a man (Otoko wa tsurai yo) or Shine, so I had to watch these at breakfast before I went to school. I really wanted to say “It’s tough being us, ok?” But the one he played the most was A Distant Cry from Spring starring Takakura Ken. That’s enough. How many times do you have to play the same movie over and over again, you bastard. I wanted to say this every day at breakfast, but every time we got to the part where Ken-san was handcuffed and Hajime Hana was delivering his monologue, I’d think, a good film is always a good film no matter how many times you watch it, you bastard (laugh).
Every morning, I’d watch these movies and then go to school, so I’m awkward every morning, I’m always awkward*. In this sense, the movies made me cry.
* “because I’m awkward” (bukiyou desukara) is a famous phrase from Takakura Ken
17. So, which work do you think is the best romance for men?
I really like historical fiction, so I have a weakness for novels like Ryouma Coming to Us (Ryouma ga yuku). Men should be like that or something.
18. Why does Gintama have so many dirty scenes that are terrible but not offensive? (laugh) What do you consider when you decide between what is dangerous and what is acceptable?
The young kids all like poop and shit and stuff, so I also believe they’ll be able to hold it and I do my best throwing poop.
Actually the one who likes all that is me.
19. A lot of current events and parody of famous quotes would show up in Gintama even though they could be outdated. How do you plan each lesson?
Every time I finish a story, my plot bank has zero savings left. So I try to find out what’s in the news, what’s popular these days. Basically, I find inspiration from gossip. I never really think about whether it’s outdated or not. It’s not like I’m trying to create a classic that lasts through time (laugh).
I never really think about trying to make the readers laugh every time they read it, no matter how many times they read it. I’m satisfied if they laugh the first time they read it.
20. There’s no power-up or killer moves in Gintama, but “words” show up as killer moves. All those famous lines from Gin-san, what do you consider when you come up with those lines?
To be honest, it’s not hard to write those key lines at all. The story’s already headed in that direction, so it’s like all the gears are in place and there’s not much of a choice. To me, the key lines are actually those that are completely unimportant, and where I put in the most effort. If it weren’t for those unimportant lines creating the atmosphere, I wouldn’t be able to go with the story flow or be excited, and the story and key lines will end up forced (laugh).
Deciding on the story’s atmosphere and coming up with exciting lines are the toughest part of creation.
21. We have to mention 8th-Grade Syndrome (chuunibyou) when we talk about Gintama (laugh). What were you like when you were in 8th grade?
I was super self-conscious, always concerned what other people would think of me, and couldn’t really act for myself. If my hair wasn’t parted down the middle by 1cm, it’s as if I was putting myself in life danger, like it was off by 10m. It was tough whenever my family went out for dinner. I maintained a distance of 20m, and was always worried that I’d die if my classmates saw me, even though there’s no reason why I should die (laugh). When we were at Victoria restaurant, my dad would lick his bowl clean like an idiot, so I’d say stuff like “Why are you doing such embarrassing things! I’ll die if my classmates see it!!” (laugh)
I tried to tolerate him licking the third bowl, but I really couldn’t stand it anymore when he was on the fourth bowl, so I kicked him, and he kicked back with three times the force (laugh). So I kicked back with five times the force, and he kicked back with eight. We kept kicking each other until my mother stopped us. Our table was the only one squeaking at Victoria restaurant.
22. What made you want to become a manga artist?
There’s a lot, but the main reason was Castle in the Sky. I always feel like I’m chasing after a castle in the sky (laugh).
23. What kind of manga did you read to create a manga like Gintama? Among the manga that you enjoyed, which one influenced you the most?
My first favorite was Wanpakku Comics. It had a lot of series based on Famicom games (laugh), and I followed it until it stopped publication. Then I started reading GeGeGe no Kitarou, Saint Seiya, and Dragon Ball. I had no more discipline after that.
But I think variety shows, late-night radio shows, and historical fiction influenced me more than manga. My father would watch historical films, my mother would watch detective films, my sister would watch TV drama. It’s a hotpot of everything, so there’s not a bit of discipline in this manga.
24. Could you tell us about the rocky path you took before the serialization of Gintama?
I drew a story and sent it to Jump when I was in college, but it went straight to the paper shredder. I decided I’d take on this challenge one more time before I started working, and I became a NEET after graduation (laugh). I turned my inability to fit in with society into motivation to draw manga, but it’s really just running away. I don’t have to face reality if I think about drawing manga all day (laugh). And then that manga won some random award.
Then the outline sketch of the serialization when I was in my hometown. Because I’d wander around the neighborhood since morning, my neighbors thought I was some weird guy (laugh). Stuff like “What exactly is the Sorachi kid doing after graduation?” Or gazes like “Where is this weird man from?” Like countless arrows to my knees. So like before, I focused all of those negative feelings toward manga creation, until serialization.
It wasn’t that rocky, to be honest. I’m pretty lucky. Able to trick everyone by using negative feelings.
25. Please tell our “Shounen Jump” souls what we should keep in mind for weekly serializations.
Don’t be late with your manuscript, even though I’m often late (laugh).
26. Sorachi-sensei, you were born in 1979, so you’re part of the Lost Generation. Do you feel that way? Furthermore, did you notice any necessity in drawing Gintama in this day and age?
Suddenly a question of the Quick Japan style (laugh). Um, speaking of the lost generation, this will be a long story so let’s not talk about it. An hour will be “lost.” No, it’s not that I don’t get it.
As for the necessity of drawing Gintama in this day and age, if the readers think it’s necessary, then it’s necessary, and if not, then it’s not (laugh). There’s a flood of information and values today, so there’s quite a bit of overlap with the Gintama world. If the people who’re tired or lost in today’s world will regain some of their energy through reading Gintama, I’ll be very happy.
Even though it has nothing to do with anything (laugh).
I’m throwing the ball at all the middle schoolers who love poop and stuff, so if they become energetic, the society will revive as well.
It’s getting a bit long, so let’s talk about the lost generation next time. No, it’s not that I really don’t get it.
27. What do you think of the opinion that all the stories have been told, so there’s nothing new to add?
This is a tough question for someone who ruins or makes fun of other people’s stories (laugh).
I’m barely a creator, but I do think that all stories will repeat. I’ll even reuse my own stories when I run out of material. “Oh, didn’t I draw this before?” (laugh) Actually I don’t have any grandiose goals, wanting to try out new things that I’d never seen before. The phrase “brand new things” sounds attractive, but inheriting stories and re-interpreting classics of our predecessors is also very charming.
When you create something, you’ll be influenced by things that you’ve seen previously. That’s obvious, because nobody starts creating on a completely blank piece of paper. In the end, whether your creation is new or old, nobody knows, and it’s not important at all.
The important thing is whether or not you did your best, overcoming pain after pain to squeeze something sweet out of your ass. Let everything that comes after do its own thing (laugh).
As long as you put in all your effort, doing your best, until you squeeze blood from your ass, then if you’re lucky, you might squeeze out silver poop that you’ve never seen before (laugh).
28. What do you think of phrases like “cool is lame,” “hot is cold”?
I think they’re fine. Or should I say they’re not (laugh). It’s just a phrase mocking cliches. But the more you say them, the more they’re going to become cliches, so we’re running around in circles. “People who say ‘cool is lame’ are lame.” (laugh)
The point is, whatever you do, there’ll be minorities. It’s an endless loop. If you keep looping, “cool” and “lame” will start meaning the same things. Like “disgustingly cute,” don’t you think (laugh).
29. The anime is on its fourth year, and there’s been quite a few anime original episodes. As the creator, how do you find joy in it?
Oh man, I always think I’m incredibly lucky to have such excellent staff handling my work (laugh). I always reflect on myself to make sure I don’t create something that’s not as good as the anime.
30. Finally, why don’t you say something to our readers who have never read Gintama?
Dear Quick Japan readers, nice to meet you. I’m Sorachi Hideaki, creator of the Weekly Shounen Jump series Gintama. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I’d always thought of Quick Japan as a magazine created by punks who wear their sunglasses backwards, a magazine that’s trendy and hipster and awesome.
So when they wanted to interview me, I thought they’d drag me to Village Vanguard and kill me with jazz CD. I wanted to turn them down.
But ever since they wanted to interview about Gintama, I stopped thinking of them as trendy, so it wasn’t until after I accepted their request, thinking it was a fluke, that I realized my first impressions were wrong. Maybe there are other people who misunderstood Quick Japan and admire them from afar, but to all of those people, I want to say: the ones who edit Quick Japan are just some messy-haired peasants.
Like peasants who grow carrots, pouring all of their heartwarming love to produce a magazine called Quick Japan. So it’s fine if you just want to flip through it at the bookstore, and you over there who’s afraid of trendy things, don’t be afraid. Take this magazine, walk to the checkout counter, and pick up Gintama along the way.
It’s not important whether it’s interesting or not. Just treat it as a 1500 yen investment.
Gintama is like Quick Japan. Everyone’s born a peasant, and some only have the love to grow good carrots.
So, please support Quick Japan and Gintama.