You’d be forgiven for thinking that an interview between Hiroyuki Nakano and Takekawa Shingo, editors-in-chief of Weekly Shonen Jump and Weekly Shonen Champion, resembled that of the legendary encounter between David and Goliath.
This is because, among the main four shonen manga magazines, there can be no doubt that Weekly Shonen Jump is the king. Certainly, the other manga magazines – including Weekly Shonen Champion – may have their own diehard fan bases and hits every now and again, but none of them have come even close to toppling Jump’s throne in recent years. Even so, we can definitely learn a thing or two about the world of manga from the interview, all the same.
The interview between Hiroyuki Nakano and Takekawa Shingo took place last week as part of Weekly Shonen Champion’s ongoing 50th-anniversary celebrations and comes after two other interviews between Takekawa and the editors-in-chief of Weekly Shonen Sunday and Weekly Shonen Magazine in turn.
What’s been consistently raised in both previous interviews was the sense of comradeship shared the chiefs of the four main weekly shonen magazines. Yet, Jump chief Hiroyuki Nakano wasn’t exactly quick to adhere to that sentiment during the interview – perhaps owing to Jump’s dominance in the industry.
Jump on Champion, Champion on Jump
Rather, Nakano stated that he’s always “envious” of good manga, and comes to respect other magazines and their mangaka in that sense. He professes that this probably comes from his own long tenure as a regular Shueisha editor, where he often struggled with the question of how to make a good manga.
Even so, it’s not as if Nakano, in his position as Jump chief, is openly hostile to the other magazines. In fact, during the interview, he revealed that he’s actually quite a big fan of Weekly Shonen Champion.
He explained that, as a kid, he often used to read Champion manga, particularly Dogaben and other baseball manga serialized in the magazine by Mizushima Shinji. The delinquent manga Let’s Dachikou by Tachihara Ayumi and Kimura Tomou was also another favorite that he often used to read at a relative’s house.
Even now, as an adult, Nakano proudly owns every volume of Mizushima Shinji’s Niji wo Yobu Otoko and Ohayou K Jirou at his house, and he’s even started buying Champion every week again. He cited the gag manga Mokuyoubi no Furutto as what got him back into the magazine a couple of years ago, and now he’s pretty into Champion’s current golden goose, BEASTARS.
How Jump Dominates
Nakano isn’t the only one who’s been paying attention to the competition, however. Champion chief Takekawa Shingo was also quite eager to pose the question during the interview of whether or not the Jump editorial office, as depicted in Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Bakuman, was a faithful depiction or not.
After having a good laugh, Nakano revealed that, visually, the Jump office as it appears in Bakuman is indeed quite accurate. This is because illustrator Obata was actually allowed to come in and take photos to then use as references when drawing the office in the manga.
The real-life process of bringing in a manuscript and meeting with an editor in the hopes of getting a serialization is also fairly similar to what protagonists Moritaka “Saiko” Mashiro and Akito “Saikou” Takagi go through in the series. Nakano joked that the former Jump editor-in-chief Sasaki Hasashi isn’t as cool in real life as he appears in the manga, though.
Perhaps one of the most unique things about Weekly Shonen Jump, in general, is how much it’s production process has been mythologized throughout the years in this way, particularly due to series such as Bakuman, so Champion chief Takekawa Shingo was eager to pose more questions during the interview about how Jump really functions.
Going back to Bakuman, it turns out that the big meetings where the editorial team decide what to cancel and what to take on definitely do happen – a lot, in fact. Hiroyuki Nakano complained that, since becoming Jump editor-in-chief, he can often spend all day just sitting in meetings.
A misunderstanding stemming from Bakuman, however, is the power of the weekly readership surveys. Obata and Ohba’s manga seems to depict them as all-powerful, deciding the fate of series all on their own as a dramatic narrative device.
This isn’t the case in reality, however. Nakano described the surveys during the interview as more of a “tool” for gathering “differing opinions” from those of the editorial team, which then inform the decisions they make about a series. Other factors, such as the target demographic and collected volume sales, also enter into the picture.
Looking only to the surveys can, in many cases, confuse fans as to the current state of Weekly Shonen Jump. Seeing such series as Chainsaw Man and Jimoto ga Japan so low in the rankings but continue to be serialized can be perplexing, but can be explained when other factors, such as the younger demographic for Jimoto and volume sales for Chainsaw, are considered.
A Tempered Image
This mythologization of Weekly Shonen Jump isn’t just the fault of over-eager and perhaps misinformed fans, mind. Generally, these fans are drawn in because of the quality and impact of Jump series over the years, as well as the carefully crafted image that the editorial team works hard to maintain.
Consciously crafting a specific image for Jump leads, quite naturally, to some big differences between it and Weekly Shonen Champion. Nakano professed during the interview that he probably wouldn’t have given BEASTARS a serialization due to its rough art at the beginning – echoing Weekly Shonen Magazine editor Kurita Hirotoshi’s own comments – instead, he probably would have given it time to grow as one shot in Jump or have it published in a separate magazine.
The fact that Champion was willing to give the series and author Paru Itagaki a chance, however, is cause for more than a little bit of regret for Nakano now – especially since the series has massively improved (including the artwork) since the beginning of its serialization.
Much the same can be said for the manga The Untold Story: How Tezuka Created His ‘Black Jack’, which tells the story of how Osamu Tezuka created his seminal medical drama Black Jack.
If it was up to Jump and Nakano, he professed during the interview that he probably wouldn’t have given it a serialization at all, instead containing it to a special commemorative one-shot. Even so, The Untold Story ended up being a massive critical and financial success, winning big at the ‘Kono Manga ga Sugoi!’ awards in 2014.
Ultimately, as Nakano outlined during the interview, when a manga is serialized in Jump it needs has to have a wide appeal, perhaps wider than is needed over at Champion. This feeds, again, into maintaining the special image of Weekly Shonen Jump at the top of the shonen manga game.
The Current State of Jump
Maintaining this image and the domination it brings, however, might not be such an easy feat. Rather, anyone who’s been following Weekly Shonen Jump news for the past couple of years will know that many of its biggest series have come to an end, including Masashi Kishimoto’s NARUTO, Tite Kubo’s Bleach and, more recently, Hideaki Sorachi’s Gintama and the disgraced Food Wars!.
For all intents and purposes, the magazine does seem to be at a critical turning point. The editorial team, along with Hiroyuki Nakano at the helm, need to find some new hits in the next couple of years to recover from their losses, and to this end, they’ve been slowly changing their approach.
Firstly, the editorial department is slowly loosening up its policy on manga ending. In the past, Nakano admitted during the interview that the editorial department often wouldn’t let a manga end as long as it was popular, refusing any author’s request to do so.
However, sometimes letting a series end is the best thing to do for the series itself. Hiryouki Nakano offered the example of Yusei Matsui’s Assassination Classroom during the interview as a series that was allowed to end according to the author’s plan and ended up being an instant Jump classic because of it.
The Jump editorial team is also dedicated to developing its digital presence through Jump Plus, which allows them to pick up different types of manga that wouldn’t necessarily fit in with the paper magazine’s aforementioned ‘image.’ Developing new competitions and prizes are also important for allowing Jump to gather interesting new material for serializations, that will, in turn, hopefully, become hits in the future.
That being said, Hiroyuki Nakano said during the interview that he does not view this as a sudden change. Rather, the Jump editorial team has always been one that accepts change and strives to move with the times. If the changes do seem sudden, though, Nakano explained during the interview that it’s probably because the team over at Jump Plus are more willing and able to put out wildly different new things.
The Changing Landscape of Manga
All of these changes are being made to address the changing landscape of manga, namely the fact that paper magazine circulation is falling while digital consumption is on the rise.
During the interview, Nakano explained how this change has caused a pretty significant shift in how manga get popular. In general, manga take much longer to catch on nowadays than before, as fewer people are reading the magazines and are only picking up the collected volumes as they release a couple of months after the initial magazine printing.
Yet, these changes also bring with them new audiences. Hiroyuki Nakano brought up Kimetsu no Yaiba during the interview as an example of a series that took a while to catch on, but when it did, brought in a whole new audience of people who don’t usually read Jump.
These changes have also leveled the playing field a little bit more between the giant that is Weekly Shonen Jump and the smaller Weekly Shonen Champion. While Champion doesn’t enjoy as much circulation or as big of a fanbase as Jump, the primacy of volume sales and importance of word of mouth in online circles allows series like BEASTARS to blow up, all the same.
Weekly Shonen Jump is definitely feeling the effects of this, if not in the relative decline of its own sales and importance, then also in the type of manga offered to it in the form of manuscripts.
Another heavily mythologized aspect of the Jump production process is the ‘manuscript meeting,’ where any mangaka can book a meeting with a Jump editor to show them a manga manuscript.
It could be argued that this is what has secured Jump’s dominance over the years, as they are simply able to tap into more resources and draw in more mangaka than other magazines who don’t have similar processes in place.
Nakano revealed the extent of this during the interview when he said that, in one day, the Jump editorial team can see as many as 30 manuscripts that have been brought in by both new and established mangaka.
Even so, Nakano admitted during the interview that the Jump team is more than a little frustrated by today’s newbies. Ironically, they’re seeing a lot of anthropomorphized animal manga clearly inspired by BEASTARS recently.
While the Champion chief Takekawa Shingo had a good laugh at this, for Nakano it is but one part of a worry that today’s new mangaka are lacking in originality and instead strive to copy already established series.
This is perhaps one drawback to the dominance of Jump manga, as people are blinded by the quality of such series like One Piece and end up trying to copy them wholesale out of admiration. But why would you read a rip-off if you can just read the real thing? Such is Nakano’s frustration.
The changes to the Jump editorial process seek to remedy this, however. In particular, the Jump team wants those who don’t usually bring in manuscripts to start doing so – including, quite surprisingly, foreign authors. I suppose the excellence of BOICHI’s work on Dr. STONE has had an effect, then.
A Shonen Heart is Your Power
Finally, the Champion and Jump chiefs Takekawa Shingo and Hiroyuki Nakano finished the interview with a discussion of the concept of shonen manga, and what it means to be an editor of such a magazine.
If it seems as if Takekawa has been quite quiet during this interview, then that’s because he has been – he was much more content this time around to simply ask questions of Hiroyuki Nakano, possibly in order to learn the secret behind Weekly Shonen Jump’s dominance.
Yet Takekawa was quite eager to offer what he views as the meaning of shonen manga and shonen magazines, saying, “Shonen magazines often pull in people from a young age, but a lot of stuff happens and so people stop reading. But those who still read, still have a ‘shonen heart’ – that is what we are trying to capture.”
Essentially, what this means is that while the core audience for many of the shonen magazines might not necessarily be boys (shonen), they still enjoy indulging their boyish heart with some shonen manga.
Indeed, both Champion and Jump enjoy a core readership that’s much higher than it may seem from the manga, around 18 for Champion and 16 for Jump – not exactly kids, then.
Even so, Weekly Shonen Jump still focuses a lot of their manga on the elementary school audience. As to why, this is because forming a kinship with Jump from a young age is often the deciding factor for remaining a fan of shonen manga later in life – hence such projects as the ‘School of Manga’ collaboration with Kodansha.
Hiroyuki Nakano was actually also the editor-in-chief of the decisively more kid-oriented Saikyo Jump – where Jimoto ga Japan now resides – for several years, and its from this experience that he claimed during the interview that he’s learned how to appeal to his fellow kids.
It’s important, according to Nakano, that shonen magazines don’t underestimate or patronize kids when trying to market to them. In reality, kids are much more perceptive then you might think, and they always want to read what they don’t understand.
This means that, although such series as Chainsaw Man might contain sexual elements that kids don’t understand entirely yet, they are still drawn to these series precisely because of that fact.
In this sense, Weekly Shonen Jump (and, indeed, the other shonen magazines) can be like a “cool older brother” – a sentiment also evoked during Takekawa Shingo’s interview with Weekly Shonen Sunday editor Ichihara Takenori.
As an example, Nakano offered up during the interview Posuka Demizu’s The Promised Neverland. When it was initially considered for serialization, Nakano was worried that it might be a little bit too scary for the kids, but eventually gave in due to his colleagues’ requests. The series then went on to be massively popular among adults and kids alike despite its scary content – because kids are drawn to stories that don’t seek to talk down to them.
Indeed, the debate over what is “shonen” and what is not is particularly heightened when it comes to Jump manga in general. Such series as The Promised Neverland and Hunter x Hunter don’t exactly seem “kid-friendly” at first glance, but – as Hiroyuki Nakano outlined during the interview – it’s precisely because of this that they’re popular. Kids always want to see what they’re not supposed to, after all.
Despite how much Weekly Shonen Jump might muddy the waters, it’s certainly clear from the way that Hiroyuki Nakano talked with Takekawa Shingo during this interview that there’s a clear reason behind the magazine’s dominance in the shonen genre.
The manuscript system allows the editorial team to tap in to much more creativity than the other magazines, and the weekly reader surveys provide a useful source of information alongside other data to help keep the image of Weekly Shonen Jump as pristine as possible.
Even so, there are drawbacks to Weekly Shonen Jump and Hiroyuki Nakano’s method. As he professed during the interview, Jump doesn’t pick up such ‘diamond in the roughs’ as BEASTARS or The Untold Story: How Tezuka Created His ‘Black Jack’ precisely due to the fear of damaging that tempered image.
Furthermore, the changing landscape of shonen manga is forcing even the massively successful Weekly Shonen Jump to change its ways. They’re loosening up their policy on manga ending, branching out into new, digital ventures and tapping into the global market.
David and Goliath
No doubt about it, the next decade will be critical for Shueisha and Weekly Shonen Jump with Hiroyuki Nakano at the head. Whether or not these changes, along with Nakano’s decisions as editor-in-chief, can help maintain the magazine’s dominance over others, such as Weekly Shonen Champion, remains to be seen.
Champion’s own BEASTARS, along with such series as Kodansha’s Attack on Titan have also contributed to leveling the playing field that was once Jump’s kingdom just that little bit. So while Jump might be the giant Goliath and Champion the diminutive David, let’s not forget how that tale ended.
Following the Hiroyuki Nakano and Takekawa Shingo interview, the Weekly Shonen Champion 50th anniversary interviews are expected to conclude at the end of July with an interview between Shingo and former Champion editor-in-chief, Sawa Takafumi. You won’t wanna miss it!