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Not Rivals, But Comrades: In Discussion with Editors of Weekly Shonen Champion and Sunday

Weekly Shonen Champion is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, making it the last of the big four weekly shonen magazines (Jump, Magazine, Sunday and Champion itself) to reach such a monumental milestone. In light of this, Comic Natalie is running a series of interviews between Weekly Shonen Champion editor-in-chief Takekawa Shingo and his peers from the other magazines to discuss the production process, the current landscape of shonen manga, and it’s future. This week, Takekawa sat down with Weekly Shonen Sunday editor-in-chief Ichihara Takenori for an in-depth, varied discussion – of which we’ve selected the best bits.

Takekawa Shingo and Ichihara Takenori banner

Beginning the discussion, both Takekawa and Ichihara were definitive in stating they did not see each other, or indeed their respective magazines, as rivals. Rather, they see themselves as “comrades-in-arms” in the manga world, owing not only to their similar format and demographic but also due to their shared love of manga.

“We’ve loved manga ever since we were kids, and we’ve somehow ended up doing this job… So, for us, it feels less like a job and more like just following the evolution of something you love,” Weekly Shonen Sunday editor-in-chief Ichihara Takenori stated.

This comradely feeling means that the magazines don’t really ‘fight’ per se, but instead battle it out by refining their own good points and unique appeal.

Each editor had a pretty good idea of what made their own magazine appealing – for Takekawa Shingo, Weekly Shonen Champion has always been a place where mangaka are free to craft stories personal to them. He cites Keisuke Itagaki’s BAKI the Grappler as an example of this, as Itagaki actually practices martial arts himself.

For Ichihara, Weekly Shonen Sunday has always stuck out from the crowd due to how many of their manga feature protagonist that rely not on physical strength, but intellectual fortitude – citing the long-running Detective Conan by Gosho Aoyama as an obvious example.

Weekly Shonen Sunday's Detective Conan

Sunday’s aversion to buff and brawny main characters is one reason why Takekawa describes the magazine as a “talented older brother” to his own Champion. In turn, Ichihara described Champion as more “rough and tumble” than Sunday – a sentiment that I’d certainly agree with.

That being said, it was clear that neither editor wanted to pigeon-hole their manga by focusing too much on refining their good points, as, without exciting manga that breaks the mold, things can quickly stagnate.

Ichihara Takenori was quick to bring up gag manga Kyou kara Ore wa!! in Weekly Shonen Sunday as an example, as it went against the more ‘refined’ image of the magazine but ended up becoming a huge hit regardless. He also offered the example of DEATH NOTE in Weekly Shonen Jump, which was a departure from the type of battle manga running in the magazine at the time, but went a long way in ushering in a new wave of more unorthodox battle manga that we’re seeing today in such series as Dr. STONE and The Promised Neverland.

Takekawa and Ishihara’s discussion of the history of shonen manga also highlighted how fluid and therefore exciting the genre can be.

As the editors explained, at the inception of weekly shonen manga around 50 years ago, no one knew exactly what kind of stories would be popular with the young, male demographic – and, consequently, no one knew how exactly to craft a compelling magazine.

While Weekly Shonen Magazine’s Ashita no Joe and Kyojin no Hoshi are both cited as major turning points in the formation of shonen manga, Ichihara was quick to give Weekly Shonen Champion a special shout-out.

Kabemura Taizou in Black Jack
Kabemura Taizou in Black Jack

It was, according to Ichihara, two-time Weekly Shonen Champion editor Kabemura Taizou that really defined what we know as shonen manga today, as he decided to include a wide variety of genres, from sports, action to love comedy, in Champion under one magazine to capture as much of the demographic as possible.

A discussion of shonen manga’s past lead, naturally, into a discussion of the future, with the interviewer posing the question of do we even need editors any more in the age of self-published, online manga.

Ishihara didn’t dismiss the notion of possibly being able to craft a successful manga without an editor but remarked that it would definitely be easier with an editor present to guide and support the mangaka in their endeavors.

Yet Takekawa Shingo was much more definitive in his response, stating that the value of an editor is being able to ‘turn water into tea when a mangaka can only produce water,’ meaning that an editor is able to refine what a mangaka is able to produce into something truly compelling, as well as help him along the creative process.

Takekawa Shingo and Ichihara Takenori

The future of shonen manga, particularly in paper magazine form, remains uncertain with circulation numbers dropping continuously year after year. But both Ichihara Takenori and Takekawa Shingo are confident that manga magazines will continue to thrive, even if not in paper form, because of the strong identities that they have been able to cultivate over decades of continuous publication. But only time will tell if that will be the case.

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