Kumeta Kouji on Joshiraku (Comic Natalie)

Manga artist Kumeta Kouji gives a rather hilarious interview where he talks about terrible editors, his relationship with his partner in Joshiraku’s creation, and a bunch of trivial nonsense.

Original Article: http://natalie.mu/comic/pp/joshiraku



The cute, loose tale of Rakugo girls in their dressing room is being adapted into a TV anime. The head creator, Kumeta Kouji, talks about it like it’s somebody else’s business.

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Main Text:

The Rakugo girls comedy which the combination of Kumeta Kouji, with whom the public has become acquainted through Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, and Yasu, who has become well known through their illustrations for Toradora!, have labored over, Joshiraku. Starting from July 5th, this TV anime will begin airing, first on MBS, and subsequently on other TV stations and the internet.

We at Comic Natalie took the window of opportunity offered by the conclusion of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei to catch up with Kumeta and interview him. With the anime adaptation now a reality in just 3 years, Joshiraku’s head creator Kumeta Kouji reveals the surprising behind-the-scenes reasons for the birth of the series. Also, we’ve been entrusted with letters from Kumeta/Yasu to both the readers and themselves, so we’ll have a look at those as well.

Interview+Text: Inoue Junya / Photos: Karaki Gen

Interview – Head Creator Kumeta Kouji

Zetsubou Sensei really doesn’t matter anymore

Interviewer: Congratulations on the anime adaptation of Joshiraku! Today we’d like to ask some questions dealing with the appeal Joshiraku has.

Kumeta: Wait… Ummm, wasn’t today interview going to be about Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei?

I: No, you were informed that it’s an interview regarding Joshiraku’s anime adaptation, right…?

Kumeta: I thought the interview was going to be on Zetsubou like all the others previously.

I: It seems you weren’t informed… We may have slipped up there. Sorry…

Kumeta: No, ummm, I, don’t really have a supervising editor right now. From the start, Joshiraku had two supervising editors attached to it, but they both got transferred in June. And, you could say it’s not going well with their successors, or that nobody tells me anything. And so I’m sort of in this unsupervised state, currently.

I: That story on the absence of supervision that was used heavily as material for the 35th chapter of Joshiraku that ran in July’s issue of Bessatsu Magazine, I see that it was really true…

Kumeta: That’s right. It seems like a lot of people thought it was a joke, though.

I: I suppose we should feel fortunate among this misfortune that you were told there *was* an interview scheduled. (laughs) Well, that’s just fine; should we start from the topic of Zetsubou Sensei, which just reached its final chapter?

Kumeta: Nah, if we’re doing the interview on Joshiraku, let’s just go with Joshiraku. Zetsubou’s nothing but a finished series, after all.

I: No no, Zetsubou Sensei is an essential work for Kumeta fans, so by all means.

Kumete: No, a series that’s over doesn’t really matter to me. More importantly, I’ll do my best to talk about Joshiraku for Yasu-san, who couldn’t make it today.

Basically, it’s a manga that lets one enjoy cute art

I: Then we’ll get into Joshiraku as planned… First of all, when you heard the anime was set, how did you feel?

Kumeta: I felt like, “Ah, I see.” If I had to say, it felt like it was the business of somebody else, somewhere else.

I: Did you perhaps have a reason why you felt it was somebody else’s business?

Kumeta: With this series my job isn’t even that of the ‘creator’, more like a ‘speech bubbler’. In the end I’m just the ‘speech bubbler’, so the degree of happiness I feel is a bit lower.

I: You seem to be under-evaluating your own involvement. Even so, you’re the creator to the outside world, so if you could, explain, in the creator’s words, just what sort of series Joshiraku is?

Kumeta: Let’s see-, I’ve forgotten quite a bit… People can just read it.

I: Just an outline, using what you remember?

Kumeta: Firstly, it is not a Rakugo manga. It’s a private room drama, but we aimed as much as possible to make it work with just conversations. But overall it’s a work where nothing happens, so being asked what sort of manga it is… I’m flummoxed…

I: Let’s say you were to recommend it to a friend by saying, “It’s this sort of manga.”

Kumeta: I wouldn’t recommend it to a friend, that’s embarrassing. Hmmm, let’s see, basically it’s a manga that lets one enjoy cute art. What’s inside the speech bubbles is kind of a bonus, so at first I adopted a stance of, “please don’t concern yourself too much with that part.”

I: To just introduce the rough plot, it’s a short comedy which depicts the backroom talk of 5 female Rakugo performers, whose topics of conversation drift into more and more unexpected territory. But for Kumeta-san is seems like the important part is not the conversations, but the art.

Kumeta: Yes. It’s to the extent that, when the serialization first started, I wondered if we could reverse the order of production for the storyboards and the art.

I: What do you mean by ‘reverse’?

Kumeta: Even in music, you have both the method of adding a melody to written lyrics, and the method of fitting lyrics to the melody you wrote, no? And so, at first, I proposed a process where we would have had Yasu-kun do their best to draw art of cute girls talking, and later I would add the dialogue to that art. But, well, the editors came back crying, “Please, anything but that.” Someday I’d like to try out that style, though

I: Would that your ideal form as a creator?

Kumeta: I wouldn’t call it an ideal, but it’d be nice to be responsible for less.

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I’m not too familiar with Rakugo, so I just made it a backroom story to avoid slipping up

I: Just like how you said earlier that, “It’s not a Rakugo manga,” the manga has so little Rakugo performance that it might as well have none. Despite that, why were Rakugo and Rakugo performers chosen as a theme?

Kumeta: That was because it was decided by the former deputy editor “M-ura producer”, whose name shows up in the series. Because he likes Rakugo, that person said, “Write something with Rakugo in it.”

I: M-ura-san is someone Kumeta fans will be familiar with, as he also appears in Zetsubou Sensei. In the series he has a rugged, ogre-like appearance.

Kumeta: Yes. I’m not too familiar with Rakugo, so I’m getting by by turning it into a backroom story so I don’t slip up. From the start, M-ura-san was making me write about Rakugo because there was a real thing where he wanted someone to give a performance as an event. He said it like, “Draw a (Rakugo) manga for me, kay?” like it was a component of the process of realizing that event. That’s why I’m feeling like, “the anime adaptation is just something extra in preparation for the event”…

I: I’m understanding more and more why you referred to it as somebody else’s business. The title itself, Joshiraku, is one of those 4-syllable titles which have been in vogue in recent years. That was rather unexpected for a Kumeta series, but could that also be…

Kumeta: Yeah, M-ura-san decided that. I was told to, “Think on it,” and I thought up about 10 serious title suggestions, but in the end M-ura-san picked his own idea. At that point, my attitude towards this work was set. I went, “I won’t get too deeply into it.” (laughs) That’s why I’ve chosen the title of ‘speech bubbler’.

I: I now understand that the situation is pretty complicated. (laughs)

If you put it in terms of syllables, Kumeta Kouji and Yasu are at a 5:2 ratio?

I: The artist Yasu-san, known among other things for the illustrations in Toradora!, is an author who originated as an illustrator. I wonder – how did you come to form a team with Yasu-san?

Kumeta: As we were a “produced unit”, naturally M-ura producer decided it. I didn’t really submit any requests as to what sort of person would be good for the job.

I: How did you feel when you heard Yasu-san was selected for the job?

Kumeta: I didn’t know of them at first, so I thought, “This person has a pretty short name.”

I: The syllable count…?

Kumeta: Well, honestly, there’s a big gap in the number of syllables in ‘Kumeta Kouji’ versus ‘Yasu’, so if you lined up the names mine would stand out rather gaudily, and I wasn’t fond of that thought. That’s why I’m always telling them to decrease the font size for the characters of my name. I mean, in terms of syllable count that a 5:2 ratio, you know? With that, won’t the audience end up thinking I deserve credit at a 5:2 ratio?

I: Nobody’s going to think that way. I’d like to ask about your work; what sort of exchanges do you have with Yasu-san leading up to the completion of a manuscript?

Kumeta: There’s not really that much of an exchange… No, it’s not like we’re on bad terms or anything. We just don’t talk about work. (laughs) In the manga there’s somewhat of a sense of us taking turns acceding to the other’s opinions. We’re both like, “I’ll leave that to you,” “No, I’ll leave it to you.”

I: But Kumeta-san has a considerable amount of seniority. Might there have been times where you took the lead?

Kumeta: I tried to be conscious of it and avoid creating panels with too high a degree of difficulty. Yasu-kun is, after all, more of an illustrator than a manga author, so I wanted to let them draw “cute, easy to draw art” as much as I could, which is part of the reason I made it a private room drama. But that choice may have backfired and ended up creating some difficult angles to draw, so I’m reflecting on that choice a bit.

We really wanted to have these girls together giving off a bad feeling

I: The strong individualities of the 5 female Rakugo performers are said to be the most appealing aspect of Joshiraku. I wonder, how were these 5 created and shaped?

Kumeta: First we had Yasu-kun draw a bunch of cute girls with no particular pattern to them, and then we squeezed 5 of them out of that exercise.

I: It’s a work that’s totally created while prioritizing the visuals, I see.

Kumeta: That’s right. After looking at the art, I said, “Let’s make this one into this type of character,” and fleshed out their personalities and histories, and lastly we decided on the names.

I: Did you perhaps have a particular aim in deciding that there would only be female characters appearing?

Kumeta: I thought it would be nice to have these girls together giving off a bad feeling. Like a break room conversation. But ultimately I’m not a girl, so I don’t know if that portrayal went well or not…

I: Whether in the key visuals or the title page art, Marii is generally depicted as the center, but Kumeta-san commented at the end of volume 3 that, “Tetora is the main character.” Why might Tetora be the main character?

Kumeta: Tetora doesn’t have many attributes, to put it in terms of a sentai series she’s the ‘red’. If you have a strong protagonist among many people, you can’t really bring things together well, and it becomes a story about that one person. It’s easiest to create a story where the protagonist, while lacking in specific attributes, still feels like, “This person has something special,” perhaps?

I: Was that decided on from the start?

Kumeta: We started without saying who the main character was, but feelings-wise there was a sense that this girl was (the main character).

I: However, looking over it again carefully, it’s surprising to find that Tetora alone isn’t in the first chapter.

Kumeta: Is that so? (laughs) Well, there are plenty of stories where the lead character doesn’t show up in chapter one.

I: By the way, which character is your favorite?

Kumeta: Umm, well… I’ll start thinking about that now. (laughs) I hadn’t really thought about which ones I like and such. Right now, I’m feeling like I’ve suddenly been confessed to, so, “Give me a day to think about it,” kinda?

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Maybe it’s better to decide on those detailed bits of background like Akamatsu Ken-san does

I: Have you already gotten a look at the visuals for the anime?

Kumeta: Yes! Ah, no, I haven’t seen them yet. Right now, it feels like I’ve already seen them, so I almost said, “I’ve seen them.” I wonder if it was a dream. My mind sometimes has trouble… Noise gets into it.

I: Was there any part of the anime that you yourself touched?

Kumeta: No, I’ve already left it to everyone else, so I’ve done nothing. Ah, I went to a recording session and greeted the various staff and cast members. I had a deadline and had to leave after about 5 minutes, though.

I: What sort of things did you discuss with director Mizushima Tsutomu?

Kumeta: I told him, “Anyways it’s all yours.” I’ve adopted the position that nothing good comes fom the original creator opening their mouth.

I: Did director Mizushima say anything to you?

Kumeta: I forget exactly what he asked, but I remember there was something he asked me that I couldn’t answer. Like, “I haven’t decided on that bit of background.” That’s pathetic, right? I’ll have to learn from Akamatsu Ken-san’s example.

I: To what extent character backgrounds are taken for granted varies heavily from author to author, after all.

Kumeta: Even I prepare the broad strokes of things. But I do think that the background doesn’t really matter that much to a series. If asked about it, I can just think about it then… It seems like there are people who decided the blood types and birthdays and such, for each and every student in the classroom, right at the start. I won’t say who, though.

I think I might write the serialization to separate it from the anime

I: When you do get to see the anime, which parts are you particularly looking forward to?

Kumeta: What I’m looking forward to this time is different from what it was with Katte ni Kaizou and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei; as I’ve always been involved with fewer parts of this series, I’m looking forward to watching it as the number one viewer. Plus, there’s the fact that I’ve been a fan of director Mizushima’s for a while now.

I: Do you think there will be any feedback from the anime into the original series?

Kumeta: I’m sure there will be points where it shows its influence, but on the other hand there’s a part of me that wants to write it separate from the anime. I might want to play some small tricks, like, “That bit of background is wrong, it’s really like this.” (laughs) By the by, it may happen that I’ll decide to watch that while the anime is airing, and take a break with the manga serialization. I mean, there people out there who think that, “The manga artist writes the anime,” right? So maybe nobody will find out if I take a break.

I: We’re looking forward to both, so we’d be happy if you could not take the easy way and please continue to write.

Kumeta: I mean, my main job in Weekly Shonen Magazine has ended, and now I’m basically unemployed. I need to hurry over to Hello Work and look for a new job.

I: Really, I’d like to request you prepare for your next work.

Kumeta: It might be I’ve already hit old age, and should be looking for a place to spend my twilight years.

[End of Interview]

What to look for in the anime Joshiraku ~ Introductory remarks from the creators

Artist/Yasu: Keep an eye out for the new elements not present in the manga, the Rakugo and the girls’ personal fashion.

Especially the personal fashion, which the character design Tanaka Masayoshi-san has been sending over to me one by one, and wondering just how those will move in the anime has set my expectations particularly high.

The anime will also add voices and colors and movements, so I think it’ll do fine conveying a different appeal from the manga version’s.

I’ll be happy if it becomes a series fun for both people who do and don’t know the original.

Original Creator/Kumeta Kouji: Joshiraku is a series where you enjoy the cute girls Yasu-kun draws, so think of it as a work without Kumeta in it as you watch. That, and it’ll be broadcast on TV late at night, and I think it’ll be the type of series that will make you laugh about 2 percent better at night, so while it’s fine if you watch it recorded, try as much as possible to watch it late at night.

Kumeta Kouji & Yasu’s Private Message Board

For the two who “barely have had an opportunity to contact one another”, Comic Natalie has been entrusted with a message from each, and is utilizing this space so they can communicate.

From Yasu to Kumeta Kouji-san:

Thank you very much for composing the manuscripts for Joshiraku when you’re always so busy.

I get to enjoy seeing them every month, and spend the days until the deadline worrying myself over whether the art is “what you were going for…”

Kumeta-sensei’s storyboards contain sharp conversations headed in unpredictable directions every time, so I’m always on edge, unable to anticipate.

I’ll do my best from now on, so please be kind to me.

It’s starting to get pretty hot, so please be careful of your health.

From Kumeta Kouji to Yasu-san:

Have you gotten used to Tokyo by now?

Are you eating properly?

I’ve heard you’re a bit of a loner, so I’m worried about you.

Also I’ve been told you’re very afraid of earthquakes, so you might want to consider housing built with earthquake-resistant construction.

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