The secret story of “Saiyuki” as told by Minekura Kazuya.
Before we enter the “Saiyuki” talk, please tell us what made you become a manga-ka.
[Minekura]: I liked drawing ever since I was little. Coincidentally, an illustrator opened a drawing classroom in my neighborhood, and I took lessons there from my last year in preschool until I was in 6th grade. I did sketching and oil painting and such. That isn’t to say that I learned them. Since I was a child, the teacher had the policy “You don’t have to draw well, just draw what you like.” Truly I only drew whatever caught my fancy, but it was fun.
I liked drawing, but I also knew that my drawings were “no good”…… So when I was in elementary school I was already thinking, “It might be impossible for me to be a manga-ka,” and I was already vaguely disappointed (laughs).
Even so, I dreamed of having a creative job of any sort. So I thought, “If I can’t draw, how about writing!” and when I was in middle school I set my sights on becoming a novelist. But a middle school student lacking in life experiences doesn’t have much to write about. I would read what prize-winning adults wrote in magazines and think, “I can’t write this kind of stuff!” That’s a matter of course now (laughs). In the end, around the beginning of 9th grade I got depressed thinking “I guess I can’t create novels yet, either……” And then, I finally realized. What I was lacking was none other than “experience” (laughs).
Even so, I wanted to “create” no matter what. Anything was fine, manga or novels, photo journalism or even dance.
When I entered high school, the first thing I did was make a manga club. When I invited manga-ka-hopefuls, there were only 2 others, so I forced friends who didn’t draw manga to join and make up the rest. At the same time I was also part of the theatre club. I joined because I really wanted to do backstage work, but they didn’t need stage sets, and the faculty advisor told me “Scripts and directing are not something students do,” so I quit (laughs). I was also interested in photo journalism, but there wasn’t even a photo lab.
But when my high school life actually started…… I had more fun playing and didn’t really draw any manga (laughs). I mean, when you hit high school suddenly the world becomes a little bit bigger, and interesting. Forget manga, I even skipped school and went off somewhere. That’s how I lazily spent a whole year.
When I became a junior, 4 new students joined the club. I was surprised that they were all good at drawing manga. So I thought, “Crap, I gotta get serious and draw some manga too!” It was like, “I ain’t gonna lose!”
By the way, it’s surprising but at that point I hadn’t yet drawn an actual manga…… (laughs). I’d drawn scenarios, and pictures, but then it was like, “…… So, how do you draw manga?” (laughs). I didn’t know anything about how to draw them. I didn’t have much knowledge about my materials, either. But I was the club president and the senior member, so I couldn’t very well say, “I don’t know how.” So I just copied…… and jerkily began drawing an image manga in the club magazine.
And then! Once again faced with drawing manga, I became interested in it again! It’s all a conglomeration of creativity. You make the story, you draw the images (of people and objects, from various angles), you script the characters (give them lines and blocking), you even do directing (including camera work)…… In other words, it was like I was the general manager with no one above me (laughs). “Ah, this is what I want to do,” I thought. “It’s really difficult, but I definitely want to do this!” …… I still hadn’t drawn an actual manga yet though (laughs), but I decided I wouldn’t hold back anymore.
Talk about your post-graduation future comes up when you’re a junior. Not only your school, but your parents start to ask you, “What are you going to do with your life?” I had no urge to join the workforce, but I usually didn’t study enough to go on to college (laughs). Actually, I was an idiot on the verge of not knowing whether I’d graduate or not. I wasn’t a notorious bad girl, but I was a notorious idiot…… (laughs).
Of course, there was no way my parents would be satisfied with me, who had absolutely no experience, saying “I want to be a manga-ka.” I’d sort of been invited by some friends to “go to a design-type school after graduation,” so that’s what I planned to do. To get my parents to be satisfied with that, I had to put up a front of “I’m trying my best for my future.” So I panicked and drew one manga, and had it published in a magazine. That one was “BROTHER”.
So contributions to magazines are part of job hunting?
[Minekura]: Well, up until then I only had the things I’d drawn in my notebook, and the 8-page-long promotion manga (read: practice) that I’d put in the club magazine, so that was the first manga I’d finished…… So I really had no knowledge about how to draw manga. I used to air brush the panels I contributed with thinned black ink (laughs). Even though I’d been working part-time, I ended up spending my entire paycheck on CDs (I was obsessed with music at the time too), so when it came time to draw manga I had no money to buy tones with. I figured, “……eh, this’ll be fine,” and ended up using thinned ink. I don’t believe it (laughs).
In the end I received prize money for my contribution, but the editors told me, “Next time, please use tones.” (laughs) When I think about it now, Comic GENKi was amazing for not only publishing that level of work, but going so far as giving me money for it (laughs). And then, when the publishers asked, “Would you like to try for the prize again?”, I drew “Saiyuki”, and received prize money for it, too. After that, I drew several “BROTHER” one-shots for Comic GENKi, and I was able to get some work from Tokuma Shoten publishing company…… Before I knew it I graduated from the one year junior college.
Around that time my work load wasn’t very heavy, any my manga was so horribly bad I wanted to cry. So I declared, “…… Alright, training!” Suddenly one day I got an idea, and started a doujinshi. I’m naturally lazy, so I decided to force myself into a corner where I had to draw and train. After all, if I paid money to participate in an event, I couldn’t very well not draw (laughs). The genre was creation, and from then I began drawing “Saiyuki,” “WILD ADAPTER,” and “BUS GAMER”.
I was selling doujinshi at an event when someone from the editorial section of G-Fantasy approached me. And so I wrote a “Saiyuki” one-shot for G-Fantasy…… 6 months after that, serialization began in earnest.
Did you learn manga techniques at the junior college you attended after graduating high school?
[Minekura]: No, not at all…… I ended up majoring in illustration at the junior college. That was a course designed for people aiming to draw for novels, or become illustrators. When I entered the junior college I’d already debuted as a manga-ka to an extent, and I worried that majoring in the manga-ka course would be kind of awkward, so I joined the illustration course…… (laughs). Even so, I learned a lot. Day after day I would draw large-sized assignments with colored pencils. At the time I loved Yamagata Atsushi [山形厚史]-san’s illustrations. Moreover, the reason I chose Comic GENKi to send my contributions to is because I was obsessed with the OVA “THE Hakkenden” [THE八犬伝]*, for which Yamagata-san had done the character designs…… There was also the fact that I liked “Nansou Satomi Hakkenden” [南総里見八犬伝]* to begin with, and Comic GENKi was the one that serialized the manga. At the time, it was the only manga magazine I bought.
- ‘THE Hakkenden’ OVA and the ‘Nansou Satomi Hakkenden’ manga are both based on Kyokutei Bakin [曲亭馬琴]’s epic novel, “Nansou Satomi Hakkenden”. It tells the story of 8 samurai brothers in the Warring States period.
When you drew “Saiyuki” as your second contribution, was that the story’s first appearance?
[Minekura]: I first drew “Saiyuki” as it appears now in my high school manga club magazine. But the basis of the Sanzo Ikkou was a group of four high school students from a school-type story I thought up in middle school. I had an idea to do ‘Hsi Yu Ki’ at the school festival in that story, and made those four act the roles of the Sanzo Ikkou. But then I thought, “……this way might be more interesting,” and I scrapped the school setting. “Saiyuki” was born from that. That was when I was in high school, I think. Incidentally the reason I chose “Hsi Yu Ki” as my theme was simply that I happened to catch “Nobita’s Parallel Hsi Yu Ki” [のび太のパラレル西遊記] on TV, and when I saw the “Doraemon” characters doing a parody of “Hsi Yu Ki” I wanted to try it with my characters (laughs). Ever since I was a child I’ve always loved the “Hsi Yu Ki” TV drama.
It was at this stage that the “Gojyo = woman-lover” and “Goku = big eater” basic personalities were finished. Just, Sanzo was the “good natured” type, a friendly man (laughs). If I have to say, Hakkai was more the “smiling but aloof” type. The entire manga had a much lighter feeling than it does now; it was closer to being a comedy.
Moving on, I’d like to ask about the models for the Sanzo Ikkou. Why did you decide to make four men the main characters?
[Minekura]: Fundamentally, my manga all have male protagonists…… (laughs). As for the four person –structure, to be honest I first modeled them after Horibe Keisuke [堀部圭亮]-san and CHA-CHA*. The numbers don’t add up, but after playing around and wondering what would happen if I mixed this guy and that guy’s personalities, I settled on four people.
Of course, that was nothing more than a reference, with nothing to do with outward appearances. In one meaning, the first model for Goku was CHA-CHA’s Katsumata Kunikazu [勝俣州和]-san (explosive laugh). Sanzo’s orginal setting as “quiet and good natured” came about because Nishio Takumi [西尾拓美]-san from the same group CHA-CHA was his base model. Incidentally, Nishio-san has a mole on his forehead too (laughs). Gojyo’s basis Kino Masato [木野正人]-san was also a back up dancer for Tahara Toshihiko [田原俊彦]**, and is a lady-killer –type character. And Hakkai’s basis was Horibe-san. At the time, Horibe-san appeared with thick, green-black glasses and an intellectual look, and that image carried over into Hakkai.
However, as I said earlier, their characters and visuals have changed again and again, until they became how they are now. This can be said about any manga, but there is always a person who triggers the birth of the characters who appear in my manga. However, that person is nothing more than a frame, or something for me to say, “Let’s add his image to his, go!”
- Horibe Keisuke is an actor and broadcasting writer.
CHA-CHA is a boy band formed in 1988. There are currently(?) 4 members including the leader Katsumata Kunikazu and Nishio Takumi. Kino Masato retired from the band in 1990.
- Tahara Toshihiko is a singer/actor associated with Johnnys.
So that’s how the four characters were born, the stage was changed from present-day Japan to ancient China, and “Saiyuki” was born.
[Minekura]: That’s right. I’ve already talked about the characters’ base models, but for me, there are many cases wherein I take an Utautai-san song and use that as a basis to create a manga’s entire image. For example, in “WILD ADAPTER” I think up the world view by imagining the safety of this song and thing song as the basis.
When I was in high school, the song that decided the path of “Saiyuki” was B’z’s “RUN”. But it ended up being an incredibly easy-to-guess basis, and ever after I’ve been getting comments from readers saying, “It’s like ‘RUN’, isn’t it” (pained smile). In actuality there are a couple songs; B’z’s “WILDLOAD” is one of them, and the Chinese flavor comes from a 135 song, but in the end the one that decided the path was “RUN”. The songs I’m inspired by continue to increase in number. I love listening to music, so I think they’ll increases hereafter. I don’t care about genre. I’d like my manga to grow like that, too.
- B’z “RUN” lyrics (Romanized Japanese and English translation) and YouTube video Don’t ask me about what they’re wearing
What kind of story was the “Saiyuki” you wrote in high school?
[Minekura]: It was about the same as “Saiyuki” chapter one. Truthfully, I’ve written “Saiyuki”’s first chapter three times total. The first time, in the one-shot in the club magazine, when Sanzo receives the order from the Three Aspects, the other three join in saying, “I’m going too!” and proceed to fight youkai on the spot. The version I submitted to the magazine changed the completely comedic tone of the first into a more story-like thing. I changed the one-shot published in G-Fantasy so that it starts when Sanzo and Goku begin their journey, and the scenes in the Palace of the Setting Sun are flash backs.
That one-shot story won favorable reviews, and “Saiyuki” was set to be serialized, correct?
[Minekura]: Thankfully, yes. Up until then I had been drawing “JUST!!” as a series of one-shots, but this was my first serial work.
How did you feel when you first stated serialization?
[Minekura]: It was a “……If I don’t get this right, I’ll die,” feeling (laughs). At the time I was still drawing manga from my parents’ house, because I had no money. This probably sounds weird, but I thought, “I don’t think I’ll ever draw a story as catchy as ‘Saiyuki’!” I’m actually someone who wants to draw a dark, daaaaark story (laughs). But the strange thing was, I hadn’t properly thought of the story after the first chapter…… (laughs). I’d thought, “I want to serialize my work!” but I hadn’t thought of what to do once the serialization was confirmed. It’s amazing – I haven’t changed since high school (laughs). I can tell you now: that scene in the first chapter where all the characters’ pasts are shown in a flash back, that was all a lie. After that chapter, I made up stories to match the images (laughs). For example, I hadn’t thought of making Gojyo a “crimson-eyed and crimson-haired child of taboo” at the first chapter stage. At the time, I only knew that they must have all had something happen to them in the past, and even though serialization hadn’t been confirmed I ended up spewing some hot air (laughs). I just hoped people would see it as a preview manga, and find it amusing…… How can I say this, my brain’s kind of rotted (laughs).
So when the serialization was confirmed, I stumbled over the developments of chapter two. All I had was the rough idea “the four of them ride in a Jeep, bickering while they travel, and when they’re attacked by youkai, they fight.” The only images that popped up in my head were promotion video-type things lining up key situations without context. It was then that I finally realized the extremely obvious: I should have thought of the story from chapter one (laughs). The first thing I thought was…… “How reckless could I be?” (laughs). Month after month I created this continuing story, but as soon as I’d finished drawing one issue and thinking “I wonder if my readers’ll be surprised by this ending,” I had to draw the continuation in the next issue. I thought, “Ah, this is hard,” but I am a notorious idiot, after all (laughs).
I see. So, if for example you laid out a difficult problem, you yourself had to be ready with a solution.
[Minekura]: Uh-huh (laughs). So, issue after issue I created the story like I was playing chase, thinking of the next plot as soon as the current one ended. Well, that’s…… even now it’s the same (laughs). Thanks to always continuing in this way, I came to realize that if I work hard, somehow or other it’ll all come together (laughs).
I don’t get a haphazard impression from each episodes’ developments from outset to climax, or from the weighty lines the characters say……
[Minekura]: Or course, I have themes and lines I want the characters to say from the beginning, but only the key lines or important lines pop up in my head. So next I think, “What kind of incident will match, what kind of scene can I introduce so that this line will have the most impact?” In actuality, this process of creating a story is quite long. It doesn’t pop up easily, so it’s a creation I have to dig out of my head bit by bit. It’s difficult (laughs).
“Saiyuki” had a large impact on the readers; it became popular soon after serialization began. So from the standpoint of your editors too you must have stood apart from the other new authors.
[Minekura]: On top of this being my first serial work, I was even allowed my first color center fold since my first one-shot piece! But, I hadn’t drawn a color piece for a commercial magazine before that, so I didn’t even know what size paper to use. When I asked my then-manager, I was told, “Any size will be fine,” so even though a B5-size image was to be published, I ended up drawing on a huge B2-size board (laughs). The pieces I did at junior college were all that size. And the person who came to pick up the manuscript brought a B4-size portfolio (laughs). “……It, it’s big……” he was surprised. I was surprised too (laughs).
- B5 = 182cm x 257 cm (approx. 7in x 10 in)
B2 = 515 cm x 728 cm (approx. 20 in x 29 in) B4 = 257 cm x 364 cm (approx. 14 in x 20 in)
You drew around seven roughs the first time you drew the magazine cover, right?
[Minekura]: That was because it was my first time drawing a magazine cover. I didn’t receive an answer for a while when I faxed the rough to the editor, so I jumped to the conclusion that they didn’t like the one I showed them (laughs). So like an idiot, I just kept sending image after image until I received a reply. So troublesome (laughs).
When did you get an assistant?
[Minekura]: For a while after serialization began, I got help from my juniors and my friends. Around the time the 3rd book was being fixed I began “Araiso Private High School Student Council Executive Committee”, and I realized it was impossible to continue on like that, so I recruited an assistant and got Suzuki Jirou-chan to join me.
After that, you began working with Suzuki Jirou-san, Mizutani Yuzu-san, and Seino Keiya-san, yes? Did everyone get along well?
[Minekura]: Yes, but when I think about it the four of us weren’t together for very long. Speaking in terms of manga volumes, it was only the 7th and 8th volumes, so just about one year.
It was just a little before that the OVA and TV anime were created, right? The start was a survey taken by an Animate store worker asking “What story would you like to see turned into a TV anime?” When the results came in, first place was a Shounen Jump story, and second place was “Saiyuki”. The entire editorial section took the results into account and began working on this project.
[Minekura]: It was like a dream. When I first heard talk about turning it into an anime, I couldn’t believe it for a while.
We’ve found that one of the shared trials of writers whose stories undergo the change to an anime is the increase in color illustration work. How did you fare on this point?
[Minekura]: Well, I shouldn’t say it like this, but there were portions of those illustrations that were drawn only on momentum…… (laughs). It was quite the training. I had to persuade myself, “You can do it! You can do it, Minekura!” (laughs)
The editorial section has the impression that you’re quick with color images, and they received about 10 pieces a month from you, right?
[Minekura]: I paid attention to the balance between the four guys while drawing, but halfway through I would get impatient and complain, “There’s no composition anymore……” (laughs) But I like drawing color illustrations, and even now I happily draw them.
”Saiyuki Gaiden” (hereafter “Gaiden”) began after the OVA, correct?
[Minekura]: That’s right, it began at the most hectic time (laughs). To put it in terms of “Saiyuki”, it was right around the 6th book. It was the first press of the 6th volume that had the “TV anime begins” belt…… So I started “Gaiden” at the period when I was most lacking in time and people (laughs). I talked to my manager about “Gaiden”’s overall plot, and when I said, “I’d like to write it somewhere, but there’s no point to drawing it after “Saiyuki” has finished……”, he said, “Then let’s run it at the same time.” I wanted to concretely link the main story and the side story, so we decided running it at the same time would be the best course.
Do you have memories of the characters who appeared in “Saiyuki” before you entered the “Saiyuki RELOAD” (hereafter “RELOAD”) story? For example, what do you think of the main enemies of the first half, Chin Yisou and Rikudou?
[Minekura]: Chin Yisou has a special sort of popularity…… It probably has a lot to do with his part in Hakkai’s back story, but it seems like he had an especially strong impact on Hakkai’s fans.
Chin Yisou’s main origin was a color sticker from my “Saiyuki” doujinshi days. There was a little space left over after I drew the illustration of the four guys, so I thought, “Guess I’ll draw a bad guy-type character.” The creepy fortune teller who hints at the four’s destination was Chin Yisou. At the time that was all he was; he didn’t even have a name, and I soon forgot about him. But eventually when I thought, “Maybe I’ll start drawing Hakkai’s past,” I saw that sticker by chance and decided, “Ah, I’ll make this guy be the bad guy” (laughs). His appearance in the 3rd volume was exactly that.
In the same way, Rikudou was a character whose story was created around his visuals. At first I thought of him as a normal enemy character who had fuda charms pasted all over his body, but when I thought about why those charms were pasted on him it turned into Sanzo’s back story and became a more and more important tale (laughs).
Unlike Chin Yisou and Rikudou, the Kougaiji group were “Saiyuki” characters from the start. They appeared in their entirety as the Sanzo group’s rivals in the work I submitted to Comic GENKi. Just, because I first thought of it as a more comical story, every time the Kougaiji group would appear and say, “We won’t let you pass!”, they would proceed to get beaten…… They were stupid characters like Zakuro is now (laughs). Currently, Kougaiji and the others are “well-bred, stinking serious characters” to contrast with the vulgarity of Sanzo and the others. Although this was a modification made so you wouldn’t know who the bad guys were, Sanzo and the others have been fixed as the main characters, so Kougaiji and the others don’t appear so much…… (laughs).
On the Gyuumaoh side, Nii Jienyi / Ukoku Sanzo pulls the strings; how was this character born?
[Minekura]: I think Professor Nii first appeared in the final chapter of “Saiyuki” volume 3, but at that stage he was only one of three professors at Houtou Castle, a self-absorbed middle-aged guy (laughs). He was nobody, just a science dude. I thought he would breeze on scene every now and then as Gyokumen Koshu’s lover, but one day it seemed like a waste. I believe it was around the 7th volume that I decided he was actually a Sanzo. He got a huge promotion (laughs). So saying, his appearances increased and before I knew it he’d evolved into a character with too much background. Even I thought, “There’s no way this guy’s just ‘some middle-aged guy’.” (laughs) So when I started drawing the Kami-sama arc, I’d already decided that Professor Nii was actually a Sanzo.
However, I didn’t know Professor Nii was behind Kami-sama when I started drawing the Kami-sama arc (laughs). That’s because I began drawing the arc just so I could put in a story of the Sanzo Ikkou’s defeat. Midway through, when Kami-sama began talking about his “Teacher” I thought, “Maybe he’s talking about Professor Nii?” (laughs). In the beginning of volume 8 Sanzo says “I met another Sanzo Priest once before”; I remember drawing that scene with the thought, “……If I draw this scene, I’ll have to bring up Professor Nii = Sanzo Priest.”
I digress, but the prize the Sanzo Ikkou received at Kami-sama’s castle was supposed to be an invitation to Houtou Castle. After opening it and reading Professor Nii’s message, Sanzo was supposed to rip it up and the pieces would float away into the sky above Jeep, but that scene was cut due to page restrictions. I still regret it a little.
The Kami-sama arc turned into a longer episode than expected, didn’t it.
[Minekura]: It was supposed to be a story like the shounen manga ones where you have to clear each floor to get to the top, but at the meeting stage it turned into a “It takes forever to get to the top floor” story (laughs). In the end I let it go with lines from a 3-panel comic or something. Such extreme stage direction (laughs). Even so, even omitting the Kinkaku/Ginkaku arc the Kami-sama arc took 2 volumes, even though one episode of “Saiyuki” took an average of 3-4 chapters. It was a series I drew with all my might, in many senses.
And so you continued the story in “RELOAD”, but you didn’t show the Sanzo Ikkou’s faces until midway through the first chapter.
[Minekura]: That’s right. I wanted to draw a story where the four would appear just as the readers wondered “When are Sanzo and the others gonna show up?!” I figured it was something I could only do the first time the series ran in a new magazine. When you open the comic, their faces are right there on the color page in the beginning, but when it actually ran in the magazine there was no color page in the beginning, and even on the color image I purposely only drew their backs. I wanted a strong, “They’ve come back!!” impression. Even though there may have been first-time readers too (laughs).
The first chapter of “RELOAD” takes place a few days after the Kami-sama arc, correct?
[Minekura]: That was the plan. I’d changed their costumes, after all. So to make sure people knew about the change, I included a lot of full-body images in the first chapter (laughs).
About the individual outfits: first, I didn’t change anything about Sanzo other than his shoes. There was no reason to. Gojyo’s entire color scheme changed, so at first glance he seems to have changed the most. Up until then he’d looked like a “country gang member”, so I decided to make him into a “calm punk” (laughs). I had planned to do a snowy mountain story, so I gave up on the no sleeves. Goku’s pants changed, and his cape got considerably longer. I made Hakkai un-tuck his now short-sleeved tunic and wear a long-sleeved undershirt. He uses chi in battle, but his previous clothes didn’t have many parts that flowed in the wind, so showing movement was difficult. I wanted clothes that would show the flowing of the wind a bit more, so I changed it to this look. It was the same with Goku’s cape. The theme of the “RELOAD” costumes was “Feel the flow of the wind” (laughs).
From chapter two onwards, new situations like “first snow” and “first river” continue, yes?
[Minekura]: That’s right. At any rate, with “RELOAD” I try to match the trials to what the Sanzo Ikkou hasn’t experienced yet. I’m looking for things I haven’t made them do yet, like a “My First ___” series. So there are many scenes where Goku exclaims “Wow!” and I think there are many more to come. In the second volume there was the “first time Jeep is the main character” story, too.
I wanted to draw so many of the Sanzo Ikkou’s expressions. I wanted to draw the parts of the Sanzo Ikkou that were “unlike them,” while remaining true to their “selves”. I hoped the scenes would be taken not as “This isn’t ___!” but as “Ah, so he has this facet to him, too.” I wanted to show more of their raw characters.
Who was that in the tree at the end of the fake Sanzo Ikkou story?
[Minekura]: He appears in “Saiyuki OFFLOAD” as well. He must be an important person in the coming developments, even though I still don’t know his name (laughs).
After that, they battle the brainwashed Kougaiji and the others, and from the middle of volume three we enter the Past arc (aka. the “Burial arc”). This was the Moon series, wasn’t it?
[Minekura]: At that time something within me insisted, “I have to write this now.” It would be a foothold for the story I would write after. There were those among my readers who wondered, “Why is she writing this story here and now?” but Ukoku’s and Banri’s stories especially would open the way for the Hazel arc next.
You said you wanted to draw the connection between Koumyou and Ukoku too, yes?
[Minekura]: I did want to draw it. From about the time Ukoku appeared in the Kami-sama arc I began thinking about Koumyou and Ukoku’s relationship, and a fire lit within me (laughs). “Well then, let’s line up everyone’s pasts in one go. I’ll put them in an omnibus with the moon and the night, light and dark as the theme.” In this case the “light” was Koumyou, so I went with the image “A tiny light, illuminating the path in the middle of pitch-black loneliness.”
Gojyo and Hakkai’s stories ended up together, but I had planned to draw them separately. I was going to draw the same story twice, once from Gojyo’s point of view, and once from Hakkai’s. But then I realized that these two together are like the moon and the night, front and back, and made the stories into one. That way there’s no discrimination (laughs). After recording the Burial arc drama CD, during their free talk Gojyo’s actor Hirata-san and Hakkai’s actor Ishida-san said “How come ours were the only stories combined?” “We two probably go together as a set.” That sounded like something Gojyo and Hakkai would really say, and without thinking my chest got tight. Although that was probably just me (laughs).
And so we return to the present, and enter the current Hazel arc, yes? I wonder what kind of developments are in store for us.
[Minekura]: I think the Hazel arc will continue for a while. I get the feeling I said this when you asked about the Kami-sama arc, but the Hazel arc will be an important, and difficult episode for the Sanzo Ikkou.
And “Gaiden” revives, running alongside “RELOAD.” Here, too, we begin with a rather driven scene where the characters are trapped in the palace, surrounded by more than 2000 soldiers. The tale entered its latter half, and the narration switched to the sight-seer position of the Dragon King. The climax is coming up. I can’t wait to draw it.
You have the developments of “RELOAD” following the Hazel arc solidified to an extent, yes?
[Minekura]: Pretty soon I’d like them to steadily continue West so, even though it’s still rough I have decided on the episodes up until the final inning. But recently when I was discussing with my manager the developments up to the final episode, we discovered that it would take at the very least 20 more volumes to cover all the content (explosive laugh). It took close to 10 years to draw the 14 books I have. How many more years is this gonna go on…… (laughs). The Sanzo Ikkou’s journey in the original “Hsi Yu Ki” only took 14 years (laughs).
According to your plans, the itinerary is over halfway finished; can we expect the Sanzo Ikkou to continue to face more severe battles after this?
[Minekura]: Yes, but I want to do it without ever forgetting the light stories, or the Sanzo Ikkou’s light attitudes. One of the important characters may die. Well, there is a certain character who, according to the plans should have died, but is still alive, so until we get to that point, who knows?
One of the plans I’d thought of before was that Goku and the others’ power would slowly lose its effectiveness. They can’t always shout “Hiyaa!” and attack with brute strength (laughs). Usually in shounen manga, the main character’s skills increase as the story progresses, but these guys haven’t changed at all since “Saiyuki” volume one (laughs). I figure it’s about time they power up and get their finishing moves (laughs). …… To begin with, “Saiyuki”s main themes are ‘strength’ and ‘weakenss’ in a psychological theory sense, so actual strength or skills aren’t a focus. Next up I would like to create a wall that can’t be overcome with mental theories alone and requires something practical.
Now I’d like to step away from “Saiyuki” for a little bit. Minekura Sensei, you wrote a comparison in this book between “Hsi Yu Ki” and “Saiyuki”; did you like the ancient “Hsi Yu Ki” from before?
[Minekura]: I really liked the famous “Hsi Yu Ki” TV drama, the one directed by Natsume Masako [夏目雅子], but I didn’t know much about “Hsi Yu Ki” itself. After “Saiyuki”s serialization was set, I flipped through a book about the original. Conversely, if I had properly read through the original earlier, I don’t think I would have been able to come up with this crazy story (laughs). As I’ve stated before, “Saiyuki”s worldview was solidified at a fairly early stage, but after gaining knowledge about the original, every now and then there are parts that surreptitiously link to the original, like a little game. But I think perhaps they’re too surreptitious and no one notices (laughs).
The original “Hsi Yu Ki” is famous in Japan as one of China’s four great classics, but I hear that there are in fact readers of “Saiyuki” who don’t know about “Hsi Yu Ki”?
[Minekura]: That’s right. When I first began drawing, I did it with the idea that, as a parody of “Hsi Yu Ki”, a completely broken Sanzo Ikkou would be the entire focus of the story. So, there’s not much to be done when told, “I don’t know the basis” (laughs). I heard things like “I heard there was an original – what’s the title?” (laughs) and “I found it in the school library, but when I read it Sanzo was completely different. It was disappointing”…… (laughs). “I see, I see, I totally didn’t think that there would be people who didn’t know the original,” I thought (laughs). And conversely there seem to be a lot of people who think “Gaiden” has a basis in Chinese lore. I asked my assistant’s child about this, and I was told, “Huh? It’s an original story? The original doesn’t have the adventures of the Sanzo Ikkou’s past lives, too?” For more in-depth information, please read the “’Hsi Yu Ki’ and ‘Saiyuki’ Comparative Analysis” corner.
For those who know “Hsi Yu Ki”, the scene where Goku is born from the rock and the scene where he graffitis on the Buddha’s hand readily come to mind, but I think those who know the details of Goku’s adventures before meeting Sanzo are surprisingly few in number.
[Minekura]: I think you’re right. I was the same, after all. The “Hsi Yu Ki” mainly remembered in Japan begins with Goku’s birth and continues with his meeting Sanzo, and the Sanzo Ikkou’s adventures on their journey to India, but in actuality the episodes where Goku runs wild by himself before Sanzo appears on scene make up the entire first half of the story. In China, it seems that the story of Goku running wild by himself in heaven is more famous than the story of the journey to India. Nataku and Goku are treated as two great heroes, based on Nataku’s meeting with Goku and their combined popularity. Because of that, I figured I had to properly draw out a story regarding Nataku in “Gaiden”.
Earlier you spoke about your surprise at the content of fan letters. Do the readers’ responses influence the developments of the story?
[Minekura]: No, not really. Only once though, when the Burial arc was running and Hakkai hadn’t had an appearance for several months, I received a letter saying, “If Hakkai doesn’t come back I’m gonna stop reading”, and I seriously panicked (laughs). But even so, it doesn’t really influence the story…… I receive a lot of letters from readers requesting things like “Make Sanzo do __”, or “Make __ happen to Hakkai”, or “Put in more of __”, and there is simply no way I can concede to all those desires (laughs). I feel very badly about that though, and of course I’m grateful that readers love the characters. But Minekura Kazuya will continue to draw the things that Minekura Kazuya wants to draw. I will draw the path the Sanzo Ikkou should take as it is. It may seem high-handed (laughs), but I don’t want to see a Sanzo Ikkou that does whatever anyone tells them to do. Although I suppose I’m to blame for someone not having many appearances? (laughs) I can only make excuses by saying “I can’t help it, they chose that path!” I only provide the stage; the rest is all their own actions.
Another thing I get a lot of is letters pleading “Please don’t bully him.” Even at signing events I’m told, “Make their journey as pleasant as possible,” and “Please don’t let them get hurt.” …… But you know, they’re on a really dangerous journey, of course they’re going to get hurt (laughs). Traveling together all friendly and happy and healthy, that doesn’t make a good story…… Although it’s true that I do have a bit of a sadistic side (laughs). I have a rule that characters I like must eventually cough up blood or get hurt (laughs). During the River arc Goku was my favorite, so he ended up all alone and beat up. The reason why recently, Hakkai’s health has gone down and the scenes where he is driven into a corner* have continued is clearly because I’ve begun to favor Hakkai (laughs). Please think of the reason why, as appearances increase so too do the injuries, as a natural occurrence. …… Well, in Gojyo’s case he always has a hard time of it, even when I don’t favor him (laughs). I guess Gojyo’s just easy to draw, or he carries the weight of my love every day and is prone to getting into bad circumstances (laughs). I just hope that the Gojyo fans understand that I am certainly not making light of him (laughs).
- Minekura Sensei uses the term “tenparu” [テンパる], the verb created from the mahjong term “tenpai” [聴牌], meaning a player is one tile short of a winning hand.
Minekura Sensei, what is it about Gojyo that you like?
[Minekura]: What should I say, it’s his wretchedness (laughs). Out of the four of them, he’s the most useless; even though he takes a defiant attitude, he has normal sensibilities (laughs). Out of the four, Gojyo is the one who puts up a front the most and pretends to be a bad guy, but no matter how you think about it he’s the nicest guy. It’s cute (laughs). I was told by a reader once that “You have to be over 25 years old to understand how good Gojyo is,” (laughs) and in actuality many of those who say “I like Gojyo” are over 20 years old. Moreover everyone says “Viva good-for-nothing! (laughs)” …… they know him well (laughs). Conversely, when I hear, “I adore Sanzo! And I like Hakkai! And I like Goku! But I don’t like Gojyo,” I wonder “Did Gojyo do something wrong?” (laughs). He’s always helping everyone, but he takes the lead in attacking enemies so he’s the first one to be injured. While he represents the Ikkou and sacrificing himself, the other three think “He’s an idiot so he jumps in right away.” He’s a wretched, and beloved man (laughs).
Now, please tell us about your impressions of the other three. How about we start from Sanzo?
[Minekura]: Sanzo is, in a phrase, a “charismatic grandpa.” He’s like a selfish, stubborn old man who usually broods with a dark face, and utters things like “I’m not eating this stuff” (laughs). Even though everyone secretly thinks “He’s so annoying,” they know that he’s full of life experiences and knowledge, and he’s dignified (laughs). Objectively speaking, it’s good I made Sanzo beautiful and young, or else he’d be seen like that old man……
Describing him like this, I’m gonna get scolded by his fans again, aren’t I? (laughs) It’s a loving opinion.
Sanzo has peculiar tastes regarding food. Are they Minekura Sensei’s tastes?
[Minekura]: No, no, definitely not (laughs). That was just to make sure Sanzo wasn’t too cool. He’s the type to always knit his eyebrows, so I didn’t want him to put on airs normally. I just wanted him to have it together in the places he needed to be, but other than that there needed to be something the other three could make fun of Sanzo with, saying “Hey, there’s definitely something weird about this guy.” The absolute leader is Sanzo, but I didn’t want to create a psychological hierarchy among the four. I wanted the other three to be able to boo Sanzo to his face. In actuality I drew the trigger scene in the Kami-sama arc intending the feeling, “The real fight’s coming up, and they’re talking about ramen?!” So I asked the people in the editorial section what they put in their ramen, and mayonnaise was one of the weirdest things. I didn’t think there would be such a fuss over Sanzo’s mayo ramen (laughs).
There were a lot of “What else does Sanzo put mayonnaise on?” questions in the past Q&A
[Minekura]: I suppose it’s because in the “anniversary” chapter at the end of “RELOAD” volume three, I wrote that Sanzo also puts mayonnaise on his sashimi (laughs). I was beating a dead horse with a stick. In fact, there’s even a bottle of mayonnaise left on the table after they’re done eating (laughs). It’s like, “What, that’s you own personal bottle?!” (laughs). We joke that he hides it in his sleeve with his gun. Incidentally, among the other things that were brought up, the one who likes damp things is Suzuki Jirou, and I’m the one who likes flat soda. I work whatever the people around me say into the story. I have confidence in that sort of memory stock. I’m often told by those around me “I get depressed whenever I remember that all the things I want you to forget, you remember” (laughs).
All right, next, please tell us about your impressions of Goku.
[Minekura]: Goku is, in a phrase, a “healing idiot.” But it’s not good if people get fed up with his purity. Goku’s actions aren’t ruled by a sense of justice, but by the criterion of his own heart. He asserts himself when he wants to, and he makes it known when he’s dissatisfied. Fundamentally, he isn’t very patient. The phrase “Don’t wait” was made with Goku in mind. He doesn’t follow logic, so if you look at him from the outside he’s a child and a huge idiot, but because he isn’t ruled by logic, he’s strong. I think there are times this is painful for the other three, in a good way. And he sees things surprisingly cool-headedly. Some of his small gestures make me think, “Goku’s actually kinda cool, huh?” For example, when I first brought up the mayonnaise thing, Goku was the only one who looked away from Sanzo. That’s one facet of Goku.
Lastly, please tell us about your impressions of Hakkai
[Minekura]: Hakkai is, at any rate, a strange person. His tastes are strange, the things he doesn’t get are strange, and he doesn’t often listen to what others say. That’s why of the four guys, he’s usually the punch line master…… I wonder if the fans’ll get mad at me again. In a previous interview I was asked, “Please don’t say ‘Hakkai’s taste is bad’.” But in “Let’s change clothes” as the end of “RELOAD” volume one, those outfits were clearly Hakkai Sensei’s best works (laughs).
Speaking about taste, Hazel actually has strange hobbies too, so Hakkai might feel a sense of rivalry with him (laughs). I have a clear image of Hazel in a strange outfit, standing in front of a mirror, saying spellbound, “No matter what I wear, it looks good on me!” with Hakkai in the back saying “I won’t lose!” (laughs) …… Did I just turn the Hazel fans against me too? I’m aware that these two are both weird people, so they butt heads.
To add on about Hakkai, he may look cool-headed but is surprisingly hot-tempered. Usually he pretends to be an adult and quiets the other three saying “Now, now” but once he snaps he’s the first one to start a fight. He’s scary enough that the other three step back (laughs). That’s probably why he can associate with these guys without any uncomfortable feelings. He settles his score against the fatality in his past at a rather early stage. In “Saiyuki” volume four’s Chin Yisou arc, he straightens away one of his feelings, so ever since then Hakkai’s rather prone to recklessness. That’s because even though his dark side was exposed to his companions, they’re okay (laughs). It feels like he’s taken a defiant attitude, or changed his attitude. I guess I can call the current Hakkai “a strange person with a new attitude.” He’s incorrigible (laughs).
I believe there are those among your readers who, after reading “Saiyuki,” decided to become manga-ka in the future. What advice do you have for these people?
[Minekura]: The important things are “guts” and “practice”. In the end, drawing manga is a job both hard on the mind and hard on the body. All jobs are difficult, I suppose, but having your hobby for your job requires a certain amount of preparation. There are times when, even though you draw with all your might, you still don’t get any recognition. When that happens, you don’t know what you should do and drawing your next work becomes hard too. But you can’t give up; you need the guts to ride out the storm. It’s something akin to sports tenacity.
I have to tell myself “Stand up! Stand UP!!” (laughs). It’s a fundamentally lonely job. More than turning your own name into a commodity, there’s no way to avoid that sense of loneliness. It doesn’t matter if you have assistants or not. It takes quite a lot of work to finish one manga book – private jobs are generally like that – and there is ample opportunity to be lazy. You have to support yourself. I think if you aren’t sadistic enough to corner yourself and masochistic enough to be cornered, it’ll be hard.
About illustration techniques, I’m not exceedingly talented at it, but if you keep drawing, something will come about. It’s the same with creating manga. You can say it’s all practice. And to get that practice, you have to draw a lot. Draw, get someone to read it, and you can learn a lot.
Other than that………. This is absolutely necessary: experience. Like I stated earlier, the reason I felt like I failed a long time ago was none other than lack of experience. Nothing can be born from nothing. Watch and listen to a lot of things, think about them, and form your own opinions. And then it’ll finally take form. Every experience, even the age I spent drunk on playing and not studying is an irreplaceable asset for me now. The bad tings and the good things, they’re all important experiences I’ve gathered within me.
…… I sound so stuffy (laughs). But I really want them to try their best. Of course, I mean that not only about the people aiming to be manga-ka. Once I got horribly depressed and complained, “I wanna quit being a manga-ka……” I was fairly serious at the time; I was thinking to open a drawing studio for the neighborhood kids, and I was even about to draw out fliers (laughs). I’m the type to act fast once I’ve made up my mind (laughs)…… and then one of the editors…… actually he’s practically Saiyuki’s manager, he told me “Being an author isn’t a ‘job’; it’s a ‘lifestyle’.” “……Hey, what’s up with that, he’s talking like Sanzo,” I thought as his words hit me in the chest (laughs) and I prepared myself. I couldn’t leave after being told such a cool line, so I thought, “Fine, I’ll do it!” (laughs)
I’m fundamentally someone who hates losing. After all, I am the parent who gave birth to the Sanzo Ikkou (laughs).