—Kazuhiko Torishima is lauded as a legendary editor by fans of Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump. He discovered manga artist Akira Toriyama, and together they created Dr. Slump. They then launched Dragon Ball, which would go on to be a smash hit around the world. But surprisingly, he had read almost no manga before starting his career at Shueisha.
Although I was an avid reader, I was never interested in manga, and I’d first hoped to get a job with literary publisher Bungeishunju. Before going out and hunting for a job, I asked myself what I was good at, and what I could do better than anyone else, and the only thing I came up with was that I read more books than other people. So I thought, okay, I can be a writer or an editor, but lacked almost all the skills needed to be a writer. Like, if something bad happened one day, I would completely forget about it the next. I don’t have the writer’s bent to mull things over in my head and produce a finely crafted story. So I decided to become an editor. But as luck would have it, when I graduated from Keio in 1976, there was a hiring freeze at Bungeishunju due to the recession caused by the oil crisis. I couldn’t believe it. Other media and publishing companies stopped hiring as well, and it was a hard year to find a job. I couldn’t just graduate into unemployment, so I applied to 48 different companies across all kinds of industries and only heard back from two, a mid-level life insurance company and a publisher—Shueisha.
Naturally, I took the position at Shueisha. I was assigned, quite unexpectedly, to the editorial department in charge of Weekly Shonen Jump, and within a week, I was already thinking about quitting. I started pouring over job listings in the newspaper. [laughs] I had never read manga before, and even reading them for work was of zero interest to me. I was told to write up a list of the manga I’d like from the latest issue, and my list ended up being the exact opposite of the results from our readers’ poll. At that moment, I really thought to myself—I don’t know a thing about manga.
—Up until then, what kind of books had you been reading?
I’m a diehard book lover. Once, when I was in elementary school, I woke up in the middle of the night and looked at the moon from my window and wondered, ‘Who am I?’ I thought about what I would look like if I could see myself from the moon’s perspective. And so even as a child, I began reading philosophy. I read Pascal, Nietzsche, Confucius... After that I got into foreign novels, and in high school I read stranger and slightly darker works like Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye and Tatsuhiko Shibusawa’s translation of Story of O. In college, I read all seven volumes of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Its byzantine complexity was very interesting to me.
—What was it that got a book lover like you to finally come around to manga and succeed as an editor?
I was spending a lot of time perusing the archives of a publisher down the street from Shueisha when I first came across shojo manga which are aimed at teenage girls. Reading Keiko Takemiya’s The Poem of Wind and Trees and Moto Hagio’s Poe no Ichizoku (lit. "The Poe Family"), I saw something interesting there that I didn’t think was present in Jump. Mitsuru Adachi’s Crybaby Koshien is also quite good. It was serialized at the time in Weekly Shojo Comic, a few years before he released his more popular hit Touch. What I mean is that I realized how diverse manga is—that there is something for everyone, even for me.
But my job was to work on the Jump manga. I was responsible for working with young artists to make comics that would get high rankings in reader polls. My first job was Doberman Deka (lit. “Doberman Cop”), a manga I inherited from a senior colleague. I read through the back issues, but found it boring. What got to me most was that, while the action scenes were well done, the artist couldn’t draw women very well, and they all ended up having the same face. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him at first, but I took the time to build a relationship with him. Once, when we had some one-on-one time, I came out and told him, “Look, I need you to change the face of this new female police officer.” He was receptive to my suggestion and re-did the illustrations overnight. When the results of that issue’s reader poll came in, its popularity was obvious. The manga’s rankings soared, moving from the lower teens up to fourth place. The original author also got involved and rewrote the next story so that this popular new character would play a more active role, and we wound up in first place on the next poll.
And so I found that if I could give constructive advice to the author, we would see positive results. That was when I first learned the joy of being a manga editor. After that, I started working with young artists on the things that I found interesting. The important thing is to have lots of different conversations and discover the writer’s potential points of interest. We would go see movies together, and I’d get their opinions on other people’s manga and anime. Artists really open up and talk when it’s not their own work they’re dissecting. So I would keep all kinds of notes—what does the artist see and value in other people’s work—knowing that they would be useful someday.
—So that’s how you started working with Akira Toriyama.
I saw a glimmer of talent in the works Toriyama submitted to Shueisha and decided to take him on. Some of his works appeared in Jump, but they failed to gain any real traction. That’s when the two of us sat down for a serious discussion. And it worked. We finally caught sight of a successful story, which became the Dr. Slump series. Shortly after, I helped Toriyama move. In one of his closets, I stumbled upon over 500 pages of failed manuscripts that I had rejected. I was shocked by my own relentlessness. But our struggles together helped make Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball hits around the world.
I realize now that I developed something akin to a training method for new and fledgling artists through my trial and error with Toriyama. Manga can either be easy to read or hard to read. Easy-to-read manga are page-turners. You just can’t stop reading. Out of all the manga I’ve read, Tetsuya Chiba’s I am Teppei! (Ore wa Teppei), which was serialized in Weekly Shonen Magazine, was the easiest to read. The layout of a manga’s panels and their perspectives determine its readability. I would read through a work 50 times over, researching and analyzing where each and every panel should go on an open spread, so that I could explain to the artists. After making the artists understand the structure of the page, every artist improved significantly.
Every new artist has something that they desperately want to depict. But these often end up as copies of manga that they like. You can’t make a hit out of an imitation. The dormant originality inside the artist is the only thing that they can truly depict. The only way to realize this originality is through an exercise in trial and error, writing and drawing just like Toriyama and his failed manuscripts. A little soul-searching can lead to a big hit.
—You became the first editor for the launch of game magazine V Jump in 1993 and returned to Weekly Shonen Jump in 1996 as editor-in-chief, where you produced hits like One Piece and Naruto. You are now president of Hakusensha, after serving as CEO at Shueisha. How did it feel to transition from editor to CEO?
Hakusensha is a subsidiary of Shueisha, but the atmosphere within our company is totally different. In order to start off on the right foot, I met personally with every single employee for at least half an hour when I first became a corporate advisor here. I’m an editor first and foremost, and editors only trust what they see and hear for themselves. Secondhand information is always subject to human bias. I got the impression that the employees here were serious and hardworking, but a little too complacent and cozy. They lacked the mindset to take chances and try new things. And then I became the company president.
The first thing I did was to separate the 32 employees younger than forty into teams of 4, regardless of department and age. I then had each team conduct three two-hour meetings with me. I used the same approach with the employees that I use with artists: take time to get to know what they’re thinking. I had the teams present on one of two topics: “If I were president...” or “If I were editor-in-chief...” After their presentations, we talked at length about their ideas. The anxiety wore off during our first meetings, and I got to hear more and more interesting ideas as we progressed through the second and third rounds. Another aim of team presentations was to have employees experience explaining something in their own words. Verbal expression helps individuals realize what they’re actually thinking and collect their thoughts from there. I wanted them to become aware of what ideas were lying dormant within themselves. I feel that the company atmosphere has improved significantly since our meetings.
Managers often complain that young employees aren’t committed, but I would say that those managers aren’t committed or interested in training their employees. I have to wonder why so many former editors, who cared so much about their artists, don’t seem to care about their employees. I would argue that while publishers say that their people are most important to them, their actions often tell a different story.
—Please share some memories you have of student life at Keio. Could you first tell us why you chose Keio?
Just to warn you, I don’t really have much Keio school pride, just as I don’t have much love for my hometown in Niigata. [laughs] I don’t see the point in asking where someone went to school when meeting them for the first time and find it a tedious way to kick off a conversation. Anyway, to answer your question, I chose Keio because the tuition was cheap. [laughs] The reason I chose the Faculty of Law was because of its employability, regardless of industry. In my heart of hearts, I really wanted to major in French Literature at the Faculty of Letters, but my parents refused to pay tuition for anything other than law. I think reading Proust was a way for me to act out.
I was never a member of any student groups or seminars, but the people I met at Keio have become lifelong friends. They are the most valuable assets I gained at Keio. It can be hard for people as frank as me to make friends, but I got along with them. They were urban Tokyoites, frank yet sociable. I remember once when we went to a cafe with some girls, they scolded me for taking the menu before showing it to the girls first. “So that’s the way it is in the big city,” I thought. They were so savvy. While I may lack school pride, I am grateful—if ever so slightly—to Keio for giving me my best friends. [laughs]
Admittedly, I do remember reading Keio founder Yukichi Fukuzawa’s An Outline of a Theory of Civilization soon after entering the school and thinking that he was a great man. I admired his crisp, clear-cut style of writing and his plain and simple wording. I’m also grateful to figures like Fukuzawa who lived during that time and aptly translated abstract concepts such as “freedom,” “culture,” and “economy” into Japanese for future generations. It is because of those words that today we can adequately comprehend abstract concepts in books from around the world in our native language.
—Could you say a few final words to current students?
Life after college comes with constant responsibilities, so university is an invaluable time for pursuing your passions. It’s also an important time for self-improvement. Each and every day leads you farther into the future, so ask yourself what you really want to do and make each of those days a stepping stone into the future you imagine for yourself.
President and CEO, Hakusensha, Inc.
Born in 1952 in Ojiya, Niigata Prefecture. After graduating from the Faculty of Law in 1976, Torishima joined publisher Shueisha as an editor of Weekly Shonen Jump, overseeing hits like Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball. He served as editor-in-chief from 1996 until 2001, where he produced other bestsellers like One Piece and Naruto. In 2015, he became president of Hakusensha.
Photo: Shinji Hizume
*This article appeared in the 2017 summer edition (No. 295) of Juku