Translation: Suetsugu Yuki x Umino Chika, a BE LOVE Special Dialogue
March 13, 2016 5 Comments
Competitive karuta and shōgi—a discussion between the two authors depicting teenagers betting their lives on their respective traditional Japanese sports! Their close (fellowship) has brought us this incredibly informative discussion!
Notes: This interview was published in BE LOVE when Chihayafuru reached its 100th chapter (September, 2012). This is the part of the manga just after the end of the second anime series, so if you’re still trying to hold out for a third season (instead of caving and reading the manga), then you might want to reconsider reading this. That said, I don’t think there were any major spoilers…and their discussions about March Comes in like a Lion revealed even less.
Disclaimer: Anyways, as always, please do not copy and paste substantial parts of this translation anywhere else, though feel free to link to it. The translation is entirely mine—including any mistakes and misinterpretations. In fact, I haven’t actually read March Comes in like a Lion, so I’d be really grateful if anyone can check and correct me on the areas marked with a (＊) in particular.
And without further ado, please enjoy.
Karuta and Shōgi: are there similarities?!
Suetsugu: Since this is the first time I’m having this kind of discussion, I’m pretty nervous, so I’ll be in your care.
Umino: I’ve been involved in quite a few, but it’s the first time to be having one with you, even though we’re so close. So I’ll be in your care, too. Chihayafuru has finally reached its 100th chapter, huh?!
Suetsugu: It’s now in its fifth year. My first dream was to reach 100 chapters—so now I’ve cleared that.
Umino: So your next target is number 200!
Suetsugu: I guess so. What should I do from here on, I wonder (laughs). Both Chihaya and March Comes in like a Lion are alike in that they are about traditional Japan and competitive sports, but since there are no professional karuta players, Chihaya and her friends also represent the club experience. If your main emotion is not “I love it,” then you won’t be able to continue. If you don’t like it, then it’s fine if you quit. But the world of shōgi players is different. Whilst they do start playing because they love the game, they will come to think “why do I need to do something this hard?” In Chihaya, even when the going gets tough, there’s something fun about the tension you find yourself in…
Umino: And you’ve solved the riddle, just like that! I really envy you the scene where Chihaya, crying, confirms that she loves karuta. “Love” is what brings passion to our stories, but when asked if they like shogi, my own characters would probably reply: “I don’t know…” And now I know the reason why! It’s because they’re coming at it from some place else! Of course, you have to love what you do when it comes to club activities.
Suetsugu: Right, you have to really love it, to an ‘abnormal’ extent. When I go on my scouting trips, all the people I meet are doing it out of their love for karuta. Even the Meijin has to work and raise a family alongside his efforts in that harsh world. When I see how they do their best practicing every single day, their passion really strikes a chord in me. I’ve always depicted Harada-sensei as being really passionate, and that passion has permeated the entire story.
Umino: In reading it, there’ve been times when it’s completely overwhelmed me. The characters arrange their cards, and then move them around, right? And they have to memorise the field again. When Chihaya herself went “No way!” I was totally with her on that. Like “Right, completely impossible!” Karuta really is scary (laughs). Actually, there was a time when I stopped reading Chihaya because I felt the similarly between our works. Because they both involve competitions, I thought that we’d ending up having similar scenes, even the rivalries might be too alike. But then I found myself going “Huh?!” when I started again.
Suetsugu: On my side, I grit my teeth and read March Comes in like a Lion. The complexity of those feelings, where they can’t just go “I love shogi”…those scenes and lines of thought and dialogue just draw me in. Chihaya is filled with so much passion that it feels like there are explosions going off all the time, so that facet of your story is something I really admire.
Umino: As for me, I’m envious of how your story actually moves forward! (Both laugh)
Suetsugu: I tend to think of manga being composed of a mix of two things—atmosphere and story. Some manga focus primarily on one of them, for example, prioritising the atmosphere over the story. But you also get the opposite—an enemy comes out, the protagonist defeats it, then another enemy appears and is defeated…and so on and so forth. And of course, there are stories that have both. March Comes in like a Lion is like that—it has chapters that move the story, and chapters that focus on the atmosphere, and chapters that do both. It’s really worth reading because of that.
Umino: From my perspective, though, it feels like it’s only got atmosphere! (Laughs) It’s gradually gotten so intense that I just can’t see the story anymore. (both laugh)
Suetsugu: No no, I can definitely see it moving forward!
Umino: To be honest, I’ve never actually fully depicted one of Rei-kun’s matches. He plays a lot, but they’re always abridged. It’s a bad habit of mine that I have a tendency to run away from my protagonist. It just isn’t a good idea to have your protagonist be someone who goes around in circles.
Suetsugu: But you need to have conflict and indecision!
Umino: Well, the mood has become a bit too think, so I kinda want to go back to the story now. Besides, I should really depict one of his matches in full!
Suetsugu: How do you go about your research for your story?
Umino: I generally go and take photos, but I don’t really speak with the players. If I get to know them too well, then I won’t be able to distance myself from what’s real. (Lit. “Won’t be able to raise the fiction level any more.” To be honest, I’m not quite sure what she means here… —karice)
Suetsugu: Is that so? I feel like the brains of shogi players are off somewhere at the very edge of the universe. They don’t depend on speed, or on their physical capabilities.
Umino: When you watch it on TV, sometimes they don’t even move for two hours. Except perhaps shifting their right had one every 20 minutes. I think it’s fine if I draw a frame where they brandish their hand aloft, making them appear really cool, but that’s not what real players actually do. The thing is, they only move their hand from the elbow down. What is karuta like in real life?
Suetsugu: Karuta is…well, I’m still working on capturing in on the page. In real life, it’s incredibly quick, much much faster than what I’ve shown.
Umino: I was pretty surprised that there are players who can sense what the card is before the reader has even made a sound.
Suetsugu: You’d think they’re relying on some kind of divine power, huh?
Umino: When I read Chihaya, I feel like I want to go and watch it. Like, I want to find out how they do it.
Suetsugu: They really are so fast that you can only laugh. I really have no idea how they do it—like “you can take the card just based on that?!” Whenever I see that, I wonder just how I can capture it on the page. It really is almost like some god is picking up the cards.
Characters and their fates
Umino: Another thing that’s strange about manga is that, the things you draw actually happen, don’t you think?
Suetsugu: True true, I’ve experienced that.
Umino: I’m the type of writer who plans what happens to my characters all the way through, but when I found out about someone who had experienced the same thing, so I had to throw those plans away. It involved something really negative, so I felt that if that person ever read it, they’d have been really hurt. Even though what I’d planned didn’t come from what happened to them…that’s one area where I want to be a bit considerate.
Suetsugu: What would you say is the best way to be considerate?
Umino: When I draw someone who’s calm, I also calm down…so I think that I should draw people who never give up hope.
Suetsugu: Is it like (their) fate is tied with a string? (NB: I’m not entirely sure what she means by this.., —karice)
Umino: For March Comes in like a Lion, it’s a story that spans about seven years, and I’ve decided that the final chapter will be about what was to be achieved at the end of that seven years.
Suetsugu: Do you mean what the character wanted to achieve, where he wanted to be?
Umino: The point that the character wants to reach is also what I want to reach—that’s what I’ve set it as. In doing that, I feel that I’ll also keep heading towards that point.
Suetsugu: How about not deciding on such a point, but instead walking alongside our characters? Might that not also allow us to calm down?
Umino: I think that might be possible.
Suetsugu: Even though a part of you is a bit pessimistic, you definitely won’t give up hope. You won’t ever let go of the idea of being happy!
Umino: Oh, that’s right! There’s something I wanted to talk about today!! Something that you share with Chihaya-chan. That scene where the meaning of “Chihayaburu” is compared to a spinning top. When I read that, I felt that it was like you.
Suetsugu: Huuhh?! That is the highest point that a person, a player aims to reach…
Umino: Sure, but I think you’re someone who will reach that. Just like Chihaya-chan will—that’s pretty amazing in my book. And the “Araburu” that has the opposing meaning—I think that’s me. The two of us have completely opposite personalities, so we write completely different stories, but in the end, both of us end up at a positive place. Even though the routes are different, the place we arrive at is the same, like “Yay, we’re both forward-looking!” Manga and authors alike are really interesting.
The protagonist(s) and the author
Suetsugu: I’ve often been told that Chihaya is like me, but do you think that Rei-kun from March Comes in like a Lion also carries some of your characteristics?
Umino: With Honey and Clover, I’ve regretted how I wasn’t able to fully capture Hagu-chan on the page… If I were to make my protagonist a boy, then I figured I wouldn’t hear “is that not you yourself?” and that’s why I tried to switch to a Seinan magazine and project myself there…but in the end, it’s strange how I’m still not able to depict his matches… I really felt it was weird (laughs).
Suetsugu: So it’s not that you don’t draw it for story-related reasons, like “it’s not something I can reveal yet!”?
Umino: I wonder why this is the case. Right now, I’m really gung-ho about drawing the match between (Ojiichan) and Shimada-san…why why is it only (Rei-kun)’s matches that I let whoosh by? I have no idea. Alright, I’ll draw it next time! Right through!
Suetsugu: It’d be great if you could just do it once with a bang. But Rei-kun has grown from meeting a whole lot of people, right?
Umino: With each volume, I’m increasing the things he can do. He’s already succeeding to a certain extent in his work—what’s next is for him to develop some societal relations (＊).
Suetsugu: That kind of burden is something that Chihaya isn’t carrying, not even in the slightest. All she’s had on her plate is the sadness of karuta not being understood, or of not being able to gather club members—stuff like that (laughs). That’s my own pure idiocy that I just can’t hide coming out…” If it’s manga, then I can focus on it!” I can’t escape the feeling that I’m throwing out something important and focusing just on one area (laughs).
Umino: (Rei-kun) is a rather negative person, whilst Chihaya is more positive, but both of them are people who don’t run away—they’re always looking forward!
Suetsugu: Right!! Let’s do our best.
There is no romance?!
Umino: Chihaya has this mysterious comedic balance that I really like. Like when Sumire-chan appears, there’s a really good scene where Kana-chan then goes “And please teach me how to use mascara—I only have three eyelashes.” It’s such a serious scene, but she says “I only have three eyelashes”! And then you don’t follow that up with anything else… (bursts out laughing). It’s just like you to do something like that! Really amazing. And then when I though “Hang on…” and looked at the cover of volume 7, sure enough, she only had three!!! You really got me there!
Suetsugu: At first, she had a few more, but at some point, I just went “Oh, three is about right” (laughs). There’s no way anyone would have just three eyelashes, but it’s always been three for her…I just figured that I could do what I want at that boundary between manga and reality (laughs).
Umino: I really love Sumire-chan. That way she looks at other girls and assesses them as “An enemy!” is really cute. I thought that that was something that came from your point of view. It’s scary to be around a girl like that, and I’d go ‘ugh’ when I look at her, but I can’t hate her.
Suetsugu: She’s the only girl in this manga that would talk about love. The only one who’d bring a sense of reality in. She’s the one ‘love cadet’ (laughs).
Umino: That eagle appearing behind her, and then saying things like “I’m not going to cut my nails (talons)!”…that was fantastic.
Suetsugu: Since everyone was in ‘karuta battle soldier’ mode, the love mode was hardly making an appearance at all—it was like I’d forgotten how to draw that! I feel like they’d actually been ahead when they were in grade 6, compared to where they are now (laughs). Rei-kun is also a little bit ahead, isn’t he?
Umino: He’s a protagonist in a Seinan magazine, but I’ve been told that he doesn’t show enough of an interest in girls (laughs).
Suetsugu: Kyoko-chan has quite a sizeable chest, and she’s angling for a romantic relationship, huh? With Chihaya’s 17th volume, I’ve finally let the ‘love mode’ shine a little…but perhaps that’s as far as we’re going to go! (laughs) I had to find courage to go into it. I got rather lost, and had to redraw it. I tried to depict those feelings of “love” (‘suki’) properly, but something wasn’t quite right. I started drawing the next chapter, but somehow the love train wasn’t running. The line wasn’t there, so the train suddenly stopped.
Umino: Oh, that totally slipped me by! (Both laugh) I just went straight on to the next chapter. Chihaya-chan had such a bad finger injury that I really wanted to know what would happen to her next. Like “how did the surgery go? And then and then?” (Looking at the tankoubon) Ah, and now we’ve got “love” (‘suki’) in writing again!! But I was just more concerned about her injury…all I could think about was “what will Chihaya do since she can’t play karuta?” And then she played with her left hand! But I can feel her romantic feelings for Arata-kun.
Suetsugu: That’s something that’s running through the entire manga. Though since Arata is strong (at karuta), a part of that is also admiration…
Umino: And Taichi-kun loves Chihaya, right?
Suetsugu: That’s something that has never changed, but all three of them have been such karuta idiots that even if one of them is carrying this huge love, they’d just be troubled by something that isn’t worth the effort. It’s like, the more they love karuta, the less possible it is for these two loves to coexist (laughs).
Strength and appeal
Umino: One of the young boys who played against Chihaya called her “Bellatrix.” I thought that was really good. When you’re strong, people tend to hate you, but I like how he was basically saying she was “so strong, so amazing.”
Suetsugu: Because it’s a battleground, strength is appealing.
Umino: That’s how it was when I went to shogi matches. Those who are really strong come across as really cool. It’s not a matter of their face of body, but the really good players are very very cool.
Suetsugu: Speaking for yourself, whom would you say is cool?
Umino: For a long while now, Habu-san. When Habu-san held all seven shogi titles, that’s when I first learned that there are professional shogi players. I was stunned to find out that there are people who play the game as their career. And he is indeed incredibly strong!
Suetsugu: Is Habu-san the model for Souya Meijin?
Umino: It’s Habu-san and Tanigawa-sensei combined. Tanigawa-sensei is also really really strong. Strong and cool!
Suetsugu: Habu-san comes across as being someone you can easily get close to, but Tanigawa-sensei is a little…
Umino: Like a professor or doctor…but with a somewhat otherworldly appeal? Besides them, Watanabe Ryuou is also very strong. He sounds very self-assured when he speaks, but his strength is real, so it’s incredibly cool. Everyone who looks into shogi—cameramen, journalists and even the staff—all play the game as well. They have to, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to write a single article. Shogi is the ruler by which everyone is measured, so even if there’s someone acting too big for their boots, it’s like “So, you’re saying you can beat me?” That they know their own strength is something to be envied.1
Umino: The mentors that appear in Chihaya say some incredibly deep things—for example, “there is not one thing that you are better off not knowing” I was totally nodding along to that. That’s something that Sakurazawa-sensei experienced herself, and that’s why she told Chihaya and Taichi, right?
Suetsugu: This is something I often think about, but when you draw manga, you often hesitate to read great manga yourself. Like, you know it’s really interesting! However, it’s clear that you will be shaken, so you put it off until later. But then you work up the courage to read it, and you find yourself glad to have taken the plunge. It’s painful, but you have to do it…you have to crash headlong into it.
Umino: When you come across a manga like that, I think it’s best to read it cover to cover and then go and meet the mangaka. That way, you’ll learn that they weren’t able to write it because they were brilliant, but because they worked really hard and even put themselves on the line. You’ll also become friends with them. In order to get away from that anguish, you have to become their friends!
Suetsugu: It’s easy to think that they’re some kind of miracle monster of an unknown nature. “Just what kind of genius do you have to be to write something like this?” But if you go and meet that monster, you’ll find that they’re human too and someone to be treated with affection (laughs).
Umino: If you know how they’ve been recently, when you read their latest chapter/volume, you’ll find yourself thinking “(s)he did mention that something like that happened… But this is amazing! I’ve got to put my best foot forward too!” And that’s why I try to meet the people who write the manga I find interesting. If I don’t, they’ll always remain “miracle monsters” (laughs). If it’s not possible to meet them, because I haven’t put in enough time, or because I’ve only considered one way of thinking, I should really change direction and try again…but I think I’d just give up and say “they are a miracle monster, after all…” Let’s do our best!
The two and their series
Suetsugu: For me, I like the characters in March Comes in like a Lion who are somewhat akin to yokai, who are like demons. That’s why I’m really interested in Souya Meijin. He’s difficult to grasp, but also scary; like an angel but also a demon. He’s so mysterious and fascinating that I’m really looking forward to your next volume!
Umino: When I tell people that I read Chihaya, I often get asked if I’m on Team Taichi or Team Arata. I usually block off that conversation and say “There’s no way I can choose!” (laughs). I want to support them both, but there’s only one of Chihaya, so what should I do…? But for the moment, they’re all stuck into karuta—I think that’s fine! I want them to be stuck into it forever, because if she chooses one, then it’ll be heartrending for the other.
Suetsugu: There are people asking me to speed up on the romance, but really, it’s difficult to get the balance between the karuta and the romance right.
Umino: (whispering) I’m sure they all want to see more karuta!
Suetsugu: If that’s the case, then my train will run quite easily! Though not on the love line (laughs).
Umino: I’d like you to tease us forever! I just want to gave the same comeback every single chapter: “There’s no romance!” (laughs) Not a complaint, more like me going “Geez!” with a little grin on my face, like, the Ebisu face2.
Suetsugu: And I’ll go “So there really isn’t!” (laughs). How will this play out, I wonder…?!
- Habu Yoshiharu is the first person who’s ever held all seven shōgi titles simultaneously. Tanigawa Kouji is the fourth person who held four titles simultaneously. And Watanabe Akira is the first ever ‘Eternal Ryoou’, which he achieved when he successfully defended his title for the fourth time in 2008, at the tender age of 24… ↩
- Ebisu is the god of fishing and commerce, and he’s usually depicted with a big dopey smile across his face. ↩