Mei Nagano as manga artist Nireno Suzume
I love NHK asadora morning drama! I learn so much, as well as improving my Japanese language skills!
This time I’ve been watching Hanbun Aoi, which was recommended to me by Yukki’s mum. I love following the drama’s protagonist Suzume, and her training and career as a manga artist, because I’m a children’s story book illustrator who’s aspired and studied and trained and been published too!
Hanbun Aoi is the story of a young girl called Nireno Suzume who is born within moments of a young lad called Hagio Ritsu on the festival of Tanabata. Tanabata is a magical festival, also known as the Star Festival, which has a romantic legend whereby two separated celestial lovers can cross the River of Heaven on this one day and be reunited. The theme of their separated love is woven throughout the story!
Suzume and Ritsu grow up together
Asadora run for 6 months, in almost-daily 15 minute-long episodes, so there is plenty of time for the story to evolve. We follow Suzume and Ritsu as they grow up as best friends, leave school and embark on their careers, and live their adult lives. Small scenes around their close-knit families in the rural Gifu town of Fukurou repeatedly show how close Suzume and Ritsu really are, and how much they depend on and support each other.
Suzume and Ritsu
Meanwhile, partly owing to her father who is a huge fan of manga, Suzume grows up aspiring to become a manga artist.
What is Manga?
Sword Art Online, Noragami, and Barakamon!
Manga are Japanese comic books or graphic novels which are serialised in newspapers, books, and magazines. The Japanese characters for manga mean ‘pictures run riot’.
Manga is hugely popular in Japan, where it partly evolved out of the affordable and available ukiyo-e woodblock printings by master artists like Hokusai.
Manga is a popular book form worldwide, owing to its immersive storytelling, and its excellent, action-packed artwork! There is less reliance on the text: the story and emotional content are conveyed visually.
Akikaze’s Manga School
Suzume’s natural talent for drawing earns her a place at the studios of the fictional and famous manga artist Akikaze Haori. Here she boards with two other talented young students (Yuko and Bokute), and we see them train to become successful manga artists.
Akikaze Sensei demands perfection, and so he is not afraid to tear up Suzume’s artwork and throw the shreds around the studio!
Suzume works to become good enough to draw backgrounds in ink. Many imaginative and creative ways are used to create interesting textures in this black and white manga medium: white paint can be flicked and splattered; black ink can be applied in small sponge marks.
Suzume learns how to apply sheets of acetate tone to artwork and to trim away the excess by carefully slicing with a scalpel.
Suzume learns kakeami!
There is a cross-hatching technique called kakeami, which is a small series of parallel ink lines which are repeated and rotated across a background area to shade it. The lines drawn in one series don’t cross the lines drawn in an adjacent series. It’s important to evenly space the lines so that there is an even spread of white space between them. Kakeami can be drawn with increasing density.
Kakeami from Hanbun Aoi episode 39
Akikaze Sensei arranges a series of short-duration figure drawings called croquis, so that the apprentices concentrate on the essential elements of a pose. Manga artists need to develop the skill of being able to draw a figure from every angle! The apprentices begin by drawing poses which last for 20 minutes. The poses then speed up to 10 minutes, and then 5 minutes. This concentrated practice captures the speed and precision necessary to professionally draw manga to meet publisher deadlines!
Calligraphic onomatopoeia enhances the action in Sword Art Online!
One of the most noticeable accompaniments to manga art are the onomatopoeic sound effects written calligraphically on the page! Their position in the art work enhances the action – they may even be faithfully incorporated into anime too!
Animating 2D art takes tremendous skill!
This page of passionate and expressive calligraphy is from Barakamon!
Suzume also learns how to create a storyboard for her manga, ensuring that her art is always drawn within a 270mm x 180mm sheet of paper. Suzume is training to be a manga artist in about 1990, and so she uses hand-drawing techniques, however, nowadays many mangaka will draw up their artwork with digital brush pens, fill backgrounds with pre-saved grey-scale swatches, and will have the ability to digitally respace artwork on a system of layers.
Types of Manga
Sangatsu no Lion is a beautifully drawn and articulated slice of life manga
There are different types of manga story that appeal to different groups – Suzume is encouraged by her sensei to write shoujo manga, owing to her deep and loving friendship with Ritsu. Shoujo manga stories are aimed at young women, and their storylines tend to feature relationships and romance. Shounen manga stories are aimed at young men and tend to focus on action and adventure. Slice of life manga, (nichijou), are often gentle manga following every day events in the life of the protagonist.
The Manga Debut
Akikaze’s three apprentices are encouraged to write and draw their own manga stories. As their manga skills increase, and their stories improve, they become poised to enter the world of Manga officially with their manga debut!
Bokute finds huge success with his manga Lady Hikaru Genji. Success as a manga artist lies with its popularity in a hugely competitive market. Bokute’s story has many teenage fans, and so it is made into an animated movie. A manga being picked up to create an anime series or an animated film is the ultimate manga success, and these days, manga characters may find their way into art and fashion, as well as digital multimedia and gaming.
In Japan, manga artists and their characters are superstars, talked about in playgrounds, offices, and homes throughout Japan. The rewards for being successful are huge, however in such a competitive market many artists that start out cannot continue.
Yuko is the first of the apprentices to be selected to have her story published in a manga magazine. As a prospective mangaka she wins a competition which has been run by a manga publisher. Initially, her story is successful, and her manga is placed towards the front of the magazine. The order of stories in a manga magazine demonstrates roughly how popular they are, with the most popular manga at the front. Popularity is based on reader questionnaires and magazine sales.
After three years, the popularity of Yuko’s story begins to wane, and it appears nearer to the back of the manga publication. Without warning, the publisher tells her that her story must be wound up and completed within three episodes. This is all the warning she gets that her manga career could be ending – Yuko’s moment in the sun is gone in the blink of an eye. This is the harsh and fiercely competitive world of the freelance manga artist.
Suzume debuts with Gerbera magazine. Her debut manga series is called ‘Bloom Instantly’ and is so successful she draws 4 collected volumes over three years. It’s all proudly on display in her parents’ family-run restaurant in Fukurou!
By the age of 24 Suzume has assistants to draw in her background artwork, training just as she did six years before. But only 10% of manga artists are able to sustain a long career, and after three years Suzume’s manga doesn’t achieve a second printing.
Suzume has no ideas for her next manga. She is young and lives in vibrant Tokyo but her life is organized around punishing publication deadlines, and she often works through the night. Manga stories are often drawn from life experience, but when all energy is being poured into drawing, writing, eating, then sleeping, she reflects that there is no time for life experience! Suzume is unable to continue, and having achieved her dream, she starts a new chapter in her life.
Ritsu, Suzume, and her furoshiki (bottom right!)
Hanbun Aoi becomes Manga
Many popular anime have started out as successful manga. In an interesting twist, the popular real-life drama Hanbun Aoi has been issued as a manga!
Hanbun Aoi manga!
Kyoto Manga Museum
Manga series such as One Piece and Naruto are hugely popular worldwide, and they are just two of the series that are shelved in the amazing Kyoto Manga Museum!
The shelves are stacked from floor to ceiling in the Kyoto Manga Museum!
The museum’s a wonderful place to spend some time: you can watch manga artists drawing, and you can pick a book off the stacked floor-to-ceiling shelves in this converted old school and take them just outside the Museum to read in the large reading area.
Amazing artwork from Sword Art Online, Noragami, and Barakamon!
Our Favourite Manga!
We've loved Noragami, Sword Art Online First Series, Barakamon, and Sangatsu no Lion, and all of these manga have been made into fantastic anime. You can watch Noragami and Sangatsu no Lion, and many other anime that originated as manga on Netflix!
More Asadora about Artists
GeGeGe no Nyōbō
It's wonderful that NHK asadora storylines feature illustrators and artists!
Natsuzora is an excellent NHK asadora, about a young woman building her career as an animator, moving in the same circles as the fictionalised founders of Ghibli Studios.
I have just started watching GeGeGe no Nyōbō, which is a morning drama based on the best-selling autobiography of Mura Nunoe, the wife of beloved manga artist Mizuki Shigeru.
Fumie and her mother excitedly buy items for her wedding and wrap them in furoshiki!
It particularly details their early life as a newly-married couple when they were suffering much hardship and poverty, when Mizuki was working long hours to supply artwork for rental manga for little pay.
Mizuki Shigeru's character Kitaro (Mizuki Productions)
I'm currently half-way through the series, and life is finally beginning to look up for them: Mizuki's unique artwork is based on the strange and imaginative world of yōkai - the supernatural monsters and spirits of Japanese folklore - and it's beginning to gain traction! Publishers are looking towards creating magazines for the teenage manga reader - this is the beginning of the worldwide manga phenomenon!
You might also like this NHK anime Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House :)
We hope you have enjoyed this article - why not take a look at this one too: Zusetsu's Favourite TV Shows!
Thank you for reading,
Cathy and Yukki
Sources and Further Reading
Kakeami : japanesewithanime.com This blog is a fantastic resource to learn about manga drawing techniques!
A Short History of Manga: British Museum website
Hokusai the Father of Manga?:British Museum website
Manga, A Brief History in 12 Works: British Museum website