Manga magazines were in full flourish in the period of 1985-95. How was the scene like in those years? This subject will be thoroughly explored through a series of interviews with editors who experienced the era. For No. 3 of this series, we interviewed Masahiko Ibaraki, former head editor of Shukan Shonen Jump weekly boys’ manga magazine published by Shueisha Inc. This magazine’s printing per issue achieved 3 million copies roughly in a decade after it was inaugurated. The number almost doubled to 6 million in the following decade, and is still being the frontrunner among boy’s manga magazines. We asked Ibaraki about strategies for the magazine’s success.

Masahiko Ibaraki

“Fist of the North Star” provided a spark for success

Shukan Shonen Jump, a weekly boy’s manga magazine published by Shueisha Inc., was inaugurated in July 1968. The magazine was published twice a month initially, and became a weekly in 1969. Its forerunner was Shonen Book monthly magazine by the publisher. Shonen Book’s head editor, Tadasu Nagano, assumed the post of Jump’s founding head editor. In Jump’s early times, Hiroshi Kaizuka, who used to work for Shonen Book, was among main manga creators for serialized works.

It is known that Jump actively hired rookies and started earlier than the other boys’ magazines to have manga creators who work exclusively for the magazine. It was because Jump’s initial lineup of manga creators was not as large as its older competitors, Shukan Shonen Sunday, Shukan Shonen Magazine, and Shukan Shonen King.

The number of Jump’s printed copies per issue reached 3 million in 1979, the largest number among the weekly boys’ manga magazines. In 1983, however, Jump was almost overtaken by Shukan Shonen Sunday, which increased printed copies to 2.28 million by successfully featuring romantic comedy manga.

Jump’s situation was very tense that way when Masahiko Ibaraki, currently managing director of Shueisha Inc. and director of Shogakukan-Shueisha Productions Co., Ltd., was assigned to the Shukan Shonen Jump editorial department in 1982. The staff at that time included Nobuhiko Horie, who had joined the department three years before and would serve the fifth head editor of the magazine later, and Kazuhiko Torishima, who had joined six years before and would become the sixth head editor.

“Well, let’s see... I don’t remember the times very well, to tell you the truth. We were probably told by head editor Nishimura such things as that we were being caught up with Sunday and we should ‘work hard’ and ‘keep going.’ But I didn’t feel the magazine’s editorial policy was changed specially to deal with that situation. The editors including me were so busy working for the manga works at hand under our charge. Around that time, I’d just taken over editorial work for Akira Miyashita’s ‘Geki!! Gokutora Ikka (Gokutora Family)’ (1980-82) from a senior colleague. It was immediately after I was assigned to the department. I also wanted to train rookie manga creators to be full-fledged professionals by myself as early as possible, because staff editors of the department weren’t acknowledged until they properly trained manga creators by themselves and we were much aware of that atmosphere... But under the circumstances, the head editor must have thought of various strategies. I don’t know whether it was from a sense of crisis, but it was clear that our magazine had always been the top until that time and we still should keep the status by all means. The mood of the editorial department changed drastically after ‘Fist of the North Star’ (1983-88) by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara started to be serialized in 1983. Since earlier that time, we had already been serializing ‘Captain Tsubasa’ (1980-88) by Yoichi Takahashi and ‘Dr. Slump’ (1980- 84) by Akira Toriyama. Of course, we also had ‘Kochira Katsushika-ku Kamearikoen-mae Hashutsujo (This is the police box in front of Kameari Park in Katsushika Ward)’ (1976-2016) by Osamu Akimoto. Our lineup had already been well-balanced, and ‘Fist of the North Star’ joined and made a great hit to further vitalize the magazine. I’d say Jump had the clear course to take at that time. A week after ‘Fist of the North Star’ started, ‘Shape Up Ran’ (1983-86) by Masaya Tokuhiro started. It was Tokuhiro’s first serial and I was his editor. The head editor and the deputy head editors absolutely felt and appreciated readers’ good responses. I also enjoyed my work around this time.”

Working like a university sports team

In 1984, Akira Toriyama’s serial “Dragon Ball” (1984- 95) started. Also started was “Kimagure Orange Road” (1984-87), a romantic comedy by Izumi Matsumoto, as if invading the specialty area of Shonen Sunday. As a result, printed copies of a regular issue reached 3.9 million and a year-end final issue hit the 4-million mark. Thus, this magazine’s legendary decade-long big time started.

“It’s true it felt so good to watch the printing increasing more and more. There was also an atmosphere that we didn’t have to worry about competing magazines, I suppose. The number of printed copies sometimes increased by 500,000, or even 700,000, year on year. Around that time, the editorial department had many individualistic staff members. Each of us dedicated ourselves to making what we liked or what we thought would sell well. Most of our manga creators had strong personalities, too. While making the magazine together, we were competing with each other at work. In fact, I hardly read ‘Dragon Ball’ and ‘Fist of the North Star.’ Even senior colleagues were rivals for me. I thought, ‘It’s useless to read manga made by Horie,’ and ‘Torishima’s work is so easy. He just receives finished work sent from Nagoya’ something like that... We sometimes behaved so childish to each other. Since the editorial staff were all men, we were just like a university’s homosocial sports team. Our department made a company trip once a year. At that time, we often went unrestrained too far, and someone threw a glass ashtray to someone, and such and such (laugh). I suppose all of the staff didn’t like works by manga creators they weren’t assigned to. It’s true some of the editors may have read and studied these works, but I hadn’t read ‘Dragon Ball’ thoroughly until its complete edition was published in 2002. When I read its final proofread version, I said to myself, ‘Wow, it’s in fact so interesting!’ It was about 20 years after the work’s serialization started. This is how we were around that time. We were always thinking about how to make a hit and how to outdo a rival.”

Diverse editors worked as they wanted

I assumed that the editorial department was where manga enthusiasts gather and compete with each other by doing their respective editing work. I was wrong and surprised to hear Ibaraki say as follows.

“Although there were various types of colleagues, there wasn’t the so-called otaku-type manga or anime enthusiast. When we were joined by Hisashi Sasaki, who would become head editor later, he told us that he liked anime when introducing himself. We were surprised to hear that. We felt that the time had finally come for Jump to have an anime-loving staff member. It was probably in 1985 or 1986. Around that time, our company started to ask new employees about their desired workplaces before assigning them to various departments. In the first place, both Nishimura and his successor Goto did not think highly of anime when they were head editors. When we got offers of anime adaptation projects, it was Torishima, not head editor, that handled these offers. On the other hand, Torishima himself had originally oriented to the literature field and wanted to work for a publishing company specializing in science fictions. Horie wasn’t interested in manga at all, either, before he joined the Jump editorial department. Nishimura, who was head editor when I joined the department, didn’t seem to have liked manga. Goto had a scientific background and probably shouldn’t be a manga reader, either. About myself, I read Sunday when I was a child, watched such TV anime as ‘Fujimaru of the Wind’ (1964-65) and ‘Super Jetter’ (1965-66). I wanted to work for Shukan Playboy weekly men’s magazine. Diverse people worked in the department and they did what they wanted to do like a chaotic mixture. And it worked well, I suppose.”

If manga, anime or tokusatsu (special effects entertainment) fans are involved in editing work, they likely end up going in a fanatical direction. Their works may become popular among die-hard fans, but never have universal appeal. Having editors with varied interests other than manga and anime may have been a driving force of Jump’s great success at that time.

Game information column, etc., adds to popularity

Shukan Shonen Jump in the late 1980s was supported not only by its manga’s popularity. An information column on home video games in opening color pages and the readers’ forum near the back cover also became popular, especially among boys in elementary and junior high schools.

The Family Computer, video game console by Nintendo was launched in July 1983. The gadget started to gain popularity when the video game software Super Mario Bros. went on sale in 1985. The gadget itself sold out at many stores, while long lines formed in front of stores already on the night before of the on-sale day of a new video game. These incidents were deemed a social phenomenon.

Facing the mighty rival, the boys’ manga magazines other than Shukan Shonen Jump just ignored it or remained a silent observer. In fact, Jump actively published information on video games. This new feature attracted children who were hungry for information on new video games and strategies to win.

“It’s Torishima that was in charge of these projects. He himself liked playing video games. He planned to make a game information column in opening color pages when the Family Computer started to gain popularity. He also found a production company for editing articles. We outsourced pages for articles for the first time at that time. There was a column named ‘Jump Hosokyoku (Jump Broadcasting Station)’ that featured letters from readers with game writer Sakuma serving as the station master.”

I was amazed Torishima had worked out new projects while regularly working for manga.

“Around that time, Torishima was the editor for Akira Toriyama and Masakazu Katsura. Both manga creators were good at working on schedule. I believe Torishima trained them to do so. Their work style helped him have some extra time and energy to work for these projects. And he was a game fan, in the first place. An ordinary manga editor stays overnight at a manga creator’s atelier to wait for the creator to finish artwork for publication, and when finished, take it in a rush to typesetters to work on before taking it to printers. Such a hectic schedule won’t leave extra time and energy. When I worked with the manga creator duo Yudetamago, Takashi Shimada in charge of making stories worked, while Yoshinori Nakai in charge of drawing manga took a rest. They didn’t work at the same time, and as a result their editor had a hard time taking a rest... Since we had started to publish articles on video games earlier than the other boys’ magazines and they had become popular, Nintendo and game manufacturers preferentially provided information to us. I felt they were quite grateful to us. Head editors just let us work out such features and columns without complaining. They just allowed us to do whatever we wanted to do as long as we worked properly on manga.”

Thus, Shukan Shonen Jump finally recorded the 5 million mark in the year-end issue of 1988. The magazine’s regular issue also started to print 5 million copies.

Masahiko Ibaraki
Born in 1957, Ibaraki was assigned to the editorial department of Shukan Shonen Jump weekly boys’ manga magazine in 1982. He served the magazine’s eighth head editor. He also served founding head editor of Jump Square. He is currently in the posts of managing director of Shueisha Inc. and director of Shogakukan-Shueisha Productions Co., Ltd.

*Data on the numbers of printed copies provided by the editorial department