Approaching its 50th anniversary in 2018, Weekly Shōnen Jump has become a hot topic, including being featured in Oh My Jump!1, a commemorative drama that began airing in January. In the past, the magazine was home to an editor who became legendary in the manga world, the man who was the first to discover the talents of the Akira Toriyama, creator of the nationally-treasured manga Dragon Ball. He also took writer Yūji Horii and turned him on to the world of games, resulting in the renowned RPG Dragon Quest. He served as the magazine’s editor-in-chief from 1996 to 2001, and is currently the president of Hakusensha. His name is Kazuhiko Torishima (65 years old). In the 80s and 90s the magazine had a print run of over five million copies, and he reminisced with us about his memories from that Golden Age.
You’ve said that you had hardly read any manga before joining the Jump editorial department.
I did read a little bit of manga in elementary school. I knew about Sunday2 and Magazine3, but Jump didn’t exist yet at the time. I only read print books. In elementary school I was reading philosophy books, and in the latter half of my junior high years I was really into translated novels from foreign countries. Then later, after finishing college I started work at Shueisha and was assigned to the editorial department of Weekly Shōnen Jump. Though I actually wanted to be an editor for Monthly Playboy.
What was the environment like in the Jump editorial department back then?
It was quite oppressive. It felt like an all-boys school. Different ways of doing things were unacceptable. Young staffers were not allowed to object to anything, junior members would be forced to go out drinking, and there was a strict hierarchy, much like it were a sports team. Jump is based around the three principles of friendship, effort, and victory, but within the editorial department the ideology seemed quite different (laughs). The line of thought of “that’s just how men behave” didn’t sit well with me, even back then. That sort of environment just didn’t suit me.
And there was fierce competition among your colleagues in the editorial department, right?
A Jump editor’s first priority was figuring out how to gain popularity in the reader surveys that were sent in each week. If you couldn’t get popular enough, both the section you were in charge of and your manga artist’s job could be at risk. But everyone was scrambling to get a piece of the same pie, so it felt like everyone was looking out for themselves and no one else, and relationships often felt strained among editorial department colleagues. Some might call them friendly rivalries, but that wasn’t really the case.
How would you describe your relationships with fellow editors?
Weekly Shōnen Jump has a system where the editors are divided into groups of three or four, and they have about four weeks to create content for the other pages of the magazine aside from the serialized manga series. The bond within each group was taken very seriously, and there was a tendency for members to go out to lunch together every day, as well as go out drinking. During those outings, they would all gossip about the other groups, which I found distasteful, but there was nothing I could do about it. We were all a part of the same editorial department, but there was the feeling that if you got close with a co-worker outside of the group, your own group members would turn a cold shoulder to you.
And there was a complete division between sections, yes?
Relationships within the company didn’t even extend out to the full editorial department, and the majority of our work was completed with just our own group members. Furthermore, within the Jump editorial department, never mind getting mid-career recruits, it was rare to even have transfers from other departments. Basically, when new graduates came in, after being assigned as team members they would always be in the same groups. Even though we were all part of the same company, we had no idea what was happening in the editorial departments for the other magazines.
That sounds like it may have been quite an insular environment.
And so, I endeavored to not associate with other people from the editorial department (laughs). I was in charge of Akira Toriyama’s series Dr. Slump, and around the time it started to become a hit, I heard from Monthly Playboy (also published by Shueisha) that they wanted to cover the series. The article writer’s name was Akira Sakuma, who would later put out Momotarō Dentetsu4. I became close with Mr. Sakuma, and through that connection I became acquainted with Yūji Horii of Dragon Quest; this was how I proactively recruited outside writers to work on the magazine. Thus, things like the reader submission section called “Jump Broadcasting Office”, and “Famicom Shinken”, which featured introductory articles for video games, were created. At first, I faced backlash from my colleagues for using people outside of the organization. They’d say, “You can’t do that; our survey results will get leaked.” In the end, we were only able to complete these projects under the condition that they worked in a conference room and never set foot in the editorial department. The dissenting voices died down after these segments started ranking high in the surveys, but I still heard people talking behind my back, saying I was wasting energy by focusing on things besides manga, and that our efforts were trivial.
After that, you temporarily left Jump to launch the gaming magazine V-Jump in 1993.
If I hadn’t built these connections with people outside the company, I probably wouldn’t have been able to launch V-Jump. But my tenure as its founding editor-in-chief was only three years. With dwindling circulation numbers, I was called back to revamp Weekly Shōnen Jump in 1996 as its editor-in-chief. The reason was that they wanted Akira Toriyama to continue on with a new series after Dragon Ball ended. The line of thought from management at the time seemed to be that a new series from Mr. Toriyama would cause Jump to recover its lost sales. But I knew that would be difficult. He’d reached the point where he struggled just to get through Dragon Ball, and he wouldn’t be able to draw a new series.
When you became Jump‘s editor-in-chief, what was your first order of business?
I knew that the days of circulating 6,530,000 copies were long gone. I was confident from the time I created V-Jump that an era would come when manga, games, and anime could all be accessed from a single place, as seen with the computers and smartphones we have today. From the start I had my doubts about whether there was really any meaning in increasing circulation numbers. Circulation is not the only way to gain revenue; there’s also collected volume sales and profits from anime adaptations, so I figured that the total sum should be what determined our success. With hits like Yu-Gi-Oh!, total profits reached record highs.
How did you go about changing the environment within the editorial department?
Naturally, I had the inclination to make the mood there feel freer. First, I wanted to take that all-boys school approach Jump previously had, add together the mentalities of both farmers and hunters, divide those traits equally among everyone, and create a more open feeling. I changed it so people from outside could come and go freely, and juniors no longer had to feel pressured to accept invitations to go out drinking. I instilled a keen awareness of the need to let employees keep their work and private lives separate. As a result, the environment became less like an all-boys school and more like a coed one. Though we didn’t have any female editors (laughs).
It seems like in the latter half of the 90s, titles that attracted female fans such as Hōshin Engi and Prince of Tennis became more prominent.
In a way, that feeling of becoming more coed could have affected the entirety of Jump‘s style. Even if the traditional mantra of friendship, effort, and victory started to fade away, the idea that surveys reigned supreme remained. Back in the 90s, about 30,000 survey postcards would come in every week. The earliest we started getting them was on Tuesday evenings, when about 300 would come in. These early reports were actually incredibly valuable sources of information. On Tuesday evenings, there was still just enough time to apply changes to in-progress manuscripts for the upcoming issue. These days with the Internet, and especially social media platforms like Twitter, we can easily gather opinions from readers, but perhaps Jump was the only magazine that was capable of having the feeling of its content being alive back then.
In other words, the surveys sustained Jump in its Golden Age.
Creating content based on interaction with readers could be the greatest strength Jump has had ever since its inception. It might be the only magazine where even kids can participate and have their voices make a difference. The surveys aren’t the only source of information we rely on. Another useful reference comes from the editorial department being open to the public. Teachers come in with dozens of students in tow, so often that it’s like we’re running a field trip course. The younger staff members will show them around and explain how things work, showing them manuscripts and such, but also ask them questions like, “what have you been into lately?”, and even tell them, “we’ve got merchandise, so go ahead and pick whatever you like”. Seeing how they react is another reference we can use.
The fan interaction event “Jump Festa” is something that started during your time as editor-in-chief, yes?
“Jump Festa” occurs each December and lasts for two days, and readers are invited to attend for free, so every year there are more than 100,000 attendees. Our main objective is to impart our gratitude to the fans for their patronage that year, but even then we’re watching the readers’ faces, noting their reactions, and using it as feedback for the magazine. The event itself was based on a suggestion, and has now been going on for almost 20 years. This could be called a new strength for Jump moving forward.