Most books about the manga industry fall into one of two categories: the how-to book, which offers advice on how to draw proportionate characters, plan a storyboard, and buy the right pens; and the how-I-became-an-artist story, which charts the emotional ups and downs of breaking into the manga biz. The Right Way to Make Jump takes a different approach, pulling back the curtain on the production process.
Our guide to the manga-making process is Takeshi Sakurai, an anxiety-ridden thirty-year-old who traded his dreams of becoming a professional manga-ka for a more predictable, less demanding life as an onigiri chef. Out of the blue, Sakurai receives a call from his former editor Momiyaxx-san about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to “create a non-fiction manga” that explains “how Jump is made.” After much hand-wringing and angst—and a friendly nudge from his cheerful, patient wife—Sakurai accepts the assignment, embarking on a series of factory tours and interviews to learn the nuts-and-bolts of publishing an issue of Weekly Jump. His odyssey takes him to a paper mill at the foot of Mt. Fuji, the editors’ bullpen at Shueisha headquarters, and VIZ’s corporate office in San Francisco, where Sakurai gets a first-hand look at how Jump is localized for different markets.
The book is cheekily divided into ten “arcs,” each of which focuses on a specific production step. The most interesting sections focus on the manufacturing process, explaining why Jump uses colored paper and how the magazines are cut, assembled, and bound. For readers who love the Discovery Channel—and I count myself among them—these early chapters are a blast, as they are studded with weird, wonderful facts about paper and machinery. (Among the most interesting: Jump paper dust plays an important role in Tokyo’s sewage treatment program.) The later chapters, by contrast, are less effective, as the editorial staff’s answers to potentially interesting questions are couched in polite, vague language that offers little insight into what they do; you’d be forgiven for rolling your eyes when a Jump staffer offers an essentialist justification for not hiring female editors, or chalks up the order of each issue to ‘intuition.’
Where The Right Way really shines is in Sakurai’s use of clever visual analogies to help the reader grasp the most intricate parts of the manufacturing process. In “Platemaking,” for example, Sakurai creates a muscle-bound figure who represents the resin plate, a key element in the printing process:
The figure’s transformation neatly embodies the basic principles of creating a positive from a negative by comparing the process to suntanning—something that readers of all ages can relate to from personal experience.
As informative as such passages are, The Right Way can be a frustrating reading experience. Some chapters are briskly executed, achieving a good balance between education and entertainment, while others focus too much on slapstick humor, unfunny exchanges between Sakurai and Momiyaxx-san, and shameless plugs for Weekly Jump. Sakurai’s sardonic tone—expertly captured by translator Emily Taylor—helps mitigate some of these issues, but can’t always goose the tempo when Sakurai frets and fumes about meeting his deadlines; joking about your own shortcomings can be an effective strategy for ingratiating yourself to the reader, but not when you’re using those jokes to pad your weekly page count.
The overall structure of the book, too, leaves something to be desired. Though the first chapters focus on how the magazine is printed, the later chapters tackle a seemingly random selection of topics—Jump Festa, recycled paper stock, cover design, reader contests—suggesting that no one anticipated how long The Right Way would run in Weekly Jump. A topic-of-the-week approach is fine when readers wait for each new installment, but it makes for a chaotic, sometimes repetitive reading experience when collected in a single volume. The most logical strategy for organizing the tankubon edition would have been to start with the editorial process and end with the printing; not only does sequential presentation have obvious explanatory value, it also lends the material a compelling narrative arc, something that The Right Way to Make Jump sorely lacks.
Despite these shortcomings, I’d still recommend The Right Way to Make Jump, as it offers an all-too-rare glimpse of manga publishing’s less glamorous aspects, highlighting the contributions of professionals whose efficiency, creativity, and diligence have made Weekly Jump into a global phenomenon.
THE RIGHT WAY TO MAKE JUMP • ART AND STORY BY TAKESHI SAKURAI • TRANSLATED BY EMILY TAYLOR • VIZ MEDIA • 208 pp. • RATED T, FOR TEENS