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As someone who consumes manga by the volume (or, often, three volumes at once), it’s easy to forget the messy way manga is actually released; one chapter at a time, in magazines with chapters from about nineteen other series. Artists have deadlines; can’t get too ahead in their work, even if they have time, because they need to know what their readers want; and even if they manage to get a series, they have to fight to keep it.

I kinda wish I did read manga magazines, saw the works side by side, and got a better understanding of this messy publication process, because, just reading the completed manga books, I often get a false impression of what went into making them. But with Rurouni Kenshin, it is very obvious.

 

RuroKen is about an ex-revolutionary turned rurouni (wandering samurai) in the early years of the Meiji period. It ran in Shonen Jump from 1994 to 1999, but also has a sizeable female audience. It’s a nice chanbara battle manga, with pretty art, lots of history, and some romance, but the thing that makes me talk about today is the flow of the manga and the artist’s (Nobuhiro Watsuki) comments in between chapters in the Viz 3-in-1 release (I don’t know if the standard release has these as well).

It’s hard to put into words, but reading RuroKen, it’s just obvious that each chapter was written one its own, with the previous behind it and already published, and the next existing only in Watsuki’s head. Arcs are generally quick, and individual chapters seem pressured to get readers’ attention. A single aspect of a character doesn’t get fleshed out over entire volumes; instead, any development initiated is concluded within two chapters, tops. It’s tight storytelling, but it’s also wild.

But where this really shows is Watsuki’s notes, where he talks about, usually, the thought process in designing certain characters. Many, like Kenshin himself and Sanosuke, are derived from real historical figures. But, for a lot of them, Watsuki admits to having no “motif” and sometimes designing them “on the fly” and just letting their personalities develop naturally. It’s a bit unprofessional, but that’s kind of why I’m writing about it. It’s a look at the actual process of creating manga, from the artist’s perspective.

It’s just really interesting, to me, to see this commentary reveal the unplanned, week-by-week, one chapter at a time structure of manga publication. And being able to understand where Watsuki is coming from more helps me feel like I understand his work better. While it may be a completed product now, bound in books and finished it’s run, for me reading it for the first time, it’s still one chapter at a time. I feel a little in Watsuki’s shoes.

Don’t Lose Your Way

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