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Saturday, April 16, 2022

How Manga Authors Work Themselves To Death


A collage of famous mangaka images who fell ill or died due to overwork. From left to right is image of Eiichiro Oda of One Piece, Yoshihiro Togashi of Hunter x Hunter, Kentaro Miura of Berserk and Daisuke Sato of Highschool of the Dead

As an avid manga reader, you have probably noticed that every manga title has a release schedule. There are two ways to learn these important dates — one is when you check and judge the pattern of the dates of the released chapters. The other is when you catch up to the latest and finally know the consistency of their issues.

But one shocking news for the otaku fandom is when a manga enters the dreaded hiatus. When it happens, these schedules suddenly have no meaning, and the best we can hope for is that it won't be an indefinite break.

While there could be many rationales behind this scenario, the most alarming among all is the deteriorating health of the mangaka, which sometimes leads to death. Throughout the lifetime of their masterpiece, authors experience significant health risks due to various factors.

Everyone who has been consuming anime content for some time and came across an anime or manga on indefinite hiatus must have realized the intense stress of working in this industry as a manga author. 

The tragic death of Berserk's Keitaro Miura, being one of the most recent devastating demises in the enterprise, is due to a rare medical diagnosis caused by hypertension. While not all mangaka deaths are associated with hypertension, most of these conditions we've heard of are stress-induced. 

There is an unimpeachable pattern in how mangakas overwork themselves to death. While some people work multiple jobs to make ends meet, something is unhealthy with a manga author's career that burnt their lifespan quicker than a matchstick.

So how do manga authors work themselves to death, and why do they need to do so? Read on to fill yourself in.

Brutal Workloads And Schedules

A black and white image of Berserk manga author Kentaro Miur slumped on his office surrounded by paperwork, drawing equipment and random clutter

Since the medium of manga became prominent in Japan, it is no doubt that these are for financial profits. Who are we to blame them because they do it for a living? The manga industry supports over 40,000 jobs: editors, publishers, artists, and other people involved in marketing and publication. On top of that, it supports bookstores and other businesses responsible for printing, distribution, and retailing.

However, the repercussion of such pressure is that it creates expectations for the thousands, if not millions, of consumers when it comes to releasing schedules. Moreover, Japan is infamous for its intense work ethic, tantamount to slavery. 

Because of this practice, authors find themselves in a spot where they have to consistently release chapter by chapter of manga content, ignoring recommended work hours. Thus, it leaves them with no time for exercise as they munch daily on unhealthy instant foods.

Their Creative Passion

A page in Hunter x Hunter manga with Yoshihiro Togashi message to his fans about his comeback and he also attached a picture of himself with a bunny masquerade shot in a party and at the bottom is the image of HxH protagonist Gon Freecss

Artists may be dedicated to their craft—however, the reality of time constraints and human limitations can only handle so much. All the hours slumped on the floor with their backs in awkward positions would take its toll no matter how much they love what they're doing. Yoshihiro Togashi of Hunter x Hunter is still suffering from severe lower back pains, and this puts the famous manga on indefinite hiatus.

Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Phoenix and known as "The Godfather of Manga," is a perfect example of a mangaka whose passion for drawing persists until his final moments on his death bed. 

Tezuka died of stomach cancer, but while it is not clear if over-exhaustion or health neglect was the cause, the nurses had to take away his drawing equipment so he could rest. We can only assume that the legendary artist consumed himself even when he's supposed to reserve his energy to battle for his life against the disease.

The Complexity Of Drawing A Single Chapter

Cover of Chapter 1010 Eiichiro Oda One Piece with Charlotte Pudding as the cover image

A single manga consists of separated volumes, while a single volume holds several chapters, and a single manga chapter has an average of 18-22 pages. But what makes it hard for them to finish a single chapter? 

There are many factors to focus on to finish a chapter without compromising the quality. These factors include shading, drawing, inking, editing, script, storyline, and dialogues. Some are lucky enough to have their manga release a chapter once a month, but that doesn’t mean they have it easier since their page numbers are significantly more than the weekly issues. Others would hire assistants, but it’s not necessarily enough to deliver a manga if they don't want to disappoint.

Work Quality Pressure

Berserk manga excellent and highly detailed artistry

It is basic knowledge that a good manga has to have a good story and art. Manga authors attaining a certain quality requires time and effort aside from their creative minds and artistic talent. Since manga publishing is a corporation, creating high-quality works means more readers, which leads to more profit. 

Though the credit mostly goes to the authors, it is undeniable that they absorb most of the pressure. Attaining the quality they desire doesn’t mean it’s successful as a manga. Consistency and growth make the consumers keep going back to follow the chapters. 

Knowing the Japanese obsession with stellar quality, they'd finish their chapters up to the tiniest detail, no matter the sacrifices to their health and social life.

Emotional Impact

A sick anime character who is a mangaka with various ailments like tendonitis, stiff shoulders and stress from emotional and physical abuse of overwork

Behind closed doors, artists receive cruelty from their editors. While the creators are famous for their works, they still need to answer to their superiors who may abuse them physically and emotionally.

Editors play a vital role in story development. Most of the time, they dismiss the artist's ideas, even though excellent, and insist on their suggestions. The harshest editor in the industry would tear down the entire submitted work even if the mangaka toiled hard to finish the chapters within the weekly timetable.

While the Western world would quickly punish this harassment, this scenario is normal in Japanese workspaces, especially if the editor treats everyone like this. The artists may speak up, but they fear that the editor would retaliate, so they finish the work as instructed to get by, no matter how overwrought and ripped they are.

Unhealthy Habits

Eiichiro Oda message in a One Piece chapter saying that he will die early if he won't take care of himself and that he had to walk 30 minutes everyday

Stress forces us to commit frequent gratification, which may sometimes be harmful. Smoking, alcoholism, and binge-eating are some of these vices that could easily destroy a healthy body.

Some mangakas would smoke during their break periods, while others gobble up the nearest junk food they could grab. In some instances, work itself is a coping mechanism that many artists drown themselves in continuous hours of hustling without meals or sleep.

In many cases, minor health conditions exacerbate because these authors would undermine the sickness and choose to continue working. 

The best example of this would be Eiichiro Oda of One Piece. In 2020, back when COVID-19 cases were rampant, and deaths were everywhere, the popular mangaka had to take a break from work due to a peritonsillar abscess. Oda admitted that he set aside his health, which led to a far worse condition and painful treatment.

The One Piece man's hiatus scared many fans. Who would want to exist in a world with the unfinished Pirate King's story? We already have enough bleeding hearts because of Berserk and Hunter x Hunter. Our feelings can't handle any more suffering and longing!

Is The Current System Of Manga Publication Curable?

The manga industry can use an overhaul to accommodate the needs of its creators. We've already had so many brilliant minds who perished due to the systemic overwork problem. It's high time for the sector to take care of these people through uncomplicated solutions, so they can deliver more celestial masterpieces or at least finish their life's work and have enough time to savor the fruits of their hard work.

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