Sugaru Miaki & loundraw: "Azure and Claude" Creator Discussion
A two-part interview with Sugaru Miaki and the artist loundraw regarding the upcoming Azure and Claude manga. (Also, the start of the first part mentions another announcement from two days prior: a Three Days of Happiness manga, drawn by Shoichi Taguchi, published online in Shounen Jump+.)
[Sugaru Miaki Profile]
Born in 1990, now 25 years old. Starting in 2011, he posted original short stories on an anonymous messageboard online, which were renowned for their high quality. Those works included "The Story of Hee and Haw," "Azure and Claude," "My Thoughts On Being Sent Back Ten Years and Starting Again From Age Ten," and "I Sold Off My Lifespan, For Ten Thousand Yen A Year." Later, on his personal site Genfuukei, "Being Sent Back Ten Years" was posted as "Starting Over," and "I Sold Off My Lifespan" as "Three Days of Happiness." And vastly-rewritten versions of both of these came to be published by Media Works Bunko. Three Days of Happiness was a hit, selling over 120,000 copies.
Born in 1994, now 21 years old. An up-and-coming illustrator who draws cover art for popular works while studying as a college student. Notable works include "I've Been Having the Same Dream Again" (by Yoru Sumino, Futabasha), "Memorizer" (by Kyoya Origami, Kadokawa Horror Bunko), "Voice of the Star Shelter" (by Ryou Asai, Kadokawa Bunko), "Dear You In A Decade." (by Natsuki Amasawa, Media Works Bunko), "After-School Spring Drain" (by Izumi Yoshino, Tokyo Sogensha), "I Can't Kill You, I Can't Kill You" (by Yuu Hasegawa, Shueisha Orange Bunko), and "Yesterday's You Was Mine Alone" (by Namiya Fujiishi, Gentosha). Besides book covers, he's done CD jackets and key visuals for March Phantasia's "The Speed of a Beginning." He also posts his original manga "Be.Be." on webcomic site Global Magic Collection.
— First, both of you introduce yourselves.
Sugaru Miaki: I am Sugaru Miaki. I've released Three Days of Happiness and the like through Media Works Bunko.
loundraw: I'm loundraw, taking on character design and illustration. Lately, I've been working on various things, like "I Want To Eat Your Pancreas" (Futabasha).
— Thank you for coming today. First, since Miaki is the crux of this project, let's have him explain how he came to write Azure and Claude.
Miaki: It really was a while ago, so I don't remember much. But I believe I was writing my thesis in my fourth year of college. I started writing it around that time to more or less take a breather from thesis-writing.
— You initially posted your stories to the internet. Was there any intention behind that?
Miaki: I was thinking at the time about what the fastest way was to get lots of people to read what I wrote in the shortest time, and the web came out on top. It wasn't as oversaturated as it is now, so there were still quite a few who would casually read it. Though to be frank, it was also just too much hassle to post it anywhere else. (laughs)
— And that ended up making you popular and allowing for your debut. I believe this was loundraw's first time reading your works. What did you think when you read Azure and Claude?
loundraw: The first thing I thought was, it was really interesting how far he took the single idea of "controlling people to kill them." Also, I wouldn't say the text digs too deep, yet the two characters' personal aspects were shown casually through their actions - that was really good. It subtly depicted the things people feel, then bundled them all together to head toward the finale; in that respect, it's an incredibly tidy story.
Miaki: Did you have any thoughts on taking this request?
loundraw: Let's see... Generally, with book illustrations and CD jackets, there's "something" that exists first, and it affects my direction to an extent. Like "given this, we want something kind of like this." But this time, Miki-san (Sugaru Miaki's editor) said I'd be more independent, so part of me accepting was the idea that I could have more freedom than I'd had before. Also, in spite of the sheer effort Miaki has put into the script, he's allowing me to mold the structure freely too. So I also thought it would be a good opportunity to spend time on the story-making side.
Miaki: True, I'd always thought it was a procedure of having a complete manuscript, then drawing the illustrations for it. But while there is a basic script here, it turns out there isn't a rigid manuscript after all.
loundraw: Parts of myself can come out in more than the simple act of drawing pictures. So I think that's interesting.
— Some illustrators these days prefer to have it given to them exactly what they're drawing. In other words, they like drawing more than thinking. But that's not you - you'd like to imagine the story together, and get yourself into lots of stories to improve your expression through art, right?
loundraw: That's right. Since I started drawing, I've found more and more that drawing is just one of many forms of expression. Strictly speaking, that's just my focus for now, and I'm thinking maybe it's fine if it's not drawing. I've always thought I want to create more, or rather, I want to be on the thinking side more. Of course, drawing book covers is still fun...
Miaki: I'd never have guessed you were 21. That's even younger than when I wrote this (Azure).
loundraw: Oh, I just stumbled my way here. (laughs)
Miaki: Well, I too have felt a bit of loundraw's sense for story-making. When I got his feedback on the revised script for the Azure manga, his comments were so on-point that I thought "was this written by an author like me?" And also, I felt he did such a thorough job for what was, strictly speaking, just taking an existing work and adapting it to manga. So I thought, wow, he's amazing.
loundraw: Ah, well, thank you very much. I'll do my best. Actually, Miaki-san, I had been aware of you for a while. A friend of mine told me to check you out, and I thought "I want to read those someday" every time I saw your works in a bookstore. Since I received your past books for this occasion, I'm now reading the heck out of them. (laughs)
Miaki: Well, well. Thank you very much.
— Sorry to shift the subject, but what were your first impressions of one another?
Miaki: I generally check people's Twitters before I meet them. Those really tell you a lot about someone's personality. So my impression of loundraw was... that he was "from the other side," I suppose. (laughs) Basically, someone who could really do a lot of things. Multi-talented, and living real life as a truly real life.
loundraw: How philosophical. (laughs)
Miaki: It comes down to me simply not living (in real life), though.
— What do you think of that, loundraw?
loundraw: It feels kind of embarrassing to hear... Haha. But since I'm often inevitably working with people older than me, I always do feel a little pressured to do a good job.
— What impression do you have of Miaki?
loundraw: My impression... well. Novels can be well-written with fantastic structure, there are books like that, and of course it's a wonderful thing. But Miaki's works aren't only that - they also have "atmosphere." That's amazing to me. I figured that "atmosphere" was sleeping deep within him, which I got to confirm by meeting him.
Miaki: I'm not at all aware of it myself. (laughs)
— I'm sure there's a lot people would like to ask the two of you. If you don't mind, tell us about your favorite movies, music, manga, games, and books.
Miaki: For movies, The Taxi Driver. I generally like things with gloomy characters... (laughs) I like that since that gloominess comes closest to myself. For similar reasons: God Bless America, Harold and Maude, Buffalo '66... also, a plant called the aglaonema appears in this story, which is an homage to The Professional.
Next, music. This is extremely difficult, so I'll limit it to recent... What I've found good lately is Kenshi Yonezu, Hitorie, Jake Bugg, Locksley, that kind of thing. I have two standards for whether I'll like a song. First is "is it simply pop or not?", and second is "can I listen to it even when I'm tired?" I can't quite trust music that loses its charm when you're weary.
loundraw: Is there anything you listen to while you're writing or after you're done?
Miaki: When I'm brainstorming, I listen to my favorite music. But when writing, I play more lounge-like music.
And for manga, lately I enjoyed A Silent Voice. Just, it was really good how the protagonist was properly depicted as garbage at the start. Of course, it is nice how it doesn't end with him being simply garbage. As for games, I'm slowly playing through My Summer Vacation 2 as I have my daily baths. That's a rather old game, though.
loundraw: Why's that?
Miaki: Because I like summer vacation.
Miaki: And lastly, novels. There's a Thom Jones short story collection called The Pugilist at Rest, and I really like the story Mosquitoes in that.
— Thank you! Next, loundraw; tell us your favorite movies, music, manga, games, and novels.
loundraw: My favorite movie is After School, a movie with Masato Sakai and Yo Oizumi. It starts ordinarily at a glance, but gets you going "I get it" as various facts and foreshadowing come up. And I like Confession, directed by Kanae Minato and Tetsuya Nakashima.
Miaki: Do you like Japanese films?
loundraw: I like Japanese films for the Japanese sensibilities that naturally show up in them. And I think Western movies have fantastic scripts and visuals. I generally like anything. To name some Western movies, there's Gravity, and The Professional.
Next, music... It's mainstream, but Mr. Children. I listen to it while working.
Miaki: Very good. I like the IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD album.
loundraw: I like SENSE. Songs like Prelude, and as far as albums, "blood orange" too.
Miaki: A lot of recent stuff.
loundraw: I'm basically coming in from the new and starting to search through the old. First of all, I think it's amazing that they've stayed in the industry for so long, and I absolutely remember them since they're so poppy and catchy. But looking at the chords and whatnot, it's super complex and thought-out. They have the skill to keep on selling, while concealing it and showing results. I think that's really cool.
Miaki: I see.
loundraw: And my favorite manga is Death Note. The reason is simply in the art. It's beautiful. Naoki Urasawa's works too. I really, really learned a lot from his composition and angles.
Next, I like the game Journey. It's by an indie studio, and costs about 2000 yen on the Playstation Store. This really simplistic character is trying to reach a light on top of a mountain, and that's the whole game. When you reach the top of the mountain, the light pops out, the credits roll, and it ends with the very first scene. The troubles you encounter along the way are like life, and the graves you see are people who died on the way... so it's like that. At any rate, the graphics are beautiful. Also, it's a totally different genre, but I like FIFA. I play the team Arsenal. I like the feeling of constantly passing. (laughs)
Next, novels: I read it a really long time ago, but Otsuichi's Lost Story. I really like Calling You, the story with the imaginary cellphones.
Miaki: Calling You left a strong impression on me too when I read it in middle school. It came out via Sneaker Bunko at the time, but later appeared as part of Lost Story from Kadokawa.
— Thank you. Now, I'd like to start digging deeper into Azure and Claude.
— So, back to the main topic. How were you told about this project, Miaki? Was there something of a happy surprise, or?
Miaki: Er, well, first, before the manga adaptation came along, Miki-san achieved a kind of "maximum surprise" the moment he contacted me for my novel debut. And I thought nothing could surprise me more than that. Ever since then, it just felt more like "oh, okay" - in a sense, there wasn't any freshness to it. However, when I heard such an influential figure to me as loundraw would be drawing this, I thought "Are you for real?!"
loundraw: Influential figure, really? (laughs)
Miaki: And one other thing. "Of all things, for Azure and Claude to be given the OK... Way to go, giving that the OK." Because it's a very hard-to-visualize story that came before I could properly polish my stories. It would prove extremely difficult for an artist, I thought. There's also the aspect of it being told in first-person, so making it a manga... If I were the one drawing, I would think this was kind of an ordeal.
loundraw: No, it's fine... The story Miki-san first showed me was the version that's still up on your site, and I was thinking that if I were to just work from that, it might be difficult to work it into a manga format, which needs to add flair to everything but monologues. I mean, some good aspects of novels come from the novel format. However, something happened that changed my thinking.
Miaki: What happened?
loundraw: After the manga adaptation was announced, I wondered what sorts of fans you had, so I looked around... and once I did that, I thought "I get it."
Miaki: How do you mean?
loundraw: In the manga I've been drawing (Be.Be.), I take a pragmatic approach to development that just goes "what's this person's motive?", or "what's their personal history?" And I thought that would be difficult to do with Azure... but looking at comments from your fans, I saw they really found "atmosphere" to be your greatest charm, and consider it very important. Then I started to get ideas like "I want to express it like this!", "I want to do this like this!", and I felt I could draw it.
Miaki: I think I understand. For instance, people who like tightly-calculated logical novels definitely won't read my books.
loundraw: Miaki, you have the character designs I drew with you now. Would you say they're just as you imagined, or totally incorrect, or what?
Miaki: I don't have much of an image of the characters. There are elements such as fashion which are mentioned in the text, but not much beyond that. I've stopped myself just before the point of establishing a picture of them. So whatever image comes up, I'll accept it like "Oh, so that's what they look like." Like I'm seeing the real deal for the first time.
loundraw: That gives me some relief.
Miaki: Did it come easily when you were doing rough drafts? Did you hesitate a little?
loundraw: From reading the text and discussing with Miki-san, an idea of the mood to go for came up quickly.
Miaki: Also, you're drawing another manga, right? The one called "Be.Be." That's an original story. And here, there's a source to work off of. How does that change your approach?
loundraw: First of all, there are people who love the original work, which means I really need to consider what its identity is and what I should be careful of. I go through many concerns trying to keep that intact. I also check to see what image the fans have of Azure and Claude.
Miaki: Is one more fun than the other? With an original work, you get to do as you like.
loundraw: I enjoy doing what I like with original works. But also, this project which has a source but offers a degree of freedom is really fun too, in a way that's like putting together a puzzle.
— Miaki, you've thoroughly rewritten the Azure and Claude that's up on Genfuukei. How much has changed, and in what way? What can people look forward to? Could you tell us the selling points?
Miaki: When I initially wrote it, until about halfway in, the characters of Azure and Claude hadn't solidified. As I was writing, I finally came to figure them out. But doing a rewrite now, I know the characters well from the start, which means I might be able to better express their Azure-ness and Claude-ness. Also, the reason why the "suicide loop" was happening was the story's biggest mystery, but I have prepared an answer-y sort of answer for it, so I'd like people to see that.
— Did the idea of just publishing it like that never come up?
Miki (Miaki's editor): Actually, I asked Miaki-san about a year or half a year earlier, "Would you release an Azure and Claude book?", and he said "it's not that time yet." So at the time, I just suggested "maybe we'll do an adaptation," and it stopped there for then. Then some time passed, and... unbeknownst to Miaki-san, the adaptation started moving along. (laughs) When I told him "We've decided on a manga adaptation! We're working with loundraw!", he said "I'll fix up my revision right way, just give me a moment!" And he did what I'd been telling him to do for half a year in three days! (laughs)
Miaki: I mean, I just couldn't submit that half-baked version. (laughs)
Miki: And when I read the finished manuscript, it was like scratching an itch - the plot was logically detailed, and even the characters' actions and thought processes were less "Genfuukei at the time" and more "the current Sugaru Miaki."
loundraw: Actually, at first I was thinking that since the original had - in a good way - a lot of blanks in its characters and world, I had a lot of freedom and could change a bunch of things. But since he's done such a drastic rewrite, I felt it was best that I don't change too much of this. And also, that I should focus on aspects like romantic give-and-takes, and subtle setting suggestions.
Miki: I'm very grateful for that personally, but Miaki-san, were you thinking of doing that yourself someday? Did seeing the rough drafts get your engine going, say?
Miaki: There is some of that, of course. Also, in general, you have most of your regrets immediately after you write a story. Right after I posted this one, there were many "Ahh, I should have done this"-es floating in my head. I went back and dug them up. Also, when I saw the rough drafts, I thought "there's no way I can submit schoolkid scribbles when I have such a phenomenal illustrator." (laughs)
loundraw: Regarding the question of "why is the suicide loop happening?", I thought that depending on what way Miaki-san took it, it could be a great story or a bizarre one - a lot would hinge on it. When I got to that part, I was like, "Oh, so that's what he was trying to express."
Miaki: How do you mean that?
loundraw: People should determine that after reading the manga, of course! (laughs)
Miaki: Ah. (laughs)
— So, loundraw, tell us what aspects you're paying close attention to in the adaptation.
loundraw: As they go from place to place, there's a smattering of scenes which give you a glimpse of Azure and/or Claude's humanity. So as far as their thought processes, I figured they would have their own distinct policies... So considering both Azure and Claude as having a will of their own, I'm thinking that their slight actions should convey more emotion and expression than just the text does. I want to draw this manga in accordance with that logic formulated within me.
Miaki: You really don't sound like you're 21. (laughs) When did you first take an illustration job?
loundraw: Just after I turned 18. Around the end of being 18, Miki-san reached out to me. (laughs)
Miaki: Boy, you're really something for your age.
— I think it's almost time to wrap things up. Please give a message to readers who are looking forward to Azure and Claude.
Miaki: I hope that readers who like my works will enjoy the differences between the "Azure" I thought up and the "Azure" loundraw draws, the changes from the original Azure story, and more than anything, the sheer beauty of loundraw's illustrations.
loundraw: I really find the story's mood wonderful, so I'd like to bring that out. Also, I'd like to express much more visual information being that it's a visual adaptation. And lastly, I'd like to make it such that once you're done reading, you'll want to go back and read it again.
— Thank you very much. Just one more question. You're both awfully young, but how do you picture "youth"? Try to express it in just a sentence or so.
Miaki: I have many pictures of it, but one of them is "a period in which no matter what you do, it doesn't go right, but no matter what you do, it's fun."
loundraw: Deep as always. If you posted that in Twitter in 140 characters, I'd retweet it. (laughs)
Miaki: So, loundraw?
loundraw: I think it's "a period regardless of age when you devote yourself to what you believe is right."
Miaki: Hmm, I think I'd retweet that one myself. (laughs)
— We've announced the project as being in pre-production, but tell us how you plan to proceed.
Miaki: Right now, we're eagerly working away on Azure and Claude. But since it's an adaptation starting from the bottom up, I hope me on my Twitter and loundraw on his Pixiv can give progress reports of sorts. Let's see... I think once the temperature is higher, I'll give a follow-up report, so look forward to it.
loundraw: I have other work to do, but I'll try to work at that in the interim!