Aka Akasaka gets interviewed by Tamaki Inuyama

Aka Akasaka gets interviewed by Tamaki Inuyama

This is a rough summary and not a full transcript of the interview, but all the important things are covered.

Tamaki Inuyama: an independent VTuber, avatar of Norio Tsukudani, the mangaka of Himegoto.
Aka Akasaka: mangaka behind Kaguya-sama: Love is War and the writer for Oshi no Ko, in joint with Mengo Yokoyari who does the art for it.

What were your first impressions of each other, and how has that changed?

Aka (A): I guess the first time I heard of you was during your collaboration video with Mea Kagura.

Tamaki (T): Oh, the one with Mai-chan (Keisuke Maimoto)? The marriage interview video?

A: It might have been that. That was the kind of hell I was looking to watch at the time. I love hell.

T: [laughs] Right, you'd probably have the gates to hell open up when you bring Mea Kagura and Keisuke Maimoto together in the same place. By the way, how did you find out about Norio Tsukudani, that other mangaka?

A: As someone in the same field, I knew her from 5-6 years ago - she was a mangaka wearing a cute sailor outfit on the internet.

T: Did you say "cute"? Do you like Norio that way?

A: I misspoke.

T: Yeah, that picture was probably on an internet board somewhere back then. What was your impression of Norio back then? You don't want to say "cute"?

A: I don't want to misspeak again.

T: Right, I get that you're a famous mangaka, and I respect you, so I won't go too head-over-heels today...but hmm, I see, so that's how you are today.

T mispronounces 'Akasaka' as 'Akisaka'

T: I actually first heard of you when you used to draw doujin - one day I heard that there was this hit manga drawn by Aka Akasaka, and I was like, wow.

A: Hmm, do you remember what the doujin was?

T: Not really...I don't think it was something lewd.

A: Yeah, I didn't draw that kind of thing.

A: Recently I think she's kind of gotten less extreme...? than she used to be.

T: So you're saying I've gotten boring?

A: No, as in, I don't hear you talk about things like holding your pee anymore. It feels like your content is geared towards a broader audience now.

T: Uh, did that happen? Are you sure?

T: Dude, barely any mangaka hit 10m copies sold. You're one of the top-selling romcom mangaka.

A: Yeah, Kaguya is probably one of the top manga in its category...it's still behind the likes of Hayate no Gotoku, though.

T: Like, to be honest, I don't think normal humans sell more than 10m.

A: It feels pretty normal, though.

T: No it's not...at first I was scared of you - I imagined you'd be like, "don't you dare talk to me, you filthy VTuber", but you turned out to be really nice, and you managed to put up with Mea Kagura. Dude, she's so rude.

A: I think people like that about her, though.

T: Are there people (other mangaka) who talk down to you?

A: Yeah, I think it's pretty fun interacting with them.

T: What? I'd punch someone if they talked to me like that.

T: So are there a lot of people who try to one-up you?

A: I don't get to meet too many of them in the first place.

How did you get to know each other?

T: So (Aka) was doing a Q & A on Twitter...

A: Yeah, I was drunk and lonely, so I figured I'd feel better about myself by doing a Twitter Q & A.

T: ...And so I noticed that he listed Tamaki Inuyama as one of his favorite VTubers. I stumbled upon the Q & A by Googling myself, so I actually found out thanks to egosurfing.

T: Do you Google yourself?

A: Yeah, of course.

T: You worry about your ratings?

A: Yeah, especially since volume 2 of OnK is out. Are there even people who don't Google themselves?

T: Probably not among people who have a public presence, like entertainers or artists.

T: (On when you don't Google yourself) I didn't Google myself when my manga got an anime adaptation.

A: Sometimes I don't Google myself when I feel like a chapter didn't go too well.

T: Apart from that, there was "Kagura-sama: Love is War..."

A: Yeah I heard about it within a week.

T: You didn't get mad about it?

A: Lol no, my assistants and I got a kick out of it.

What other VTubers does Aka watch?

A: Noraneko (Tamaki Fumino), I enjoy her content so much.

T: Looks like you prefer the interesting kind over the cutesy kind.

A: Yeah, her videos are perfect for when I want to look at hell. There's also Iincho (Mito Tsukino) and Gibara (Era Otogibara). Those are the main ones I watch, I guess. Also, Norio Tsukudani.

T: You like Norio?

A: Yeah, you should all subscribe to her.

T: I don't know who that is, but yeah, you guys should probably subscribe.

A: Also Mea Kagura.

T: Not sure who that is, but you should subscribe to her, too.

Aka, do you want to be a VTuber?

A: I don't really want to be someone with a public face, because I don't want people to associate my face with Kaguya...maybe there might be something after Kaguya ends, maybe there might be something with Mengo (Yokoyari Mengo).

T: Oh right, you two had that one-off stream to commemorate the release of the second volume right? How did you two arrange for that?

A: At first, she was like, "lol no"...but eventually she agreed on the condition that (we) wouldn't have a video uploaded for it.

T: To be very honest, if you had an awful voice, I wouldn't have invited you to do this stream with me. It'd reflect badly on me.

A: [in an awful voice] Kaguya-shama... cute... [pant] [gasp]


A: That probably would have been too dangerous.

T: You have a nice voice, though. I think you could consider the VTuber option at some point.

A: I get the feeling that people would say that I'm just riding the VTuber wave, though, like I'm specifically trying to get something out of it.

T: Oh shit, yeah, people would probably say that you're doing it to connect with cute VTuber girls.

A: Yeah, so I would have considered it if I had no attachments, but right now I'm tied to a lot of people and I can't afford to trip up. Being on this stream right now the most dangerous situation I've been in (in a while).

T: Don't worry, I'm safe. I'm known for not having drama about me. The people around me are on fire, though.

What do you do in your free time?

A: I rest 3-4 days a week.

T: ...A week is 7 days, right? And a chapter is 18 pages? You finish 18 pages in 3 days??

A: Yeah.

T: ...What?? So you have fun going out and stuff?

A: Yeah, I was actually at a fancy restaurant with Mengo and our editor yesterday.

T: Why didn't you invite me? Also, OnK is good guys, you should read it.

T: So what else do you do?

A: Apex (Legends)... I don't want to make a ton of money or whatever, I want the double hammer in Apex.

T: Is that what happens when you're too accomplished as a mangaka?

A: Eh, it depends I guess, there are people who try to make as much as possible, but some people don't really care too much about the money.

...The editors bring me to some pretty amazing restaurants, as in places you can't get into without fingerprint ID. They actually need to register your fingerprint at the place. I'm probably the only person who openly talks about how he likes food, so the people at Shueisha are nice to me like that.

Akasaka-sensei, why did you become a mangaka?

A: My parents work in the video game industry, so through connections I got the autograph of the author of Mahojin Guru Guru (Hiroyuki Eto). That's when I became an otaku, but I gave up on art because I was crap...then I started to draw with a mouse...then I got a tablet.

...I could become a mangaka because I gained access to the undo function. So you can redo a line until it looks okay, then it's just a matter of time until you complete a decent line drawing - then eventually you get faster. If I didn't have Clip Studio, (each chapter) would take a week. I'd never be make my current schedule.

T: So why'd you become a mangaka?

A: There was this series called Higurashi, which is airing now...I really liked that scene where the sky cleared up as they solved the mystery. That made me think, 'I want to be a writer', like Nasu (of Fate) - so I became a mangaka's assistant, then asked the mangaka whether I could draw something. He said okay, and I won a prize.

T: Dude, there are so many male mangaka who wind up with prizes like this, its insane.

A: But yeah, I really like to write. I used to write short stories.

Have you had really awful editors?

T: When Norio debuted at 19, her editor (31) was hitting on her really hard, taking her out for meals and bringing her to an aquarium for a date. So you know how girls sometimes don't feel physically great, one week of the month?

A: Yeah, I've heard the rumors.

T: (Lol) So one of those weeks, I asked whether I could get an extension of a week, then he was like, OH SO IT'S THAT TIME OF THE MONTH FOR YOU? ...Like, he used the actual word. That was the first of the two editors who hit on me...

A: I don't actually hear too much from my editors - it's just "do this", "do that", "don't do that". Sometimes they tell me to change something, and then I just don't, though I pretend that I did. I think a mistake that new mangaka make sometimes is that they redraw all 18 pages after getting critiqued, but sometimes you just need to change a line or two to get past the editors. If you get further critique past that point, that might mean you need to make heavier revisions.

T: Yeah, I mean, you have to pay attention to the way you typeset your lines and watch your grammar, but 'unclear' non-specific critiques are often fixable by changing something minor.

A: So in the end, as a mangaka, you need to have some confidence in the technical side of being a mangaka.

T: Yeah, editors can't draw manga, after all.

A: Editors can't really be like, you're not changing this? We're cancelling your run.

T: I wish that 19-year-old me had known this. Maybe I wouldn't have ended up hating Enoshima Aquarium.

Aka-sensei, what would your ideal wife be like?

T: For instance, someone beautiful, funny, rich enough to live in a high-rise mansion apartment, who sometimes has depressive episodes, like Norio Tsukudani-sensei? She's currently taking husband applications.

A: I'm not sure...looks like you chose a pretty dangerous question. People who don't cheat, I guess.

T: Oh, like me?

A: ...

T: Like me?

A: Yeah, I like you as a fan.

T: Hey, I might actually make more than you if I include superchats.

...Just kidding. I calculated your royalties. It's crazy how much money you make.

A: Come over to YJ (Young Jump). It's great, and you have experience with drawing a weekly manga series.

T: [laughs] Why are you trying so hard to bring me over?

A: ...YJ is able to make a lot of series succeed - stuff that is genuinely interesting but couldn't find popularity elsewhere due to other reasons. YJ has a big reader base, so if you get in there, that contributes indirectly to your tankobon sales.

"Just mangaka things"?

A: The thing about never leaving your house is quite true.

T: Yeah, and getting hit on by your editors.

A: Sometimes you get married.

T: To your assistants...or your editors?

A: That happens mostly in the shojo manga scene, since editors are usually guys.

T: So, the second person who hit on me (he'd do things like enter my house) - he did end up leaving the company, and thankfully I got a female editor.

A: I guess it's a lot more reassuring to have a female editor.

T: Yeah, it is.

A: In Kodansha you can actually choose your editor - not like you'd usually know who to pick though.

T: I know one person in Kodansha too. Maybe it's the same person?

A: Yeah, so mangaka talk about these things.

T: Don't you fall for your female assistants?

A: I mean, there's one female who works with me over the internet, but apart from her, it's 5 guys and a cat in a room. This job doesn't really let you meet a lot of people.

T: So you think if there were girls around you, you'd be popular?

A: Maybe? Not entirely unpopular...as in, I could probably ask someone out and not get turned down immediately.

T: Yeah, I could see that being the case -wink-

A: Yeah, and then they'd never do anything about it.

T: Don't break it to them like that!!

T: You worry about deadlines too, right?

A: Yeah, you...learn which printing companies are able to make it in time, with however many days you have left.

T: So do you submit your work late?

A: Lately I've been getting later and later with my submissions - like if I get started early, I just get tired earlier (and feel like playing Apex instead). I mean, it's tempting to make a really nice draft, right?

T: IKR, you make a nice draft, but then it feels like a waste of time because you erase so much of it later for the actual line art.

A: Mengo is the opposite, she's super on schedule. She's caught up right now to the OnK script, actually. The only schedule kink is that I can't reach her for a few hours past midnight every Sunday because of Chainsaw Man. That's her Chainsaw Man time.

T: Do you have a daily schedule?

A: Eh, it's more like sleep when I get sleepy and wake up when I wake up (T: LOL you sound like a baby). I probably sleep more than most mangaka, like at least 8 hours every night.

T: Wow, yeah that's good for your health. Do you ever stay up through the night?

A: I actually stay up on the last day. I finish everything in 3 days, so it's more like 4 days' worth of time.

T: So you're doing that to get more Apex time.


T: You don't have girls all over you? Even though you're so popular?

A: Yeah, I have no idea why.

T: So you don't have some super hot editor with a huge rack trying to catch you in a honey trap? "Hey, why don't you work on your next series at my place?"

A: Nope. I don't have girls all over me, it would be nice, but oh well.

T: You'd think that your kind of success would at least net you fulfilment for the 3 main human needs (food, sex, sleep).

A: I guess I can order UberEats more.

T: Yeah, Kagura is the same...but to be honest, you don't get much more happiness from making more than 10m yen a year.

A: I've considered getting an expensive car, but every time I think about it, I'm like, why not just take a taxi instead? I just feel like not bothering with documentation and insurance, that kind of stuff.

T: Yeah, I guess in a way you're paying to not have to manage any of that.

A: I actually tried buying an expensive watch, and then...I didn't feel anything. Like, what's the point, I should just use a regular digital watch. I've been thinking about how to spend money, what do you think?

T: I bought a 200k yen bed, it's so soft and your body just melts into it. I recommend it for resting your Apex-tired body - it's not like 200k is anything to you, though.

A: Nah, it's still kind of a lot.

Did you run into any problems when starting weekly publication for Kaguya? How did your initial chapter draft go?

A: I got rejected while the manga was ongoing.

T: Oh shit, give me the details! Did being rejected show in your work?

A: Yeah, it really did. I told my editor that I couldn't draw for a bit, then my editor said OK (T: wow, that was nice of them), then sent me a box of expensive nutrition drinks.

T: LOL, so they were actually pushing you to keep going!

A: Yeah, it was really nice of them though. That really picked me up.

A: Sometimes I get sick of how sweet the stuff I draw is...Think of how it is to read sweet stuff when you're heartbroken - now try drawing it. So it's like, wow, you guys go ahead and have fun.

T: In fiction, girls generally don't have serious character flaws, but IRL girls can have serious problems with their personalities. Do you try to keep that aspect suppressed?

A: I do try to keep that down, yeah.

T: So romcoms have to tread this balance, since you can't have the characters be too flawed.

A: Yup, though those can sometimes work as interesting story ideas.

A: Initially, I wanted to draw something with a lot of suffering and people dying, like a battle royale sort of manga. So, I submitted something like that once, then my editor told me to draw something fun instead...then it got accepted.

T: Wow, so it got accepted on your first try?

A: Yeah, but then it went into Miracle Jump at first.

T: So you started from a monthly publication run and suddenly went to a weekly schedule? That's incredible.

A: Yeah...but I did tell them I wanted to move to a weekly schedule, and I was actually already working at the pace you need to go at for weekly publication. That shows in the art.

Do you prefer to set the stage and let the characters do their thing in that setting, or do you prefer to craft every detail of the story from the start?

T: For me, it depends.

A: Don't you think characters sort of do things on their own, though?

T: Yeah, I guess in romcoms when you give them that level of characterization, they do become lifelike like that.

A: ...I think there's a ceiling you hit with crafted stories, but stories can really take off when you put the characters (in a setting) and tell them to do something stupid. It's quite hard to fill the gaps when you set a couple of checkpoints you want the characters to hit, but for those in-between situation, I find it's often easier to let the characters decide what happens.

T: How long does your draft work take?

A: At least 4 hours, I guess.

T: Listen everyone, it usually takes at least a day.

A: I always want to play Apex. I feel like playing as soon as I put words on the page, as soon as I draw half a character...

T: So you play Apex and work on your draft at the same time??

A: Haha looks like you figured it out. Yeah, it's probably around 5h of time that actually goes into my draft work.

T: Kaguya seems like the kind of work with quite a lot of thinking involved in planning out the stories. How long does that part take you?

A: Around five minutes?

T: Wow. Where do you think of your story plots?

A: I have them stocked up on a sort of sticker board, so I can take them off and develop them when the time comes. Then the rest comes to me pretty fast.

Where do you get ideas for your plots and character designs?

T: Norio uses people she knows IRL. She used to be in the drama club in high school, so a bunch of her friends got turned into manga characters.

A: Yeah, I sort of inflate things that I've experienced myself.

T: What (kind of experiences) do you use?

A: I hear about how people screw up, like e.g. I missed the train - I'm gonna be late for a meetup - and that's interesting. So in Kaguya terms, should I take a taxi? Or should I ride a bike? You can make stories pretty easily out of people panicking.

T: OK guys, you should totally message Aka with stories of your failures.

A: If they're interesting, I'm all ears.

T: You might have your failures turned into manga!

A: Are you going to (go back to) drawing manga?

T: Eh, drawing is so stressful, though. You find drawing manga fun?

A: Sort of...but the drawing part sucks...you get sleepy, and want to play Apex, and get lonely...

T: [laughs] Oh, so for OnK, I guess it's easier on you since Mengo does the drawing.

A: Yes, it's seriously a massive help.

T: Regarding character designs - I kind of have a few drawers of character designs, and they get used once before disappearing. I don't want to run them dry. Do you like designing characters?

A: If I did, Fujiwara wouldn't have a ribbon on her forehead.

T: LOL yeah, that's actually a really old-fashioned design!

A: I'm not sure if it's okay for a pro to call sticking a ribbon to someone's head "character design"!

T: Your designs are totally fine though, mine look like characters from eroge from a few generations back. I used to like characters with, like, five ribbons in their hair.

A: So you stock up on that cuteness, and it's gone once you use it.

T: Yeah.

(Aka gets pestered by his cat)

People know you as the creator of Kaguya-sama, but I actually know you as the person who drew IA. How did you end up drawing IA? Are there any other manga artists you have who you instantly associate with a certain character or series?

A: This actually goes back to high school - one of my friends from high school started a company and recruited me, back in the days where I was working a regular job. So I had someone who was my friend, and boss, and high school mahjong buddy at the same time. One day, they were like, could you draw this "IA" character? And I went, okay, whatever.

T: Wow, it's pretty impressive that your friend ended up designing such a famous character. Do you have other friends who made anything famous?

A: Back in the day, I was friends with Jin (a.k.a Shizen no Teki-P).

T: !?!?!? THAT Jin? From Kagerou Days!?

A: Yeah, he really made it with Kagerou Days. He was really humble and down-to-earth, too, and he really took off.

T: Are you still close?

A: Yeah, he's 30 now. ...Jin-kun is 30!?

T: [laughs] Pretty much the same age as you, huh? Is he busy now?

A: I'm not sure, I do get the feeling he's working hard on something now though.

T: So I guess you really do get to meet more famous mangaka when you become one yourself.

A: Yeah, with most people you can't really talk about things like being taken out for sushi in Ginza, since it just sounds like you're bragging about being born rich. It's nice to have people who can talk about that kind of thing with you.

A: I don't have any real (mangaka-to-character) associations actually, like seriously none. My friends do know me as that guy, and I'm probably forever associated with Kaguya now.

T: You definitely are. People know me as Tamaki Inuyama now, but before that, I was known as a "trap" mangaka, so there was this kind of running joke that if I were to draw a new series, there would be a crossdressing boy as one of the characters. I guess people find it funny to make that joke, but I've heard it hundreds of times already...So yeah, I guess I'm stuck being known as Tamaki Inuyama now, and that's kind of nice since I always wanted to be remembered for something.

A: I guess it's nice to take the male persona sometimes, like sometimes when you want to draw NTR.

T: [laughs] What does being a guy have to do with drawing NTR!? Yeah, I guess you feel like drawing that sort of thing once in a while.

A: When you're already drawing a romcom series, I think people expect whatever you work on next to also be a romcom.

T: Oh, yeah! You're already working on OnK, so I guess those expectations are loosened for you, but I could totally see people expecting that out of you if OnK didn't exist.

A: I do plan on having romcom elements in OnK, though. Pandering to the readers in a way.

T: Yeah, I guess you can't avoid pandering to some degree, since manga only exists because people read it.

What parts of your field research went into Kaguya most prominently?

A: So I went to India (T: LOL) ...So I asked my editor, "Can I go to India?", and they were like, wait wait wait, that's way too dangerous, let us make the arrangements for you. So I wound up flying to India with two editors and we all got stomachaches there.

T: Oh crap, Indian food is really bad for Japanese people, huh?

A: Yeah, it was awful for 2 weeks after we came back. As a result, that chapter was drawn with quite a lot of resentment - sorry to my Indian readers, I love India but it was the stomach problems that caused that chapter to turn out like that.

T: Have you done field research anywhere closer, like in Japan?

A: For the school, I guess.

T: Oh, you reckon the school knows (that they're used as the model for Shuchiin)?

A: They probably know by now, since there's only 1 or 2 schools like that here.

T: Recently, people do model schools in manga based on real schools.

A: Yeah, kind of, but there are parts (of the school) that you exaggerate to make the manga more interesting. Like, you want to have that line of 'where does this go into fiction'?

T: Oh, so that's similar to VTubers in a way, like people also wonder how much of Tamaki Inuyama is real. Like how I keep asking you to marry me.

A: How real is that?

T: Yeah, that's real. (A: How hard am I supposed to think about this?) Not many guys earn more than me. Seriously, you should consider it...so, how real do you guys think this is?

What were your first impressions of each other?

A: I read your manga and thought it was good, really.

T: Oh crap, you read it? That's so embarrassing, it's so bad.

A: Yeah, that's why I've always thought you should come over to YJ.

T: Oh man, you've been saying that having read my manga? (A: Yeah.) OMG that's so sweet, I love you, marry me please. (A: I wonder how much of this is real... [T: I wonder...]) It's so nice to be told that by such a talented mangaka.

A: I really do think you should come over to YJ...You're really successful now as a VTuber, but I feel like the world is missing out now that you're not drawing manga.

A: You can find happiness coming over to YJ! (T: LOL is this supposed to be some sort of cult invitation?) Look at the 7 ways you won't believe people have improved their lives by joining YJ!

T: I'm not sure how long this VTuber thing will last, so as long as I retain my drawing ability, maybe I'll apply to YJ after my VTuber career ends...Maybe I should keep drawing background characters to keep my skill up. It's fun to draw as an assistant, since you bear no responsibility for the work as a whole.

A: Yeah, being an assistant is fun. I could totally send you a psd for you to look at.

T: Oh crap, that would actually be so educational...If you guys spot a background character with like, five ribbons in one of the Kaguya chapters, you know where that came from.

T: I knew you as someone abnormal, who sells a lot of manga - I guess I sort of knew that I'd never reach anything close to your level of success.

A: I actually think that it's quite easy to get some popularity as a romcom in a shonen weekly magazine, since people form teams based on whether they like things like Bokuben or 5toubun. You're somewhat guaranteed that baseline level of popularity, assuming you have that baseline level of skill and are getting published in a weekly shonen magazine.

T: Ah, so you'd have more trouble with something like a battle royale series, huh? ...I wish you'd told me all this before I stopped drawing manga. I wouldn't have stopped.

Thanks to /u/A_Sunfish for this summary!