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Erin: I first heard of The Guin Saga in a conversation about legendary long-running series. Someone said, “What about the fantasy series with that guy with a leopard head that’s over 100 books long?”
So, Yani, are you current on the Japanese series?
Yani: I’m not up to 120. I’ve been reading but am not too far along. It broke my heart, but I had to read synopses about the later volumes for work reasons. So I’m bursting with all this information but I won’t spoil anything for you.
Erin: That’s like reading Soap Opera Digest! And Guin still doesn’t know where he comes from?
Serdar: Don’t confirm nor deny. I want this to be something we can discover on our own. That’s part of the pleasure.
Erin: A friend of mine won’t read a series until all the books have been published because she reads really fast. And so she hasn’t read Guin yet... I don’t think she’ll ever read Wheel of Time.
Serdar: You have to pitch it differently. You have to tell her it will never be over unlike the other books.
Yani: Well, it has to end, since Kurimoto-san is mortal. She already knows what the last sentence will be.
Serdar: I keep making comparisons to Berserk. Kentaro Miura is a Guin Saga fan, and he’s the same way. He knows how the whole thing is going to work and he has it all in his head and it’s just going to take him a certain amount of time to go through and delineate each particular point. I have been reading those just as hungrily.
Noah: I believe he’s gone so far as to say if there was no Guin there would be no Berserk.
Serdar: He did.
Yani: And a lot of famous people have been reading The Guin Saga regularly. Like Nagisa Oshima, the film director. A lot of editors at publishers, even board-level people.
Erin: We went to Comic Market (Comiket) in 2006. One thing we were really impressed with was the amount of fan-produced novels. Maybe a third of the rooms had lovely fan novels. And I was confident that I could learn enough Japanese to get through the dojinshi I bought, but not enough to get through any of the prose fan works.
Because there are so many characters in every Guin book—it seems rife for a ridiculous amount of fan fiction.
Some of the books at Comiket had great covers. But when the authors asked us if we read Japanese…
Noah: No, we’d shake our heads sadly… (Chuckles)
Yani: That’s interesting. I am not aware of any fan fiction versions of The Guin Saga, but what’s often said about this series is that it turns into “fan fiction.” And many Japanese readers have criticized Kurimoto-san for it. Fan fic of the kind where you take this character and another character of the same gender and they go off and have sex. Which does happen. Without giving too much away, Amnelis, the Lady of Ice, turns gay. That doesn’t happen to Guin yet, though.
Serdar: Along with the fan fic, one of the things I noticed is, even if they are not explicitly imitating it from the book, they are definitely taking inspiration from it in all these different directions. And it did that for me. As soon as I read it I wanted to go out and write a book. And I did.
Noah: It’s what fantasy does best. With every fantasy text, you open the first page and there’s a map and a list of characters. The first book only covers a handful of those places, but it creates openness to the world because you know there’s so much more out there, and then whatever’s beyond the map. And it’s certainly true that these fantasies are all based around that kernel of openness.
Serdar: Anything can happen, within certain disciplinary limits, yes.
Erin: I like how in Guin the map expands after the first book.
Yani: There was no map in the first books of Guin in the Japanese. In Book Five of our paperbacks you got the world map.
Serdar: It’s like we’re zooming out.
Yani: And in Book Five you get that epilogue. You learn what happens to some of the major characters, what they become. That originally appeared at the beginning of Book Three. Alex Smith and I talked about it and agreed it should go at the end of Book Five.
Noah: Did you have to consult with them to do that kind of editing? I know a lot of writers are really finicky, like the author of Kino’s Journey. The author was really not happy with the way the book was done and it was cancelled.
Yani: Yes, we did get permission. Most American readers don’t expect that kind of spoiler, right in the middle of a cliff hanger, actually. Even at the end of Book Five, it feels strange for people used to regular narrative, for the ending to be given away. Well, not exactly the ending maybe, but the state of things as they stand in around Book Sixty.
Noah: There’s often an element of prophecy in fantasy literature. Sometimes it’s a question of how they manifest, but typically you know the outcome.
Serdar: It’s the supernatural version of foreshadowing. Typically some of the fun is that things don’t manifest the way you expect them to.
Noah: Right. It goes where you think, but not how you expect it.
Erin: Or there’s a lack of prophecy because it’s like an old village and here comes so and so to save us. I’m glad that’s not in there. The characters all react to Guin like, What the heck? in total surprise.
Yani: You remember that guy Orro of Torus? In Book One he helps Guin by lending him his sword. You meet his parents. They run an inn in Torus and they become major characters.
Serdar: I love that because it gives you the sense of the world as a continuum, and not just tossed out. Part of the allergy I have had with the western fantasy stuff is that there’s so much emphasis on world building and very little on character building. You have one completely trumping the other. When I struggled through the first Wheel of Time, a friend asked me how I liked it and I replied that I couldn’t remember a damn thing that happened. And he got through all twelve and when I asked him how it was, he looked at me with this kind of glazed look, and that’s the problem. There’s no one you care about. You are not being grabbed and that’s the problem.
Erin: In a weird cross-media comparison, when I watched all of Marmalade Boy I had to watch from one commercial break to the commercial break of the next episode because the cliff hanger in the middle was too much. It’s the same thing with The Guin Saga. I’m not going to stop at the end of Book Four, I’m going to read to the end of the first chapter in Book Five to avoid that cliffhanger.
Serdar: The form factor is how they keep you going. If it’s all one book I don’t think it would have the same impact.
Yani: There was a big discussion when we were going to redo the hardcovers. Were we going to do the five volumes in two books? But we just decided to do it this way, which I think was a good idea.
Noah: Would you guys ever think about doing a compilation of cover art?
Yani: We would like to. I think Yoshitaka Amano, the guy who did the covers since around Book Twenty, there are books out of his art.
Serdar: I actually got to take a look at them, Dark Horse sent me some. I might get to sit down with him at some point. If I do get to do an interview with Amano, the first thing I want to ask him is what compelled you to do a live-action version of Ten Nights of Dreams. That’s coming out in the U.S. now.
Yani: For The Guin Saga though, he isn’t my favorite for cover art. He did this and the Final Fantasy series, which he is famous for. But I feel Naoyuki Katoh, who did the first five books, has a more Frazetta-esque style that makes it clear that one of the main influences is 20s pulp. Amano’s art suits the material better when the action is taking place in cities.
Noah: Amano’s lines are very clean and the style is very baroque, whereas Katoh is mud and blood and you really feel it.
Serdar: The illustrations that are in the books, were they scratch boarded?
Yani: That’s what they look like.
Erin: Or charcoal.
Serdar: Yeah, it doesn’t feel like an actual drawing, it feels like some medium and I really like that, this grit to it.
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