To see a list of all of the posts in this series, click here. (*^-^*)
Here’s a confession: I kinda don’t want to write this.
Writing this chapter means that it’s over (sort of).
Just like how I didn’t really want to quit. I mean, I did. But I didn’t. I thought about it long and hard. during our Christmas break. I mean, I really, really agonized over it.
When we went back to the studio in the second week of January, I was still not sure what I should do. For me, it was sort of the decision of a lifetime. While taking the job with Konomi-sensei had been scary, there had been no question in my mind as to whether I should. Of course I should!
Quitting the job, though; that was another story entirely. I was unhappy with all of the time that we spent sitting around in the studio, not working. I was unhappy that we were called in all of the time, and basically held prisoner. In fact, that’s what I told Kaiwa-san when I talked to him at night, and he agreed with me.
For him, it wasn’t that simple. He didn’t like the situation any more than I did (perhaps even less), but he was married, had just bought a house (!), and had a brand-new baby. He never saw the baby, but he also had been working with Konomi-sensei for 11 years now. It had driven him to take up smoking, and his baby was growing up mostly without a papa, but he couldn’t quit. I, on the other hand, was single and had another two jobs. This job was sort of my dream, but I also had options.
I didn’t want to leave Sensei, though. I really didn’t want to leave all of this, and all of these wonderful people behind. If I left, would I ever make it in the manga industry? Had I really learned enough? And, most importantly, would I make my idol (Sensei) angry?
He’d given me my break. He’d taken me on, even though I didn’t speak much Japanese, and shown me the world behind-the-scenes of one of my favorite anime/manga series ever. I owed him so much.
I still couldn’t decide. The only thing that I was clear on was that I just couldn’t go on like this, promise or not. However, there was another shock in store for me.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who’s had enough. Because at the end of that week, Koko-san announced that this was going to be his last time working with us. Just like that.
We had a dinner for him, and then that was it. Koko-san was no more. Just like that, the decision to stay seemed like it had been made for me. Torturous or not, I couldn’t leave us short two staff. So, the next week, after filming for Pop’n Press during the weekend, I met everyone in the studio again.
But, even with Koko-san gone (although we had Maru-chan, and so we had the same amount of people that we’d had before, and technically more than when I started), things didn’t change. The week dragged on, and I felt progressively more and more upset. Kaiwa-san and I had another heart-to-heart about this during a long sleepless night, and he thought that I should really consider leaving, for my own sake.
Even though it’s been a while now, I find myself tearing up while I’m thinking about it…
…Ahh, okay, I feel a bit better. I went to take a drink and cool down. This was a really, really emotional time for me. It wasn’t just all of the reasons that I mentioned above, but that for the last nearly year and a half of my life, I’d spent nearly 24 hours a day with these people. Konomi-sensei, Kaiwa-san, Marie, Tamusho, and even Maru-chan felt like my family. We assistants were all going through the same emotions, the same trials, and the same little triumphs and feelings of accomplishment that come with being a part of a manga that so many people read. To quit means… nobody knows. There’s never any guarantee what the future holds. So, that’s why I feel like you have to be happy in the now.
And that was the thought that hinged in my mind. That’s why I agonized privately all of the last day in the studio, where we were fighting hard to make deadline. We did, and it was getting to be evening. Once we were done, and Sensei said that we could start cleaning up to go home, I approached his desk, choking up. Literally, there were already tears in my eyes. I’ve never, ever felt this way about quitting a job. I was still torn.
“Sensei, can we talk, alone?” He looked at me, and I looked back at Kaiwa-san. He was the only one who knew what was going on, and he held my gaze until I turned away. I think that he was proud of me, even if it meant a loss for the team. This was something that he couldn’t do for himself, after all.
..whew, I need a break, again.
I will remember the following talk forever. The gist of it, anyways. Sensei told the others to go wait in the bedroom so that we could have some privacy, and I immediately started crying. Maybe I’m an overly-emotional person, I don’t know, but I was feeling really overwhelmed, and nearly trembling, as I tried to keep my voice calm, but failed completely. You know how when you’re trying to hold back tears and you have to keep taking these huge gulps of air to just keep sane? That’s what I was doing, but I did manage to get out how I was feeling. How I knew that I had promised not to make a big deal of it, but I wasn’t happy anymore, and I didn’t know what to do.
I needed his advice, as a mentor and as part of my family.. He started by telling me about when he was an assistant. He had a grueling schedule, and was paid barely enough to live on. He really, really hated it, so he stayed up for days on end, not sleeping at all, to work on his own mangas. Time and time again, he took them in to Shonen JUMP, until he was finally good enough to make his debut. He said that he got the hell out of assisting as fast as he could.
He knew just how it felt to be in my position (I don’t know that he really had the same situation with being in the studio all the time with no work, since he did it to us, but the sentiment was clearly there). When he told me that I was like family to him, and he’d watched me grow so much during my time there, I lost it. Omg, I was a blubbery mess, but he didn’t even shy away.
For that, I’ll always love him. I was miserable, and we decided together that it was better for me if I quit. I said that I would hang on until he found someone to replace me, because they were so busy and Koko-san had just quit, but he said that how I felt was more important. That they would be fine, and make do.
I’m crying now, remembering how I felt, but back then it was much worse. What was I doing? Was I making the right choice? Sensei thought so. He had cared enough for me to send everyone else away. Enough to listen to my problems, and tell me stories about his past. We’d been talking for at least half an hour now.
“Jamie, you will always be part of my family, you know,” he said. “I’m always here for you. I’ll always be waiting to see what you make.”
“Can I hug you?” I asked. My face had to have been so ugly. Teary, splotchy, red, covered in tears even though I’d been using tissue after tissue.
“Of course,” he said. He came around his desk and held me tight. I know that I soaked his shoulder, and I couldn’t help it. He only let go when I pulled away.
Am I dramatizing? No. To be honest, not in the slightest. It was so strange. It felt like my heart was breaking, but being held together at the same time. Nobody– not T, nobody else, definitely not a mentor, ever meant as much to me as Sensei did at that moment. I couldn’t even talk.
Together, we walked to the bedroom, where Sensei opened the door and everyone stared up at us. I felt ridiculous for crying, for looking like such a mess. He said, “Jamie’s going to leave us, today,” and Marie gasped. I don’t remember what anyone said, though. I’m sure that they said something. It was a shock, I think, to everyone except Kaiwa-san.
We filed back into the main room together, and Sensei said, “We are going to throw you a huge going-away party, Jamie. We have to!” I must have nodded. The rest of the cleaning was a blur, and Sensei at one point started pulling things out of a box by his desk. Tenipuri merchandise.
“I want you to have these, and anything else that you like,” he said. It feels like a dream. Looking back, I realize that this was the first place that I ever thought that what I did mattered. And it did. I didn’t just make friends and a family. I contributed in a real way. I drew like crazy. The uniform designs were mine. I designed the training building. I helped Sensei with dialogue and song lyrics.
Is it crazy to think that the title character in his new manga looks like me, too? I’m afraid to ask.
It was heartbreaking to leave my family behind, for any reason.
As I walked out of the studio soon after, luggage and a box of my things trailing behind me, I looked up at the clear, blue sky. It was partly to stop the tears, partly so that I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. I just.. I thought, I’ll probably never see this place again.. and while there was a tinge of freedom in there, my heart was filled with sadness.
The thing was, though, I was wrong. I did see the studio again.. and it started with a very interesting and surprising phone call..
Some of the things that he gave me near the end. There were CDs and a card game, too.
You know the drill! The second-to-last part of the story comes tomorrow! Now, my eyes are red and raw, having cried like a baby throughout writing this post, and I do believe that I need a bit of rest. I am glad that I could share it with you, though. This experience so far has meant the world to me. <3