Part 1 | Part 2 | Parts 3 & 4 | Parts 5 & 6

Starting with this section, certain quotes of Ume’s will be emphasized on the photo pages in-between, so I’ve marked them in bold purple text. I’ve added my own notes in italics, featuring many lazy links to Wikipedia as well. Considering the sheer length of this section and some complicated sentences there will definitely be mistakes, but for a translation that ended up more than 2,200 words, I think I’ve done all I can here. Please submit corrections if you have any (the scans can be found on bakabt).

Another reminder that this is from early 2007, before Mashiko, Arisawa, Nori, and Nazuna were introduced and when Natsume had only appeared once. Can you spot Ume hinting at these new characters, or at least what they were inspired from? Not to mention some other things she hinted at years in advance, and one story that has yet to be seen!


The Atmosphere of “Hidamari Sketch”

How long did it take to prepare “Hidamari Sketch” for serialization?

Ume: I had half a year, but the actual work took around 2 months. …When I was brainstorming, I was told many times over by my editor that I should make a girl protagonist most similar to what I personally think is funny. As my first serialized story, something giving me income, I wondered if I would be able to draw comfortably in my own field. I was thinking of ways to make it that kind of work.

Well, “Hidamari Sketch” is based on your own experiences, isn’t it?

Ume: I think it is. Rather than exactly what I experienced, the atmosphere or air of those times is what shows.

So that means you lived in a dormitory, and…

Ume: No. (laugh) Ah, the connection to art is based on the classes I took at an art prep school. I did things like making shoes out of clay and going to a zoo, that’s how it was.

So it’s not based on your experiences in high school and art college as well?

Ume: In high school I was in gen ed, and for art college I studied informatics design, like web design and such. I primarily studied PC utilization, so those classes didn’t really influence what I draw. But I think the significant atmosphere from those times served as a basis.

If the whole atmosphere is grounded in your experiences, then what about the characters?

Ume: They’re all based on me a bit.

Each character has a different personality, how’d they come about?

Ume: I think Yuno is the closest to myself. Like with her short stature. (laugh) Which reminds me, when I was in high school, I would often… no… once in a while I would secretly skip class and idle on the roof just like Yuno. When everyone else was running around setting up the school culture festival, I was sleeping on the roof. (laugh)

Did someone get mad at you?

Ume: Even though I left alone, no one noticed. I wasn’t very proactive when it came to class events, so I wasn’t assigned anything important. That aside, I love high places more than anything.

Like Tokyo Tower?

Ume: No, no way! Danger would befall me… (laugh)

What kind of danger is at Tokyo Tower? (laugh)

Ume: Without a sturdy bottom, doesn’t it feel like it’d break? Suspension bridges are the worst. Even Rainbow Bridge is much scarier. I imagine it collapsing from an earthquake and falling into the waters. If it’s not built as sturdily as Sunshine 60, I can never have peace of mind. But still, there’s the likelihood of earthquakes…

In that case, ropeways are a no-go?

Ume: Ropeways?! Not in a million years! The ropes can snap.

Can they really? (laugh) Then what about airplanes?

Ume: The engine could stop and everyone would fall!

So if there’s a proper bottom you’ll feel at ease. Then are you okay with mountains?

Ume: Yes, mountains are fine. If I had the time and physical strength, I’d like to try climbing Mt. Fuji.

So again on what you said about the characters’ personalities, Yuno’s is like yours, isn’t it?

Ume: That’s right. I probably show the best through Yuno. Anyhow, I loved my school roof. It wasn’t just high up, it was part of the school yet not, it felt like a parallel universe. Up there, I’d do things like zone out and sing.

Did you get attacked by pigeons?

Ume: There weren’t any on my school roof, but I’ve been attacked in Ueno, Tokyo. There was bait for sale, and when I bought some, it meant big trouble for me… it was like Hitchcock’s movie. As pigeons are a symbol of peace, it just felt unimaginable.

So what about Miya-chan?

Ume: Miya-chan is my ideal girl. She is the image of who I want to become. But it’s hard to say in what ways specifically.

And Sae-san?

Ume: The way she works is a lot like me now. She’s also ideal. Like with her slender figure.

Hiro-san?

Ume: …The truth is, she was a boy in the original plans.

What!? Does that mean he was your ideal kind of boy?

Ume: No, he was an okama. He was somewhat taller than she is now, but his appearance was the same, even as a boy. I tried making him look especially feminine. I don’t think he was overly feminine enough to be jarring. But I was told by my editor, “Please don’t do that.” So the other parts were fine, but that… (laughs) Hiro-san and Miya-chan are both, in different ways, who I want to become… since I’m not ladylike.

You’re not?

Ume: Nope. Fundamentally so.

Fundamentally? (laugh)

Ume: Tell that to Hiro-san.

But there’s a lot of you in Yuno, and she’s fairly cute and girly, don’t you think?

Ume: I guess so? …No, Yuno is a girl, but she’s not a woman. Hiro-san is.

You say it so certainly, is it because of not having sex appeal?

Ume: They may or may not have it, but… what might it be… Well, Hiro-san has started seriously worrying about body weight and cosmetics, so to some extent she’s beyond her years. She has that mental age, but Yuno’s is different from hers.

Since you’ve said Yuno is an image of you, do you feel the same way?

Ume: Yes, I’ve kept about half of Yuno’s mentality. Even now, going to bed and waking up, I have the same posture as I always have. Would you invite someone with a face like mine to your house?

I don’t think there’s a problem there. (laugh)

Ume: If it were Hiro-san, she definitely wouldn’t have let me in. Yuno wouldn’t care. I would be somewhat worried. (laugh)

What about Yoshinoya-sensei?

Ume: She’s… me behind the scenes.

So you’ve cosplayed too?

Ume: …Yes. In high school, everyone in my club activities cosplayed together for the culture festival, that was the custom. At that time, I was Lei-Lei from the game “Vampire Hunter“. The reality is that if I did it at all, I thought picking totally wrong clothes would be funnier. Ever since 3rd grade, I had been playing tons of beat ’em up games.

What about for a doujin event?

Ume: In my early days… (wry smile) …Umm, once… No, I did it twice.

Not presently, right?

Ume: No, I don’t plan on it, but I’d like to make the Hidamari school uniform. Aside from the fact I’m not brave enough to go out in it, I want to work while sneakily wearing it around the house.

How about we make one for you?

Ume: Only one set of the clothes exists. Yuno’s voice actress, Kana Asumi, received one to wear at an event. So, it was fitted just for her.

Well, we’ll just make another.

Ume: But I want to make it on my own. I want to… obsess over the details.

Would you not have confidence in a manufacturer?

Ume: I would, but if I made it quickly and easily, that wouldn’t show off my pickiness. Things like picking the color of the cloth… but sewing isn’t a strength of mine at all. (laugh)

That kind of fastidiousness is very like you.

Ume: I guess so.

Which characters move around the most, and which ones don’t?

Ume: Everyone really moves of their own accord. But above all others, the most active one is Miya-chan. If I’m not careful she’ll get too much attention and I have to make sure every punchline isn’t hers. (laugh) I’ll start writing down the jokes that come to me first, and like, “I’ll give Yuno the punchline in three strips!” so that the main character’s presence won’t fade. (laugh)

Hiro and Sae’s relationship is a bit yuri-like, isn’t it?

Ume: …Ummm, when I was deciding my plans, it was arranged so that it wasn’t to be yuri*. However, I feel that whichever ways the readers interpret it are all okay! (laugh) It’s great that their relationship is a strong bond between two girls, and well, if either of them were male, the relationship would be troublesome, I think. Friendship is… err, even though I believe nothing surpasses strong friendships, for me… I feel that same-sex friendships are the strongest.

*As with most discussions of topics this sensitive (Madoka fans will remember a certain Urobuchi interview), nuance is key. I can’t guarantee I can point all of it out, or even be correct, but I believe the indirect wording she uses here implies it was not by her own decision. Makes sense.

Because you’ve drawn the strongest friendships, they’re not necessarily yuri.

Ume: Suspecting yuri is natural, then there’s also playing around with those suspicions. (laugh) Occasionally even I can’t tell where the boundary line is anymore, so that’s dangerous. How’s it going to change from now on? (laugh)

Boys don’t really appear, is that because you want to draw friendship between girls?

Ume: That’s right. But it’s not like I decided to exclude them at all costs. As long as they don’t disrupt the relationship between the four girls, I think it’s okay for boy characters to appear.

Why doesn’t the number of characters increase?

Ume: Someday, I intend to add new characters, but… for not really adding any… I don’t have a particularly deep reason for it. There are many times when I don’t draw about just the four main characters. Before they came together as a group, there was no need to have others appear and distract from that.

What’s the “axis” of this work?

Ume: Something drawn delightfully. So that I can enjoy drawing it, I made sure that the four main characters were entertaining. That’s the “axis”. I think all the characters, not just the main four, are fun too.

So with that main point, things like Yuno’s dream for herself and the story of the upperclassman who dropped out*, it gives an impression of seeming like a darker work, doesn’t it?

*I’ve seen some people in discussions getting confused about this, so hopefully this clears it up: He is referring to the sempai Yuno hears about when she finds the oil painting in the trash [V1P080/S1EP09].

Ume: The special characteristic of 4koma is that it’s structured so that the punchline comes at the end, without fail. Therefore, it might suddenly seem like it’s becoming that way. I don’t intend to write “Hidamari Sketch” as a dark story… but when there’s a such a need, it may show. In the future, I think the career choices, among other things, will show up… but even so, the “axis” will not tilt.

As the story progresses, it feels like consistency shows with each chapter. For example, in the chapter about the last day of summer break, Yuno was just messing around but then it led to the final punchline. The whole thing is, how to say, a stream of continuity.

Ume: I love preparation jokes, so I may use more of them. It was quite fun preparing perfectly in the chapter about Ojizou-san [the Yamabuki stone statue], too. Because of that, those jokes have become a bad habit of mine…

That’s not a bad habit at all. (laugh)

Ume: The way I create jokes is different from how I used to. My old method was to decide on a theme to draw,  come up with one-shot jokes, fill a chapter with them and make it flow. Now, I create them after first deciding on the story’s flow. Perhaps that method shows.

What’s your favorite chapter?

Ume: …I like the rooftop, sports festival, and Ojizou-san chapters. …Well, basically, I like all of them. There aren’t any chapters I dislike.

Will you make more chapters like those from now on? Like what?

Ume: I want to continue without changing anything, but I like to give a little individual spotlight. About each one’s family, relationships with others, and old times. I want the landlady, teachers, and other characters like that to appear a bit more. If I made one chapter about them, it’d be a complete side story in small pieces. By doing so, I want to show more of the characters’ humanity.

So you want to try delving deeper into each character.

Ume: Things like the reason why the landlady became the owner of Hidamari Apartments at such a young age. But because it’s hard to insert jokes whenever there’s a spare moment, it’s difficult to draw a story like that if it’s not like 24 pages. And there’s Natsume-san, who only showed up for a bit at the sports festival. I want to write about the details that led her to embrace a rival attitude towards Sae, but that also seems like it might be difficult if it’s not a longer story. …What the heck should I do? (laugh)

How were the so-called “widefaces”, the characteristic deformed drawings, born?

Ume: Regarding the characters’ heads and bodies, the impression is very loose from the start. It’s an easy change to make. About the origin of the horizontal squash… I used to draw a lot of 4koma with horizontal panel layouts. But for characters’ dialogue within some of the panels, so I had to make sure that the faces could be placed in the middle of speech bubbles for the scenes I wanted to show. They’re hard to place in long, vertical panels. I couldn’t squash them anymore so I kept drawing freely without even thinking about it. (laugh)

Surely if it were a normal distortion, several faces couldn’t fit within a panel. They came about from a need like that, huh?

Ume: I guess there wasn’t a need to do it until this… but still, I think they’re more squashed than ever.


Now that was interesting, and certainly new information to anyone who isn’t Japanese.

– Ume has quite the past, doesn’t she? So I wonder, is Nazuna her high school self and is Nori Ume from college?

– Is it just me, or is this interviewer a little harsh? Continuously pressing Ume on what scares her most, jeez. His question about Hiro and Sae’s relationship also struck me as unusually bold.

– As we all know by now, the Natsume chapter she speaks of became reality. I wonder if that landlady story will ever see the light of day?

Next time, part 3: The Making of “Hidamari Sketch”

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