Let’s start this out with a stipulation for the record―I get it. I understand why there’s so much frustration with Togashi-sensei. As agonizing as one-week cliffhangers could be for fans of the Hunter X Hunter anime, imagine waiting weeks or months for new chapters in the “Chimera Ant” arc. And then, when those chapters finally arrive, to have them look like scribbles on a bar napkin, to be corrected only in the tankoubons many readers would never see. I get it.
For context, let’s just look at a few statistics for the series lovingly (not) referred to by some as “Hiatus X Hiatus”:
Number of hiatuses: 77
Longest hiatus: 79 issues
Longest publication streak: 30 issues
Total issues on hiatus: 517 (60% of total)
Yeah, I get it.
When a manga has been on hiatus for 10 years’ worth of issues, you know you’re talking about something pretty unique in an industry were few serializations run for more than a couple of years in total. It’s a testament to how great a writer Togashi is that anyone still cares – but then that, I would argue, is exactly the point.
When the end of Togashi’s most recent hiatus (the second-longest ever at 76 issues) was announced, one might think it would have been met with joy and relief―this incredible series was going to continue at long last. And there was a bit of that. But mostly, there was scorn. And sarcasm, and bile. In the Twitter age it literally only took seconds after the announcement that the series would return in Shounen Jump’s April 18 issue for the first “When is the next hiatus?” snark to start raining down. That was soon after followed by the flood of commentary questioning Togashi’s work ethic, integrity, and even manhood. Honestly, it made for some pretty depressing stuff.
Some irritation and skepticism is certainly warranted, given the history. It sucks to be a fan of a manga that’s offline the majority of the time. But I’ve been struck by how out of proportion all this hostility is, and how out of balance – there seems so little appreciation for what Togashi has accomplished, and so little joy that he’s going to give it yet another try. Why is that?
For me, it fundamentally comes down to this question: If it takes Togashi ten years to do what no other mangaka could do in ten lifetimes, shouldn’t we appreciate the fact that Hunter X Hunter exists at all rather than constantly bitch about how long it takes to arrive?
So what’s really going on here, then? The most obvious answer would be that anime and manga fans are simply an entitled group: they want what they want, and they want it yesterday. There’s no doubt some truth to that. And of course, it’s not as though we have any other test cases―there really aren’t any other beloved manga with 10 years of hiatuses and a 60% hiatus rate to compare fan reaction against. But it really does seem as if there’s something more going on here: something specific to Togashi.
Maybe a clue can be taken from the tenor of some of the commentary itself. A lot of it seems to be built around the idea of Togashi being too lazy to work―specifically, that he goes on hiatus so he can lie around the house (in his underwear, presumably) playing “Dragon Quest”. As far as I can tell, this seems to stem from Togashi saying in an interview in the 90’s that he was a fan of RPGs. On some level you might think this would endear him to fans who, after all, share the same interest in large numbers. But rather, the response seems to be resentment that Togashi has interests outside delivering the manga they want when they want it.
Are Togashi and Shounen Jump partly to blame for this? I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. Before the most recent run of hiatuses started in the 2013-14 period, there was never really any explanation of what was going on with Togashi. With his return in 2013, Togashi tacked on an author’s note apologizing for his absences, obliquely making reference to writing for as long as his “weak old body” could keep up. Later, when the hiatuses started to happen again, a specific cause was finally offered―serious back pain. And as someone who suffers from serious back issues, I can confirm that they can be totally debilitating.
Just how serious are Togashi-sensei’s back problems, and for how long have they been ailing him? We don’t know, because of course we haven’t been told, but it certainly makes more sense to believe that health problems are the issue here and not laziness or gaming addiction. As anyone who followed Bakuman could tell you, writing a weekly manga is a borderline insane vocation, a crushing workload even for a young man. Other mangaka have called it "crazy," yet people still do it. Togashi said as early as the Yuu☆Yuu☆Hakusho days that he didn’t like using assistants – that he saw the ideal of being a mangaka as writing the entire series himself. Remember, in Bakuman you had two kids in their teens writing a manga who split the labor and had a team of assistants―and one of them still ended up in the hospital due to exhaustion. What chance does a guy in his 40s with a bad back who does everything himself have?
There’s another factor which may be involved here. When Togashi ended YYH in a manner that was unsatisfying both to its fans and himself, he cited the above desire to do everything himself - and effectively said that if he’d continued, he would have destroyed himself. Specifically, he cited three reasons for stopping YYH:
Thoughts I had about what it means to draw manga.
Desire to do other things than work.”
It’s that third reason, I think, and the fact that Togashi was willing to admit it publicly, that started us down the antagonistic path we find ourselves on to this day.
Let’s face it: fans don’t want to hear that their favorite manga is delayed because the mangaka wants to have a life. It is, in Togashi’s own words, “out of the question for a professional mangaka”. He goes on to say that “Point 1 was caused by Point 3 not being fulfilled for too long.” Mangaka are, in effect, expected to work themselves to death for the benefit of their editors and readers. Togashi Yoshihiro is married with children, and his wife is Sailor Moon mangaka Takeuchi Naoko (you may know her as Biscuit Krueger). Not only does Togashi have many compelling reasons to do things besides draw manga, between he and Takeuchi-sensei, both wildly successful, they surely have enough money that neither needs to draw if they don’t want to. But that’s not what fans want to hear.
The bottom line for me is that the acrimony towards Togashi from fans is never going to go away―even if he published Hunter X Hunter for 100 weeks without a break (which I do not expect) we’d still get snark and hostility about the inevitable next hiatus. More than anything that makes me sad, because it seems to me as if fans who genuinely love Hunter X Hunter (which I would argue is the greatest shounen manga of all-time) are depriving themselves of the opportunity to enjoy new chapters when we do get them. That’s a shame, but what’s worse is that the hostile fans poison the environment for everyone else too.
As for Togashi-sensei, I fervently hope he’s able to finish Hunter X Hunter. Not just the potentially epic “Dark Continent” arc, but the unresolved schism between Gon and Killua. But I also hope he does it at whatever pace makes sense for his physical and mental health. We’re playing with house money at this point, because Hunter X Hunter could have ended after the "Chimera Ant" or "Election" arcs and still gone down as an unequaled masterpiece. If he were to take two weeks off every month, if he were to switch to a monthly syndication, whatever it takes would be OK in my book. For the moment, all I can do is what I wish every Togashi fan should do: savor the moment, because it may not last.