Mariko Hihara and Kotoyo Noguchi discuss how they're creating what they want in an age where attention can be hard to get.
(Starting back in September, I got the opportunity to interview two manga creators living in Japan, Mariko Hihara and Kotoyo Noguchi. Both happen to be indie creators creating works in Japan, and making the works they like to make available around the world.
Please note that this was intended to be an article finished in 2016, so some information will be slightly outdated. That said, this should be mostly informative and relevant even now. Anyways, here’s the life of two creators creating content for many people’s convenience!
Some of the interview has been edited for clarity.)
Thanks to the internet, talented creators of any age have the opportunity to showcase their works to millions of people around the world. From showcasing what they’re passionate about to connecting with fans from Yamaguchi to as far as Brooklyn, New York, the possibilities range from barely possible to endless depending on the circumstances and goals.
There are many ways to consume manga around the world. Of course in Japan, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or bi-monthly manga magazines from a variety of publishers is where you can make your claim to fame. Not all of course turn out to be the next Naruto, Sailor Moon, etc, but can become a regular staple slightly below that and still be considered successful.
None of the mainstream titles are appealing? That’s where doujinshi comes in. While especially known to be hentai, an assortment of titles for a number of readers and age groups are created by professionals and amateurs. Whether it’s based off a video game or an original work, many in Japan read doujinshi, and that culminates in Comic Market, A.K.A Comiket, twice a year in Tokyo.
How about the rest of the world? Well, pertaining to the U.S, now there are exclusive imprints and publishers of manga in most places that were never around back in the 80s or 90s. Sure, Dark Horse and Viz were there, but now we have companies that publish manga dedicated to boys love like SuBLime, and Shojo Beat, which caters to the younger female audience. Digital spaces such as ComiXology, and even a specific focus (Balloons & Chapters) exist, and give us a way to read without having to have a physical book in our hands.
However, these resources reveal that yes, this is a lot to consume. With all of these different ways to attract our attention, we unfortunately can’t deal with all of it — we have to compartmentalize and only catch up with what intrigues us. If it was difficult to get people’s attention back in 1997, it’s just as hard to do today. And as something new pops up out of nowhere, it will only continue to be more challenging.
So for every creator they have to find a way to get a core audience that’s interested in reading their creations. And then make sure they’ll have their attention for a long time.
Mariko Hihara grew up in Tokyo, which most know is the mecca of Japanese pop culture, and essentially a dream trip to go on for those who like anime and manga. Like a number of people growing up there, it was easy to get influenced by the medium.
“My elder sister had been reading monthly manga magazines,” explained Mariko as she talked about how she discovered manga. While she did read manga while growing up in her preschool days, it wasn’t until she was introduced to Shotaro Ishinomori’s Introduction to Manga that inspired her to draw it.
She instead decided that she wanted to practice medicine growing up, and became a physician — just like someone whose works she was influenced by, Osamu Tezuka.
Mariko did try and get into a magazine. It didn’t work out. “I could not make big sales.” That’s when the option of self-publishing on Amazon became an option, and has since teamed up with artists on a number of BL titles such as Passion Under The Full Moon and Longing For Spring with Yuki Amane and Roppongi Night Clinic with Ryo Sakura.
Over email I chatted with her about her writing, how she sees the manga industry in Japan, and more.
TheOASG: Most of your works are BL/yaoi. What first attracted you to it?
Mariko Hihara: Many years ago I watched the TV series “Furikaereba Yatsu Ga Iru (Whenever I Turned Around, There He Was Right Behind)”. Two young surgeons had been in conflict with each other over medical methods and dogma, but gradually they got to recognize each other as good doctors. There were many slash stories of the series.
What actually makes a good BL title?
I think the answer would be different depending on your country or culture. In Japan, we tend to like love stories with bittersweet feelings.
Can you share the process you go through when working on a title, specifically for BL?
When I work on BL titles, I always closely concentrate on the process of characters overcoming hurdles for love in a way that will strike a chord with my readers.
Gay culture has come a long way through Japanese history. In ancient times, there were a variety of male-male relationships: shu-do, kagema-chaya, etc. So BL writers are not accused of describing love which goes against traditional values in Japan.
However, in my opinion, heterosexual men sometimes feel that the male characters in BL have been castrated, and for that reason some of them might feel threatened by female BL writers.
As a result, male writers in the doujin community can’t help treating female BL writers as though they reside in the lower levels of a manga artist hierarchy. Some even view BL titles as nothing but porn stories exclusively for female readers.
I’m not bothered by these narrow-sighted attitudes towards BL. I simply shrug off the opinions which are mostly based on prejudice.
What got you interested in writing? How do you approach working on a novel compared to writing a script for manga?
When I create a novel I prefer to describe the psychology of the characters. When it comes to manga, I emphasize the visuals and the ways characters move.
What was the most interesting moment you had as a physician? The weirdest moment? How has being a physician helped you in creating stories?
I’m immensely relieved at the moment when my patients fully recover.
As a physician, I meet various types of people from many different backgrounds and watch them closely. This helps a lot when creating stories.
How do you see the manga industry in Japan?
People might think some of the big publishers: Kodansha, Shogakukan, Shueisha and Kadokawa, a.k.a. the Big Four, are the main players among manga industry sectors here in Japan, but I think manga fans and dōjin manga-ka, who distribute their work through Comic Markets, are a much more crucial part of the industry.
What’s been the biggest challenges of working on manga?
Making doujinshi and getting involved in Comic Market.
What else interests you? Like do you enjoy going on a trip, playing video games, etc? If so what’s your funniest or great story?
I love reading books, especially S.F and fantasy novels by C.S.Lewis, E.T.A Hoffmann, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, etc.
What places in Japan have been great to go over the years and why? Any frequent places you go to?
Akihabara, [which is the] mecca for geeks. I go to Akihabara twice a week.
What would you say to someone who’s on the fence about trying to create manga, or any story, really?
Just do it!
Kotoyo grew up in Tokyo, but also lived in Yamaguchi and Hiroshima as her father relocated between local branch offices, so moving was something she had to do.
That didn’t stop her from drawing what she liked and was influenced by. “I didn’t even fully understand my own reasons for drawing, let alone whether I could, or whether I wanted to draw. If there was something I liked, I went ahead and did it.”
When she was seventeen she joined her high school’s Manga Club and began drawing manga. She then eventually ended up drawing about cats. Life With Mii presents Kotoyo’s experiences with a cat, from when they’re sick to how they affect people. While there are always some, uh, moments (“Excreta is very smelly,” she recalled as I asked how great cats were around her), just sharing her experiences with her cat was what she wanted, and it ended up not just being the #1 ranking title on Amazon Japan’s Kindle — it’s a pretty significant breakthrough for indie artists.
“These rankings are not normal,” she mentioned over email. “It wouldn’t have been possible without Amazon’s Kindle model.” And in the conversation below, she gets more into what influenced her, and some of the challenges of working on manga.
TheOASG: What’s your general process when it comes to working on a manga?
Kotoyo Noguchi: I decide the story I want to write. If there is something I need [to know], I will investigate. After that, I just draw.
What was the biggest influence to you while growing up?
I think that being born and raised in Japan is the biggest thing.
What’s been the biggest challenges of working on manga?
Making a work that captures the hearts of people.
Serials by paper magazines have made the Japanese manga industry grow for a long time. The manuscript is basically paid to those who serialized the magazines. The sales of magazines [however] has declined steadily, and its business model is [more unstable today].
With the development of digital equipment, our lives are entering a turning point. Some will be destroyed by change, others will be newly born. The industry is still very strong, but making manga is a very difficult task. I want more places where many artists can earn income.
What manga are you reading right now?
I’m enjoying manga on my Twitter timeline; I can see both professionals and amateurs there. As for commercial manga, Dungeon Meshi and Sabishi Sugite Rezu Fuuzuko Ni Ikimashita Repo (My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness) are popular and I think they both represent Japan’s current state. Dungeon Meshi brings video games into everyday life, while Sabishi Sugite gives a view into Japanese family and social issues.
It is good to draw manga until the end of one episode. Technique is also important, I think that it is very important to try to breathe good air into your heart. Then, I think that creation will work well.
How do you think streaming has affected most media (so anime, tv, films, etc)?
More opportunities to see works I do not know have increased. I think that my favorite thing has increased very much. On the other hand, I can only see what I like, as time to see works that are not interesting or to watch existing TV show is decreasing rapidly.
What else interests you? Like do you enjoy going on a trip, playing video games, etc?
I like gardening, and have a water lily with killifish. I read novels, watch movies and play video games; I’m particularly fond of games. There are many Japanese titles on the way this year such as Final Fantasy, Persona and The Last Guardian. I’m looking forward to them.