by Melinda Beasi
[Editor's note: when it was announced that manga-ka Moyoco Anno was going to be appearing at October's New York Comic Con I was stunned and thrilled. Stunned because Anno-sensei was probably the most prominent josei (adult women) manga artist to ever come to the the US. Thrilled because I have long admired her fearless work—while keenly aware of the battle of the sexes, and the difference in sexual roles in Japanese society, she doesn't stint on giving women part of the blame for their own situations. Combined with her intricate design skills and distinctive character designs—eyes so wide her heroines seem to be in a perpetual state of shock, like dazed club goers hitting the streets at dawn—she's one of the most important creators in the josei field. While a lot of her work—Sugar Sugar Rune, the devastating Happy Mania—is out of print, and her best known, Hataraki Man, about a women who disguises herself as a man, has never been translated, Vertical published her period piece Sakuran last year. It's the story of a resourceful Edo-period courtesan, fitting firmly in the realm of novels of women who have to negotiate the realities of sex work to find their own happiness in life.
When I was scheduled to interview Anno-sensei at the show, I was thrilled—I'd never dreamed I'd get to meet her. Sadly, I was unable to do the interview due to a family emergency. but luckily, Manga Bookshelf's wonderful Melinda Beasi was able to take up my interview slot and conduct this following talk. The delay is posting it is entirely my own fault, but luckily, Moyoco Anno is currently the topic of a Manga Moveable Feast. For more on Anno hit that link, and here's Beasi's interview from October 2012. -- H.M.]
Manga creator Moyoco Anno is best known in North America for her smart commentary on affairs of the heart, both in adult romantic comedies like Happy Mania (Tokyopop) and Flowers and Bees (Viz Media) and the shoujo fantasy epic Sugar, Sugar Rune (Del Rey Manga). Her most recent release in the U.S., Sakuran (Vertical, Inc.), explores the life of a courtesan in Edo-era Japan who was sold to a brothel as a young child. We sat down with her at New York Comic Con to discuss her work and her take on comics for women.
Beasi: I was at your panel this morning, and you mentioned then that you realized at ten that you wanted to be a manga artist. Was there anything about the reality of actually achieving that dream that differed significantly from the dream itself–what you thought it would be?
Moyoco Anno: It’s a harder job than I thought.
Beasi: Harder in what way?
Moyoco Anno: First it takes you so much time. You need to work for so many hours. It’s pretty hard. It’s arduous, because you have to write the story first–that’s one process, and then there’s another process where you have to draw it.
Beasi: As a female reader, I’m always most drawn to stories with interesting female characters. One of the things I find so striking about your work, is that you’re incredibly honest about both the strengths and weaknesses of your female characters and what they must do to survive in the world. Is this kind of honesty important to you as a writer? Do you find it difficult to achieve?
Moyoco Anno: Yes, very much. I always try to be very aware of my feelings, and I don’t want to live in a way where I think, well, this is how I should be outwardly, and therefore I’ll just go along with that and that’s what I’m going to do. As much as possible I like to avoid that way of living. But of course sometimes it doesn’t work out, and I get trapped into y’know what I should do, and I go along with that sometimes. And if that happens then I always ask myself, “Why? Why did I do that?” But that doesn’t make life very easy.
Moyoco Anno: Oh, that’s hard! There are several male characters I’ve grown to like, like Seiji who is in Sakuran and–I’ve forgotten his name for a second–in Hataraki Man, the main character’s boyfriend.
Beasi: Is there a female character you like best, or is that too difficult?
Moyoco Anno: I don’t really like women that much!
Beasi: Is there any artist or storyteller who has particularly influenced the way that you write?
Moyoco Anno: There are so many. I’ve loved Osamu Tezuka, though, since I was a child.
Beasi: So much of your work examines the attraction between men and women, taking apart both its real mysteries and its potential for manipulation by either party. Is this something that particularly fascinates you, and if so, why do you think that is?
Moyoco Anno: It’s the theme I’m most interested in also in life. I’m always thinking, “Okay, how can I trick this guy?”
Beasi: One of the things I enjoyed most about Sakuran is the way it reads–as a series of snapshots into one woman’s life, rather than as a continuous storyline. What made you decide to tell her story in this way?
Moyoco Anno: It just came to me. After I wrote the first story, I thought unless I show what she was like as a child, I can’t explain the character fully, and I thought I should go back to the past.
Beasi: I’m thinking, too, of the way you begin the story at the end. What was your thought process around that?
Moyoco Anno: I’m not sure, I just extended the story that came to me first, and I wrote that.
Beasi: As a creator, what would you most like to see more of in comics for women?
Moyoco Anno: So when you look at comics for women, you start with comics for children, they have shoujo for young girls, and then for women in their thirties, but there really aren’t that many manga artists who are creating manga for older women. And part of that is because a lot of times if you’re in your thirties and you draw manga, you write for someone in their twenties. Most tend to write younger than their age. And also people want to stay young forever, which is a natural thing. So I think what I’d really like to see is comic books for women who are older–forty, fifty, or sixty–I don’t think that means you can’t write about romance anymore. You can still write about that theme, but I would love to see people writing for an older female audience–continue to write things like romance, but in a realistic way. That would be nice to see.