Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hagio's Interview "Hatachi — 20 Years Old"

In my earlier post I quoted a few paragraphs from an interview Hagio gave over 10 years ago, entitled "Hatachi." Hatachi means "20 years old," the age you reach legal adulthood in Japan.

This interview was included in a college project, "Hatachi," which is part of a course called Cyber University taught by a famous Japanese journalist/critic, Takashi Tachibana at the University of Tokyo. This project aims at collecting interviews with people talking about the time when they turned 20 years old. For Hagio, the year she turned 20 contained some pivotal events in her life.

Therefore I thought this interview may be of interest to many Hagio fans and decided to translate the whole document.

This interview with Moto Hagio was conducted on September 30, 1996, at Ikebukuro Metropolitan Hotel.



I was in Fukuoka at that time. I made my debut around the time I graduated from design school. A debut for a cartoonist means to have your work published in a magazine for the first time and get paid for it. I began submitting my work from the time I was in high school, and I got accepted at around my tenth submission. Since it had been a dream to become a cartoonist, I was so happy when I made my debut. I had lots of stories I wanted to draw. My parents had been against my career choice, but they seemed to give up after I started to get paid.

Pen Name

"Moto Hagio" is my real name. It sounded like a boy's name, so I was thinking of coming up with a pen name when I was making submissions, but I couldn't think of any. As for the origin of my name Moto, whenever I ask my father, he gives a different answer each time. For example, there was a virtuoso called Omoto-san among some Kyushu-based poets and I was named after him, or—do you know "Hamabe no Uta"? The lyric of the song goes: "Yuube Hamabe wo Moto Oreba" and that's where it came from—just like that, on a whim. And there is one [version] where it was "Mo" and "To" from Mozart[o], combined. My father played violin as a hobby, and my older sister is Sayo [little night] or serenade [jp.: night little music, ie: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik]. And my younger sister is Wakako [harmony song child], and my younger brother is named Genichiro [string first boy]. So I guess the 'Mozart' version may be the truth.


Reading manga was banned. My parents were education-obsessed papa and mama, and they would say, perhaps just as rhetoric, that you have to get a perfect score on every test, that you cannot read anything but textbooks…just like that. That's the generation, the most faithful to Diplomaism [Note 1] from the postwar era of spectacular economic growth. But I completely dropped out from the competitive society during middle school. I escaped into the world of manga.

[Note 1] a set of beliefs that getting the right diploma ensures happiness in life, and which places high stakes in getting into the top schools at any cost.

Ever since I was little I liked stories and pictures. Even in kindergarten I drew pictures at every available opportunity. After entering elementary school I frequented the library to read books. Greek mythology and collections of world masterpieces. SciFi series for children also started to become available. If my mother found out I was reading such materials, she would scold me, so [I read them] only at school, in secret. Formally, I needed to get permission—"May I read this?"—from my mother. On Sundays the teacher librarian gave me the key. I kept reading there. Not that I didn't play outside, but isn't it not unusual to keep thinking about the book you didn't finish on Saturday?

I grew up in a coal mining town called Oomuta City. The aftermath of the Miike Coalminers' Struggle was still felt and I remember the tense atmosphere that enveloped the whole town. Trucks ran around full of men shouting their respective slogans and skirmishes broke out from time to time. But in the world of storytelling, no matter how much violence erupts there is always a proper resolution at the end. It is a complete and balanced world that gave me peace of mind. In many of my works, I also try to achieve an ending where you have salvation or healing. Of course that's not all I do, but I prefer stories with a clean resolution.

Manga Upbringing

Among my father's distant relatives was a bookstore owner. Whenever I visited he/she would let me read whatever I wanted. I always read manga there. Back then, there were only seven or so female cartoonists. Miyako Maki, Masako Watanabe, Hideko Mizuno, Yoko Imamura, Setsuko Akamatsu, and Toshiko Ueda. Who else? Anyhow, there weren't many, so Osamu Tezuka, Shotaro Ishimori (now Ishinomori), Fujio Akatsuka, and many other male cartoonists drew shojo manga.

The cartoonists I liked were Osamu Tezuka, Hideko Mizuno, Mitsuteru Yokoyama, Fujio Akatsuka, Masako Watanabe, Miyako Maki, perhaps. When I was in elementary school, I was just following examples and copying the pictures. I tried to copy the faces from various angles. Facing right, facing left, facing front, and back, and so forth. As for the way you draw eyes, Masako Watanabe would do this, or Miyako Maki would do that—I was like such an Otaku, wasn't I?

As I read lots of volumes, it gradually dawned on me—"Aha, I see how you draw manga"—a kind of pattern. I wanted to draw manga purely because I got so much pleasure out of reading them, not because I was unsatisfied with what I was reading, or in some spirit of critical response. For example after I read a beautiful manga about ballet, then I go, "Ah, I want to draw something, a story of pretty girls dancing." My motivation is very simple.

Prior to My Debut

In the middle school I had a friend who drew manga. It was she who taught me how to get the manga you draw placed in books so that other people can see them. Back then there was something called "Red Book"—not even a magazine, but some sort of simple publication that rental bookstores offered. Such publications accepted submissions from newcomers. That was when I learned that all cartoonists started out by submitting their work for publication. She told me that first of all, you must not draw on the both sides of the single sheet of paper. I didn't even know that. I didn't know to use a ruler to draw the frame border lines.

In the meantime, sixteen-year old Machiko Satonaka had debuted in Weekly [Shojo] Friend. Oh, wow, someone totally unknown could publish in a magazine just by submitting good pieces—and it finally became real to me.
By the time I was in high school I knew all the basics and started submitting work. Still, it was in the same spirit of participating in our school festival—my friends and I would show and discuss our work with each other, jabbering away in excitement.

It all changed at the end of my junior year. Tezuka Osamu's work called "Shinsengumi" came out as tankobon. When I was still in the lower grades in elementary school I had read the first half of it. I was anxious to know how it continued, so I brought my otoshidama [Note 2] to buy it. And I was completely knocked out.

[Note 2] a gift of spending money Japanese children receive from parents and relatives around the New Year's holiday. It can accumulate into a generous amount but parents generally force children to save it.

It was one of those stories Tezuka sometimes did about young men torn between the old world and the new world. Another example would be "Hidamari no Ki." Anyhow it was awesome. My state of shock lasted about a week. It was then that I really wanted to become a professional cartoonist.

We had often talked among friends about how tough it was to become a pro. It was just around the time Shotaro Ishinomori's "How to Become a Cartoonist" and "How to Become a Cartoonist Part II" came out. They depicted in a realistic way how much hardship he and his friends endured to pursue life as cartoonists. When he bought a daikon [large Japanese radish], for example, he would live on it for a week. The concept of willpower is completely alien to me, so I was vaguely thinking I couldn't endure a daikon a week. But after reading "Shinsengumi" I started thinking perhaps I could manage a daikon a week. But I don't like daikon, so I thought I would go with a potato a week instead.

From that point I began real serious efforts toward making my debut. I submitted about ten times but in the end it wasn't any of these submissions that I made my debut on after all. Just for once I wanted to see the editorial department of a manga magazine, and so I was introduced to Kodansha through the connection of a local cartoonist called Makiko Hirata. At that time I had an opportunity to have an editor take a look at my manuscripts. Then I was told, "Please write something short; I will take a look again." I was asked how soon I could send them one, and so I replied, thinking that I had better get it to them before they had a chance to forget, "I will send something in two weeks." Then I drew 20 or 24 pages and sent it in. That became my debut piece.

Period of Rejections

I made my debut in "Nakayoshi," and I was told the main readers of "Nakayoshi" were third graders. So I had to develop stories children at that age could understand. However, it was very difficult to create stories for the lower grades. First, the scope of kanji and words you could use was narrow. So I reread "Astro Boy" to study the dialogs for my reference. I learned its dialogs were really easy to understand. Yet they conveyed a very sophisticated content.

There was a story called "Episode of an Electronically Transferred Man". It was about a machine that could break down humans into atoms and transmit them like a human fax, which was called an "Electronic Transfer Machine." There was an accident during its experimental use and a man couldn't rematerialize himself and so wandered like a shadow-like ghost. That ghost caused trouble and Astro Boy came to deal with him. But the ghost sent morse signals to Astro Boy and explained his side of the story. Such a complex SciFi-like plot was conveyed in very simple dialogs. I was really impressed.

Now that I was about to debut, an editor was assigned to me. This time, instead of sending a finished manuscript, the editor would check on it at the plot, or synopsis, stage. Then you sent what we call a storyboard [jp ネーム], which is a very simple pencil sketch of the actual layout. If that got approved, then you could turn it into a finished manuscript. However, in most cases I got rejected at the plot stage. Even if I passed the plot stage, then my storyboard got rejected. About eight stories were rejected like that, and even I started to get distressed—perhaps I wasn't suited to this job.

Even though I was drawing what was interesting to me, I got instructions like "This is too difficult for children," or "This kind of subject wouldn't be popular." Or "How about sports-themed stories, because they are popular now." If I had liked sports-themed stuff, I would be able to draw it well, but somehow I couldn't. I seriously wondered why SciFi wasn't popular. If it was SciFi, I could draw it. This period lasted for about two years.

I was just a new face and pretty unknown to readers. I was thinking that perhaps I should follow the editor's advice and pursue popular themes until I established myself, and then I could start doing the stuff I actually liked. But I just couldn't draw what I didn't want to. On the other hand, I guess those people who draw popular stuff, saying, "This genre sells well now," do it because all in all, they actually like the genre. And it didn't look like I could fit in.

After much agony, I reached the conclusion that there was no point if I couldn't draw what I liked, since I wanted to become a cartoonist ultimately because I loved manga. So if it didn't work out after I gave it a try, I just had to give up.

Moving to Tokyo

With my publisher located in Tokyo and all, I ultimately wanted to move to Tokyo as soon as possible, but my parents wouldn't let me go. Around that time, I was asked to work as an assistant and that led to meeting Keiko Takemiya, a cartoonist. She had already moved from Tokushima to Tokyo. So when I mentioned how I also wanted to move to Tokyo but was prevented by my parent's opposition, she proposed to live together. An acquaintance found us a house—it was more like a tenement house with three adjoining units. And finally I was able to move to Tokyo. It was around October of the year I became 20 years old.

The house was in Oizumi Gakuen. We lived there together for two years. During this time I was very fortunate to get acquainted with many people, such as Ryoko Yamagishi, Mineko Yamada, and Nanae Sasaya (now Nanaeko). Since I had not had many manga friends before, I was so happy to talk about manga from morning to evening. I could also draw pictures without worrying about my parent's disapproving eyes.

Road to "Tooma no Shinzou"

One of the friends I made during the Oizumi Gakuen era was an avaricious book junkie, and she recommended a lot of books, like "Demian" by Hermann Hesse. As for Hesse, I had read "Beneath the Wheel" but its dark ending kept me away from other titles of his. But "Demian" was so good that I ended up reading all his stuff after all.

That person really liked the world of shonen-ai [Note 3]. She recommended those, too, even what one might call "porn", but I didn't like any of those. I would say "What's so great about this?" when I returned the book after reading it. In the meantime, Takemiya-san was also reading those stuff alongside me but it was she who got hooked. Later, Takemiya-san invited me to a movie. It was released as "This Special Friendship" [Japanese Title: "Kanashimi no Tenshi"] back then, but it is now available as a video called "Kishukusha."

[Note 3] I believe she was talking about Norie Masuyama, collaborator on "Kaze to Ki no Uta" by Keiko Takemiya.

The hero is a thirteen year old boy, and the story is about the upperclassman who loves him. It was such a beautiful movie—romance developing in a school. But at the end the hero commits suicide due to misunderstanding that he was betrayed. I didn't like such an unreasonable story without salvation and felt really sorry for the hero—it was too much to let him die like this…thinking he was betrayed. Then, I thought of drawing a story in which the hero dies but he gets something out of it in the end. That's how I got the original idea for "Tooma no Shinzou". When it came to that movie, perhaps I had some critical judgment.

From Closed Space to a Boys' World

I like closed space. That's why I depicted stories with such settings as dramas set within spaceships, or stories about the people who moved to another planet—no wonder I wouldn't be popular with readers. This is how closed space turned into a boys' world:

First of all, "Tooma no Shinzou" was a private work I began in objection to "This Special Friendship" and I had no prospect for publication. Back then I had many pieces like that just for fun. Since I was doing them for fun, I didn't get to finish them of course. But in "Tooma no Shinzou", the characters came to life pretty well as I drew. So I couldn't possibly publish this story, but I wanted to try a short story based on the same settings, and I published "The November Gymnasium."

Since the intended publication was a girls' magazine, I thought perhaps it was not a good idea to have a male protagonist, and I developed two plots, with all-girls' and all-boys' versions. Then in the all-girls' version the relationship got wet and sticky for some reason. I was wondering why the all-boys' version did better, and then I realized this:

After you get to a certain age, the male-female gender roles in society have been internalized in your psyche, and you cannot be free from them. Especially so for my generation. But when I draw all-boys' stories, I am not bound by those constraints. It came as a big surprise to me as I drew. That's what interested me in drawing a boys' world.

Regarding the Current Work, "A Cruel God Reigns"

Lately I am interested in the duality of love and violence. There is a Polish-Jewish philosopher called Alfred Lévinas [Note 4], and he was a Holocaust survivor. He argues, in sum, "The world itself is already collapsed and only thing that can call back the world is love. " He uses more complex words, but that's what I can say within the scope of the words I can comprehend. And he also says, "We are accountable for others." We owe it to the people we know as well as those we don't know. What I do here now can affect someone somewhere, and I am responsible for that. If you think of it that way, we would need God-like wisdom, wouldn't we? So when the interviewer who was listening to Lévinas asked, "Isn't it really tough to love everyone equally? Isn't it natural that we can love certain people a lot but no so much for some?", Lévinas answered, "Yes, there is an order of preference in love, and that's where violence exists." Isn't this brilliant? I think "All we need is love" is just a dream. That's the kind of things I have been thinking and that's the current [work] "A Cruel God Reigns."

[Note 4] Hagio mistook the name. His real name is Emmanuel Lévinas and she read a Japanese translation of "Emmanuel Lévinas: Qui êtes-vous?" by François Poirier (reference).

The Present and "20-year Old"

When I compare my present self to my 20 year-old self, I was bolder at 20 because of limited experience and knowledge. I had unwavering faith in what I believed in. After 20, you as a life form go down the path of aging and become more inclined to self protection.

For example, if I try to depict a pure character, there is a difference between pureness when you are 20 and when you are 30. In terms of empathy, it is much easier to empathize with a pure character when you are 20. When you are 30, you feel like it's phony. Like, "You can say things like that because you have overlooked this and that." Therefore, there are types of works you can produce because you are in your 20's, and there are characters you can depict because you are in the 30's. Come to think of it, you shouldn't put off doing your stories until you get older, really. You have to do your stories at each stage of your life, braving embarrassment as you go. Past 30, you cannot do "Tooma no Shinzou". Even now, I am too embarrassed to re-read it.

Message to Current "20-Year Olds"

What I realized once I started working was that the most important thing is human relationships. I have seen a number of cases of people who came out of top-rated universities and got jobs at publishers at the first shot but then totally floundered after that. If you are not good at building relationships, you drop out of the fast lane, and get isolated. What's most critical as an adult is to be trusted by others. How you empathize, how you can get along, how you keep your promises—your human networks grow relative to the degree of such sincerity.

Anyhow, there is nothing I would call a "message." I think it is best if you just find what you like to do, and do what you like. If you try what you like and it doesn't work out, then there is no regret. But when the world of adults enters into it and starts saying this is good, this is better, you end up getting confused. But confusion is good, too. There is nothing that goes to waste in life.

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