Moyoco Anno was one of the special guests at New York Comic Con, and MTV Geek was fortunate to get a few minutes to sit down and talk to her about her characters, her readers, and her sources of inspiration.
Only a handful of Anno’s works have been published in English, but each one is a standout: The romantic comedy “Happy Mania”; “Flowers and Bees,” the story of a man who goes to ridiculous lengths in his pursuit of beauty; “Sugar Sugar Rune,” a children’s manga about two young witches in search of magic jewels; and “Sakuran,” a stunning story of life in an Edo-era brothel (and the source for the movie of the same name). Her Hataraki Man, the story of a workaholic woman, has also made waves in Japan because of its biting commentary on Japanese work life.
MTV Geek: Which of your works do you wish your fans were more familiar with?
Moyoco Anno: There are several. There is a child’s manga called “Tundra Blue Ice,” it’s a story of two children who are living together, and it’s almost like a children’s book. It’s told in pictures. And there’s another one called “Ochibi-san.”
MTV Geek: That one is going on now [in Japan]?
Moyoco Anno: Yes.
MTV Geek: When I was reading “Sugar Sugar Rune,” I felt like it read almost like folk tales. That made me wonder what sort of stories you grew up reading—folk stories, manga, something else?
Moyoco Anno: As a child I really liked fairy tales—and I really liked those books, I think they were British, “The Green Book of Fairy Tales” and “The Blue Book of Fairy Tales.” I also read a lot of things with magicians and fantastical things.
MTV Geek: The English editions of those Green and Blue Fairy Tale books had beautiful pictures. Did your books have those pictures?
Moyoco Anno: No, not mine. In the Japanese ones, the pictures were pretty sad and when I saw the original versions as an adult, I thought, “Oh, the pictures were so beautiful!” I love children’s books with Arthur Rackham’s drawings like “Alice in Wonderland.” I actually sought them out.
MTV Geek: In your adult manga, you have very strong characters, especially very strong women. Which of your characters reflects your own personality or your own experiences?
Moyoco Anno: I guess they all in a way maybe reflect my personality and experience, but the closest to me is Komatsu-kun from “Flowers and Bees.”
MTV Geek: You write about fashion, and you are often critical of fashion in your manga. How do you manage to live in both worlds?
Moyoco Anno: Actually, for fashion, even when I write the fashion articles, I believe and I express that to be too trapped by fashion is not fashionable. In comics I don’t actually focus so much on fashion for fashion’s sake but what I am trying to do is to express character accurately. I look at something like the length of a blouse, the length of a pair of pants, and I think, what would this character wear? But I do look at fashion because I draw a range of characters ranging from the very fashionable to the not fashionable at all, and to draw the characters that are fashionable I do have to understand fashion, things like brand names.
MTV Geek: Have you ever heard from a reader that a story of yours touched her (or him) in a particular way?
Moyoco Anno: I received a surprising number of letters and emails from people about “Hataraki Man.” There are people, men and women, who said “I am working in a similar situation, I face this kind of situation all the time, and reading your comic really gave me energy, it really encouraged me.” And I have also gotten letters from people who were working desperately hard, and trying, and actually letters from people who said, “I am writing to you from the hospital because I worked and worked and worked and it just did me in.”
And that letter, the one that said “I am writing from the hospital,” that became part of one of the stories in “Hataraki Man.”
When I wrote “Happy Mania,”> I was writing the character as a cautionary tale, as an example of someone you should not be like, and I got lots of letters saying “Yay, she’s just like me!” or “I’m exactly like Kayoko Shigeta.” My message did not get through, and I was quite disappointed.
MTV Geek: Why did you decide to write “Sugar Sugar Rune”? Why did you think it would be interesting to write a manga for children?
Moyoco Anno: I wrote “Sugar Sugar Rune” for “Nakayoshi,” which is a comics magazine for girls from six to about 12. I noticed that comics for this age group now are almost all romantic. When I was that age, I read a lot of manga, there were different types of manga, and I was very inspired. It led me to want to become a manga artist. It really made me think of so many things, it was so aspirational, in ways. I didn’t really see comics that were like that any more, and I thought, “I would really like to write something that gives people that same feeling I had as a child.” All the other series I am writing were series that magazines approached me and asked me to write for them, but this one, I went up to them and said “I really want to write a children’s comic.”
Also, with “Nakayoshi” they are all stories for children, but I noticed that at the time all the artists were kind of childish people writing for children. I think there wasn’t a lot of thought behind some of the work and so they would draw or write sexual things in a way that I didn’t think was really appropriate for the story or that audience. I have sex in my works for adult people, that is fine but I wanted to write as an adult for children without having any of that at all.
It had been a while since I read “Nakayoshi,” and I picked up an issue and I was stunned.
MTV Geek: And now I want to ask the same question about a very different book, “Sakuran.” Again, why were you interested in a historical manga?
Moyoco Anno: To a certain extent I was writing series and I was tailoring them to that magazine, so for “Morning” [Magazine], OK, [I will write about] working people. But I came to a point where I thought OK, I am going to write something I really want to write. I am interested in kimono, I don’t necessarily know a ton, but I like the Edo period, and I knew it would involve research. And also I felt that the lives of women had as prostitutes during the Edo period and my life as a manga artist had certain parallels.
MTV Geek: How so?
Moyoco Anno: Magazines that do comics serials, there is fierce competition [among artists] to get in them, but the flip side is that the sales of these magazines really depends on the big stars, and that is a parallel to the teahouse system in the Edo period.