Original article published December 14, 2012.
Translation by shark0week0.
YK&MC, a series that’s about real high school life
Ms. Yoshikawa, you’ve only ever appeared in Weekly Shonen Magazine (Kodansha) and your comic book volumes, so this is your first interview, yes? Your previous work, Yankee-kun and Megane-chan (YK&MC), has a lot of very dedicated fans, I’m sure, so how about we talk about that before discussing Yamada and the Seven Witches?
YK&MC was my first serialization, so it was quite shocking and really a learning experience. I had no idea what I was getting into, drawing twenty pages every week. It was like, if a soldier who’s never left his hometown was suddenly supposed to fight in this “battlefield” called a published magazine, surrounded by crazy commanders. “Somebody, help!” you know? I was run very ragged then…
Can you give us a specific example of what was difficult about it?
Well, it was hard physically, of course, but it really got bad where the rough drafts were concerned. I took the style from the first chapter and continued with it, so I really burned through the jokes. I would meet with my editor for about five hours every day, and redo a draft as many as eight times in a week.
And you kept serialized for four years and seven months, amounting to twenty-three volumes. Did you think you would go so far?
I was so busy in the beginning that I couldn’t really consider it, but YK&MC ran almost parallel to the real world in terms of the school year. Things like summer vacation and Valentine’s Day were published at nearly the same time, and so I started thinking, “Maybe this can run until the kids graduate from high school.”
Interesting. But though you drew three years of high school, it actually took a year and seven months longer than that. When the television show aired in 2010, did the editorial department ask you to extend the series’s length?
Not really, there were just some extended arcs, like the sports festival and college prep, which caused the series to go out of sync with the real world. In truth I wanted to end it cleanly in March, when most schools have their graduation ceremonies, but the last chapter ended up published in May, so the last two chapters show Shinagawa and the gang after graduating high school, sort of like bonus episodes.
Hana’s secrets ended up staying under wraps. Were there complaints about that?
Ah, that. I thought long and hard about it, but revealing Hana’s secrets would have lowered her appeal, I believed. Not only that, but if Shinagawa focused on that, it would have limited his high school experience. I felt it was too early for the cast to be doing things more appropriate for adults, and not what I wanted to focus on. I know it was selfish of me, but I hope there are those out there who will understand.
So YK&MC was a HIGH SCHOOL story, is that what you want to say?
Pretty much. Delving into Hana’s secrets would have made it not about school.
You did write a background for her, though, didn’t you?
(Laughs) Readers have postulated many ideas, like maybe her parents are crime lords, but there’s no telling so the ideas get pretty crazy. Someone once said they were stuck in some magical world.
Aha ha ha! Let’s just say it’s possible, huh? (Laughs) I just wanted her to remain mysterious. It was a big draw for her character, and perpetuates the idea that women are incomprehendable.
So you wanted your readers to see this as a story from Shinagawa’s point of view?
Yes. It was a series that was about real high school life.
I had no idea bodyswapping was a popular genre
So YK&MC ended in May of 2011, and after some prep you started Yamada and the Seven Witches in February of 2012. YK&MC was a hit, so was there any pressure because of that?
Yes, there was. No matter where I went, people kept asking me what I was doing next. (Laughs) After YK&MC ended, when I finally got around to meeting with my editor, he told me since my new series had been planned to start the next year, why not write a one-shot for Bessatsu Shonen Magazine (Kadokawa). So, I wrote two stories: a prototype to Yamada, and The Demon’s Classroom, where the main character was a grade school student. The latter was chosen.
By your editors, yes?
Yup. The main character in The Demon’s Classroom was a grade school girl, so it would have been difficult to run in WSM, and it was either run it in the other magazine or keep it in storage. The prototype for Yamada was pretty much the same as what became the first chapter, but that became the series I would serialize. You see, I had wanted to write a bodyswapping story since my days of doing YK&MC.
Really? Where did you get that idea from?
It just kind of came to me, but I was wondering how a guy finding himself in a girl’s body would react, and the reverse. I also thought that it would be really easy to draw the characters. I love putting them in motion, so I knew I could make it great. Back when I was doing YK&MC, I poked my nose in a few medical books and such, researching the differences between men and women mentally and physically.
How many books did you read?
Not much, maybe ten. Bodyswapping is a pretty unscientific phenomenon, and so nothing really professional was done on it, but I did read books and then put that into my drawings. Or rather, in order to make things funny, I ignored much of what I read. (Laughs)
Bodyswapping (gender bending) is a very large, popular genre. Were you aware of that?
It is? Like as popular as the Japanese Warring States is as a genre?
Pretty much. At the same time Yamada started, Manga Action(Futabasha) started publishing I’m inside Mari by Shuzo Oshimi.
I had no idea. I swear, I just did it because I liked the idea.
Have you not read any other works with bodyswapping since starting serialization?
No, I haven’t. I don’t have the time, and I’ve never really read many comics. I usually end up playing video games instead.
No one hassled the teacher!
So, what was your schooling like? The protagonists of both Yamada and YK&MC are delinquents – were you possibly…?
No! Don’t worry. (Laughs) I just grew up in a lower end of Tokyo, so I wasn’t exposed to nicer things very often. So the characters that come easily to me are very often delinquents.
You had a lot of friends who were delinquents?
Yeah, they pretty much fit that bill. It was pretty common for a friend’s father to be a crime boss. After I started going to high school in another area, I was constantly surprised that people actually talked about graduating, and that they didn’t hassle the teacher. I realized that my friends in middle school were really different.
Only your friends were trustworthy. Parents and teachers were the enemies. That’s what everyone thought.
So you watched them at it from your studies?
No, I hated studying so I was a punk too. I followed the crowd.
Aha ha ha! And say you weren’t a delinquent?
I wasn’t! Well, it might have looked that way to someone else, and it was generally true, but… I can’t see it, so I’ll never know! (Laughs) I do feel really bad for the adults though, and I can never look my old teachers in the eyes.
As of right now, I have no intention of drawing anything but school comics
You mentioned how you don’t read many comics. In the official YK&MC guide book you say that you didn’t even think of drawing comics professionally at one point. What changed your mind?
Back in high school I could never get my visions on paper just right with the standard way of drawing. After graduating I went to a technical school in hopes of being a graphic designer, but it wasn’t right for me and I quit after two months. I had a lot of free time then, so I thought about tackling my old problems. “Maybe now my brain and hand will work together. And maybe I should break it up in comic form instead of the regular way,” I thought purely by chance. I started by trying to master the tools of the trade, like the nib pen.
Why did you choose WSM?
I really like it. The only magazine I read, actually. Great Teacher Onizuka started when I was in high school, which I loved, and my little brother loved Atsushi Kase’s comics, so we shared a magazine every week.
You like comics about delinquents, but you weren’t one?
I wasn’t! (laughs) Anyway, when I saw the deadline for the Newcomer Award was September 30th, so I decided to draw something by then.
Were you able to draw what you couldn’t on regular paper with comic paper?
I was. When I was done drawing, I felt so very satisfied. I had no plans of drawing comics for a living, and I even forgot that I had submitted my work. About midway through October, I recieved a call from the editorial department. The man said he was to be my editor, and I kind of blurted out, “What are you talking about?” I had totally forgotten, and was preparing to fly to Nepal on invitation from a friend of my father’s.
That’s quite the tale. (laughs) What sort of story did you submit?
It was set in a world where Japan never opened up to foreign trade. Like, what if the black ships kept attacking Japan for 500 years.
Wow, that sounds positively Science Fiction. It’s shocking. Most people would associate you with school comics like YK&MC and Yamada.
As of right now, I have no intention of drawing anything but school comics.
What makes you so sure?
Other genres don’t appeal to me much. I’m not sure why. Lots of people tell me it’s because I must have had a fun time in high school.
Are they correct?
Not really, no. (laughs) At least, I don’t wish I were back in high school. I learned some valuable lessons back then, and I can look back on it fondly, but when I was that age all I thought was, “Why do I have to wake up so damn early every day?” (laughs) The most important part of my school life was my friends, though. I still hang out with them, talking about nothing and having a blast, but I don’t want to be in high school. I hate studying. I often have nightmares where I’m pressed for a manuscript deadline yet I have to take a test the next day. (laughs)
Maybe you try to draw the school life you wanted to have in comic form because you didn’t enjoy yours all that much.
Maybe. I think all I ever bring to my meetings with my editor since that first story are ones set in a school.
Editor: It’s true. In fact, it’s all I’ve ever seen. Everything she brings turns into a final product.
Editor: It’s crazy. (laughs) Most newcomers could never compete like that. Ms. Yoshikawa just gets results. Whatever she draws is popular in the magazine.
Ahaha, I stop drawing when I think an idea’s not working. But when the work starts to shine, then I know I’ve got something and I just go crazy.
And that happens when you draw school life comics?
Yeah. Drawing a fun school life has been my creative base ever since I began drawing YK&MC. It’s always been about drawing that and entertaining my readers. If you’re not trying to entertain people, you shouldn’t draw comics, I think. One important difference between Yamada and YK&MC is that I want people to enjoy it and also wonder what school would be like if they had a strange power. Of course, love’s a part of the story too!
Drawing satisfying kisses through trial-and-error
The premise of Yamada is that the protagonist can switch bodies with someone by kissing, but same-gender kissing also shows up very often. It’s causing quite a stir on the internet — fans of that sort of thing are checking out the comic too.
I heard about that from my editor. I don’t go on the internet very often though, so I had no idea until then.
Do you know what boy-on-boy and girl-on-girl is?
I’m aware there are genres for them, but I don’t read them. I wasn’t trying to target a specific fan with those scenes — they’re only there because it was an inevitable outcome. I’m very happy people are talking about my work, though.
True, all of the same-sex kissing scenes have been done with the purpose of swapping bodies — there’s no sexual tension before or after them. You’ve drawn quite a few kiss scenes, but they’re also very varied. There are ones from the side, the top — a lot of angles, really. You even have some where the kiss is implied and not drawn.
It’s been quite difficult, but I try to do them differently each time. There are a very limited number of angles for drawing kisses. I mean, if drawn from above you can hardly tell what’s going on right? Unfortunately that means I usually end up drawing them from side angles. I do try to make sure you can see people kissing, though.
That’s quite a limitation. Do you use TV shows or movies for reference, then?
No, I don’t. When I go to draw a kissing scene on paper, I imagine what angle it’s from before getting into it. Then I look at the other kisses I’ve drawn so far and compare, to make sure the kiss comes through. Sounds rather silly, huh?
Not at all, you can really tell how much work you put in. There’s a real spread of angles and postures.
Well thank you.
On review of volumes one through three, if you only count the clearly drawn kisses you come up with: ten between Yamada and Urara, four between Yamada and Itou, four between Yamada and Miyamura, two between Yamada and Odagiri, and one each between Miyamura and Urara, Miyamura and Itou, and Itou and Urara. It totals out to twenty-three kisses.
Yeah, a normal comic would probably have that many kisses after 100 volumes, huh? (laughs) Other artists ask me, “Can you really do this? Aren’t kisses saved for the climax in a romantic comedy?”
As opposed to YK&MC, which had absolutely no kissing. The difference is quite amazing. It’s quite exciting to watch Urara and Itou going for the kisses even though they’re girls.
The characters in Yamada have almost no resistance to kissing. They’re a strange bunch, aren’t they? (laughs) Itou’s very popular with the male readers for some reason.
It’s still in the prologue
When Itou first appeared, she was very into the supernatural. I thought she was going to be annoying, to be honest. But each of the girls so far has something about her to like. I even remember the background characters, which surprised me.
The background kids are all part of this world I’m building, so I can’t just treat them like nothing. To realize my vision of the school, I have to put life into them too.
Giving individuality to all those girls must be hard. Do you model them on friends or actresses to make it easier?
No. If I did that, I couldn’t make that character do anything crazy… well not really, but I do feel a little guilty about it. I refuse to use the names of people I know either.
In a volume of YK&MC you wrote that you were uncomfortable with drawing girls. Is that over now?
No, it’s not. Everyone has a different opinion on what’s “cute” so that gives me a hard time.
Urara, like Hana from YK&MC, has quite a bit of mystery surrounding her. Like, why is Yamada the only one who didn’t have to jump through hoops for her friendship? Mystery is an important trait for a heroine, I suppose.
I like to think so. I try to make it difficult for the reader to figure out exactly what Urara’s thinking. Mystery leads to curiousity, which often leads to love in my mind.
In the four volumes so far, Yamada has encountered three witches with wondrous powers, as well as the problems they bring with them. According to the title, though, we’ll be seeing seven witches, as well as understanding them more, correct?
Heh heh. A lot’s in store.
I’m very excited to see who the remaining four witches are, and to get to know them. Everything about YK&MC was very hectic, but Yamada seems very constructed.
Unlike YK&MC, there’s an expansive plot this time, so thinking of a cliffhanger every week is difficult. The story just keeps rolling on, and people might be confused as to what will happen, but after four volumes I’d say we’re still only in the prologue. What’s waiting will blow your mind! I’m just kidding. There’s a lot left to happen though, and I hope you enjoy!