Shojo manga is more than just "comics for girls" – and no one knows that better than manga creator Keiko Takemiya. As one of the legendary Year 24 Group (a.k.a. "The Fabulous Forty-Niners," so named because these artists were born around Showa Year 24 or 1949), a trailblazing group of female artists who rose to prominence in the 1970's, Takemiya-sensei has explored a variety of stories and themes, ranging from high school romances to boys love, historical dramas and hard sci-fi.
Besides winning numerous awards for To Terra (Terra e, a.k.a. Toward the Terra), Takemiya is also credited as one of the creators of the now hugely popular boys love / yaoi manga genre with her 1976 story, Song of the Wind and Trees (Kaze to Ki no Uta) and as a founding force behind June, a Japanese boys love anthology magazine.
Since 2000, Takemiya-sensei has been a professor at Kyoto Seika University, teaching classes and presenting papers about manga. Now, with Vertical's recent publication of her sci-fi epics To Terra and Andromeda Stories in English, more readers than ever are being introduced to the work of this manga pioneer and innovator.
The nice folks at Vertical kindly translated and sent my questions to Takemiya-sensei over the holiday season. She replied with thoughtful responses to my questions about To Terra, Andromeda Stories and what it was like to be a female manga artist in the Seventies. She also shared her thoughts about the beginnings and the evolution of boys love (shonen-ai) manga.
Q: First off, what inspired you to become a manga artist? Were there any particular artists or stories, or incidents that made you think, "Yes, this is what I want to do?"
Keiko Takemiya: When I was a middle-school student I already drew manga—without telling my parents. A Primer For Manga Artists by the great pioneer Shotaro Ishinomori convinced me that the medium’s potential was as great as I already suspected it was.
Q: What was it like to be a female manga artist when you first started drawing professionally? Were there any major challenges that you had to overcome?
KT: Both the industry and young female manga readers were more conservative than I’d expected. In the competition for popularity, mere “newness” put you at a disadvantage.
In order to pitch my work right into the audience’s “strike zone,” I had no choice but to study the styles of popular artists. I think the resulting method, in terms of being able to capture a reader's feelings and imagination, has served me well to this day.
Q: You were part of a group of female artists who dramatically changed the storytelling style of shojo manga in the 1970's. From your point of view, what was the biggest change in the Japanese comics industry that happened as a result of your collective efforts?
KT: My goal was to be unguardedly human first, and a woman second, and to proceed as though sexual discrimination didn’t exist even amidst that. At times male society considered this stance impudent. The whole issue couldn’t find a place in my heart. I believe it was by expressing myself in manga without getting into a fight that I sent a message of change to a generation of girls who are now grown women.
Q: Let's talk a bit about To Terra.... What inspired you to create this story? What was the reaction to this manga when it first came out in Japan? Was it controversial?
KT: With the coming of the space age, many films and novels depicting life in outer space appeared, but there still hadn’t been one that focused on Earth. One night I had a dream about a “Maturity Check,” and the entire story began to flow from that. I wanted to depict the terrors of society’s covert attempts at “education.” I identified with the boy, carrying on his revolution alone.
The response was tremendous, and the tide of fan enthusiasm turned what I’d intended to proceed with slowly into a raging stream. I don’t believe there were any adversarial reactions.
Q: To Terra... was been recently adapted into an anime series. Did the animation studio change the story, or does this version faithfully follow the manga version? Did you have a lot of say in how it was adapted? How did you feel when you saw the finished product?
KT: Since the original manga was thirty years old, when the producers approached me I told them, as long as there was love for the original, any changes were fine by me. Not knowing the in's and out's of the anime industry, I felt it best to leave it all up to them.
They intended at first to follow the original quite closely, but fan feelings once again led to changes, subtle ones meant to be “true to the spirit but gentler in the expression.” These made the older fans (and me) anxious throughout but helped to create a new generation of young fans. A thirty-year-old story has been picked up for reappraisal—for its creator, this is a cause for great joy.
Q: Andromeda Stories followed To Terra... and is a story that was written by another author (Ryu Mitsuse). What made you decide to take this on as project?
KT: Ryu Mitsuse is an immensely popular author and a leading light of the science fiction world at that time. It had been my dream to turn one of his stories into a manga.
The philosophical element, which manga lacked, was what I studied in his works and wanted my own fans to be able to share. That said, Andromeda Stories was specially commissioned for the purpose. So I wasn’t able to read ahead (while I was creating this series), and it was tough.(More on Page 2)