One of the special treats for Japanese comics fans at the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con was a special appearance by shojo manga creator Arina Tanemura. The creator of magical romances including Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne, Full Moon o Sagashite and her current series, Gentlemen's Alliance Cross appeared at a Shojo Beat panel discussion on Saturday, followed by two autograph sessions at the VIZ Media booth.
Signs posted at the panel event and at her signings requested that fans not take photos of the camera-shy creator. But Tanemura-sensei had little reason to fear the camera lens. She's every bit as cute and energetic as her characters. Dressed in a fashionably frilly white dress, sparkly shoes and several diamond and pearl pendants layered around her neck, Tanemura is a petite thirty-something woman who is living the shojo manga dream.
Her comics are best-sellers in Japan, Europe, Asia and now the U.S. Two of her series, Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne and Full Moon were made into successful anime TV series, with Full Moon now available on DVD from VIZ. On top of that, VIZ Media recently announced that two additional graphic novel series by Tanemura, ION and Time Stranger Kyoko will debut in 2008, along with a one-shot collection of short stories and a full-color art book featuring illustrations from Full Moon to hit the bookstores in Fall 2008.
All of a sudden, there's more of Tanemura work to love than ever, which is sure to please and increase her fan-base in the U.S., which is already fairly large judging from the near-capacity crowd at Saturday's panel.
Here's some of her responses to fans' questions from the panel, plus some additional comments she shared with me after the event.
ABOUT HER STORYTELLING STYLE
What do you think your fans love most about your stories and artwork? What sets it apart from other shojo manga artists?
My fans always tell me that my stories are very unexpected, that there's always surprises. They can never know what will happen next, so that's why they like it. I always keep them on the edge, so they can enjoy anticipating what will happen next. I certainly don't write just to make people surprised -- but my fans say that they love my stories because they're always exciting.
All your manga has creative and compelling storylines. How do you come up with them?
I try to imagine that wouldn't it be wonderful, or wouldn't it be terrible if this happened, and then what would i do if this happened to me -- so I make up stories based on thinking about these things. I usually decide the ending first and then decide how to reach the ending.
Which of your series are you most proud of?
Full moon o Sagashite - I like Full Moon the best, and I felt the closest to it after I finished it. I really love it.
There was a quote I saw on an online blog that you wanted your artwork to be complex, different and 'hard to animate.' Is that true, and if it is, are you happy with how the anime versions of your work has turned out?
The animators(who worked on Full Moon and Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne) found it very difficult to work on my stories. When fans see the anime, they think that it's too simple, that sometimes the lines are too thick and not as detailed as my original artwork. But I try to find the middle ground. I try to make choices, like where to omit details and still have it look like my style.
I always supervise what the animators do and I tell them what they can and can't do with my work, so I'm happy with what's been done so far.
ABOUT HER CHARACTERS
Who is your favorite character?
(long pause punctuated by giggles)"Minna daisuki!!" ("I love them all!")
How do you develop your characters?
I think of characters of one distinguishing characteristic, like cat ears or long hair with a hair tied back like Haine (the heroine of Gentlemens Alliance). Then, I think of a theme color for the character. After I do that, I look for the balance between the different characters -- so if one character has long hair, then the other has short hair, etc.
How did you come up w/ the characters of Takuto and Meroko in Full Moon?
I wanted to draw a cat-like boy and a rabbit-like girl and make them really cute. In Japanese, "mero-mero" means you're infatuated with a person so that's why she's named "Meroko." (Note: Meroko is a cute girl shinigami/grim reaper who wears a top hat with rabbit ears. She has a crush on Takuto, her shinigami partner who wears a cat-ear hat.)
From Full Moon, who is your favorite couple?
My favorite is Eichi and Mitsuki, but in Japan, Izumi and Meroko are very popular. When I did a Q&A session in Germany, I was surprised to find that Takuto was also popular there.
Gentlemen's Alliance isn't a maho shojo (magical girl) type story as Full Moon or Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne, and it seems darker, story-wise. Do your fans like the change in style?
I believe that my fans think that Gentlemen's Alliance is also a fantasy story. The world that the characters live in, the school that they go to is not too realistic, so it's still very much the kind of story that my readers enjoy.
The reason why the characters are darker, more complex is because I've grown up, and I now have a deeper understanding of human emotions and personalities.
Which characters do you feel closest, relate to the most?
The characters in the student union in Gentlemen's Alliance I think are very similar to myself. I feel closest to is the Emperor, and I can really relate to Haine's antagonism toward her father.
What is it about the Emperor's personality that you relate to, that you see in yourself?
I have two aspects to my personality. When I work, I'm very much like the Emperor -- a perfectionist who's very strict and works very hard. But once I finish my work, I'm more like Haine-chan, very relaxed, very fun. It's like when my switch is on, I'm like the Emperor, the hero in the story -- and when my switch is off, I'm more like Haine.