animefringe july 2003 / feature
Animefringe Coverage:
Pro Amateur Comics - Yuri Doujinshi Rica 'tte Kanji!?

Japanese doujinshi has been the proverbial Holy Grail to the otaku masses of Western fandom. For years, these fan-made comics of popular mainstream works have been fought over and sought after by American fans, where the relative inaccessibility of such products has given rise to fans paying far too much money in order to get the doujinshi they want (It's always harsh to see some fans pay fifty dollars for a 20-page fan comic that cost about four bucks to buy in Japan). No surprise either; the consumption of doujinshi not only gets the American fan in touch with the Japanese fanbase, but provides new ideas and adventures for one's favorite set of characters to embark on (and not just limited to sexual adventures, although that is a large part of it).

The popularity of Japanese doujinshi in Western fandom jump-started the creation of domestic doujinshi; for a few years now groups of cartoonists have started to come together to create their own original and fan comics and distribute them at conventions and on the internet, such as the prolific yaoi doujinshi group Umbrella Studios. The self-publishing nature of doujinshi also got carried over, and as Western doujinshi has further refined itself, so has the quality of the publications.

Within this atmosphere came the creation of ALC Publishing, the doujinshi publishing arm of the recent Yuricon, a small company that is interested in the creation, translation, and distribution of the relatively small genre of yuri comics. As American and Japanese yuri fandoms have really started to come together, so have doujinshi efforts. Earlier this year saw the release of the first English language compilation of yuri comics, Yuri Monagatari, a beautiful piece that has contributions from artists from more than five countries. Also released recently is a compilation of comic work by Japanese doujinshi artist Rica Takashima, Rica 'tte Kanji!?, the first release of translated yuri doujinshi in America.

Takashima began Rica 'tte Kanji as an answer to the previously existing yuri tales, where she mostly saw these tales either end as tragedies, or end with the two lovers not coming together. The lack of happy-go-lucky yuri stories, where the atmosphere is comparatively light, in which the two girls just end up together and in love, prompted Takashima to make something light and fun; a portrait of a growing relationship that's more cute than depressing.

The story follows the protagonist, a fresh college student moving to Tokyo, and her exposure to the gay life of Tokyo's gay district, Shinjuku Ni-chome. As she bravely dives into these worlds, she meets up with boyish art student Miho. Each chapter chronicles some cute adventure the two have with each other, ranging from both of them hanging out in the Ni-Chome nightspots, or helping each other with their school projects. As the story progresses, Miho and Rica become close, eventually forming probably the most adorable relationship I've seen in comics. Miho and Rica's experience together is saccharine and warm; even their brief spats and arguments fizzle back into that cozy atmosphere that Takashima creates.

Artistically, this little book shines above most doujinshi. Takashima injects her own personal style and design into the characters and backgrounds, making her work feel more inspired by pop art, more reminiscent of Junko Mizuno and Takashi Murakami, rather than using a more traditional manga approach to drawing. Takashima's style is refreshing; I only hope to see more non-traditional work in the future. The difference in drawing styles really does enhance the whole experience of the story. Especially in this light and fun tale, the style that reflects it simply adds on to that soft atmosphere Takashima creates with her characters.

Rica 'tte Kanji is an enjoyable read, but those looking for a deep and complicated story will be disappointed. The story of Rica and Miho's growing relationship is lacking in complications or in any serious issues. The few moments in the tale where there might be some friction between the couple is quickly diffused. Instead, Takashima emphasizes the happy aspects of growing into a loving relationship, the awkward yet wonderful progression from initial meeting to something meaningful and strong. This comic work is beautiful, but lacks any real meat or troubles that would give the reader a more complete and fulfilling story.

Overall, this book is a real treat. Sometimes, even I, who desperately enjoys the confusing, harsh, and complicated types of comic stories, need to spend some time reading something that's just fun and enjoyable, a type of work that makes you feel warm inside after finishing the pages. The appeal of this book is not just limited to doujinshi or yuri fans; it has the power to appeal to all kinds of people in all age groups. If you can, support doujinshi in America and pick up a copy of Rica 'tte Kanji. It's an experience you won't regret.

During the recent Yuricon, Animefringe was able to sit down with the creator Rica Takashima and talk to her not only about her work, but also her experience as a doujinshi artist, and her views on the growth of yuri fandoms in both Japan and America.

Animefringe: How long have you been doing doujinshi?

Takashima: I've been drawing doujinshi for about eight years. I started drawing for Phryne, a currently defunct magazine for lesbians. I then did some work for Anise Magazine, which has recently also stopped being published.

Animefringe: So, what kind of doujinshi do you usually specialize?

Takashima: I mostly draw yuri, but I also do drag king manga. Also, I don't know how to categorize this one manga I drew. It's the story of a girl who fights against evil, something like majoko, that sort of feel. The name of that comic was Tatakai Cutey Beret (Fighting Cutey Beret). The heroines of the story are two artists, one of whom is human, the other is an alien. They have a transformation sequence, by magic they turn naked, only to be fighting evil wearing just an apron. She used a triangular ruler like a ninja star, and instead of using a gun, they shot out colored pencils, as well as using paint tubes as a projectile weapon, in their attempt to save the planet. The two battle against the group Hen-search, and they fight against the ranking system in the Japanese school system. In this world, the school system becomes the rule of the planet, so the heroines protect the planet against the strict academic culture that has taken over.

Animefringe: That is seriously awesome. So, why do you mostly draw yuri comics?

Takashima: When I first got into comics, I was disappointed in what gay and lesbian publications offered, I didn't find anything I liked. I was really disappointed by the manga, because all the lesbian manga were either set in a science fiction setting, where it was okay to love women as a woman because it was a fantasy, and was not based in any sort of reality. Other manga stories set in the real world always had sad endings. Why do all these stories have to end in tragedy? Why can't we see lesbians live everyday life? I wanted to go out and create something like that.

Animefringe: How is yuri received in the doujinshi market? What kind of people usually buy yuri?

Takashima: Most of my readers are lesbians, but there are also others who like lesbian manga. Just as there are some men who read yaoi manga, there are men who read yuri. Some men appreciate the emotional relationships between women without just focusing on the sexual aspects, although of course there are men who are mostly just into yuri for the sex. I'm very happy to see my work out there; I love getting comments pleading me to make more. What I hope to show through my comics is that lesbians can live life just like straight people. I want to show that we aren't all politically active, or not just going out and partying. So I want to show, through my work, that there are lesbians living an everyday experience, just like other people.

Animefringe: Do you see yuri as a growing phenomenon in the doujinshi world, or has it always been an established and constant part of it?

Takashima: No, yuri manga has really flourished and grown since I started working in yuri doujinshi eight years ago. When I first started at Comiket, there were only four tables selling yuri. Now, Comiket has around 20 tables. Yuri has also flourished on the creator and the consumer sides. Younger artists are taking on yuri manga, and more people are interested in reading and buying yuri manga.

Animefringe: So, what are your thoughts about Yuricon, about this American convention that celebrates the genre?

Takashima: In Japan, there is no convention yet that has focused solely on yuri, so it's so great to see this convention happening in America. Actually, I feel that the future of yuri manga and fandom may progress faster in America than Japan, now that yuri seems to have a solid foothold in America. Since America is such a big country, with so many people, it will spread faster than in Japan, or at least, that's what I hope. I have a lot of high hopes for yuri and manga in America, like...Let me make an analogy. When Japan was opened for trading to the west, pieces of ukiyo-e, the woodblock paintings, were bought back to Europe, where they influenced artists like Van Gogh, artists that at first copied, but then started to create a new style. I want to see that in America. "The Power Puff Girls" is a good example of this; it's manga-ish, but still individual and unique. I hope that American artists influenced by manga will take the style and put their own individuality into it.
Also, the term "yuri manga artist" has not been used or spread in Japan. Although the genre started in Japan, the title of "yuri artist" came from America. This genre of comics now has a name and a grouping because of American yuri fandom and Yuricon. This is the happiest aspect about Yuricon for me; America and Yuricon are launching the genre of yuri.

Animefringe: It's very fortunate for an artist to be able to live off of doing their work. Do you have a day job, or do you survive on just doing your art/doujinshi?

Takashima: I've done a lot of graphic design work, and I used to do art direction for TV, but right now I'm living in America and going to English language school so I don't have a day job. So I've been doing lots of graphic design art work in Japan. Also, in July I will start a weekly yon-komi (four panel) comic strip for a free New York City weekly newspaper named Jampion. It's not yuri, though.

Animefringe: How do you feel about your work being published in English?

Takashima: I'm so very happy about it. Actually, the English version came out before the Japanese version, which will be coming out in July through a small publisher.

Animefringe: Any final words before we finish up?

Takashima: Since my manga just got published, the first thing is that I want is for as many people as possible to read it. Until recently, most American fans would get into anime before they got into manga. Even though this is not animated, I hope people will enjoy it and explore manga more, because manga is a large field unto itself. Even in Japan, it's a really small publishing company that is putting out Rica 'tte Kanji, and there are a lot of works in Japan, and I'm not sure whether they will come out in America, but they're so good so I really hope they come over in America. If Eriko Tadeno never came to America and never met the right people to get her work published in America, America would never know of her work, which is unfortunate because of how good it is.
Finally, in terms of Yuricon, I haven't seen information about the convention and about such anime and manga being distributed in the general gay and lesbian community, so I hope that, in general, we can draw the community as a whole into the world of Yuri manga.