animefringe october 2003 / feature
Animefringe Coverage:
True-Blue Dreams Coming True: The Shojo of Tomoko Taniguchi

Tomoko Taniguchi's tale of American success echoes her work: a fairytale dream come true. Sure, Taniguchi has been fulfilling her childhood dream of being a Japanese comic artist for around ten years professionally, being one of the fortunate few who is able to live off her art and her moving stories. Yet, even before she embarked on her journey as a shoujo manga artist, Taniguchi had the far-off dream of being a published comic artist in America. Ten years ago, when she first started to look into the possibility of being published in the US, the American market wasn't quite ready for manga in general, let alone her classic, pure style of girl comics. Taniguchi went back and focused on her work in Japan, believing her wish to be published in America to be but a pipe dream.

Times changed, the American comic market evolved, setting the stage for work such as Taniguchi's to be accepted by the manga fans of America. Within this new market, as well as the shared comic culture between Japan and America, came in American comic artist Colleen Doran, creator of the popular comic series, A Distant Soil, as well as being one of the many artists to work on Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. Through a series of mutual friends, the two comic artists met and spent time in Tokyo, enjoying each other's works and company. Excited by Taniguchi's art style, Doran asked Taniguchi to contribute an illustration to one of her comics. Along with this illustration came a footnote, stating that her new friend had maintained a dream of being published in America.

CB Cebulski, then the head of CPM Manga, saw this illustration, and was understandably impressed. Moved by her wish, Cebulski soon wrote her an email, simply stating that he would make her wish come true.

Since then, CPM Manga has published five of Taniguchi's works in English, running the gamut of different shoujo genres. Call Me Princess, her first work released domestically, dealt with teenage romance and coming of age, while Aquarium dealt honestly with depression and the harsh exam-oriented school system. Princess Prince was a delightfully gender-confusing fantasy piece that involved romantic hijinks in an idyllic medieval setting.

CPM Manga has now dedicated itself to releasing Taniguchi's earlier works, starting with her first published work, Let's Stay Together Forever, and continuing with the latest release, a delightful story dealing with more of those hot, sexy, androgynous metalheads we know and love. Popcorn Romance is a story of two metalhead brothers, Ryouta and Zenta Yamazaki, poised to conquer the Japanese metal landscape with their visual-kei bishonen looks and their excellent playing. However, the exciting rock-star life is doing a number to the younger Zenta, causing him to collapse on stage and fall into a weak state. In order to help his brother, Ryouta brings Zenta back to their Hokkaido hometown, to their grandfather's farm, in order to recuperate, leaving his gentle girlfriend Shima behind.

The piece incorporates a very personal part of Taniguchi's life. When Ryouta and Zenta arrive at their grandfather's farm, they discover that their grandfather is considering selling his farm land in order for the city to convert it into a golf course. Before she created Popcorn Romance, her own family's land in Hokkaido was also being considered for the same fate. Taniguchi, saddened by the imminent loss of her childhood home, created this story in order to discuss and deal with this trend of buying up the countryside for such projects. Incorporating her love of metal-boys into the work, she created this touching and sweet story about these two brothers caring for each other, and the nice high school girl who loves one of them very much. One comes away with this story at both moved by the plight of those striving to protect the pure mountains and plains of Japan, while also enjoying the sweet romance that revolves around the brothers' life back in Hokkaido. Completing the experience with a look at the metalhead boom of the late 80s in Japan, Popcorn Romance comes through as a beautiful and tight piece, forecasting Taniguchi's future as a strong shoujo artist specializing in traditional, pure shoujo art and storytelling techniques.

At the recent Shoujocon, Animefringe was fortunate enough to sit down with Tomoko Taniguchi. We discussed her resolve to draw and write in the pure, shoujo manga, her happiness about her success in America, as well as princes, past lives, and Star Wars.

Animefringe: How do you see how your work has progressed through the years? It seems that your work becomes more realistic and more depressing, why is that?

Tomoko Taniguchi: Well, when I started my career, I figured that I would become more skilled and faster at drawing. But I noticed that after some years as a manga artist, I can make more detailed drawings, but also it takes more time than when I was a beginner, because I want each drawing to be better than the ones before. When I was a beginner, I didn't care as much about these details because I wanted to just wanted to get my work out there, but I didn't like my skill as a beginner. So I hoped to improve my style. I thought I would be able to draw faster, but I needed to put in more detail and more technique to improve my work, and it ended up taking longer.
I've changed my drawing pens. My lines used to be hard, stiff lines in my drawing because of my technique and pens. After three or four years of drawing manga, I changed my penning to make softer lines, to make my drawings more fluid. I tried to make pop art at the time, because it's more cute and easier to draw than manga art, but I noticed that I wanted to be more detailed, maintain a more classic and realistic style than [is] used in pop art. Pop art is more casual in style. Actually, at the time I was looking at what the audience wanted, so I started to create works for younger audience, a sort of 3rd grade pop culture, and something more current. However, my artistic ambition leaned towards a more classic style, even though my style isn't popular anymore in Japan. So now, I'm drawing in the style that I want to draw, not the styles that are popular, and I love drawing in this classic shoujo style.

AF: Your manga has gotten quite popular in America. How do you feel about this popularity? Are you planning to do any US-specific manga?

TT: I don't know, I feel that my work isn't so popular here, I'm not sure yet. My style is unfashionable in Japan, so I really appreciate that my classic style is still accepted in the American audience. When I was a student, my dream was always to publish my books in America. Somehow, I got my chance to publish in America, and my classic style was accepted and it worked out well. I did not plan this, but it happened very naturally. I kept my classic style without sexualizing the art or putting in violence, I'm making pure and harmless manga. It's not popular in Japan anymore, but many people here have been telling me that since my characters and stories are so pure, many Americans still want those pure characters, so I'm happy to provide that. I know many people want more realistic styles, with sex and violence and bad people, but I believe cartoons and manga are the way to escape reality, so why would anyone dare to give reality in works of fantasy? I love science-fiction and horror because it is far from reality. People live and enjoy their lives in reality. My life has enough mess, enough confusion, and drama, and I've met many horrible people. I've grown up in a good family, I've had good friends, and I've had a lot of great times, but still, I've met many mean people, nasty people. I want to make the characters in my book not like that. Yet, I know now that I have to put such harsh people in my work, or my work won't be perceived as deep anymore. I need to make my stories more realistic now, I feel, in order to get by.

AF: In your books, you've used the imagery of Prince and Princess a lot. Why is this? Why do you harbor such a fascination with Prince and Princesses?

TT: Yeah! *laughter* I love princes and princesses too much. It's a main theme for classic Japanese shoujo manga, there are so many princes and princesses, so I wanted to make one for myself, just like the ones I loved when I was small. I was so inspired by the classic Disney movies, but most Disney films today don't really have princesses anymore, they are all modern girls now, and the few recent princesses are very strong, but I grew up with the princesses of the classic Disney films. When I was small, I thought it was such a dreamy story.
Now that I'm an adult, I now feel some nostalgia for the medieval age. In fact, I'm sure that in a past life, I was a knight, but I was not a princess. Well, I don't think so, anyway. What I really love is the elements of swords. Star Wars had many elements that I simply loved, but I can't really explain why. I also really loved the Lord of the Rings, but even in this story, I wanted to wield a sword over anything else. I love that element of the sword, I want to wield that sword and fight in the movies. I feel something so nostalgic with that age. I love King Arthur and The Three Musketeers.
Actually, I'm a very calm person, and I'm never violent. I don't even study that medieval age much, but I feel so familiar with that. So, maybe in my past life... do you believe in reincarnation? I feel that way.

AF: Your work that has been published in America has either taken place in contemporary Japan or in a medieval, European fantasy setting. What manga have you done that has lain outside those settings, and what other settings would you like to work with in the future.

TT: I want to draw in other settings, but I need to do the research. People say I don't need to research for science fiction, since it's all made up. Some friends of mine tell me that Star Wars is more fantasy than science fiction, but even then, if I wanted to write science fiction, I need to study and research more, in order to create the best story I could.
Recently, I've been drawing horror manga, the magazine I work for takes reader input on their true experiences with the paranormal, and several artists work to bring these readers stories into the manga format, resulting an anthology of different readers’ tales. The setting here is contemporary Japan, but is a much different genre than I'm used to doing.

AF: Would you want your work to be animated, or do you prefer to keep it only in manga form? Would you be uncomfortable with someone else taking your vision and story and doing something different with it?

TT: I would love to be animated! *laughter* Many manga artists complain about how bad some of the animation made off of their works are, but I know it's hard work to make anime, it takes so much time, and so many people involved. I would really appreciate all these people going to the trouble to make one of my works into an anime.

AF: Do you have any messages for your American fans?

TT: I'm so appreciative when someone picks up one of my books. If somebody gets joy from reading my manga, well, that's what makes me really happy. So please, enjoy my books!