Archive for the Interview Category


LGBTQ: Barnes & Noble Interview with Gengoroh Tagame

July 3rd, 2017

Brigid Alverson, writing for the Barnes & Noble blog has a wonderful interview with My Brother’s Husband creator Gengoroh Tagame. If you’ve ever wanted to ask him about being an out gay manga artist in Japan, here’s your chance to find out!

Openly Gay Manga Creator Gengoroh Tagame Talks Breaking Barriers with My Brother’s Husband

I was especially gratified to learn that Futabasha was supportive of his idea right from the start. As I keep saying, there’s someone on the staff there who is an ally.

 

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Interview with Anthropologist Dr. Jennifer Robertson

July 21st, 2016

jrfrontWelcome back to Takarazuka Week here on Okazu! Tonight is the premier of the Takarazuka performance of Chicago at Lincoln Center. (And I have never, in my life, seen Lincoln Center push a show as hard as they are this one.) I’m already receiving reports that the show is delightful.

To celebrate and get in the mood before seeing this show tomorrow night we have a very special interview today. If you are at all familiar with Takarazuka, you know of Dr. Jennifer Robertson‘s book, Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan.  It’s my great pleasure today to have Jennifer here to talk about Takarazuka. Please welcome her warmly. ^_^

 

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1. What brought your attention to Takarazuka in the first place?
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As I share in my book, Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan (2001 [1998]), I grew up in Japan, where I’ve lived for over 20+ years. During that time, someone gave us a Takarazuka LP that was added to my family’s record collection. But although that early exposure doubtless played some subliminal role in my later interest in the Revue, it wasn’t until 1976 (in Japan) that I began to notice Takarazuka actors on various television shows. The otokoyaku (man-role players) stood out as they were so much taller than the average Japanese woman (and many men) and exuded a charisma and confidence that was rare among women in Japan. I saw my first Revue performance at the Tokyo Takarazuka theatre in April 1985—The Golden Wings starring Asami Rei as the lead otokoyaku. In my opinion, she and Mine Saori, who is starring in the Revue’s Lincoln Center performance of Chicago, are two of the most talented and magnetic otokoyaku. (I know that dates me, but in the few shows and a dozen or so DVDs I’ve seen since publishing my book, I still think that Asami and Mine stand out!) Since retiring from the Revue, Asami has gone on to a successful career in theatre (as have many Takarazuka actors), and Mine is part of the new veteran-actors troupe organized by the Revue’s administration. Interestingly, the musumeyaku (woman- role player, lit. “daughter-role player, as the “woman” should be an innocent naïf), in The Golden Wings was Ichirō Maki, “officially” an otokoyaku. The Revue often assigns an otokoyaku to perform the role of women who (like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, another Revue standard) are far from naive and know a thing or two about sex! It was at that 1985 performance that I experienced the frisson of eroticized energy exuded by the Revue actors and observed the way in which the mostly female audience was transported by it to another world. More than the action on stage, however sizzling, I decided to study the Revue because of the intimate and familiar relationship I witnessed that evening between the fans and the actors.

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2. In your opinion, has there been any visible change in the way otokoyaku and musumeyaku roles are performed, or in the “gendering” of Takarazuka roles? Tomu Ran in Gyakuten Saiban ~ Yomigaeru Shinjitsu, for instance, was much less strutting and “drag king”-y and in fact, for the first time read as “a guy” to me. Have you noted any changes?
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I haven’t seen enough many live shows since 1998, and have watched only a dozen or so DVDs, also TV broadcasts, to make an informed comparison, but the fact is that Revue actors have long experimented with different styles or methods of performing the man-role. I’ve written about the Revue’s experiments with “androgyny”—i.e., creating a more “gender neutral” (chūseiteki) type of otokoyaku since the late 1960s (related in part to having otokoyaku perform the roles of charismatic and carnally experienced women). Each otokoyaku is encouraged to develop her own style of masculine performance, and invariably that includes learning from actual male actors (regardless of ethnicity, nationality, etc.) whom they admire in some capacity. Most otokoyaku will blend, tweak, and refine the characteristics of several male actors or male celebrities. Regarding your observations about Tomu Ran, it would be interesting to find out about her mix of influences. As for musumeyaku, since their femininity must highlight in contrast the masculinity of the otokoyaku, especially in the case of “golden couples” (goruden kombi, i.e., the leading man and woman of a troupe), they need to take their lead from the otokoyaku regardless, to some extent, their own sources of stylistic influence.

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3. What, if any, changes have you seen in Takarazuka fandom?
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I think it’s important to remember that in the early 20th century, Takarazuka was billed as wholesome family entertainment and attracted mixed (female and male) audiences. Only since the postwar period, and in the context of increasing (and competing) forms of theatrical and mass media entertainment, has the Revue’s audience and fan-base reflected a narrower demographic profile. That said, the stereotype of fans as “young girls” is erroneous, and continues to circulate because, in my view, many (especially male) critics cannot figure out how to explain the infatuation of mature (and/or married) women with the Takarazuka actors, and especially with the otokoyaku! The majority of fans for the past thirty years if not more have been women in their 30s and older, many of whom are married. I would be curious to learn whether, and what percentage (if such a statistic can be generated) of, unmarried women—and today a large number of women are delaying or even postponing marriage—are Takarazuka fans. I will bet though, that the huge number of ‘Zuka fans from Japan who will descend on NYC over the next week are likely in their 30s and older, and probably either employed or retired!

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I agree entirely with that and won’t take that bet. My experience with Takarazuka has been mostly adult, often middle-aged women filling the audience. Although recently I’ve seen younger (20s-30s, fans.

4. What do you think of of overseas fandom? Is it different or the same? Looking for that same something as Japanese fans, or completely different things?

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I have not researched overseas fandom, which for an enterprising social scientist, would be a great topic. One could probably explore Taiwanese, Hong Kong, and Korean fan blogs/websites, but I haven’t done that in any systematic way. I know that the Revue has a large East Asian following (in addition to Japanese tourists/fans living abroad); the Cosmos Troupe (Sora-gumi) debuted in Hong Kong in January 1998! I would imagine that many of the things that Japanese fans find enticing about the Revue would be true of other East Asian fans—especially perhaps those who are jaded about corporate glass ceilings and patriarchal social structures. I mention this because in my research, I found that many fans are attracted to the otokoyaku not simply for erotic reasons but because she is a female who is capable of negotiating and succeeding on stage in activities often foreclosed to females offstage in society. How they parlay that appreciation in their everyday lives to “make a difference” is much harder to assess. That said, one of the ways in which the Revue has influenced the social life of females off stage (in Japan at least, and perhaps elsewhere) is by stimulating a butch-fem subculture (like host clubs, fan clubs) and attendant communities.

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5. You’ve been studying Takarazuka for quite a while. What are your thoughts around it’s longevity? Have there been any changes in the way Japan relates to it?

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I don’t know about how “Japan relates” to the Revue, but the state has
certainly incorporated Takarazuka into its soft power policies in Asia and
elsewhere. It’s important to remember that the Revue is owned by the megamultinational Hankyu Corporation; Hankyu sold the Braves, its baseball team, in 1988 but kept the Revue as a major moneymaker. The Revue has an affluent niche audience, and the management has responded by creating a large number of commodities that generate lucrative sales. When I first started my Takarazuka research, the Revue did not sell videos of performances—one had to copy them from the occasional TV broadcast. Nor did they promote individual actors, which, at the time, conflicted with their more communal approach to advertising the Revue. But that was then, and today the neo-liberal capitalist impulse has worked to create multiple markets out of one! The “bromide” shop in the basement of the Tokyo Takarazuka theatre run by older fans, and others like it, have been displaced by the juggernaut Hankyu Corporation’s monopolization of Revue books, DVDs, photographs, T-shirts, confections, and the usual array of museum shop paraphernalia. There are still many independent fan clubs along with the official ones, and membership in them is practically the only way to get tickets. But in addition to the money that the Revue brings to Hankyu, the Revue also continues to spin escapist dream stories set in exotic locales for audiences who need a break
from life and work as usual, and who want to take a little piece of that home with them. A win-win combination!

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Indeed it is! Now Takarazuka Revue tickets are, at least apparently, available online, I imagine I’ll never get a seat at one again. ^_^

What do you think of Takarazuka City offering same-sex marriage certificates? Do you think it has any relationship to the (to me, obvious) lesbian fandom of Takarazuka Revue?

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I think that the same-sex marriage certificates offered by Takarazuka City in
2015, following the precedent set in Tokyo (Shibuya-ku and Setagaya-ku), has
much more to do with the progressive policies of the two-term female mayor,
Nakagawa Tomoko (b. 1947), than the fact that the Revue is located there. Mayor Nakagawa, who had served in the House of Representatives, was elected in 2009 after her predecessor was arrested on bribery charges and won re-election in 2013. She has been a member of opposition parties. After she introduced the same-sexmarriage certificates, a dominant party (LDP) colleague of hers claimed that Takarazuka City would become the hub of an HIV epidemic! He later retracted his statement and apologized! Ironically, the first applicants for the same-sex certificate provided by Shibuya-ku were former otokoyaku Maki Aura, whose real name is Higashi Koyuki, and her partner Masuhara Hiroko. Both run an information service in Tokyo for sexual minorities.

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And both have detailed their recent marriage ceremony at Disney in manga form, so we’re familiar with them here at Okazu.

Well this was fantastic, Jennifer, thank you for your time and your perspective on this unique institution.

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Interview with Former Takararisienne Ako Dachs

July 17th, 2016

5e21f6b27399e70f17b225223aef2ff6_400x400Welcome to the beginning of Takarazuka Week here on Okazu! We’re starting off with something extremely exciting – an interview with former Takarasienne, Ako Dachs.

Ms. Dachs performed in Takarazuka under the name Natsumi Youko in Moon Troupe. She’s now living in New York, still working as a performer on TV,  movies and stage.  I’m excited as I can be to welcome her here to Okazu!

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1. Why did you want to join Takarazuka?
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My mother and grandmother were fans of Takarazuka and they took me to see it when I was very young. I was attracted by it immediately, and when I was ten years old I decided that I was determined to be a part of that company when I was old enough.

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2. What is your favorite memory from your time at Takarazuka? What show was your favorite to perform in?

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The favorite memory is when I was in my second year on stage with the company and had just started as an apprentice in Moon troop. There was an audition for the musical Oklahoma, and Ms. Gemze De Lappe, who had played a role called ‘a girl’ in the original production came to direct us. Ms. De Lappe wanted me to play Ado Annie, but Takarazuka had already chosen a star to play that role, so she gave me the role that she had played. I loved performing in that show, and I later became a featured singer and actress in the company.

But there were some other experiences that stood out: in two major productions I sang songs while legendary performers danced; Ms. Yachiyo Kasugano in Matoi Okesa, and Ms. Otome Amatsu in Ibaragi Doji My last show for Takarazuka was Goodbye Madeleine and the writer/director Mr. Shibata wrote a wonderful role for me.

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3. In your opinion, has there been any visible change in the way otokoyaku and musumeyaku roles are performed?

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Yes. Obviously the taller girls play otokoyaku – men’s roles, and in the last 30 years Japanese girls have become much taller, and that makes otokoyaku more handsome and attractive.

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4. What, if any, changes have you seen in Takarazuka fandom?

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These days Takarazuka fans seem to be more highly organized and disciplined than when I was there. I think it used to be a little less extreme, and very friendly and supportive. I’m still in touch with some of my fans from those days.

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5.What do you think of of overseas fandom? Is it different or the same? Are non-Japanese fans looking for the same things as Japanese fans, or completely different things?

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I know several Takarazuka fans in New York, and they seem to be much more subdued than some of the extreme fans I’ve seen in Japan. They are very supportive of those of us that have come here that they remember from Takarazuka even a long time ago.

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6) What is the secret to Takarazuka’s popularity in Japan and overseas? Have there been any changes in the way Japan relates to it?

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Takarazuka is, in a way, a mirror image of Kabuki in which men play all the roles, including the women’s roles, and the men who play women are the biggest stars. In Takarazuka women play all the roles, including the men’s roles and the women who play men are the biggest stars. Kabuki has 400 years of history in Japan, and the men who play women’s roles have inherited a long tradition of how to move, how to speak, and how to behave which is passed down from star to star over the centuries. In Takarazuka, which only has 100 years of history and a much more contemporary repertoire, the technique for the ‘Otokoyaku’ (the women who play men) is also inherited and developed by star after star. You need years of strict training and apprenticeship to work in both these traditions.

In both cases one gender is portraying a kind of idealized version of the other. I think this one of the most fascinating things about both these forms, and Takarazuka in particular – learning what men think the ideal woman is in Kabuki, or seeing women portray their ideal man in Takarazuka. Its no accident that so many women and girls wait in the huge crowds of fans to see their favorite performers after a show – they are attracted to them and sort of have crushes on them because they do represent a Japanese ideal of male beauty and gentlemanly behavior. We’re so used to seeing women through men’s eyes in this world, its refreshing to see men through women’s eyes for a change!

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Thank you very much for your time! This was fantastic.

Takarazuka will be performing Chicago at Lincoln Center this week. Tickets are still available for shows at the Lincoln Center box office, so get yours and experience the fantasy and glamour of Takarazuka for yourself!

Thanks to the folks at Lincoln Center and May Young for making this interview possible.

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Interview with Josh Kaplan, Creator of Highway Blossoms

June 21st, 2016

key-art-with-solid-logoYesterday, I had a chance to read through the new Yuri Visual Novel, Highway Blossoms. And I generally found it to be good. Today, we welcome creator Josh Kaplan to Okazu to discuss the game. Welcome Josh!

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Are the any Japanese VNs that inspired HB? And what artistic influences inspire you, personally?
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For me at least, I generally take more inspiration from regular novels and fiction than anything else, if only because I read more books than I do VN’s. In particular, I love young adult fiction, and I think that HB fits under that umbrella. Recently I’ve been devouring just about everything by Siera Maley, and I also love The Gravity Between Us by Kristen Zimmer. There’s a doujin Yuri VN by Cosmilica, called Love, Guitars and the Nashville Skyline that is currently being localized by our publisher, and it also includes a lesbian pair on a roadtrip through the US. At the time that we started planning Highway Blossoms, though, we’d never heard of it. I’m looking forward to reading it, though, and the developer of that one is very fun to talk to.

I asked Syon, the other writer and the director for the project, and he said his biggest influence was the anime Trigun, as well as the film and novel Holes.

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Haha, so the whole desert location is sort of baked into Syon’s references then. ^_^

 The idea of the road trip is uniquely American. You’ve said elsewhere  that you’ve been to most of these places. Was it your intention to inspire fans to visit these places? It does seem a bit of  travelogue. ^_^
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I wouldn’t say that it was our intention to get people out and visiting these places, but it’s definitely a happy side effect. Hell, I was getting some wanderlust just as I was writing. We’ve had a number of fans say that they’re inspired to take a roadtrip now, though, and I think that’s awesome. We actually have a couple ideas to reward people who do go out and see these places after they read HB, but we’ve gotta see if they pan out, first.

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You mentioned in the Yuri Nation interview that you’re consuming a fair amount of contemporary lesbian work. What themes did reading/watching that inspire you to cover? I notice, for instance, that Amber starts out the story having had girlfriends already, so that “coming out”, which is so often a major theme in lesbian literature and entertainment is skipped over almost completely.
Is there anything you definitely did NOT want to do in the narrative?
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We specifically wanted to avoid the “b-but we’re both girls” trope that dominates most Yuri media. Not to belittle the difficulty and courage it takes to come out, but simply because there’s a lot of stories that deal with that out there already. Throughout the entire thing, nobody gives a second thought to the fact that the two girls are in a relationship – and that’s how we think it should be. Sadly, we know it’s a little idealistic right now.

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Music is a huge part of this story… do you have a story behind the music you mention in the narrative?
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The music that Amber listens to and talks about were meant to characterize her Grandfather more than anything, and the kind of person that he was. It’s also supposed to set Amber apart a little bit – she’s never heard of any of the bands that Marina likes. But as for those artists having personal significance to us in real life? Nah, not really.

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I thought the sex scene interesting, rather than sexy, per se…what was your thinking behind the way that was handled? 
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Having the sex scenes be a part of character development and not just fanservice was definitely intentional. Especially with the first one – it sets up a lot of important things that happen later. You can also see how Amber misinterprets some of what’s going on or just assumes things about Marina that aren’t quite true. The second sex scene is definitely a happier, lighter one and is supposed to be kind of silly, not just erotic. Both as consumers and developers, we prefer sex scenes that feel like they mean something, rather than just being tossed in there.

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What themes or messages do you hope folks will take away from playing Highway Blossoms?
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Like I mentioned, I think the big theme is simply that “love is love,” no matter who you are or who you fall in love with. Recent events have been a tragic reminder that not everyone is on the same page there yet, but I hope that every day we get a little bit closer to that. There’s also the recurring notion that everyone deserves to be happy, and that you deserve to allow yourself to be happy.

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Any last thing you want to say to fans?

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I’d just like to emphasize that 2016 has been and is a great year for Yuri media in the West. Aside from HB, there have been titles like Starlight Vega, Rising Angels, and A Little Lily Princess, that have all had releases this year. There are also some interesting looking upcoming ones like Alpha’s Adventures. I know that HB isn’t for everyone, but hopefully all Yuri fans will find a new game that they love this year.

I think that’s just about everything. I’ve said it a lot, but thank you! =)

Thank you Josh and best of luck with Highway Blossoms and future projects!

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Interview with Helen McCarthy

January 18th, 2015

3aeWe are so starting off the year right here on Okazu. Guest Reviews, Event Reports and to cap it all off, we have an Interview with someone I admire greatly!

Helen is the first person to have written an English book on anime, she ran anime events in the UK before many of you, my dear readers, were born. ^_^ Helen is universally recognized as an expert in anime and, as a result, is a pioneering figure for many young women interested in the medium over the years. She founded Anime UK magazine, has contributed to many publications and has just released the third edition of The Anime Encyclopedia with Jonathan Clements.

Personally, Helen is a hero and role model of mine, so I am pleased as punch to welcome the doyenne of anime in the west, Helen McCarthy, to Okazu! /applause/

 

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Q: You’ve been involved in Anime fandom in the west since the early 90’s, what are some of the major changes you’ve seen in “fandom” in the past 3 decades?
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HM: The main changes haven’t really been in the fandom so much as in the means of communication. I’ve been part of a number of fandoms since my days as a Trekkie and most operate in similar ways. But the difference that broadband has made is astonishing. It’s enabled fans to get together faster and more often and to communicate really easily.

One of the major benefits has been the explosion in fan creativity and the increase in skill levels in areas like fan art and costuming, as people share skills and tutor each other. One of the drawbacks, of course, is the ease and speed of piracy.

The other big drawback is the way broadband has increased the prominence of one of the negative sides of fandom. There’s always been trolling and bullying, but it’s become increasingly easy for that behaviour to flourish covertly, without the bullies having to own it. That’s been just about the only thing I dislike about fandom in all the time I’ve been a fan, and I would love to see it die out, or even better be completely rejected by fandom.

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Q: And, following that, what are the major changes you’ve noted in the anime industry itself?
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HM: Once again, the changes and acceleration in mass communication have made the most enormous difference. It’s hard to say whether the most important development is the ease of access to new material for consumers, or the ease of access to new markets for companies, but both have been significant.

From my point of view, working on the Anime Encyclopedia is massively easier this time around in terms of how much access one gets to material, how easily. Of course the time to watch everything is still lacking but it’s simpler and faster to get the stuff itself. I said as much to someone recently and laughed like a drain clearing when this person said surely Jonathan Clements and I must be inundated with material from distributors eager to feature in the Encyclopedia. I had to point out we’re not always very nice about everything!

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Q: Here on Okazu, we focus mostly on women in anime and manga – as creators, as characters, as fans. Do you think representation of women in anime (or the anime industry) is getting better, worse or just…different?
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HM: As far as representation goes, it really shows how far we’ve come that there are women who will speak out against the negative images of our gender in entertainment and the media, fearlessly and kindly and wisely; and it shows how far we still have to go that those women are targeted for truly appalling treatment, not only by men but sometimes by other women. I know that’s just part of the Stockholm syndrome behaviour, that collaboration with the oppressor, but it still appalls me. One of my biggest personal challenges is to be fair and generous to women who belittle other women.

As you’ve gathered, I don’t think anime is “just entertainment’ – anything humans do has social and political significance. Pop culture could be one of the greatest and most subversive engines of change for good, but it’s largely been co-opted by megamarketing into a support for the status quo. I don’t want to see anime as the circuses end of bread and circuses, but it is so easily read as another subset of the opium of the masses.

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Q: You’ve written books based on some of the great male anime influencers; Tezuka, Miyazaki. If you were going to pick a female influencer to theme a book around, who might it be and why? (We won’t hold you to it, but we can dream can’t we?)
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HM: There are three women I’d love to write about: the great mangaka Riyoko Ikeda, whose breadth of knowledge and interest is so wide; Eiko Tanaka of Studio 4C who has been one of the most profound creative forces in anime; and Hideko Mizuno, the only girl in the Tokiwa-so gang. Imagine that. Seventeen, in the early 60s, living in a houseful of guys on an equal footing as a creative artist. And then creating Fire! What a woman!

Erica here: Oh, please do write about them! I would so dearly love these as epublications, at the very least. But “3 Women Who Influenced Anime” by you would make me positively weak in the knees! ^_^

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Q: Let’s talk a bit about your upcoming book, The Anime Encyclopedia, 3rd Revised Edition: A Century of Japanese Animation
Please tell us what’s new and what we can look forward to in this edition.
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HM: Oh my – it’s about 25% larger and the word count has gone over 1,100,000. It now weighs enough to be legally classified as a lethal weapon or a house brick, and it’s got so fat it’s at the limits of what is possible in perfect binding.

We’ve got lots of new entries, of course, for both anime and industry figures, and a couple of new thematic essays where we pull together ideas about anime in ways that might not have occurred to you. They were a really hot feature of Volume 2, people liked them a lot, so it made sense to do more.

Otherwise, there’s more of our critical, sometimes ironic, often sarcastic approach. If you don’t like anime dissected and examined and held to account, this is not the book for you. One of the Stone Bridge Press team described it as having snark, and I’m very proud of that.

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Q: What was your favorite thing about writing this book?
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HM: Working with Jonathan is always a blast. He’s clever, funny, and demanding- he won’t let me get away with less than my best work. But I think my favourite thing of all is just to have free rein to look at stuff I love, or don’t, and say exactly what I think. Stone Bridge Press have always been so supportive of us – as long as we stay legal there are no restrictions.That’s wonderful.

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Q: In all your years of anime fandom, what is one of your greatest memories?
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HM: Oh, there are so many! Having tea in Hayao Miyazaki’s private office while he fussed around over an injured bird was fascinating. Dinner with Mahiro Maeda and his wife talking about 16th-century Japanese Christians was just as good. Reading haiku with other poets at conventions is always an absolute delight. The first FANS academic conference at A-Kon, when I was keynote speaker, was amazing. But I always think of little things – talking to people, that wonderful moment at the start of a con when you see an old friend you haven’t seen since last year – in many ways, the greatest memory is the one you’re just about to make, because who knows where it will go?

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Q: I know exactly what you mean! And I feel I really must ask this, sorry for the predictability (^_^) –  what is your favorite anime? Do you have any current anime you’re watching and what stands out about those?
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HM: I never mind being asked that because it’s a question I love to ask too! My favourite anime, 35 years after I first saw it, is still My Neighbour Totoro. The thing that has stood out for me from the recent crop is Terror in Resonance (Licensed by Funimation in the USA). I like intelligent, twisty plots although I do like them to resolve, at least partly. But even if a show’s pretty bad it can usually get some credit from me for being either very beautiful or very daring in visual terms. Anime is a visual medium and it ought to seduce the eye.

Thank you so much, Helen for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us today. I’m very much looking forward to reading the new Anime Encyclopedia, thank you and Jonathan for all your efforts and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that work on women who shaped anime. ^_^

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