Otome’s Way sat down with our mangaka, Yusura Ai-sensei, for an exclusive interview recently.
—Today we have Otome’s Way’s featured artist, Yusura Ai-san with us. Thank you so much for coming.
Ai: Thank you for having me.
—This will be your second time going to Malaysia, correct?
Ai: Yes, that’s right.
—And what do you think of Malaysia?
Ai: Last time I went during winter in Japan, so I was surprised by the fairly constant warm weather. The food in Malaysia was delicious and the city was bustling. All the people I met were incredibly nice. I thought it was a great place, and I’m delighted to go back.
—Last time people were very excited at Comic Festa. What did you think about the Malaysia fujoshi and fudanshi?
Even though we come from different countries, we could all smile at our shared interest in boys’ love.
Ai: Everyone was wonderful, accepting, and very excited, especially when topics turned to more racy material. Even though we come from different countries, we could all smile at our shared interest in boys’ love. Their love for Japanese anime series was very clear to me when I saw all of the doujinshi and cosplay.
—Do you often participate in Japanese events like this?
Ai: I wouldn’t say often, but I have participated in the past, yes.
—How was the Malaysian event? Was it different from Japanese events?
Ai: Well, it was different, to be sure. I feel as though the Malaysian fans have fun in one cohesive group more so than Japanese fans. And the quality of the cosplay definitely caught my eye.
—I see. Speaking of which, did you have something in particular in the past that sparked your interest in drawing manga?
Ai: It started out just for fun with a friend of mine. We’d draw manga back and forth until one day I found that I wanted to draw my own stories.
—Have you drawn for any genres other than BL?
Ai: At first I drew romance stories between girls and boys. There was even a time when I drew a few adventure stories. Somehow, BL romance got mixed up in there, as well. (LOL)
—What attracted you to BL? When did you first get into BL?
The lure of forbidden romance between two men added an extra layer of attraction for me.
Ai: At first I considered BL as a fantasy sort of genre. Of course, real homosexuality is perfectly fine, too. But the scope of BL romance was interesting to imagine because of its vast variety. The lure of forbidden romance between two men added an extra layer of attraction for me. I became interested when I was a student and before I knew it I’d fallen… or rather, I’d come to see things from a BL perspective.
—Do you have a favorite BL manga series or artist? Or perhaps an artist that really influenced you in your own art?
Ai: I’d say that rather than a particular BL series, what influenced me was doujinshi from the anime/manga series Prince of Tennis. Doujinshi was probably one of the biggest influences toward making me think that BL is fun.
—I’m sure your readers are interested in you as a person, as well. What sorts of things do you do in your spare time, besides creating manga?
Ai: Besides creating manga… Well, I draw pictures. When I’ve got free time, I doodle. Sometimes when the weather’s nice, I go for walks. I live a fairly relaxed life.
—You’re originally from Kyoto, correct? Most people think of Kyoto as a very traditional town. What do you think, having lived there?
Ai: I think it’s fairly true. You do see lots of people wearing traditional kimono on the street, for instance. There are also many temples and older buildings. The city planning was made specifically to preserve the town’s scenery. I do think that there is a particular atmosphere about Kyoto, and perhaps that atmosphere is traditional, as well.
—I’d like to talk about your recently released work on Otome’s Way, “Rensou.” It’s a story about the traditional Japanese performance art kabuki, correct? What exactly is the allure of this particular story?
Kabuki itself is a beautiful and impressive art form, but the setting in particular lends itself to BL.
Ai: Kabuki itself is a beautiful and impressive art form, but the setting in particular lends itself to BL. Not only do male actors play both the male and female roles, but the audience is comprised of male viewers, as well. Because everyone involved is male, it’s easy to imagine things with a BL tint to them, which is one facet of the allure. Rensou is a love story within that kabuki setting where the characters explore why they became performers and what’s essential to performance in general. Though it’s set in old, Edo period Japan, I hope that it might get people interested in modern day kabuki, as well. It’s amazing what they do with an all-male cast.
—I see. Kabuki itself is almost like its own BL environment. That’s definitely something to look forward to. I’m sure you enjoyed drawing it, as well. What was difficult when drawing for “Rensou?”
Ai: Yes, it was very fun drawing the subtle differences in the two characters’ feelings as they changed within the story over time. The hardest part was remembering that this story takes place all in real-life locations, rather than a fantasy world. I had to be constantly conscious of that fact while drawing. Since it’s set in the past, I had to be sure not to let my imagination run away with me and have lots of references on hand.
—“Rensou” stands out from normal BL fare, not only because it’s in full-color, but also because it has special effects embedded in the story, such as animation, color, and lighting changes. Do you feel that this is a ground-breaking feat for a manga?
Ai: I think it’s amazing! I was so impressed with the special effects that were added after I drew the story! Instead of merely reading along with the lines of text, the feeling behind the words themselves resonate and stay with you when you see them animated. I was most excited by the animated portions.
—One more thing you’ve worked on recently is the new Japanese study material “A Fujoshi’s Guide to Japanese.” It’s quite interesting, too. What’s the general concept behind the book?
I think it’s easiest to learn from interesting materials like Japanese manga and magazines. […] The idea was to add a hint of boys’ love to the mix to make the material more fun to study from.
Ai: It came from a desire to have people know more about Japan and to give them study materials to work from. I think it’s easiest to learn from interesting materials like Japanese manga and magazines. I wanted people to have an easy, fun way to broaden their knowledge and Japanese communication skills, so I came up with this. The idea was to add a hint of boys’ love to the mix to make the material more fun to study from.
—It sounds perfect for anyone that wants to learn more Japanese, not just fujoshi and fudanshi. It, too, has a lot of new features included, such as audio and animation.
Ai: Yes, it’s not just a simple textbook. You can actually see the stroke order for the written characters and hear the pronunciation directly. It’s an amazing visual and auditory opportunity to study. Plus, I created it so that there are lots of images, so it’s fun to look through no matter how many times you’ve read it. I’d love for people to give it a try.
—It’s listed as “Volume 1,” so does this mean there will be more of these to come?
Ai: Precisely. This first volume is an introduction to Japanese to get people into the language. It goes into some of the differences between using English versus Japanese, writing practice, and a few standard greetings. There are plans to have more of these teaching materials focusing on Japanese conversation in the future. The characters in the book are also telling a story, so people can look forward to the continuation of their plotline, as well.
—That sounds interesting! To conclude, could you give a message to the BL fans in Malaysia?
Ai: I hope that we all can enjoy the interesting world of BL together! I’ll do my best to keep things fun for all of us, so thanks for your support!
—Thank you very much for your work today!
Ai: Thank you, as well.