Kinokuniya: Natsume Ono Q&A and Signing

After her visit to Toronto, which of course I couldn’t attend, we were lucky that Natsume Ono made a brief appearance in New York City at Kinokuniya. Even though Kino is often having events, getting a manga-ka is still fairly rare. For those of you less familiar with her, she is the manga-ka behind House of Five Leaves, Ristorante Paradiso, and Not Simple among many others. Natsume was kind and gracious, but camera-shy, and she spent a few moments in every signing to do a sketch.

As I have stated in the past my favorite part of any anime conventions is the ability to meet incredibly talented artists in the fields of anime and manga. The most coveted professionals are manga-ka because their schedules often make it that they cannot be pried away from their desks due to their hellish schedules.  So I leap at the chance to speak to any working manga-ka as they usually have made a major sacrifice to appear in the US. When they are at something free like Kinokuniya it is a unmissable treat.

People started to bubble into the event around 6-ish, which is also when I arrived on the scene. I had brought manga with me to have signed, but opted to pick up a copy of the English release of House of Five Leaves vol. 1 anyway. It was unclear at first as we all mingled just steps away from the person we came to see whether this would be a Q&A session or just a signing. Soon chairs were brought and happily Natsume was prepared for many a query. Samurai Beat Radio was in attendance to liven up the crowd and start off the session. They started with some questions about New York City, this was Natsume’s second visit after her first trip to research her manga Coppers. She relayed some funny anecdotes about being driven directly to the Bronx which frightened her a bit, but ended up being happy to not just see the tourist-side of the city. So with this second visit she was really taking in more. Speaking of her travels she talked a bit about her time in Italy where she spent 10 months in the early 2000s. The theme of food started to come up quite a bit at this point as she uses mealtimes a lot in her series. She went on to say it is the most ordinary moments in everyday life, a perfect place to start conversations and make it seem natural. On a personal note she loves donuts, and there were a bunch at the signing. Diving even more personal she spoke very briefly about her dad, but when it comes to her stories she says most of it doesn’t come from her own experiences. The only exception is a short story in La Quinta Camera during New Year’s. Despite the fact that she said for certainty that her stories just come to her, and are not really from inspirations, at least not that she can pin down, most of the audience questions were “What was your inspiration for ______.”

I would like to mention that several times during the event I scanned the audience at the event at I only saw 5 men other than myself at the event. I suppose given the style of Natsume Ono’s manga and her BL work that is not shocking but I think it goes a long way in illustrating that seinen can have a very strong appeal among women. The initial questions were apparently the canned questions she answers at all her appearances in North America. They had a decent mix of topics including her research methods, life as a manga-ka, influences, and even a bit about her family. I did not know about her Coppers series that is set in NY but it did pique my interest in seeing her take on the Big Apple and the NYPD. She mentioned watching Hill Street Blues when she was younger so I wonder how much that influenced Coppers. We also learned that her newest series will be a historical piece like House of Five Leaves and centers around the two men who meet at the Kawasaki Daishi temple but she could not reveal the title just yet. When the audience was allowed to ask questions they seemed most interested in her inspirations for various manga and characters.

The line for autographs just sort of formed suddenly without much rhyme, reason, or organization but everyone was kind so there was no insanity. I was perhaps 20th in line or so, but it was going so slowly, then the realization came that she was sketching! What luck! Since I had some time I mulled over just who I would like to get from House of Five Leaves; for no real reason I decided I had to think of something that not everyone would ask for. So I decided on Yaichi in his childhood. This seemed to give her pause, yeah I’m weird. We were also given a choice of different postcards to take, mine from Five Leaves is pictured at the top.

After the Q&A I happened to see Ed Chavez (aka the Guru of Manga) and after a little chat he introduced me to Akira Uemura which took me by surprise but it was a very pleasant surprise. She is the chief editor at Manga Erotics F which is a very unusual manga anthology magazine. It has yaoi, yuri, hentai, and your more “standard” manga all next to each other so it is hard for me to label it either as either seinen or josei. My first question for her was simple. What is the editorial push for stories in Manga Erotics F? What do they want from the stories they publish? She answered that all the stories within the magazine are made to cater to a particular fetish. Each story will cater to a different fetish but they want to have a wide variety of fetishes for a wide variety of readers. I later joked that Manga Erotics F was like the Pokemon of fetishes in which they were trying to catch them all. The next logical question in my mind was what was the demographic for such a usual publication. Apparently their readership is 60 percent female and 40 percent male. I would suppose the inclusion of BL would make Manga Erotics F distinctly female friendly but the wide variety of stories some of which are very male friendly keep it from being casually placed in the josei category. I then asked her for any recommendations as an editor. She of course said that everyone should read Natsume Ono but she also said that Kawachi Haruka and Asumiko Nakamura were artists to be aware of. I picked up Kawachi Haruka’s Indian Strawberry on her recommendation. I was then called away on other business but later on I realized I had a million other questions I could have asked. I am sure that such high-ranking editor has invaluable insight into the manga industry.

This was a nice low-key event this stems most certainly from Natsume’s rather subdued works and also a more mature storytelling path for the most part. This signing and Q&A was also not part of a larger anime/manga event that tends to make Kinokuniya really crazy. That being said however, there was a good solid crowd and everyone seemed to get some great memories. I know it is hard for manga-ka to take a break to do these things so I feel extremely grateful.

The rest of the night I spent as a shill getting animemiz a second signed copy of Ristorante Paradiso this time with a sketch with Claudio. I have to say that it was a very enjoyable little event that gave me some great insight into the mind and process of a manga-ka. I hope that I could see her again after the licensing of another of her works in the US. Overall it was nice to see a strong and devoted turn out for someone like Natsume Ono who has a more mature output that is not the stereotypical taste when you think of American manga fandom. Hopefully events like this are a sign of at least a marginal increase in the interest in seinen or josei in the US.

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