Earlier this month, Princess Jellyfish had also been named as one of Amazon's Best Comics and Graphic Novels of 2016. Only 20 books made the list, out of all graphic novels published this past year, and Princess Jellyfish was one of only two manga (the other being Shigeru Mizuki's The Birth of Kitaro).
Princess Jellyfish is one of the rare series that started to get published from Kodansha Comics due to high demand from the fans, even before it was published! So what’s the hype all about? Part of it is the comedic and accurate portrayal of the lives of otaku girls, and part of it seems to be the name value of Akiko Higashimura, a charismatic shojo manga artist who adores shojo manga herself, and continues to make shojo manga for shojo manga fans.
Only weeks before the release of Princess Jellyfish vol.2, we had a chance to interview Higashimura for the first time in English.
About Akiko Higashimura
Born in Kushima, Miyagi Prefecture, she made her debut as a mangaka with Fruits Koumori from Shueisha. In 2001, she started her first series, Kisekai Yuka-chan in Cookie (shojo manga anthology magazine published from Shueisha.) Her most famous work includes Mama wa Temparist, Himawari: Kenichi Legend, and Kakukaku Shikajika. In 2015, Kakukaku Shikajika won the 8th Annual Manga Award and also 19th Annual Japan Cultural Affair Media Art Festival Manga Award. Higashimura is known for working simultaneously on multiple manga series including Yukibana no Tora (published from Shogakukan), Princess Jellyfish, and Tokyo Tarareba-Musume (both published from Kodansha.)
Kodansha Comics (KC): What were you like when you were a child? Akiko Higashiura (AH): My father’s work required a lot of relocation, so my family had to move a lot. We’ve moved five times during my elementary school years, and twice during junior high. I was a pretty active kid, so it wasn’t too hard to make friends. But I had to accept the fact when we move again, I have to build relationship with new sets of friends again. I remember thinking, “Okay, I have to just get over this whole year without causing any trouble.” I was sort of sober-minded for a child.
KC: Did you read manga as a child? What story influenced you the most? AH: I was heavily influenced by shojo manga from the 80’s in general. Rather than being influenced by one specific series, I was influenced by everything I’ve read back then.
KC: Why did you become a mangaka (manga-artist)? AH: I was always drawing ever since I was little, and my parents were supportive of it too. As long as I can remember, it was in back of my mind that one day that I will become a mangaka. But it took me awhile to put it in action. By the time I’ve drawn and submitted my first manga, I was already a working adult.
KC: How did you come up with the story of Princess Jellyfish? AH: I loved shojo manga since I was little. So when I started to get serious about making my own shojo manga, I put together all the aspects that I loved, like the theme of boy meets girl, “gap-moe” (being in love with unexpected side of a person,) and friendship between girls.
KC: Do you have models for the characters in Princess Jellyfish? Which one do you identify with the most?
AH: There are models to these characters. Most of them are based on my otaku girl friends. When I was a student I was also really into jellyfish. I used to spend a lot of time drawing them, or looking at picture books on jellyfish. In that sense, Tsukimi, the main character who is into jellyfish, is based on myself. But people tell me that my personality is a lot like Kuranosuke, the cross-dressing guy.
KC: Speaking of Kuranosuke, how did you come up with a male main character who is into cross-dressing? AH: Initially, Kuranosuke was going to be just a pretty girl. When I told this idea to the editor, he said “what if this character was a boy?” I thought, “wow, how fresh would it be if the male protagonist looks like a ‘princess’ that the female protagonist dreams of becoming?” So I’ve changed the setting immediately. Originally, I’ve imagined Kuranosuke to have a very strong personality. But by making him into a cross-dressing guy, it made him even more of a strong character, who is very self-assured.
KC: Do you like drawing art or writing stories more? Do you find one more difficult than the other? AH: I only feel joy, whether if I’m drawing art or writing stories. I’ve never felt like it’s a difficult, or painful thing to do.
KC: How do you feel to see your manga being adapted into anime or live-action drama? AH: I feel very happy. It’s really exciting to see other creators expanding upon the world I’ve created in my manga.
KC: Do you have any hobbies that you’re currently into? AH: I’ve been into growing succulent plants. My entire day off is spent on gardening.
KC: What manga are you currently working on? AH: Lately I’ve been working on two main series; Tokyo Tarareba-Musume, which is about the troubles of thirty-something-years-old single ladies. Also, I’ve been working on Yukibana no Tora, which is based on facts and my imagination on “what if Kenshin Uesugi, the war hero was a woman?”
KC: Do you have any comments to the fans outside of Japan? AH: I’ve noticed that lately, people outside of Japan are also really into manga. It’s exciting to be able to talk about manga with someone from different countries. I’m usually walking around hear Harajuku, where my work space is. So if you ever see me there, just come up to me. I’ll buy you a latte. Let’s talk about manga!