Ouran High School Host Club Manga Creator Bisco Hatori at Anime Expo 2019by Lynzee Loveridge,
Ouran High School Host Club creator Bisco Hatori is beloved by fans for her emotionally resonate and hilarious shojo manga. She made her debut in 1999 in the shojo magazine LaLa DX before launching her first series, vampire romance Millennium Snow. What followed was the series that cemented Hatori as a fan-favorite creator: Ouran High School Host Club. The manga would inspire a 26-episode television anime, a live-action television drama and spin-off, and a live-action film.
Hatori's series took all the trappings of shojo romance: a poor girl in a rich school thrown into a club of impossibly attractive young men due to a complete accident. Hatori assigned a popular trope to each male member and took it apart to reveal how real people can put up a facade of coolness or affability to hide pain and insecurities. Ouran High School Host Club was not another wish-fulfillment reverse harem - it's a series grounded in kindness that extends to its surprisingly progressive ideas on gender norms and sexuality.
Nearly 20 years since it began publication, fans of Bisco Hatori's story finally got to meet her in person at Anime Expo. The room was packed with excited attendees who cheered as Hatori entered the room to the anime's theme song "Sakura kiss." She was joined by her editor Takeshi Sato and Shojo Beat editors Nancy Thistlethwaite and Pancha Diaz. The staff started on a Q&A session with Hatori to discuss the finer points and details of Millennium Snow, Behind the Scenes!!, and Ouran High School Host Club.
Not only does Behind the Scenes!! have a really good story, it also has all these really cool tutorials like how to make shrinky dinks, how to age clothing for costumes, and how to do really cool nail art. I can also attest that sensei's nail art is top notch.
Hatori: It was actually the same artist from when I did research on nail art! She did my nail art for this trip.
You did a lot of research and field trips for Behind the Scenes!!, can you tell us about your favorite one?
Hatori: During my research, I talked to a lot of different department heads but what was the most memorable was when I went to a TV studio's art department warehouse. Inside was so much furniture that you could put together an apartment with it. A lot of stone gravemarkers were around too. It was really, really interesting.
How big was the warehouse?
Hatori: Definitely bigger than this room.
Zombies make an appearance in a Behind the Scenes!! performance. Do you think you'll ever revisit zombies in another work?
Hatori: During my research trip, I went to an actual art squad at a college and there was this girl who loves zombies. She literally sat there and convinced me how great zombies are! When I started drawing zombies, I was still scared but over time it started getting more and more fun. Nowadays it's much easier for me to draw zombies.
You mentioned in an author note that you weren't able to include all the stories about Ranmaru's family that you wanted to. Will you tell us a little about what you had planned for them?
Hatori: My original intent was that during winter break, he would go back home and I was thinking there might be a scene where he's on a boat with his father or the art squad would come with him because he doesn't understand the level of love from his family. I was thinking that maybe I would address that but as I was writing the story I actually went ahead several months later and ended up skipping over a potential winter break, so I couldn't put it in.
Without naming any names since they [the audience] hasn't had the chance to read volume 7 yet, did you have the romantic pairs planned from the beginning or did you change your mind as you went along?
Hatori: There was a little bit of change in the middle, but that's all I can say for now.
Behind the Scenes!! is full of arts and crafts and hobbies. Are you a crafty person? Did you have crafting hobbies before and it helped inspire the series or did you pick up anything while you were working on the series?
Hatori: I started out putting together useful things, like putting wheels on a board as well as little arts and crafts. I have bought clay with the intention to make miniature food, like bread and things like that, but it's still just clay.
What movies and TV shows are you watching now and do you have any recommendations for the audience?
Hatori: When I first started Behind the Scenes!! I could not take any type of horror whatsoever, but the more I worked on it what I noticed is that there's beauty in it. There's a type of beauty that can only be expressed in horror. My first entry into horror was Rosemary's Baby. Some other movies I really like are Easy Rider, Bonnie & Clyde, The Swimmer, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, a lot of older films. Lately Deer Hunter, is one I liked too. You know, family-friendly content! Just kidding, don't let the kids watch it.
In Millennium Snow, Tōya's familiar Yamimaru has a son at the end. Can you tell us about the mother?
Hatori: I can't be too specific but, I can say his mother is human. So the son is half-human. That's about it.
In the epilogue, Chiyuki and Tōya are visiting a grave along with their companions. Can you tell us whose grave it is and how much time has passed between the epilogue and the last chapter?
Hatori: When I wrote the epilogue I imagined about 90-100 years had passed and they had been visiting Chiyuki's parents' grave as well as her friend who appears in volume three.
In Ouran High School Host Club, you wrote that the series is a parody based on love. Will you tell us about your love for shojo manga and what you felt was important to include?
Hatori: All the common shojo manga genre's prototypes [are represented in] all the good looking boys, but I wanted to show that no one is just one-sided. Everyone is multifaceted. For example with Kyoya, his shojo manga prototype is the “cool guy” but as the story progresses we learn how really intense he is.
You wrote in a sidebar that all the characters except Honey and Mori share an aspect of your personality. Can you tell us the aspects you share with each Host Club member?
Hatori: Tamaki and I share an intensity for injustice. The twins...I've been told I have a mischievous side. Kyoya and I share the darkness. Finally, Haruhi and I share same kind of “uh, whatever” mood sometimes.
Was Tamaki always the intended hero of the series? How difficult was it to create a foolish prince character to become the romantic lead?
Hatori: From the get-go, I didn't think that a foolish prince, a guy that was a little funny and a little intense, would be a problem. When Ouran started, I drew it and I sent to the higher-ups and they said, “Hmm, I don't know if this silly prince idea...” so then my own editor said “Oh no, no. It'll be fine.” They really pushed for it. I'm happy he was accepted!
Will you please talk about the gender role, gender identities, and sexual orientation in Ouran High School Host Club?
Hatori: I really feel that Ouran is really about relationships, individuality, and being yourself. That was always my intent. Being yourself also applies to your sexual orientation. For example with Kyoya, like I said before he had a cool prototype but he's actually intense. I think that really applies to how people are multidimensional. With Haruhi, Haruhi has this ability to see past the facade and see who people really are. Playing off how people are more than one dimensional, that's how I came up with her father.
Ouran has a great combination of verbal and physical comedy. Which comes easier to you, drawing physical comedy or writing jokes?
Hatori: I think there can be both difficult and easy moments. For example, it'll just pop in my head “oh, this is great dialogue” and I'll start drawing it...and then it might not work together. Or the opposite will happen. I'll have the image and I'll draw it but then I'll have a hard time coming up with the right kind of dialogue. It's a very difficult process sometimes.
There's a longing for people to reunite, reconnect, or come to an understanding through out Ouran. Tamaki acts as a connector for the other members when he creates the host club and the host club client's relationships. Why is this theme important to you?
Hatori: All of my works have a running theme of kindness. That comes from when I was a kid, I actually changed schools quite often due to my parent's work. In grade school I changed schools three times and when I moved up into middle school I changed schools again. I really understand being the new kid and how important it is to have that one other kid in class that asks you to join their group. That kindness is really important to me.
Do you have a favorite scene in the anime?
Hatori: One of my favorite scenes is actually in episode 1 when Tamaki helps Haruhi after she knocked the vase! I love the music, the moment, and everything about it!
Anime News Network was able to sit down with Bisco Hatori one-on-one that weekend to talk in-depth about Ouran High School Host Club and what it's like to return to a manga series after a decade. ANN's interview is below.
What is the “origin story” of Ouran High School Host Club? It was originally conceived as a one-shot, how did the manga evolve from a short story to a series?
Hatori: Ouran High School Host Club first started as a 50 page limited one-shot but then it got a little bit of traction so we did that two more times. As far as the origin story, my editor at the time had kind of thrown out large ideas like, “Oh, what if we had a story about a very rich high school and it featured handsome boys." Then, at the time in Japan host clubs were really popular. Then we started mixing the ideas, like the host club element and the shojo genre to create something new.”
Manga for girls and women of the time was very drama heavy, sometimes putting danger or violence in its relationships to up the ante, but you don't see that in Ouran High School Host Club. Was that a purposeful decision?
Hatori: That is very true that shojo manga can be drama heavy, but also at that time the genre also features the school setting and daily life and the stories that unfold there. I feel that's where my area is. I like drama too, but I really like telling stories about friendships and relationships and how these grow. I like focusing on human, personal growth.
What do you consider the right balance for drama and comedy in a story?
Hatori:I generally say 50/50 but I'm probably heavier on the funnier side. It's always better to be happy and funny.
Haruhi's father is a unique parent and his job and lifestyle are never shown as a hindrance to raising his daughter properly. How was he developed?
Hatori: Especially with Haruhi, from her perspective, male or female, it doesn't matter. So expanding on that, to push that world view further, you get her dad. He was a natural result from following that logic.
Not just Haruhi's dad, but there's a lot of playful gender expression in Ouran High School Host Club among the male cast and Haruhi. How do you think this translates to the overall appeal of the characters?
Hatori: I always felt that the story shouldn't drive the characters. The characters should drive the story. Since it's a character driven story, that means the characters have more freedom and freedom of expressing themselves. I feel that is part of their individuality and their individual expression.
There are elements in Ouran High School Host Club that are very “Japanese”, including the concept of a host club itself. There isn't really an equivalent to a host club in the U.S., yet the series was immensely popular here. What is it about Ouran High School Host Club that appeals to an international audience?
Hatori: Host clubs are intrinsically Japanese, so I was surprised to see there were a lot of fans who just went with the setting of it even if they're not specifically familiar the host club concept. But the story itself is about coming of age, understanding yourself, and finding yourself. On the outside there might be a slight cultural difference, but thematically I think is where people plugged in.
After Ouran High School Host Club ended, you revisited your vampire manga Millennium Snow after a decade. What is it like to go back to that story after that much time?
Hatori:I was nervous! I was very nervous to go back and finish it but that was the promise I made to my fans and myself as well. I definitely wanted to see it to the end. It was difficult though, but I'm very glad I did.
Were there parts of the story you'd update or change?
Hatori: I don't have any specific parts I can think of but it's definitely a “should've, would've, could've” type of process. When a series goes into a tankobon format, there are times when you can do a little bit of editing, like one frame for example. Just to smooth everything out, there's a little bit of touching up. I try to minimize that though, since there was specific intention when I drew it or wrote it that way at the time.
Ouran High School Host Club and Behind the Scenes!! are both grounded in reality. Do you have any interest in writing another supernatural story like Millennium Snow?
Hatori: I don't have any specific genre that I'm drawn to right now, but once I find that I will start doing all the research and background development.
Hatori: I don't have any specific manga titles, but generally I do take in what's popular when I'm working. As far as non-anime influences, I really like the novelists Banana Yoshimoto and Mariko Koike. I actually really follow J-drama scriptwriters, like Kouki Mitani, Kankuro Kudo, Yuji Sakamoto, Ryota Kosawa, Izumi Kizara, and Sou Kuramoto.
What is your perfect work environment? Do you prefer a type of music to get creative or quiet?
Hatori: Generally I work alone when I'm in the “name” stage. I almost want to be in a very small, Japanese toilet-like confined space, in a house with a desk. That's perfect for me. Once I get into the boarding step, then I do music or I'll go to a cafe and listen to the ambiance for work. It's on a case-by-case basis. If deadlines are looming and there's more pressure, a different environment helps. Once I'm full-on drawing, I'll have the TV on or Netflix, something in the background.
Are there any artistic tools that you consider indispensable?
Hatori: Of course there's pen and paper, but I actually use fingerless gloves because how I hold a pen is a little funky. When I start drawing, the gloves help the loose fingers kinda grip it. That's how the fingerless gloves come into play and I also use a protector over my middle finger so I don't get a callous. I use a lot of protective-type things.
What do you think makes an ideal heroine and an ideal hero?
Hatori: I think in general, whether a hero or a heroine, the reader has to root for them. Even if your main character is out to conquer the world, they have to have qualities to make you root for them. Specifically, if its a female character and I think the story will have a lot of female fans, I take that into consideration.
Do you have any messages for your international fans?
Hatori: Thank you all so much for loving my creations that were, to me, just created at a desk. The biggest thing that everyone helped me realize is that my creations have gone beyond language and culture. I've been really touched by how people have loved my works. I hope to continue connecting and communicating with people that way.
Our thanks to VIZ Media and Bisco Hatori for this opportunity.
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