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Interview: Rock M. Sakura, Anime Queen from RuPaul's Drag Race Season 12

by Zac Bertschy,

There's no denying RuPaul's Drag Race is a national phenomenon – the overwhelmingly popular reality competition show has become a staple of pop culture across the country in the last decade, introducing the world to a wide and diverse variety of highly talented, deeply entertaining comedians and performers. Normally we wouldn't be discussing the show on an anime website, but the new season of the show – beginning February 28th on VH1 – features a queen who directly takes inspiration for her looks from the world of anime, manga and cosplay.

28-year old Rock M. Sakura is an entertainer and comedian from the San Francisco bay area who wears her proud otaku roots right on her sequined sleeve – a lifelong fan of anime and manga, and a passion for cosplay. She's a contestant in the next season, so we had the chance to ask her a few questions about her origin story.

ANN: Can you tell us a little about how you got into anime and manga? I promise this isn't a test to see what your bonafides are as a fan – just curious what your story as a fan is.

As a lot of fans from my generation would say, I started watching anime on Toonami, Kids WB, and FoxKids. For as long as I can remember I've been watching anime! As I got older I would go to my local library and rent older manga and anime, like Ranma 1/2, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Magic Knights Rayearth, and of course, my namesake: Card Captor Sakura.

When it comes to designing a look, what would you say your chief influences are? Your design process must be very complex. I've noticed some JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, a little Mazinger Z, some Gundam – it's a whole world of art you're pulling from while implementing original ideas that complement them, which I think is phenomenal.

Thank you so much for noticing my influences! I've gone through a lot of career options. I've been a caricature artist, freelance storyboarder, animator, and just before doing drag I wanted to do video game concept art and manga illustration. When I design my outfits, I always make sure to design something that brings me joy and has a memorable silhouette. My outfits are designed to tell audiences that I am the main character in the anime that is the stage. My chief influences for my drag includes Shojo manga, fighting game women, and avant garde runways. All places where memorable designs and looks are essential. I don't have one anime or designer I like to embody, anime is ingrained in my DNA so much that it's hard not to have an anime style and feel.

How long does it take you to construct a particular look? A lot of your stuff looks like it takes a very long time to assemble.

I'm glad that it LOOKS like it takes a long time to construct, but that is far from the truth most of the time! In true cosplayer the night before the con, my entrance look this season was sewn in one night. A lot of the complexities of my outfits are faked using old cosplay tips and tricks that I've acquired through the years! I've also made outfits from nothing. Outfits from paper, armor from spoons, and dollar store chic can all look expensive if you have the imagination to turn it out.

So cosplay has been essential to anime fandom for decades and has become increasingly elaborate – how would you compare your particular looks to what cosplayers have been doing?

I AM FLOORED COMPLETELY. We've seen cosplay do a complete glowup transformation, havent we? I would say that my looks are indicative of what cosplayers are doing now. Attendance at big cons is at an all time high, so you have to make sure that you leave your own personal mark, and be creative and adapt the cosplay to match your own skill level, sensibilities and style.

Do you think there's a comparison between drag and cosplay, or is that a little too reductive?

Drag is cosplay. Drag lets you cosplay as your most powerful and realized self. I think the only difference I see in the two is that drag queens at least can try to make their money back from their outfits by performing and making tips. Cosplay is super super expensive, and you're not even making a booking fee.

Have you been to many anime conventions yourself? If so, what do you typically drift toward while you're at one?

I've gone to Fanime (Norcal convention in San Jose) every year since since Freshman year of highschool (2005). If it feels like I'm able to relate to anime lovers and con goers, it's because I am you. I've been there since AMV hell 1 man, (also, drag humor is a lot like AMVs). When I go to cons I always book it straight to the artist alley so I can see new things people are selling. We've been seeing such an amazing boom in talent in the last decade in artist alleys, and it's always amazing to see how people are innovating it!

What's your all-time favorite anime?

My favorite anime of all time is Card Captor Sakura! But it's followed very closely by FMA and the first season of  Pokémon. If you want to talk about favorite manga, it's One Piece.

Finally – have you seen any anime, manga or j-pop you enjoyed lately, and if so, can you share your recommendations with us?

My favorite anime of all time is coming out soon. It's called RuPaul's Drag Race and the new season is premiering February 28th on VH1!!! (But seriously, I've been rereading Junji Ito's entire library of stories recently, and if you have only seen the anime adaptations of his works, you are missing out).

Our thanks to Rock M. Sakura for this opportunity.

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