Interview: Okayado, The Father of Monster Musumeby Deb Aoki,
Anime Expo 2016 in Los Angeles attracted an all-star array of top talent from Japan, including several manga creators. One notable guest making his first visit to a N. America comics convention was Okayado, the creator of 12 Beast and Monster Musume: Everyday Life With Monster Girls.
Monster Musume is basically a harem comedy with a twist: thanks to a bureaucratic mix-up, a hapless 20-something guy gets a girl from another country assigned to live with him as part of a cultural exchange program. The catch? The girl is not just from another country, but she's from a completely different species. Kimihito Kurusu's new houseguest is Miia, a half-girl/half-snake Lamia who just happens to be very busty and very crazy about him. Soon after that, even more monster girls take up residence at the Kurusu household, including a harpy and a centaur. Later, even more monster girls enter the picture, including a zombie, a headless dullahan, mermaids and spider women, making Kimihito's life anything but ordinary.
The English print edition of Monster Musume and 12 Beast are published by Seven Seas Entertainment. Jason DeAngelis, Seven Seas Entertainment publisher has called Monster Musume one of their best-selling manga series ever. All 8 volumes of Monster Musume published to date have been featured on the New York Times Graphic Books bestseller list. Monster Musume is also available in digital format on BookWalker, ComiXology, and Amazon Kindle. The anime is now showing on Crunchyroll.com and Hulu.com, and has been licensed for DVD/Blu-Ray release by Sentai Filmworks.
With this record of sales success in North America, it's little wonder that Monster Musume fans came out in force to welcome Okayado, along with Mikio Ikai, his editor from Comic Ryu magazine, at a standing-room-only spotlight panel discussion at Anime Expo. The panel, which featured questions submitted online by fans, saw Okayado answering queries such as “Will we ever see yuri or BL pairings in Monster Musume?” (“Maybe.”) and “Will we see stories with Lala and her mom?” (“I'll think about it.”)
Okayado also drew numerous sketches of monster girls for fans at the BookWalker booth, met and chatted with Monster Musume cosplayers, and looked like he was having a ball at his first Anime Expo. Anime News Network caught up with Okayado and Ikai the day after their panel appearance, and learned more about how a cranky co-worker inspired Okayado to take the leap from being a manga artist's assistant to becoming a published manga artist, why monster girls rock his world, and how Monster Musume fans worldwide are making an impact on his manga.
“I QUIT!”: MAKING THE MOVE FROM ASSISTANT TO MANGAKA
Let's start by talking about how you got your start as a professional manga creator. We were talking last night at dinner, you had this interesting story about how you went from being an amateur artist to becoming a pro. You used to work at a magazine, or something like that?
Okayado: So as I mentioned earlier, I started out by creating a one-page manga that just put it up on the Internet randomly.
Okayado: Oh no, not on Pixiv at first. On 2chan. Have you ever heard of 2chan?
Ah, right. Yes, I have.
Okayado: I started putting images up on 2chan. Then when I got several pages done, I started posting them on Pixiv. At the same time, I was working as an assistant for another mangaka.
Oh, which mangaka?
Okayado: Naoki Serizawa.
Which manga series does Serizawa-sensei draw?
Okayado: Serizawa-sensei drew Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire manga(published in English by VIZ Media). I worked as an assistant for that mangaka. I was pretty happy working as an assistant to Serizawa-san, but there was this other assistant working there, and she was very picky about things.
So she was kind of a micromanager?
Okayado: Yeah, yeah, she was that sort of assistant. So I started thinking, ‘Well, maybe I should become a mangaka and get out of this place.’
At dinner last night, you told this really funny story about getting so fed up with this woman and this situation at Serizawa-sensei's studio, to the point where you said ‘Screw this,’ gave notice and quit being an assistant artist.
Okayado: (laughs) Well, this woman, she was working at Serizawa-sensei's studio for a while, but one day, she suddenly became really unhappy and grumpy. She started throwing rulers at other assistants and she started scolding them all for no reason.
Okayado: Sometimes she would say to me, ‘You said that I was an obaa-san the other day.’ “Obaa-san” means…
Old lady, grandma, or “old hag!” right? (laughs)
Okayado: Right! (laughs) She was so mad that I called her ‘obaa-san,’ she told me, ‘I'm not going to forgive you!’
No one had ever told her that, so she just became a terrible, grumpy person to work with. But Serizawa-sensei, he's the kind of guy who doesn't like telling people off, so he didn't say anything to her to address the situation. So things got worse and worse and worse.
At the time, I was twenty-five years old and I thought, ‘Maybe it's a good time for me to become a mangaka now.’ So that's why I took my work to Kodansha.
So when my series was accepted for publication at Kodansha, I told Serizawa-sensei that was quitting because I was starting my own manga series. I didn't say anything about the grumpy woman as being one of the reasons why I left.
Ah, you should send a box of senbei (cookies) that woman to thank her for inspiring you to start your career as a mangaka (laughs)! Otherwise, if not for her, you might still be an assistant manga artist!
Okayado: (laughs) Yes, I should probably do that! Anyhow, that's how I got started my first series, MaMaMa: Mahou Iinchou Mako-chan Mahou Shidou at Magazine Special, a weekly magazine published by Kodansha. That series went on for a year and five months or so.
What is MaMaMa about? I've never heard of this series.
Okayado: It's based in the magical world. The main character is a girl who's studying to become a professional witch.
Is it an ecchi story as well?
Okayado: MaMaMa is not as sexually explicit as Monster Musume, mostly because it was published by Kodansha. (laughs) (NOTE: Monster Musume is published in Japan by Tokuma Shoten)
So anyway, this girl lives in the magical world and she goes to the human world to study. She meets a guy who is sort of ecchi, and she goes on to have a relationship with him.
When that series was about to end, Ikai-san, my editor at Comic Ryu magazine found me on Pixiv. He didn't know that I was already a professional mangaka. So Ikai-san emailed me, not knowing that he was reaching out to me just when my other manga series was about to end.
Mikio Ikai: I sent an email to Okayado because other mangaka introduced his work to me, and said that Okayado is doing a really good job on Pixiv and all that.
Which manga artists recommended Okayado to you?
Ikai: Ike (creator of Neko Musume Michikusa Nikki) and Kei Murayama (creator of A Centaur's Life, published by Seven Seas Entertainment). They're both mangaka that have series published in Comic Ryu.
I sent Okayado a message through Pixiv and we started talking about creating a new manga series for Comic Ryu. Through the course of our conversations, we found out Okayado and I live in the same city! So that's how we met and how Monster Musume got started.
I see! So Monster Musume is kind of a, uhm… risqué manga that has some very saucy scenes, shall we say? (laughs) It gets pretty explicit sometimes, but given that is there anything you'd definitely never draw, that would be way too… well, you know, goes too far over a line for you?
Ikai: Well, Monster Musume is not rated 18+ in Japan. The line in Japan for the “Rated R” content is having the actual sex scene or drawing what's underneath the underwear, you know, from bottom down. Top-up is okay, bottom-down is… (laughs) We're not allowed to write nudity underneath there, from bottom-down. That's the line.
Okayado: Anyway, the reason why I can draw really ecchi content in Monster Musume is… Well, first of all, Ikai-san saw my art on Pixiv art first, and the art I posted on that site was sort of ecchi style to begin with. So that's the first reason. The second reason is because Comic Ryu is not so strict about such things compared to other magazines.
Ikai: That said, we couldn't publish this kind of manga five years ago. But because we've published similar types of manga by Murayama Kei, at least a year before Okayado's manga was introduced in the pages of Comic Ryu, that made it possible. Murayama-san was creating A Centaur's Life, a manga about centaur girls. He's the artist who introduced Okuyado-sensei to me, and to Comic Ryu.
So we knew that this sort of thing would be popular among the readers in Japan, so that's why there were able to do Monster Musume. The reason why Kodansha didn't publish Monster Musume is because they didn't know about the art that Okayado had posted on Pixiv. He didn't show them his Pixiv art, he just brought his other works to them.
MONSTER MUSUME: A LIFE DRAWING MONSTER GIRLS
Monster Musume is pretty much an ecchi manga, with the theme of monster girls. When you first came up with the concept for this series and proposed it to manga editors, did you experience any skepticism or resistance to creating this type of story?
Okayado: Well, Monster Musume started out as a one-page manga. I put it up on the internet and it got the attention of a lot of fans, so that's how it started out.
When I decided to make it into a full-on manga series, those same fans of the one-page manga version of Monster Musume were against it. They said that they liked the one-page manga, and if I made it into a series, it wouldn't be able to capture the interesting aspects of the one-page manga.
So at first, I had to deal with a lot of criticism from these fans. But I just pressed on and went ahead with it, because I had to do what I could do with this story, and I decided not to think about it too deeply. I knew that there would be other fans who would love this series once I got it started. To this day, there are fans who criticize me, but there are also many fans who love this series, so that keeps me going.
When you were developing the story for Monster Musume, did you ever imagine that it was going to be as popular as it is now?
Ikai: In Japan or America or both?
Okayado: No, I never thought it would be this popular, especially in the US!
Monster Musume is mostly a comedy, but it also has some themes about two different races, monsters and the humans coexisting peacefully. Is this something that you're exploring in your story to convey a deeper social message to readers?
Okayado: I really didn't intend to have (different races co-existing) as a key theme in the story. I like strong characters, so I thought it would be interesting to build up distinct personalities for each of the monster musume. Racial harmony wasn't something that thought much about when I first conceived of this story. However, as I created the characters and developed the story, it just kind of came up naturally.
One of the initial key plot points of Monster Musume is that Kimihito, the main male character cannot have sex with the monster girls who come to live with him. Then within a chapter or two, this rule changes! The powers that be say that he can marry one girl, which sets off a frenzy as the girls compete for Kimihito's attention and affections. What made you decide to change the rules for human-monster relationships at that point in the story?
Okayado: I did put in the no-sex-with-monster-girls rule intentionally at first because I wanted to have at least three monster musume characters living with Kimihito, at least at first. I started off with Miia (the half-snake lamia), then added Papi the harpy and Centorea, the centaur. While the girls came in at different times, I wanted to give the three girls at the same starting point. So I made that ‘no sex’ rule at first, in order for them to start their relationship with the main character with the same starting point.
And because Monster Musume has a lot of explicit images and… what do you call it?
Okayado: Yeah, right! Fan-service! (laughs) I felt that if I didn't have that rule to stop them, these characters would just go on straight to bed together! (laughs) So I needed to have that rule in place at first. But after I had introduced several characters to the story, and they could have more relationships with the different characters, I let go of the “no human/monster romantic relationship” rule.
So this relaxing of the “no naughty bits with the monster girls” rule was planned from the beginning?
I see! Monster Musume is pretty much a harem manga, and your readers definitely have opinions about which monster girl should get the guy. How do you deal with your fans offering their opinions to you about which girl should be Kimihito's #1 in the end? Are you able to block out these fan opinions and just do what you think is right for the characters and the story? Or do fans influence the direction of Monster Musume?
Okayado: I do get influenced by the fans a lot, actually.
Oh, how so?
Okayado: I get a lot of tweets and replies from fans through Twitter. (laughs) There's this one guy who loves Polt, the dog girl character. He was saying that he wants me to include her in stories a lot more, and that he wants to go to the gym with her. So based on this fan's enthusiasm for Polt, I started thinking, ‘Hm. Maybe Polt is a good character, and maybe I should put her out a lot more!’ So that's why I started including Polt more often in some of recent chapters of Monster Musume.
Ah, because that one fan was very determined see more of that character?
Okayado: Yeah, he was passionate about it!
Do you get tweets from American fans of Monster Musume too?
Okayado: Actually, that fan I just described who was so passionate about Polt is not Japanese. He's a fan from overseas, an American, I believe.
Oh, is that right? How do you read his tweets?
Okayado: I use Google Translate! (laughs)
I feel you, man! (laughs) Google Translate: Bringing the world together, one tweet at a time!
STRONG (MONSTER) GIRLS, WEAK MEN?
Another interesting thing about Monster Musume is that Kimihito, the main protagonist has a name that is rarely said throughout the series. Was that intentional?
Interpreter: You mean Kimihito?
Yeah, it's not quite like a regular name, it's kind of like “Darling-kun.”
Okayado: Yes, I did that on purpose, so readers can connect more with the characters. You know, like in dating sim games, where there's a lot of cute girls in it, they don't call you by name, they just call you “Darling” and stuff. It's sort of the same thing. It lets you feel more attached to the characters, and it helps the reader get more immersed into the story.
This is a pretty dumb question, but I was wondering why are Kimihito's eyes always white when he gets super excited?
Okayado: First of all, I didn't really want to draw even the face of the main character in Monster Musume.
Okayado: I wanted to do that, so readers would be able to feel some attachment to the main character easily. But I have to draw the face of my main character at the very least, so that's why I draw his face, but as a kind of compromise, I'm not drawing his eyes, so his eyes are white.
So why doesn't the main character, Kimihito, have much of a personality? (laughs) Instead, the focus is mostly on the monster girls having strongly defined personalities, and this guy being the passive prey of an ever-growing assortment of aggressively amorous monster girls.
Okayado: I didn't make the main character to have not much personality to avoid criticism from the readers in Japan and overseas. I made him that sort of character because in Japan, there's a lot of that sort of guys…
Interpreter: Yeah, we call them passive… “meat-eating men.”
Okayado: There's a lot of guys like that in Japan now, so I thought that readers could relate to this sort of main character. I also thought that the balance between the strong girls and the passive meat-eating boy would be interesting, that it would be a good balance.
NEXT STEPS: LIFE AFTER MONSTER MUSUME?
If you were to end Monster Musume and move on to new and different projects, have you put much thought toward drawing something else, another type of story besides Monster Musume?
Okayado: I'm not really thinking about anything in detail for my next series, but I am interested in writing science fiction. I do really like monster girls, so if I were to do a science fiction series, then I would have monster girls in it as well, probably.
Monster Girls in Spaaace! (everyone laughs) If Monster Musume ended tomorrow, which character would you miss the most?
Okayado: Miia, possibly. I drew her at the beginning, so that's why I'd probably miss her the most. I was quite surprised by the popularity of Rachnera, the spider girl. I didn't think she'd be so popular because she doesn't look cute; she's not cute-cute looking. I was really surprised and happy that people really loved her, so I would miss her as well.
Which monster girl would you like to have move in with you if you had the chance?
Why would she be fun to live with?
Okayado: I think I mentioned why at the panel, yesterday… you know…
Oh, that's right. Everything comes back to boobs! (everyone laughs) At your spotlight panel the other day, one of the questions that came up was, will you someday introduce American monster girls in Monster Musume?
Okayado: I do think about it a lot. Zombina is one example.
Is Zombina an American monster girl?
Okayado: She's not American, per se, but I kind of imagine her as being an American-like zombie.
Because of her personality? Does she have an “American” style disposition?
Okayado: My image of zombies is from American zombie movies, so I used those sort of images to create her character.
Ah, that makes sense. So looking ahead, what are your future plans for Monster Musume? What do you see as the future of the series? Are you considering any spin-off or side stories?
Okayado: Well, right now I'm focusing on the main characters, the main monster girls, but I would love to write about the side-stories of the other nine main character girls as well.
Any character in particular that you're really dying to create stories about?
Okayado: The girls at the ranch. Do you remember that story? (From Monster Musume Chapter 33, in Volume 8) The minotaur girl, and the cow girl! (laughs) I'm interested in writing stories about them.
Why those characters in particular?
Okayado: I'm interested about writing the daily lives of the farm life, of the girls’ life on the farm.
That sounds like a fun story! (laughs) Now that you've had your panel yesterday, you had the signings, can you share some of your impressions of this weekend after meeting some of your fans?
Okayado: I'm really glad that I came to Anime Expo, because before I came to Los Angeles, I only knew that Monster Musume was popular because it was on the New York Times Bestseller List. I couldn't really comprehend that it was popular overseas. But now, after I've had a chance meet some of the readers of Monster Musume, and seeing these fans being really excited about everything — meeting me, coming to the panel and stuff—I can now finally believe that Monster Musume is accepted pretty widely in America!
Thank you so much for coming to Anime Expo. I hope you had fun, and I hope you can come back again!
Okayado: Thank you! I hope so too.
Monster Musume and 12 Beast by Okayado are published in English by Seven Seas Entertainment. It is also available in digital format on BookWalker, ComiXology, and Amazon Kindle. The anime is now showing on Crunchyroll.com and Hulu.com, and has been licensed for DVD/Blu-Ray release by Sentai Filmworks.
You can follow Okayado on Twitter at @okayado1215
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