Interview: Mugi Tanaka

by Kim Morrissy,

Mugi Tanaka has a full-time job at a printing company, but that doesn't get in the way of her passion for drawing cute manga art. A long-time participator of Comiket, her art was noticed by the otaku goods and apparel shop PARK, located in Tokyo's Harajuku district. She created the original character designs for PARK's mascots, and is also the artist of the web comic PARK Harajuku: Crisis Team! The URAHARA anime is loosely based off the web comic.

I spoke with Mugi Tanaka at Crunchyroll Expo about Comiket, her artistic influences, and what it's like to juggle work and art.

ANN: First off, how was Comiket?

MUGI TANAKA: I participated in this year's summer Comiket on August 13th. It was the first time my circle had participated in three years. We didn't get many customers from last time, but instead, there were a lot of foreign visitors. I didn't know any of them; they just came to look. There were so many more people than last time.

Really? Did they come to buy your new art book?

It didn't seem as if they were there to buy, exactly. They mostly came to look. But it did make me happy.

How long have you been drawing? When was the first time you submitted your drawings at Comiket?

I started getting into drawing because I liked the Peanuts comic strip. I'd eagerly read the paperback compilations my mother bought and try to draw them. As for when I started drawing otaku illustrations, I think it was around when I was in high school or university. That was when more people started becoming otaku. I got into it through Gundam Seed and the Touhou series.

My first Comiket was in Winter 2009. Back then, you couldn't really print a small number of copies for doujinshi. The lowest you could print was 100 paperback copies. I definitely couldn't sell 100 copies the first time I participated. Heck, I couldn't even sell twenty copies. And that's my first memory of Comiket.

How did you decide on the designs for the three Park mascots?

The Park staff provided me with me with the general ideas. Their names, fashion tastes, and basic personalities were already more or less decided. Rito-chan would wear street clothes, Kotoko would wear preppie clothes, and Mari has a Lolita vibe. Everyone from the store had a really good sense of Harajuku fashion, but I'm an otaku, but I don't have much fashion sense. I'd look at magazines and ask the people at Park about how the sneakers would look, or what colors are used in lolita fashion, and so on. After receiving a lot of advice, I was able to design these characters.

Did you ever try wearing the clothes yourself?

I do kind of own clothes like Kotoko's, but Mari's Lolita clothes belong to a different world. I just looked at magazines for those.

What sort of comments do you receive from readers about Harajuku Crisis Team?

The story is about girls who use their tools to fight against the enemy aliens known as “Scoopers.” People tell me that the tools and the bubble that the characters live in are really cute. It makes me happy that I've been getting a lot of comments.

Do you get comments from both Japanese and foreign readers?

The comic on Crunchyroll can't be accessed in Japan. It's also on Tumblr, but that's also an English-based website. So I don't suppose there are many Japanese people reading it. I haven't really received any comments from them.

So most of them are from foreign readers?

Yeah.

Since you were at Comiket, was there a chance for Japanese readers to encounter Harajuku Crisis Team?

I did have the opportunity to get Harajuku Crisis Team published in Japanese translation, so I do feel that Japanese readers got the chance to experience it then. They told me it was interesting.

Do you communicate much with Patrick Macias directly about the project?

Before creating Harajuku Crisis Team we had a meeting where we decided pretty much everything about the story. Since then, we haven't really met, at least not directly for a meeting. He'll send me the story for each chapter and tell me what kind of illustrations he wants. I'd read his instructions and start drawing. That's how things would go.

Did you not talk over email?

We did talk a bit when Patrick-san came over to Japan a year ago, and yesterday we talked a little about how his daughter is becoming more of an otaku. That's got nothing to do with the story, though.

Does Crunchyroll translate the text of the story into Japanese for you?

Yes.

Do you ever have trouble understanding the instructions from the translation?

I've never had any objections with the translation, but when I talk with Patrick-san about the text, I always learn something new about it, some kind of nuance that wasn't in the translation.

What's your daily schedule like? How long does it take to produce an illustration?

I have an office job during the day. From Monday to Friday, I go into the office at 8:30 and finish at 5. I go home and draw from 7 onward. First I draw the illustration with a pencil, then I scan the image onto my computer, and trace the lines using a digital program. I'm always on my computer between 7pm to 3am every weekday. I'll eat as I draw. On weekends, I'll work and meet up with friends. And that's my schedule.

I draw three illustrations for each chapter of Crisis Team. The first illustration expresses the story in a comic-like way. Another one shows the characters. And another one shows the accessories, like the weapons or food. It usually ends up taking between three weeks to a month to finish them all. It takes me about eight days to do background art. Sorry I'm so slow.

Do you see yourself becoming a full-time artist in the future?

When I draw illustrations I never go outside. When I'm at work, though, I use a car and go around the neighborhood. I can see the sakura blossoms. I can talk to so many different people. It's the office job that gives me these opportunities to meet people and admire the scenery, but if I draw full-time, I would lose those things.

So you wouldn't want to be a manga artist?

I think it would be really hard to live just for your drawings. I'm happy drawing art and showing it to people, but I don't think I could live just for art. I think that there are lots of people who are just like me, who work full-time and do art on the side. I think that there will be even more people like that in the future. You don't need to draw art with a specific goal in mind.


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