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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: The Dangers in My Heart Manga Artist Norio Sakurai

by Kim Morrissy,

The Dangers in My Heart is a charming romantic comedy manga starring an introverted teenage boy and his burgeoning relationship with his beautiful classmate. The manga took the top spot in the web category of Next Manga Awards 2020, and it will be getting a TV anime in 2023.

To commemorate the anime announcement, we sat down with manga artist Norio Sakurai for an exclusive interview.

ANN: When did you first decide that you wanted to be a mangaka?

NORIO SAKURAI: I've wanted to draw manga since around elementary school. I was always drawing manga-ish things around then. I got the specific goal to be a manga artist in around my second year of middle school. My friend was always drawing manga, and their art was really good. That was an influence as well, since we were both egging each other on.

ANN: You've been drawing manga for over 20 years. How much do you think you've changed as a creator in those years?

SAKURAI: Freshly debuted, for a weekly serial, I was working flat out to draw what I wanted. But after doing it for a few years, I feel like I could see the people around me more clearly. I appreciate how they're involved in my work. Also, how do I say it? I started thinking more properly about what's moving and what's trending.

I realized that I'm not too reliable working by myself. When I was young, I thought I was invincible. (laughs) Now I know that even if I can abide by the deadline somehow, I'm not necessarily okay. I feel like I know my limits better. I can recognize now when I'm pushing myself unreasonably. I feel like I've learned more about myself in that regard.

ANN: How did you get the idea for The Dangers in My Heart?

SAKURAI: Personally, I'm a fan of idols. I enjoy daydreaming about what it would be like if my oshi (favorite idol) attended school with me and how I would interact with them. That was the genesis, I suppose. After all, even an idol has to attend school like a normal person. How would they interact with their classmates? I like thinking about that kind of thing.

ANN: I think the fun of the manga is that it captures the awkwardness of a teenage boy's first love. While I was reading, I was thinking, “Ichikawa is a tsundere!” As the creator, were there times when you related to Ichikawa's feelings?

SAKURAI: Right. I came up with the basics of Ichikawa's character by imagining what I would do in his position. Generally, I try not to distance myself from Ichikawa. The story wouldn't work if I'm not always able to empathize with him, since it's a story that develops through his perspective. I'm always thinking about that when I'm drawing.

ANN: The gap between “dark delusions” and “meek actions” is another appealing point of the manga. For example, Ichikawa imagines killing Yamada, but is too shy to even talk to her at first. How did you find the right balance between delusions and reality? Did you ever worry that readers would find Ichikawa too morbid?

SAKURAI: Ichikawa is the kind of character who doesn't even talk to the other boys, let alone Yamada. So he never expresses even his violent thoughts to anybody. I think that's where the balance lies. That said, I did worry a bit about putting scenes of his delusions into a magazine, but since it's got a cartoon-like feeling, I think it comes off as kind of endearing in a way.

ANN: How difficult was it to write Yamada's character?

SAKURAI: Yamada is a reflection of what I find cute in a girl. I didn't really have much trouble with her personality. As for her appearance, it was a bit tricky conveying what kind of person I think is beautiful on paper. I struggled somewhat with the drawings.

ANN: You mentioned earlier that Yamada is like an idol. In stories about the real lives of idols, there's often a twist like “They're actually a villain!” What made you decide not to go down that route?

SAKURAI: Hmm… Let's see… Yamada is a beautiful girl, so both I and Ichikawa are alike in wanting to get closer to her. That's why I'm more of a fan of the gap between Yamada's idol-like presence and her true nature as a down-to-earth and easy person to get along with. I have a lot of fun writing that part.

ANN: So before you started drawing her, you had a setting in mind, like “This is what her true personality is like, but Ichikawa just can't see it at first”?

SAKURAI: That's right. Ichikawa is very spineless; he makes assumptions about people based on appearances. If he sees someone beautiful, he falls into self-loathing. Basically, he projects himself onto Yamada the way he thinks that a beautiful girl looks down on a person like him. He's a character with an overactive imagination. So yes, I had a clear image of what Yamada's really like before I started drawing her.

ANN: What inspired you to call each chapter a “Karte”?

SAKURAI: It's a signifier of Ichikawa's chūnibyō. The story is about how his condition improves as he interacts more with Yamada and the others. That's why each chapter is called a “Karte”.

ANN: And that “chūnibyō” is also expressed in the title of the work. Is that right?

SAKURAI: Yes, it's about chūnibyō, as well as the turbulence of the adolescent heart. It's about how that “illness” of sorts changes and gets cleansed over time. There are a lot of different meanings expressed in the Japanese title, Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu. Feelings of love are bundled in the adolescent heart, along with uncertainties and ambivalence. It's that feeling of not knowing what you're wading into.

ANN: Oh, is that so? The English title made me think it was about murderous desire.

SAKURAI: Really? Hmm, how do I explain it? I suppose it's that feeling of not being able to explain it. Like there's a fog inside of you. Moyamoya, as we'd say in Japanese. That's what the Yabai Yatsu (translated as “Dangers” in English) in the heart can also mean.

ANN: What kind of challenges do you face drawing a comedic serial?

SAKURAI: I've generally been drawing comedy manga since my debut. That's basically all I read as a kid. I feel like I've got the gist of how to draw it. On the other hand, this is my first time portraying the inner side of the characters. I guess that gives me a bit more uncertainty.

ANN: Were there any changes due to COVID?

SAKURAI: Nothing much changed, I don't think.

ANN: Is it difficult coming up with jokes for the individual episodes?

SAKURAI: Yeah, it is difficult to do that. But I'm not really the type to get stuck with ideas. Nor am I too selective with choosing things specifically to include in the story. Instead, I just immediately draw whatever comes to mind. That way is not so troublesome.

Basically, I'm the type who structures the story around the characters. I start by thinking about what kind of things the characters would do, and from there I think about what kind of situations would be the most interesting for them.

ANN: What are you looking forward to most from the anime?

SAKURAI: Everything. I'm particularly looking forward to seeing how the comedic and romantic sides of Ichikawa and Yamada's interactions would increase the sweetness on the screen.

ANN: Do you have a message for your overseas audience?

SAKURAI: I hope that this story about the adolescent heart, its changes, and the uncertainties within can resonate across many different countries. I hope that all kinds of people can encounter this series. I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of exposure it gets.

Want to find out more about The Dangers in My Heart anime?

Images © Norio Sakurai (AKITASHOTEN) 2018/©Norio Sakurai(AKITASHOTEN)/The Dangers in My Heart Committee

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