Event Reports

Event Report: Hiroko Natsuno-sensei’s 2021 Talk Event

Hiroko Natsuno Talk Event

(Warning: this event report contains spoilers for Vol.3 of At 25:00, in Akasaka)

On 27 June, Hiroko Natsuno-sensei (author of At 25:00, in Akasaka) held an online talk show as part of onBLUE’s 10th Anniversary celebrations! This was the third event in onBLUE’s “Online Talk Event Tour”, in which onBLUE’s manga artists take turns hosting online talk shows over the course of approximately 1 year.

Like the previous 2 online talk shows, this event was held on ZOOM. The MC for this session was Shika (Natsuno-sensei’s editor), and as soon as the event began, the limited edition acrylic stands from the At 25:00, in Akasaka collab cafe were shown on screen (on behalf of Natsuno-sensei)!

At the start of the session, Natsuno-sensei mentioned how happy she was to be able to host an online talk show for the 2nd year in a row. We were also told about the hashtag people could use to post comments on Twitter! (#夏野トーク2021 ; or “Natsuno Talk 2021”)

As always, the poll function on ZOOM was used to facilitate audience interaction throughout this talk event. The test question asked viewers whether they watched last year’s event, and the results showed that “quite a few people did”! It seems that many Natsuno-sensei fans were able to watch last year’s talk show too – this might be because the archived recording was available for viewing after the event, and also because it was streamed again at the end of 2020.

Natsuno-sensei started off by telling us how she’s been recently. “Not much has changed, but I just finished working on new artworks for the paperback manga release. A special feature article about me was also published in the recent volume of OnBLUE. Other than that, I tried the low-temperature cooking method on a piece of chicken breast, but it ended up being undercooked and I got food poisoning right before my deadline. I’m fine now, but it sure was embarrassing. Chicken and low-temperature cooking is a dangerous combination!”, she said. According to Shika, Natsuno-sensei pumped out 60 new pages for the final chapter in Vol.3 of At 25:00, in Akasaka, as well as working on the special bonus booklets, page revisions and cover illustrations…! Natsuno-sensei’s workload was enough to make Shika admit that she “really overworked sensei”, but Natsuno-sensei happily said, “I’m glad I was able to publish the bonus chapters and booklets. Those gave me a good opportunity to write side stories that I’d always wanted to work on!”.

Questions & answers about Natsuno-sensei

Many fans sent in their questions for this year’s talk event too. Both Natsuno-sensei and Shika were pleased; they even commented that “Natsuno-sensei’s fans are really good at asking questions”!

Q: I think your alias is wonderful – every time I see it, I think of the blue summer sky and the towering clouds! Are there any inspirations behind the name “Hiroko Natsuno”?

A: I don’t think the inspirations behind my name are really that cool, but the word “Natsu” (summer) was a part of the alias I’d used before I became a commercial mangaka, so I incorporated that into the surname “Natsuno”. I wanted the second half of my alias to sound like an everyday name, so I picked “Hiroko”. When I typed the surname “Natsuno” into a fortune-telling website, it told me that the name “Hiroko” would be a good match based on the number of strokes, so I just went with that. I like how the kanji for “Hiro” has a somewhat androgynous image!

Q: Natsuno-sensei, is summer your favorite season? Many of your previous works were set in summer and had refreshing atmospheres…

A: I sure like summer! I like all seasons, but I especially like the idea of summer in works of fiction. I’m also really weak against the cold but can tolerate the heat, so I find summer to be quite comfortable. I’m Hiroko Natsuno, and I love summer! (laughs)

About the characters in At 25:00, in Akasaka

From this point onwards, most of the questions were about Natsuno-sensei’s most popular work. At 25:00, in Akasaka!

Q: I’d like to know about the meaning behind Masumi Hayama and Yuki Shirasaki’s names! Did you choose them based on the kanjis’ meanings and the way the names sound?

A: I always choose the names based on how they sound before picking the kanji that fit the characters. This also applies to both Hayama and Shirasaki. In terms of Kazuma Yamase, I was also considering other surnames like “Yamazaki” and “Yamamoto”…!

Sakuma’s surname was borrowed from a friend after she asked me to use her name in my manga. He didn’t have a first name when he first appeared, but the OnBLUE team asked me for it when they ran a feature article about my work, so I decided on “Hajime” on the spot. Because of this, Sakuma’s first name wasn’t listed on the script for the first drama CD – all of the seiyuus noticed this too! When I told my friend Sakuma what happened, she scolded me for not basing his first name off hers. (laughs)

Hiroko Natsuno Talk Event

Q: When you create your characters, how far do you deep dive into their personalities and their backgrounds?

A: I have different answers for each character, so I’ll talk about the 4 main characters in At 25:00, in Akasaka!

I don’t think I delved too far into Hayama’s character, but right from the beginning, I was quite set on his personality and the way he conducts himself. I always imagined him as a carefree person who does things at his own pace. I think you can see this clearly at the start of At 25:00, in Akasaka, when he suddenly approaches Yuki from behind and starts talking to him!

Hiroko Natsuno Talk Event

Likewise, I don’t have many notes about Shirasaki’s character, but his personality, behavior and facial expressions are quite set in stone. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t sugar-coat things, even when he’s talking to someone he’s meeting for the first time. His iconic line from the first chapter (“Huh? You’re not going to work as an actor? No way. You must be crazy.”) was already in Natsuno-sensei’s head when she initially started working on the series!

Hiroko Natsuno Talk Event

The overall image for Sakuma’s character was “a friendly guy who talks a lot, even when he’s surrounded by people who go at their own pace”. Natsuno-sensei also noted that Sakuma “has no idea that Hayama and Shirasaki are together”! (laughs)

Hiroko Natsuno Talk Event

Kazuma Yamase was a character who was born after I thought to myself, “what kind of underdog character do I like?”. I wanted him to be a brazen guy who tells it like it is. While that kind of aspect can also be seen in Shirasaki, Yamase says things bluntly even if he knows he probably shouldn’t (unlike Shirasaki, who’s a little clueless in that regard)!

About the events in At 25:00, in Akasaka

After this, Natsuno-sensei addressed a few questions that delved into specific scenes in At 25:00, in Akasaka!

Q: Every time I read Vol.3 and come across the scene where Hayama takes Shirasaki to Mihara’s bar, I feel like re-reading Vol.1…! Was this covert reference planned from the beginning?

A: Yes, yes it was! I originally wanted to illustrate that scene in Vol.1, but since I wasn’t able to do so, I did it in Vol.3. When I drew that scene, I checked every detail to make sure it was consistent with Vol.1. I’d even go as far as saying I had the most fun drawing Mihara in Vol.3! Given his sexuality, Hayama feels at home at Mihara’s bar, and finds his visits to be refreshing.

Hiroko Natsuno Talk Event

Q: I’d love to see the full versions of “Afternoon Dreams” and “Beyond the Blue Sea”! Do you have the full stories in mind for both of these stories? I’d love to see you illustrate them as spin-off mangas!

A: I have vague ideas about the full stories for these dramas within At 25:00, in Akasaka. I know that “Afternoon Dreams” is a love story, but I didn’t decide on its full plot because I didn’t want it to interfere with the characters’ lines. When I was thinking of Ryouji and Takumi’s characterisation, I’d defined them as “characters within Kokonoe (the screenplay writer)’s story”, so I don’t think I’d fully enjoy writing manga about them myself…!

I did have a more detailed synopsis in mind for “Beyond the Blue Sea”, but the overall picture is still quite vague; when I wrote the characters’ lines, I wanted to make sure they overlapped with Hayama and Shirasaki’s situation. This is unrelated, but the scene in “Beyond the Blue Sea” where Yamase wears wings became a reality because of Shika’s idea. I referenced bird wings when drawing that scene, but ended up being told that “the wings look too realistic to pass as an on-stage prop”…

Anyway, please feel free to let your imagination run wild about these stories-within-stories!

Q: Did Shirasaki hear about the media coverage on Hayama’s supposed romance with another actress? He probably wasn’t as shook as he was when he heard Mihara’s story, but I’m curious about Shirasaki’s reaction nevertheless. Also, would Hayama become jealous if rumours arose about Shirasaki’s supposed romance with someone else? Which of them becomes jealous more easily?

A: When I wrote about Hayama’s supposed “scandal”, I imagined it to be a small-scale rumor among some of Hayama’s fans. Since Shirasaki was too busy thinking about his own stage play, he probably didn’t hear about it at all. He also knows that Hayama is gay, so he probably wouldn’t be that fussed about rumors between him and another woman.

Hayama becomes jealous more easily since he’s more observant – Shirasaki wouldn’t even take notice unless someone actively shows him evidence and gives him grounds on which to be jealous! Shirasaki also finds it hard to believe that Hayama is giving him attention, so he may not be that surprised if he falls for someone else. Perhaps Shirasaki doesn’t have as much self-esteem as we’d expect…!

Q: In Vol.3, Shirasaki forbade Hayama from visiting him until he was done with his stage play. When did Shirasaki end up letting Hayama touch him again? He said no when Hayama visited him with some tea, but I’m really curious as to when he said “yes” to physical contact with Hayama again! Also, did they keep in touch via text messages or phone calls?

A: It didn’t take that long for Shirasaki to let Hayama touch him again after the above scene. Contrary to what you might think, I reckon they kept in touch normally during this period. That said, Hayama would have been wondering whether it’d be OK for him to say something to Shirasaki, and Shirasaki was also like “well, I’m the one who put these restrictions in place…”!

Q: If Hayama and Shirasaki were to go on a summer date, where would their destination be? They both seem to prefer being indoors, so I’m very curious!

A: They’re both celebrities going incognito, so they’d probably rent out some kind of retreat. They’d probably surround themselves with nature and take it easy, whether it be up in the mountains or near the beach. They might also visit some hot springs deep in the mountains!

By the way, Hayama is quite good at dealing with the heat, but he’s extremely weak against the cold. He’d probably complain about the cold and try to snuggle up to Shirasaki, who’d then tell him off and say “you’re too warm”!

 

Audience Poll & more on At 25:00, in Akasaka

At this point, the Poll function was used to ask the audience the following question: “Hayama and Shirasaki are likely to spend most of their days off at home. What do you think they’d be doing most of the time?”

The choices were as follows:

  • 1 – Cooking
  • 2 – Watching movies or TV dramas
  • 3 – Watching variety shows they each starred in
  • 4 – Playing games
  • 5 – Spending time in bed

Hayama and Shirasaki already cooked together in a tokuten episode, but most audience members said “they’d probably roll around in bed”, and quite a few people also voted for “watching movies or TV dramas”! Natsuno-sensei mentioned that she wanted to draw them watching movies or dramas together, but hadn’t been able to squeeze that in. Hopefully we’ll get to see that in the future!

From here on, a bunch of questions were addressed regarding Hayama and Shirasaki’s everyday lives.

Q: According to a previous tokuten booklet from Animate, Hayama started holding Shirasaki tightly in bed after he realised how much he tosses and turns in his sleep. Does Shirasaki sleep soundly at night now?

A: He probably fell out of the bed a few times in the beginning, but I think he sleeps peacefully now that he’s gotten used to it. I think it’s cute how one’s bad habits can get cured thanks to their lover!

Q: Whenever Shirasaki comes to visit, Hayama serves him tea and cooks for him. Does Shirasaki do the same?

A: I’m sure he’d do something in his own way to make Hayama feel comfortable. In the past, Shirasaki hardly got any visitors, so the idea of serving someone tea probably never crossed his mind. Now that he’s learned from Hayama, I’m sure he’s able to open his fridge and ask his guests what they’d like to drink!

Also – Hayama doesn’t visit Shirasaki’s house often in the first place, and when he does, he likely buys food on the way there. That said, if Hayama asked Shirasaki to cook for him, he might try his hand at making something simple like yakisoba. Shirasaki’s cooking ability doesn’t go far beyond simple one-pan dishes. Of all the dishes Hayama can make, Shirasaki’s favorite is pork piccata. Hayama makes pork piccata like he makes pork shogayaki (ginger pork), but Shirasaki was probably impressed because he didn’t grow up eating pork piccata…!

Q: Who do you like more – Hayama or Shirasaki?

A: I like Sakuma!
While Hayama and Shirasaki both have a special place in my heart, I have the most fun drawing Sakuma – I can draw him in a carefree manner since he isn’t as deeply involved in the story. I’m not sure how much attention my readers pay to Sakuma, but I have a spring in my step every time I draw him!

Q: I heard that Hayama’s overall image was inspired by Henrik from the Norwegian version of SKAM. Is there a specific real-life inspiration behind Shirasaki?

A: Rather than being inspired by Henrik himself, Hayama was inspired by those scenes in SKAM where the viewer would notice someone looking at them at the crosswalks. Shirasaki isn’t inspired by anyone specific either, but I do try to keep Mob (from Mob Psycho 100)’s image in mind when drawing Shirasaki. I want Shirasaki to be the kind of person who’d surprise others with unexpected answers.

Q: If At 25:00, in Akasaka was to get a live action adaptation, who would you want to see playing Hayama and Shirasaki?

A: I’d love for Masaki Okada to play Hayama – I saw him in a drama recently and he was so cool! I don’t have anyone specific in mind for Shirasaki, but my friend said that Shori Sato and Mahiro Takasugi remind them of him.

The second poll asked the audience who they thought would be able to take the most alcohol out of Hayama, Shirasaki, Sakuma and Yamase. The results were as follows:

  • #1 – Yamase
  • #2 – Sakuma
  • #3 – Hayama
  • #4 – Shirasaki

…We guess everyone thinks Shirasaki is a lightweight after seeing him getting drunk in Chapter 16! (laughs)

According to Natsuno-sensei, “Yamase doesn’t drink much on his own accord, but he drinks small amounts of alcoholic drinks that he actually enjoys. If he wants, he can drink quite a bit”. Neither Natsuno-sensei nor Shika drink alcohol, so the drinking parties in At 25:00, in Akasaka are illustrated from an outsider’s perspective (or rather, from the perspective of non-drinkers)!

Q: Do you choose the concept of your cover images for each volume? Or do you choose what to draw depending on your mood at the time?

A: The cover images in Volume 3 have a shared theme, as you can see. All of the chapter covers for Volume 2 were inspired by magazine photoshoots involving 2 models. I didn’t have anything in mind for Volume 1 and The Love of Calendula, but I did make sure the uke and seme were shown alternately, and I also decided that I’d draw both of the main characters in the final cover image. I don’t think I have anything planned for Volume 4 as of yet, though…


Q: What’s your favorite line in Volume 3?

A: I’m not sure if it’s my “favorite”, but I’m glad I was able to think of the line where Shirasaki says “it’s too shameful to say out loud”. It shows his weakness without being over-the-top, and it doesn’t make the readers feel too sad either.

 

Live-Drawing Session & Questions about Natsuno-sensei’s Drawing Environment

After a 10-minute break, Natsuno-sensei continued with a live drawing session! During the break, many audience members left comments like “I went to get some tea”, “I got ice cream” and “I just ate dinner”.

Natsuno-sensei is the kind of artist who can talk while drawing, so she answered some questions about her drawing environment while working on the picture. Neither the audience nor Shika had any idea what she was going to draw!

Q: I’m usually a digital artist, but I want to venture into traditional art too. What pens, inks and papers do you use, Natsuno-sensei?

A: I draw using a mapping pen (maru pen) nib, G-pen nib and some ink – I usually buy PILOT’s mapping ink in a large bottle, which I’d then pour into contact lens cases from the 100 yen shop and use little by little. Zebra is my go-to manufacturer for maru pen nibs, and my favorite brush pen is “Fudegokochi”. I’m still trying to find a go-to brand when it comes to fineliners – I usually just buy whatever catches my eye at the art supply store.

Q: When did you first start drawing?

A: I liked drawing ever since I was little – when I was in kindergarten, I used to love Magic Knight Rayearth coloring books! I started learning art properly in my 2nd year of high school, when I started going to a prep school for art school exams.

Q: How much digital art do you incorporate into your works?

A: My manuscripts are half-traditional, half-digital. I do most of my linework traditionally and fix them on the computer as necessary. My sketches and final touches are mostly done digitally, but I find digital art to be more time-consuming since it’s more difficult to draw the “right” lines. I almost feel like it’d be quicker to just print the rough sketches and do everything else traditionally…!

When it comes to my colored drawings, I usually start with the lighter colours first. Watercolor artworks are harder to fix later on, so I let my drawings sit overnight and look over them with a fresh pair of eyes in the morning. On an unrelated note, I have a bad habit of skipping the parts I don’t want to draw, like pictures that require backgrounds or full-bodies. I always find myself moving onto the next parts even though I end up having to draw those pages later anyway… (laughs)

Q: How do you try to relax or pull your life together when things get difficult?

A: When things start getting a little difficult, I try to take better care of my everyday life by cooking proper meals or cleaning my room. I’ve also learned that nice smells have a positive impact on my mental health, so I try to relax by using hand creams, taking baths or drinking tea. That being said, when things get really difficult, the best thing to do is to vent to your friends.

The finished artwork from the live drawing session showed Hayama and Shirasaki doing a live stream from the official Insta account of “Afternoon Dreams”! Shirasaki looked like he didn’t know what he was doing, which makes sense considering he didn’t know the concept of “ego-surfing” in Volume 1. Natsuno-sensei mentioned that he probably wouldn’t be able to do a proper livestream if Hayama wasn’t around!

 

Q&As about About A Love Song

The 3rd part of the Q&A addressed questions about About A Love Song, which is currently being released on from Red! This tantalizing love story features Hoshina, a musician, and Sena, a high schooler who’s also his part-time work colleague.

Q: How did Hoshina meet his fellow bandmates (Kyo-chan and Yutaka)?

A: Kyo-chan and Hoshina used to be classmates in high school. They actually had their own band together, but they disbanded after Kyo-chan got angry at Hoshina’s chronic tardiness. That said, they each continued their musical activities in separate bands after graduation. Kyo-chan met Yutaka first, saw that Hoshina wasn’t doing so well in another band, then decided to invite him along too. Well, that’s the setting I’ve got in my mind anyway. I like to think that Yutaka is slightly older than his two other bandmates!

Q: What made you want to draw someone like Hoshina as a main character?

A: It’s Hayama’s fault! While I think Hayama is a nice guy, I wanted to draw a seme who’s more pitiful and unfortunate. Hence, Hoshina was born.

 

The end of the event, and Natsuno-sensei’s birthday celebrations

At the very end of the event, there were more questions about Natsuno-sensei!

Q: You mentioned at your previous talk event that your favorite food/drink is “tea”. What else do you like?

A: I’ve been drinking a whole lot of water recently. I bought a water purifier, so I’ve been drinking heaps of water ever since it started to get hot. Other than that, I like karaage, corn soup and fresh cream. I don’t do too well with cold drinks, but I like fresh cream, so I tend to buy frappuccinos if I go to Starbucks on a day where I’m in good shape.

Q: If you could have one wish, what would you wish for?

A: A healthy body, or the right to choose a painless way to die.
…That said, I could just put effort into maintaining my health and wish for a live action adaptation of At 25:00, in Akasaka featuring Masaki Okada as Hayama!

Q: When’s your birthday, Natsuno-sensei?

A: It’s actually today (June 27)! Shika sent me a birthday cake to celebrate. She initially intended to surprise me with a cake delivery during this stream, but decided not to do so because she feared that I might ignore the delivery man…

(Note: this was a pure coincidence, but Natsuno-sensei actually got a separate visit from the courier at this exact moment!)

Q: The dialogue in your manga is so cute! I particularly love the part at the end of Volume 3 where Shirasaki says “You like pampering me, right? Spoil me to your heart’s content”. How do you come up with lines like these?

A: I like listening to people’s conversations, so I can come up with these lines with relative ease, and I just work them into my manga because I get those ideas. These kinds of scenes are quite light-hearted, but I’m glad you think they’re cute!

(Note: Shika mentioned that, as an editor, she’s surprised at the fact Natsuno-sensei can come up with such cute lines so easily. We have to agree – Natsuno-sensei has a knack for squeezing these cute lines into her scenes without ruining the mood!)

In her final message to the audience, Natsuno-sensei said: “Thanks for participating in this talk event and celebrating my birthday! I had lots of fun. I did this last year too, but I’m happy that I had the opportunity to interact in real time with my readers. Also, thanks for reading my manga in the first place! All I can do is repay you all by writing more manga, but I’ll try my best to create stories that are fun to read. Thanks again!”.

Thank you, Natsuno-sensei and Shika!

 

This article is available in Japanese on honto’s swamp website below:
夏野寛子トークイベント2021 イベントレポート

 

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