On 28 March, we got to attend an online talk show with sakura sawa-sensei, the author of Momo and Manji! This special event was held on ZOOM as part of onBLUE’s 10th Anniversary celebrations, and was open to the first 420 customers who purchased physical copies of the manga through Animate Online between 25 Feb – 25 March 2021.
The talk show was hosted by Momonga, sakura sawa-sensei’s editor. At the start of the event, sakura sawa-sensei mentioned that she looked forward to talking in depth about the characters and storyline of Momo and Manji, especially now that 4 volumes of the manga were released; her previous talk shows mostly involved her discussing the Edo period and the danshoku culture (culture of homosexuality) that was prevalent back in those days.
After that, sakura-sensei and Momonga-san tested out the Poll function on ZOOM, which was to be used during the event to facilitate audience interaction. The sample question asked viewers whether they knew what Momo and Manji’s nickname was – the correct answer was “MomoMan” (ももまん), and this nickname was used to refer to the title throughout the talk show.
Part 1（Q&A Session)
The first question discussed in the Q&A session was about the reason why sakura-sensei decided to write a Boys’ Love story set in the Edo period. Her main reason was that, while reading BL manga, she noticed there weren’t many works which focused on the townspeople of Edo (rather than ninjas or samurais) and had hints of daily life. However, one of her other reasons was that Haruko Kumota-sensei earnestly asked her to write an “Edo BL” piece…!
The next question was about what inspired MomoMan’s story and characters. “I figured that there wouldn’t be many BL fans who are well-acquainted with the Edo period, so I decided to incorporate catchy elements that’d appeal to them. This included the hikeshi (火消; “firemen”), which was one of Edo’s Three Popular Occupations (with the others being yoriki (government assistants) and sumo wrestlers) and was said to attract the hottest guys, and kagema (young male sex workers) – and that’s why the two main characters ended up being a former hikeshi and a former kagema”, said sakura sensei. Also, according to sakura-sensei, Manji was designed from the get-go with the intention of him being “a character who’d capture the hearts of all BL fans”; she often looks at the beautiful murderers and other evil characters in kabuki and thinks to herself that she “wouldn’t mind being killed by someone like that”, so she hoped that Manji would give off a similar vibe, and she’s very happy that her readers’ responses were exactly like that.
Momo had a more idyllic and absent-minded image in his rough sketches, and sakura-sensei had intended for him to be like “an Average Joe within the manga world”. “I draw each character’s eyes differently, but as the story progresses, Momo’s eyes have become more cutesy – possibly due in part to my readers’ reactions. Purple eyes can be cute and sexy at the same time, and it’s very easy to adapt it to both vibrant and subdued colour palettes. I’m grateful to my past self for Momo’s character design”, said sakura sensei.
Unlike the characters in her other titles, MomoMan’s characters aren’t based on or referenced from any real people. That being said, sensei has a specific vision regarding the characters’ facial features and their personalities, so Sen was designed to look a bit like Devilman.
When asked about how the characters were named, sakura-sensei said that she intended to use the “Manji” symbol for Manji’s name from the get-go, but decided to add kanji since it didn’t seem convincing as his real name. Momoki and Samuru’s names were based on Santō Kyōden (a writer from the Edo period) and his younger brother Santō Kyōzan; their real names were Samuru and Momoki, and sakura-sensei decided to borrow these because she realised that the names “Momoki” (百樹) and “Manji” (万次) include the kanji for 100 (百) and 10,000 (万). The other characters’ names have numbers in them too, but Juugoya (十五夜) and Izayoi (十六夜) were named from the moon phases, so even sakura-sensei didn’t notice the numbers until the 2nd volume was released!
At this point, the audience was given a pop quiz on Momo’s favorite food. The choices were “tempura”, “grilled eel”, “dashi” and “pickled plums”; the correct answer was “tempura”! (Manji and Sen enjoy grilled eel, Samuru likes dashi, and pickled plums were one of Manji’s favorite foods.)
The next question was about Momo’s life as a kagema, and whether he had any good memories or moments where he could find a bit of inner peace. sakura-sensei’s answer was “while I haven’t depicted it in the manga, Momo was probably able to find some inner peace despite having a hard time as a kagema, judging by the fact he was able to maintain a cheerful personality after everything he’s been through”. According to her, Momo had a lot of spare time on his hands since he wasn’t too popular as a kagema; she presumes that he may have been able to use that time to relax. “I reckon there would have been 1-2 customers who were head-over-heels for Momo, but due to his low self-esteem, Momo wouldn’t have noticed and he wouldn’t have believed it if anyone was to try courting him. Momo is a character who represents the dark side of kagema, so many of the scenes about his past are quite heartbreaking. That being said, I’m sure there were some glamorous aspects to his job as a kagema, similar to that of Juugoya-san”, she added. (Side note: the bonus pages in Volume 4 will give you a sneak peek of what Momo’s life was like when he lived with Samuru!)
As for the reason why Manji decided to take Momo home, sakura-sensei mentioned that it was “based on each other’s first impressions” and that “Momo was Manji’s type”. She also added, “back when the 1st volume was released, I didn’t know how long this manga would last for, so I said something like “I’ll talk about how their relationship began in the next volume!”… but then I ended up with tons of episodes that I wanted to cover, so I haven’t gotten around to writing about how Momo and Manji’s romance began. I intend to do so at some point in the future, though…!”. We hope you look forward to reading about it just as much as we do!
Another point of interest is that the spotlight will be on Manji during the new arc of MomoMan. When asked whether Manji is afraid of anything, sakura-sensei said “he’s from a well-off family and he was spooked by earthworms, so there are quite a few things that he’s scared of”. These kinds of episodes might appear in Volume 5 onwards. There’s a whole lot for MomoMan fans to be excited about!
During this session, many fun facts about the side characters were also shared. The reason why Sen is so buff (& has giant man-titties) is because “he left home at the age of 12-13 and did lots of manual labor”; in other words, his muscular figure came to be because of the work he did, rather than because of the workouts he did. He then became a hikeshi after one thing led to another. This was an interesting contrast against Manji, who had left home at the age of 16-17!
The design concept for Kizashi, the boatman with feelings for Sen, was “a delicate, beautiful and mysterious man”; however, in the beginning, sakura-sensei had a hard time depicting him as such because her art lends itself better to expressive faces, for better or for worse. She initially depicted him as someone with a similar vibe to Rei Ayanami’s, then made his facial expressions more obvious as he continued to chase after Sen. An important part of drawing Kizashi’s eyes is “to give him luscious eyelashes while making sure his eyes are still sharp-looking”.
The key elements that distinguish Okumasa and Kizashi are their personalities and upbringing; according to sakura-sensei, this should be clear if you look at their facial expressions. In addition, the name “Kizashi” was actually adopted from a fan letter from one of her readers. Not only does the kanji for his name (兆) mean “trillion”, but it can also mean “omen” or “sign”!
The next question was: “Izayoi clearly has regrets about Juugoya, as seen by the fact he named his kagema “Mangetsu” (満月; “full moon”). Would he face him properly if they were to meet again?”. Sensei’s answer was “I’m not sure, but if they were to meet again, Izayoi would probably invite Juugoya over again”. When asked how Juugoya saw Momo, sakura-sensei said that “he probably wasn’t that interested in him”; however, she then added, “Juugoya is hardly around at the cathouse due to his popularity, and there would have been lots of kagema, so he may not have gone out of his way to pay attention to a low-ranking kagema like Momo. That said, he’s a sagacious man, so he would have had some opinions about Momo in some way or the other – like “this is what I don’t like about Samuru”.
In addition, sakura-sensei told us a little about Juugoya and Shichimatsu’s future, based on the results of the audience poll. She mentioned that “they’re a complicated duo, but they’re probably living together as “husband and wife” after considering what’d be the easiest for them”, and that “Shichimatsu may never be able to find self-confidence, but he’ll always be by Juugoya’s side regardless”. We were so excited to be able to hear such an interesting episode!
We were even able to hear some behind-the-scenes stories about the Four Kings of the fire brigade; we learned that the loyal Tsuna is the most popular with the ladies, that Suekichi might be a big eater despite his slender looks, and that while Kintaro is currently single, he’ll probably find love at some point since he’s a decent guy. The hot side characters are a part of MomoMan’s appeal, so it was great being able to hear more about them!
How sakura-sensei draws her manga
The next topic was about the way sakura-sensei draws manga. According to sakura-sensei, her workspace is “a bit chaotic”; she often lines her manga traditionally before adding the screentones digitally and submitting the artworks.
Another key feature of sakura-sensei’s art is her use of various techniques and materials. In the first illustration below, the lines and the clothing patterns were drawn traditionally before the artwork was adjusted digitally. The entirety of the second illustration was drawn digitally. The characters in the third illustration were drawn digitally, and the background was drawn traditionally using sumi ink.
Furthermore, sakura-sensei mentioned that she avoided putting too many highlights and shadows on the characters when she first started writing MomoMan because she wanted her artworks to look like ukiyo-e. Nowadays, she uses lots of highlights and shadows on her special one-off illustrations in order to make the characters look more life-like!
When asked about the points she pays particular attention to while drawing art for MomoMan, sakura-sensei mentioned that she draws the characters’ clothing patterns (e.g. the checkers on Manji’s collar) herself wherever possible, as the size of the patterns affects the characters’ overall image quite a bit. She even drew the stripes on Samuru’s clothes herself rather than getting her assistant to do it, since she wanted to bring out Samuru’s dangerousness and sensitivity…!! In addition, while the characters’ kimono patterns are inspired by ukiyo-e, sakura-sensei often references kabuki shows dealing with the lives of commoners when choosing the characters’ overall outfit images, as ukiyo-e patterns can get too busy rather quickly.
sakura-sensei learned from Cardcaptor Sakura – which she loved so much that she based her pen name on it – that fictional characters can get changed too, and she incorporates that into her own manga. She mentioned that Momo and Manji dress up rather nicely in Volume 5, and that she hopes her readers will look forward to seeing it!
Part 2（Live drawing)
After a break, sakura-sensei hosted a traditional live drawing session, where she further discussed traditional art techniques and more character backstories!
— 紗久楽さわ🌈 (@climnon) March 28, 2021
The first thing sakura-sensei mentioned during this session was how the Four Kings of the fire brigade were named. The characters’ names were inspired by the four loyal retainers of Minamoto no Yorimitsu (a military commander from the Heian period), and Manji was imagined to be in Yorimitsu’s position. Sakata no Kintoki (Kintaro) is well-known in Japanese folklore, so Kintaro was given a cutesy design; and since Watanabe no Tsuna severed an oni’s arm, the character Tsuna became Manji’s right hand man.
The pen that sakura-sensei used to draw here was the “Kouhitsu” fude brush pen from ZEBRA. She usually uses a maru pen nib to draw eyes, but had chosen to go with a fude brush pen on this occasion. The manga panels in MomoMan are mostly drawn using the aforementioned fude brush pen, but sakura-sensei uses a thicker fude brush pen for super-thick lines, and goes for a normal paintbrush if she wants her lines to fade or bleed dramatically. Although sakura-sensei tends to trace directly over a pencil sketch when working, she used a light box for the lining process so that the audience could get a clearer view of how she draws.
When asked about her paper choices, sakura-sensei said, “for my coloured artworks, I use gasen-shi, a drawing paper that’s used mostly for Japanese sumi paintings. This paper lets me draw natural yet traditional-looking lines, and the end result turns out like the final preparatory drawings for ukiyo-e blocks!”. She also talked about how she uses regular manga paper when preparing her manga pages, as manga pages call for thin lines; she’s a fan of manga paper from IC because it absorbs the right amount of sumi ink.
sakura-sensei also told us that she uses light sumi ink to add shadows to MomoMan manga panels because “the dots on screentones make the kimono patterns look blurry”. This idea was also borrowed from Haruko Kumota-sensei (with her permission), after sakura-sensei saw the pages where light sumi in was used.
If sakura-sensei makes a mistake while drawing traditionally, she tries to cover it up by adding more details. However, if she accidentally drags a bit of ink across the page, she simply corrects it digitally. When replicating fude brush strokes digitally, sakura-sensei uses a fude-like brush on Clip Studio after adjusting the pen pressure to her liking; however, Clip Studio didn’t have as many brushes back when she first began to draw MomoMan, so she used to find it easier to just do it traditionally. We were truly amazed by sakura-sensei’s dynamic use of various drawing materials!
In regards to the music she plays while working, sakura-sensei commented that, “at the start, I needed to listen to music and focus on the characters’ emotions in order to draw their facial expressions properly, but nowadays I’m able to draw while chatting to others or watching YouTube videos, anime, TV dramas or movies”.
MomoMan was initially published on onBLUE in May 2015. Back then, many of onBLUE’s other works were serious and had underground vibes, so sakura-sensei requested to draw something that’s more relaxed – and that’s how MomoMan came to be. sakura-sensei mentioned how happy she was that her work was published in the same magazine as her friend Haruko Kumota-sensei.
(Fun fact: onBLUE’s editorial team actually approached sakura-sensei because of Kumota-sensei. It’s so nice being able to hear about friendships between manga artists!)
Momonga-san and sakura-sensei were brought together by their mutual interest in Edo culture; Momonga-san (who had studied about the Edo period in university) visited sakura-sensei because “sakura-sensei is an expert in the Edo period”. Momonga-san had known about sakura-sensei before she joined onBLUE’s editorial team; she’d even sent her a message via her personal website and gotten a reply! Generally speaking, sakura-sensei’s stance is “I want to spread the joys of the Edo period” – she’s always hoping that more people would take an interest in it or create works related to the Edo period. As such, she still communicates with her fans regularly via platforms such as Twitter.
In regards to the English version of MomoMan (which is available on futekiya), sakura-sensei said: “I’m surprised and delighted by the fact English-speaking audiences are enjoying this manga too, especially since I thought it’d be confusing for people outside of Japan. The people who leave comments clearly have a great understanding of the content, so I’m very happy to have gained their passionate readership”. If you’re a futekiya reader who became interested in the Edo period because of MomoMan, we’re sure sakura-sensei would be delighted to hear that!
After the live drawing session
After the live drawing session, sakura-sensei talked to us about one of her favorite onBLUE titles; PERFECT FIT by Thanat-sensei! (This title is available on futekiya too!)
According to sakura-sensei, a big part of PERFECT FIT (and Thanat-sensei’s manga)’s appeal is that the characters have a particular “masculine quality”. While Boys’ Love couples often involve one effeminate guy, sakura-sensei loves how Mashimo (the uke in PERFECT FIT) is actually quite manly. She also enjoyed the fact Tanaka-senpai, the seme, looks like a stern student but fools around at night. “The overall dynamic between the super-powerful seme and the naive uke is also so good!”, she commented. We’re sure you’d love this title if you enjoy sakura-sensei’s works, so please check it out!
— 紗久楽さわ🌈 (@climnon) March 28, 2021
This talk show was held on sakura-sensei’s birthday, so of course there was a birthday surprise: a cake featuring a charming illustration of Momo! In addition, it was revealed that Thanat-sensei herself had been a part of the talk show all along under the name “Staff – Tanaka”…!!
Thanat-sensei described MomoMan as “a fantastic manga which depicts the Edo period in an easy-to-understand yet interesting way… AND also manages to squeeze in a whole lot of moe and spice”! She also gave us a heartwarming confession: whenever she ends up with art block, she motivates herself by looking at sakura-sensei’s manga volumes and absorbing the sheer amount of energy that radiates from her pages.
Thanat-sensei’s favorite MomoMan characters are the main two… but she also mentioned that she’s really gotten into Sen after reading Volumes 3-4. Her favorite fireman is Suekichi, and she’s also very fond of Shichimatsu.
All good times come to an end, and before we knew it, it was time to wrap up the talk show. In her final message, sakura-sensei said: “thank you for making my birthday so enjoyable! Many more onBLUE talk shows are on the schedule, so please check them out for interesting stories from various other manga artists!”.
Thank you, sakura-sensei, Momonga-san and Thanat-sensei! We had a great time at this talk show!
This article is available in Japanese on honto’s swamp website below:
About futekiya: Read what you love
In 2018, futekiya began as a Boys Love (BL) manga news and culture website operated by FANTASISTA, INC., a CG/VR production studio based in Tokyo, Japan. futekiya transformed into a budding global distributor of officially licensed BL manga in 2019.
futekiya launched as an online subscription service for officially licensed BL manga on July 8, 2019. Determined to connect fans around the world with English-translated BL legally and conveniently, futekiya empowers readers to support creators and the manga industry.
Readers who subscribe to futekiya and pay a flat monthly fee of $6.99 will have access to our expanding library of English-language manga. To subscribe, please go to read.futekiya.com and create an account. More information is in our guide.