Creators’ Corner: Interview with Hiroko Natsuno
Last year, the futekiya Team had the opportunity to interview Hiroko Natsuno, creator of The Love of Calendula and At 25:00, in Akasaka. In this interview, Natsuno-sensei talks about the first encounter with Boys’ Love, highlights of the second volume of At 25:00, in Akasaka, and answers questions from fans.
Thank you to everyone who submitted their questions! Due to time constraints, we could not answer all of them. We hope for your understanding! On to the interview!
Hello, Hiroko Natsuno-sensei! Thank you very much for your time! Could you please give us a quick self-introduction?
Nice to meet you! I’m Hiroko Natsuno.
Thank you very much for all your help and support since futekiya’s launch. First, we’d like to ask when you first become interested in manga?
I’ve loved manga since I was in primary school. I think I started reading it after I learned that my favorite anime was based on manga.
What’s your favorite manga or the manga that left the most significant impact on you?
It’s tough for me to pick a favorite! (laughs) I like many titles by Takako Shimura-sensei and Sumako Kari-sensei, so I usually mention them when asked about my favorite artists. I actually think I just saw Kari-sensei’s name on futekiya’s Twitter page.
We are also big fans of Sumako Kari-sensei, so we’re delighted to hear this! We’ve published a few of her works, such as Lying Devil.
I love that title too!
Since you just mentioned that you like anime, could you tell us about your favorite anime or games?
I watch a fair bit of anime, but I enjoyed Mob Psycho 100 so much that I went out and bought the DVDs! Besides that… what do I like? I watch a wide variety of anime, though. I also really enjoyed SHIROBAKO, which is an anime about making anime.
I don’t play many games since I’m really not good at them, but I like The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls and IDOLiSH7. Both of these games are about idols and have been adapted into anime.
Thank you! Now, let’s talk about Boys’ Love manga – when did you first learn about it?
I learned about Boys’ Love when my cousin – who’s around my age – told me about doujinshi and fanmade works. She was really into shonen manga, and it was only natural for me to start reading these things after she told me about them.
That being said, I feel like I’d been reading lots of manga that featured characters whose sexual orientations were quite ambiguous. An example of this is Cardcaptor Sakura, which I’d watched first as an anime before reading the manga; Sakura (the heroine) and Syaoran (her male friend and rival) both have crushes on Yukito, and there’s also “that” kind of atmosphere between Yukito and Touya (Sakura’s older brother). I also used to read shoujo manga about cross-dressing boys. I think I really enjoyed those kinds of works, even before I had a full understanding of the Boys’ Love genre.
Emma (futekiya’s Editor-in-Chief) also became a Boys’ Love enthusiast because of Cardcaptor Sakura, so maybe this is quite common! (laughs)
Do you have any favorite BL works, such as manga, TV dramas, or novels?
Besides the Boys’ Love titles by the manga artists I named earlier, I really like Kaori Monchi-sensei’s Boys’ Love works! Although I do a lot of reading, I often mention Monchi-sensei in this kind of context since I feel like the Boys’ Love manga I write is heavily influenced by her works.
When it comes to TV dramas, I really enjoyed SKAM, a Norwegian show which revolves around homosexuality. I also watch a lot of Japanese TV dramas; when What Did You Eat Yesterday? was about to finish, my friends and I lamented over the fact it had to come to an end and wished that they’d make like 500 more episodes. I got really sad about the fact I’d no longer be able to watch such a happy show every week. (laughs)
We know exactly how you felt! Back in those days, some of us futekiya staff actually tried making the dishes that appeared in What Did You Eat Yesterday?.
That’s so cool! If I recall correctly, there was an episode where Shirou-san talked about making “something quick and easy” and started to grill some chicken… but the moment he removed the chicken from the frying pan and began cooking another component, I was like, “this is NOT quick or easy!” and just gave up on recreating his dishes. I felt like it was impossible for me to be so mindful in my everyday life. It’d be nice to rewatch this series while referring to the recipes.
Thank you! We’d now like to ask some questions about your activities as a manga artist. What made you want to become a manga artist?
I’d liked manga since I was in primary school, and I did dream about becoming a manga artist, but I’d always assumed that it wouldn’t be an easy feat. I feel like I should have saved this for the next question, but I used to create 2D artworks while attending an art university, and I eventually started feeling like it’s impossible for me to fully articulate my ideas through visual art alone. This made me realize that I wanted to draw manga after all, so I decided to try and become a manga artist.
Ah, you used to go to an art university? That makes a lot of sense! What kind of preparation did it take for you to transition from the world of fine arts to the world of manga?
I didn’t really prepare anything in particular, but I’d always drawn manga-ish things every now and then. I also wrote some fanbook doujinshis as a means of practicing drawing manga while attending grad school.
So, you went from publishing doujins to drawing commercial Boys’ Love manga – have you ever published your original manga works at events such as J-GARDEN?
No, not at all. I’d only made a couple of short photocopied fan books when I got scouted, so I had no experience creating original manga before I started drawing Boys’ Love manga on a commercial basis. I basically ended up practicing on the job and really being put on the spot. As much as I feel bad for the people who are paying me to draw manga, I’m still doing everything on the fly, and I really need more practice…
We suppose that’s similar to on-the-job training! What are some challenges of being a manga artist?
Everything is a challenge when it comes to drawing manga, but from a more organizational point of view, I find it really difficult to manage my own schedule. It’s a big challenge for me, and I struggle with it a lot. When I was new to drawing manga, I found it difficult to take the story from the beginning to the end while being satisfied with the result. I have so many challenges, though; the more I draw, the more challenges arise.
Fair enough. Do you usually decide on a story’s ending on the fly as you write it?
I guess so. While I map out the story’s overall direction before I start writing, it sometimes doesn’t go entirely as planned, and I end up searching for a satisfactory way to wrap up the story as I write it. I tend to worry about whether the new ending really counts as an ending, and whether I was able to fully develop the story. This applies to any kind of creative pursuit, but it’s really difficult to look at your own works objectively.
Thank you so much for making time for this interview despite having so much to do! What manga or other works inspire your manga?
This answer kind of overlaps with the one about my favorite manga, but in terms of my formative years, I may have been inspired by the art styles of shoujo manga like Cardcaptor Sakura and Arina Tanemura-sensei’s works; I tend to draw really thin and delicate strands of hair. I also enjoyed reading Shigeru Takao-sensei’s shojo manga, so I feel like my manga has been influenced by them.
What’s your favorite part about drawing BL manga?
Although this doesn’t apply exclusively to BL manga, I enjoy depicting the characters’ emotions through their dialogue and facial expressions. I also have a lot of fun drawing sexy scenes in BL manga. (laughs)
We also really enjoy looking at your sexy art. Thanks for keeping us fed! (laughs)
Is there any manga that you would like to draw in the future?
I’d love to draw a manga with parallel storylines focusing on different characters. While my current piece features a variety of characters, it mainly focuses on two characters. I always wish I could put every single character in the spotlight somehow, so I think it’d be fun to try drawing something like that.
We look forward to reading it! The Love of Calendula and At 25:00, in Akasaka are currently available in the futekiya Library. What did you focus on while penning these titles?
Looking back, I mostly focused on depicting the atmosphere and the characters’ presence while writing The Love of Calendula. When I penned At 25:00, in Akasaka, I tried to bring out the characters’ appeal and the two things I mentioned before.
Our fans sent us many comments about those aspects, so your intentions have definitely gotten through to them!
Are there any particular characters or scenes that you’d want your readers to take note of?
This is such a difficult question! Honestly, I’d be happy if any part catches the reader’s eyes. (laughs) While I do have specific points of interest in mind when I draw, I have fun drawing the other parts too, so I hope each of my readers is able to find something they like.
Your art is really nice to look at since there are always so many fine details. Every time, we feel like saying “thanks for the delicious content”. (laughs) Our readers always say that in their emails or DMs like that, too.
This is going to take a while to sink in, but I’m happy to hear that! Thank you!
Do you have any behind-the-scenes episodes about The Love of Calendula or At 25:00, in Akasaka?
I was lucky enough to be able to visit the filming site of an actual TV drama before writing At 25:00 in Akasaka. I went there with Maki Marukido-sensei (the author of Pornographer), and we even had the chance to interview some of the actors briefly. This was really informative since I’m not good at acting at all, but I ended up mostly basing the manga off my imagination while internally apologizing to the actors for going way off track. (laughs)
futekiya is a subscription service that releases Boys’ Love manga in English. What do you think about futekiya?
I’m seriously so grateful for what futekiya does! Manga is a unique form of entertainment that equally values the art and the text, but I’m really not good at English so I can’t cover the linguistic aspects on my own. I’m blown away by the fact I was able to reach readers from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds thanks to futekiya. Thank you very, very much.
Your works were among the first ten titles that were released on futekiya. Thank you so much for helping our service kick off! It’s been more than one year since futekiya’s launch, but your works are still very popular among our readers. We got many submissions from various countries when we asked your fans to send through their questions. We’ll get around to those shortly.
My memory tends to be really fuzzy when it comes to anything besides the actual manga-writing process, so I’m surprised to learn how long our working relationship has been. Thank you for choosing my works as part of your initial line-up!
Thank you very much for allowing futekiya to release the second volume of At 25:00, in Akasaka! Could you tell us about the main points of interest in this volume?
The main point of interest in Volume 2 is that, unlike the first volume, it focuses more on Asami Hayama (the seme)’s feelings. I hope that my readers will enjoy his character development. This volume also features a new character, and it’d make me really happy if my readers are able to welcome him with open arms.
The new character is really cute, so we’re sure your fans will love him!
Now, we’d like to move onto the fan questions – we got submissions from the U.S., the Philippines, Malaysia, Russia, the U.K., and Brazil!
The first question is from P.Hu (U.S.A).
“I really like your watercolor style artworks. Do you prefer drawing digitally or using traditional media?”
I prefer drawing traditionally since I’m not great at doing digital linework. I draw some parts digitally since digital art is handy in its own way, but most of my art is drawn pen-on-paper. None of my friends could relate to this, but I don’t dislike exercise and feel like drawing lines traditionally is a nice form of exercise. Although I can re-draw things very easily if I’m working digitally, I get a bit of an adrenaline rush from drawing nice analog lines since it makes me feel like my practice has paid off. It’s similar to the feeling I get when I’m able to shoot goals or make nice passes while playing basketball. I guess I find traditional art to be physically satisfying since it feels good when I’m able to draw nice lines.
The next question is a bit different:
“What is your ideal Seme and Uke?”
My ideal…? It’s hard to say! I’m sure lots of people have really specific ideals (e.g., “I like men with glasses” or “I like dark-haired guys”), I always rely on my intuition when I draw…… if I’m to mention something, though, I guess I like pairings where both the seme and uke are kind of weird. I’m really not picky when it comes to ship dynamics, so I can’t say for sure. (laughs) That being said, I do like pairings between refined guys and scruffy guys – just like the one in my current manga. I quite like pairings that embody the notion of “opposites attract.”
Thank you! The next question is from HanabiKat (Russia).
“What inspired you to write At 25:00, in Akasaka? What made you want to draw a manga about actors? Also, your manga is amazing – the art is gorgeous, the plot draws you in, and the characters are really likable!”
Thank you so much! My editor actually suggested the idea to me when we were discussing what I should write next. I kept mentioning how much I like actors and celebrities, so we were like, “we may as well turn this into a manga.” I also felt like it’d be interesting to write about how someone feels while acting in a love story.
The next question is from sei (Indonesia).
“What I really love from your works is the vibe and the atmosphere of the manga. The backgrounds drawn in the manga are really nice, and you can imagine yourself actually being there. Do you have any specific method for drawing scenery?”
I thoroughly dislike using rulers when drawing backgrounds, and I’m also not great at drawing perspectives accurately, so I try to build the location’s atmosphere by making use of light, shadows, and empty spaces. Although I’m not great at drawing buildings accurately, I feel like I can draw convincing scenery if I give them a bit of depth. (laughs)
The next question is from Pachi (Brazil).
“What are your inspirations or the artists that inspire your art style? Because I just want to say that your art is SO DAMN BEAUTIFUL that I could stare at your pages for hours. I swear you have one of the most breathtaking art styles I ever saw on BL.”
Thank you! I’m often inspired by real people and their expressions, actions, and/or the way they carry themselves. I also tend to be influenced by the beautiful things that I saw in TV dramas and other media. That said, 3D elements don’t necessarily translate well into manga artwork, so I also turn to the 2D world and take note of elements I liked from others’ works, such as manga or illustrations I see on Twitter. I’m hoping to incorporate attractive elements from both the 3D world and the stylized 2D world into my art; my characters have really noticeable eyelashes, but I don’t think that’s entirely possible in real life. (laughs) My approach to art involves me cherry-picking my references; for example, I draw big long eyelashes because I saw it in manga and thought it was nice, but I refer to real people when I try to draw attractive toes and such.
The next question is from Love love (the Philippines).
“What is the meaning behind your alias?”
There isn’t really a deep meaning, but I picked “Natsuno” (“summer field”) as a surname because summer is my favorite season, and my old online username also had “summer” in it. I wanted the second half of my name to sound more like a typical Japanese name than an obvious alias, so I randomly chose “Hiroko.”
The next question is from Roxy (Malaysia).
“Firstly, congratulations on the drama CD adaptation for At 25:00, in Akasaka! How do you feel as the release date draws near?”
I wasn’t involved in the casting, but Takuya Sato-san and Souma Saito-san were both really thorough with their acting. The result was fantastic, and I’m really thankful for that. Despite being the author, I listened to the drama CD from a fan’s point of view, as if it was a completely different story. I look forward to reading everyone’s positive feedback!
The second question is:
“I love the way sensei draws the characters – the eyelashes and eyes are especially beautiful. How do you manage to capture the emotions and reflect them in the drawings?”
I’m still practicing, so I’d also love to know how to capture emotions in my art… but I do prefer artworks that are infused with the artist’s passion, like “I want to capture that facial expression!” and “I love these kinds of faces!”. I think it’s important to let your fetishes run wild.
The next question is from Echo (the U.K.).
“How do you approach your style of detailed intricate lines on every panel? I love how emotional and delicate each illustration looks.”
By that, do you mean… which part I start lining first? I have a different approach depending on each process, but when I’m fine lining, I usually start with the characters’ hair or facial outlines. I also tend to start with the facial outlines when drafting/sketching, but I sometimes start by drawing the eyes.
That said, I recently realized that the proportions tend to get weird if I start with the facial outlines when I draft my drawings. I want to overcome this obstacle and improve, so I now tend to start by drawing the entire head.
The next question is from SJ (U.S.A).
“What’s your favorite part about the couple’s relationship in At 25:00, in Akasaka?”
I kind of feel like I’m tooting my own horn by saying this, but if I’m to give an answer, I’d say I like how they aren’t cutesy or straightforward. I think it’s funny how they sulk a lot and don’t really listen to each other. (laughs)
“Will Shuuto’s mom ever be comfortable with her son’s relationship in The Love of Calendula?”
While I’m unsure whether she’ll be fully comfortable with it, I’m sure she wouldn’t want to hurt her son’s feelings. I think she’ll come to terms with it in her own way eventually.
The next question is from Bbyong (Malaysia).
“What are your favorite tropes in BL? Is there anything new that you’d like to see in BL?”
I usually prefer reading stories that take place in modern-day Japan. There’s definitely been an increase in the number of BL manga set overseas or in a fantastical world, so I’ve been reading those more often these days. I think it’s really interesting! I’d like to observe just how wide the BL world’s moe horizon will end up becoming. Anything goes in the BL world, and I often come across ideas of moe that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise, so I’d like to learn more from the pioneers. (laughs)
Finally, what is your message to the readers of futekiya?
I’d like to express my gratitude to all of my readers! Since you all mentioned which countries you’re from when sending through these questions, it really hit home that my manga is being read by people from all over the world. The power of art is quite amazing, and this makes me very happy. I’m glad my works are also being enjoyed by people from other cultural backgrounds. Thank you once again!
Thank you so much!
Read Hiroko Natsuno’s Works on futekiya!
The Love of Calendula
Even though Chihiro is Shuto’s cousin, his neighbor, and a guy, Shuto has had feelings for him for five years. Shuto knows nothing good could come from these feelings. That doesn’t stop Shuto from kissing his cousin…and touching himself. When Chihiro catches Shuto kissing him, Shuto soon realizes his unrequited love might still have hope.
At 25:00, in Akasaka
About futekiya: BL manga subscription
In 2018, futekiya began as a Boys’ Love 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.
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