Welcome back to Part 2 of the interview with Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju‘s manga artist, Kumota Haruko! Part 1 was an introduction of how she entered the field, whereas in Part 2 she discusses her influences, the rakugo stories featured in the manga, and even a bit about her technique for using the pen!
Again, a big thank-you to fellow blogger, translator, and anime-enthusiast Karice for editing and proofreading this translation. And as always, please let me know of any errors or suggestions for improvement. Enjoy!
About the authors who influenced her, and how to use the manga artist’s pen
Although you say “ITAN’s genre branding is ambiguous,” I feel like it fits your art style. Though it’s difficult to explain to others just what your art style is with something like “it fits this or that magazine.”
Kumota: That’s true. People have described my art in a number of different ways: for example, sometimes I’m told it’s typical of shoujo, and other times it’s seinen. Some have called it beautiful, and others crude or rough. And even “a sniff of the Shouwa era?”
That’s a glowing compliment in the context of Rakugo Shinju! Specifically, was there anyone who had a big influence on you?
Kumota: In my teens, I had a phase where I imitated a few manga writers whose works I liked. For example, I remember trying to imitate the likes of Tezuka Osamu-sensei and Akatsuka Fujio-sensei.
Suddenly you’re dropping these legendary names! Though you did mention in earlier interviews that you thought the shoujo manga from the 70’s were the coolest in the world.
Kumota: I certainly still love the Year 24 Group , and they’ve had a big influence on me. That being said, what I learned from them was mostly the visual presentation of manga; I didn’t really incorporate their style of character design into my works. What I did take away were broader things like the visual layout. If you look at works from that era, it seems like everyone worked together with their assistants and shared their techniques, so things like action lines were drawn the same. I also like Takahashi Rumiko-sensei’s sound effects and Matsumoto Leiji-sensei’s way of drawing sound effect letters…basically I just want to copy everything I like (laughs).
It’s a mix of the “essence” of artists from a variety of genres then.
Kumota: That’s right. That’s how I observe and learn my pen-strokes and how to proceed with my manga, although the style itself didn’t evolve after I hit around 20. If I tried drawing a few sketches, it would be easy to see they haven’t changed much from my sketches from that time. Anyhow since my style is a mix of styles from a ton of different people, it’s hard to tell where the influence comes from (laughs).
I think I’ve uncovered a part of the secret to a style free of genre influences!
Another part of what makes your works attractive is the beauty of line work that exudes charm from each line. For example, the thick outlines of the bodies are distinct from the thinner lines elsewhere. Do you use different tools for them?
Kumota: No, I draw everything with a single maru pen.
Really?! I thought maru pens were only for thin lines.
Kumota: It’s surprising, but maru pens can be used for thick lines as well, and their control is still good. On the other hand, G-pens are soft and can easily draw thick lines, but if your hand trembles you’ll make an inkblot. Maru pens are more stiff but they don’t make blots. To put it at an extreme, I’ll say it’s like the difference between a brush pen and a pencil. Since G-pens have soft tips, they feel like brush pens, whereas maru pens feel more like pencils. For drawing straight lines, pencils are easier to control than brush pens.
What’s the secret for drawing beautiful lines?
Kumota: I’m still working on that, but you have to relax your hand as much as possible. This feeling is incredibly difficult to explain, but with experience, I’ve learned that if you relax your hand you can draw good lines every time. There are other things like the motion needing to come from the elbow, not the wrist. And also rotating the paper around. When all this becomes natural, wielding your pen becomes easy. I only got the hang of using a maru pen recently, but I’ve still got a long ways to go.
How do you control pen pressure?
Kumota: This is also hard to explain. You need to hold the pen lightly, with your thumb providing just enough pressure on top of the pen to hold in in place, and then adjust it as needed using the fleshy part of your thumb. If you grip the pen too tightly here (grips the tip), you’ll be using too much pressure and won’t be able to draw the lines you want. Controlling the pen really is hard.
That really is some level of craftsmanship! To refer to your work, I feel that each and every one of your characters is drawn to be distinct not only in their design, but also in their mannerisms.
Kumota: I like to give them distinct body types and, in particular, different mannerisms. Because no two people are alike: for example, sitting–everyone sits differently. And with rakugo performers, they embody all sorts of characters—young or old, male or female—and they really do transform into those individuals before your very eyes. Trying to show these differences is another part of what makes capturing rakugo in manga so much fun.
Confronting “Rakugo” head-on through manga!
How do you decide which rakugo stories to use in the manga?
Kumota: I worry a lot about this every chapter, when I’m searching through books trying to choose the rakugo content. I’ve even turned in thumbnails  that were complete except for giant blanks where the rakugo scenes were supposed to be (laughs). There have also been times where I’ve nearly missed deadlines because I was frantically hunting for rakugo stories while finishing up the chapters themselves (laughs). Though I wish the rakugo stories could be better linked to the manga’s plot.
I think they’re pretty well linked already!
Kumota: On that point, I think there’s a story that went pretty well: “The Purse” featured in Chapter 11, which I’ve only just completed so it isn’t in a volume yet (published in the November issue of ITAN last year). This is a story about a wife cheating on her husband, and the name of the man she was cheating on him with was “Shin-san.” It’s a bit of a spoiler so I won’t say too much, but with the current developments in the manga, I thought that it would be incredibly ironic if Sukeroku, whose real name is “Shin-san,” watched Kikuhiko perform it… So, please give “The Purse” a listen after reading Chapter 13 (laughs).
As for “The Money in the Dream,” you drew it in its entirety. Were you always intending to include it?
Kumota: That was purely because they increased the page limit from that chapter on (laughs). Until then, I was, unfortunately, only able to provide condensed versions of the rakugo pieces, but from that chapter on I finally had the space to present the rakugo stories in full.
Upon watching the original version of those stories, and then reading them again in Rakugo Shinju, I’m surprised how suddenly my impression changed. It must be hard to recreate such realistic rakugo scenes in a medium like manga, without any sound or movement.
Kumota: Quite the opposite: because it’s a manga, I can depict things that can’t really be depicted in other media. If an actor were to perform these stories as if he were a rakugo master, I suspect that many people who are into rakugo would watch it and think “the voice and movements don’t fit!” However, in manga I only need to draw actions at specific points, and the readers fill in the rest with the voices and movements they have in their minds.
How do you choose these “specific points?”
Kumota: I was once told that rakugo performers see everything, to the extent of “nobody moves like this at moments like these”, and I thought “oh goodness!” (laughs). Since then, I’ve watched videos of performances over and over, trying to grasp the important points, to integrate the words with the gestures and drive it all into my head before trying to bring it out in the manga.
Also, it seems difficult to vary the layout of the manga panels when it’s just the performer sitting on a single mat.
Kumota: Rakugo scenes generally depend on variations in expression. It’s another advantage of manga, because you can easily convey the subtle changes in expression, and I’m using that advantage to its fullest.
In that case, what’s the secret to the variations in expression?
Kumota: Probably with the eyebrows, the mouth, and the details under the eyes . If you draw the eyebrows even one millimeter higher or lower, the expression changes. Also–I learned this when I was an assistant–the way they draw mouths in manga makes it easy to convey emotion.
This is a layperson’s opinion, but if you could draw something like a montage of scenes from rakugo stories, wouldn’t you be able to add variation to the scenes you depict?
Kumota: Certainly, in films that feature rakugo, they sometimes use a method where they switch the scenes out, and use pictures to depict the scenery of the Edo period. I think that technique is amazing on film, but I try to avoid it as much as possible because I want to convey the iki of the Edo style rakugo performers. This aesthetic is the difference between Kamigata rakugo and Edo rakugo (two different styles of rakugo, centered around Osaka and Tokyo, respectively), or as they say, difference between miyabi and iki, and I want to convey that.
In Kamigata rakugo, there are more sound effects from the accompanying instruments, more beating on the lectern and the clothes are more showy. It’s the idea that “flashiness is cool”. On the other hand, while Edo rakugo also has its unique “theatrical stories,” the performers generally try to convey the story without relying too much on props and sets, using just the fan and hand towel to paint the image of the scene for their audience. That’s what they mean by iki. I think it’s incredibly cool when rakugo artists weave their stories in such a minimalistic way, so I want to convey these scenes in a simple manner in my own manga as well.
 JP: ネーム (“name”). Essentially rough sketches of how the manga plays out, for which the editor provides feedback before the artists start on the actual manga pages.
 Seen also in the anime season 1 episode 9, where (spoiler warning! highlight text to see) Kikuhiko breaks up with Miyokichi and she elopes with Sukeroku.
 JP: 夢金(“Yume-kin”). Featured in the anime season 1 episode 4 about a greedy boatman rowing a samurai and a lady across a river on a snowy night. Performed by Sukeroku.
 JP: イメージシーン (“image scene”). My understanding is a series of images, but if a reader understands what the term means please let me know!
 JP: 粋(iki) vs 雅(miyabi). Two ideas of aesthetics from Japan. Kumota appears to explain their difference a bit in the next paragraph. Iki originated from the common people in the Edo period, and appears to embody simplicity yet sophistication. In contrast, miyabi originated in the upper class from a much earlier time, and seems to lean more toward refined courtliness. For more information, see the relevant sections in this blog post, although readers are welcome to link more authoritative sources on this topic!
That’s all for Part 2. Stay tuned for Part 3!
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is available for free legal streaming at Crunchyroll.