This interview has been edited and revised for clarity.
Manga artist Jun Mayuzuki was invited as a guest at this year’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival to promote her latest work, Kowloon Generic Romance. The manga has been serialized in Weekly Young Jump since November 7, 2019. It placed third in Takarajimasha’s Kono Manga ga Sugoi! ranking in 2021 and ninth in the 14th Manga Taisho Awards in 2021.
Mayuzuki made her professional debut by winning Shueisha’s first bronze prize under the Golden Tiara Grand Prize in 2007 for Sayonara Daisy. Short stories from early in her career including Sayonara Daisy were released as a compilation in 2018. From 2014 to 2018, she serialized the slice-of-life romance manga After the Rain, which inspired a 2018 anime television series from WIT Studio and a live-action film adaptation that same year. The manga also won the 63rd Shogakukan Manga Award in the General category.
In addition to TCAF, she also appeared as a featured artist at the Angoulême International Comics Festival in 2022, where she contributed artwork for one of the event’s promotional posters.
Anime Trending had a chance to interview her about Kowloon Generic Romance, the process behind its creation, and her overall work ethic as a professional manga artist.
Welcome to Toronto and TCAF! What are your first thoughts about the city and event so far?
My first impression was like, “Oh, there’s so many tall buildings. This is such a business district.” I only arrived last night, so I’ve only been basically around the hotel a little bit. I went to the pharmacy last night, and that was super fun, but my trip here is only starting now, really.
Have you had the chance to look around the city and receive any recommended places to visit?
I have not! I would like some recommendations. If anything, I would love to know about any good clothing or department stores here. One of our staff members [who is a Weekly Young Jump editor], Mr. Nakayama, studied abroad in Toronto, Canada, and he just told me he knows a vintage clothing store nearby. Those are the kinds of places I want to see.
There are a lot of little spots around like that in Toronto, so you’ll definitely have a great time, and I really hope you enjoy your time here. I recommend visiting places like the CN Tower and City Hall.
If I have time, I would love to see all those places.
You’re here at TCAF to promote your latest work, Kowloon Generic Romance. How would you describe the manga to new readers?
It’s difficult to explain it in a short sentence. First off, I’d say it’s a story about obtaining the self you’re most comfortable with. I know that’s a very vague concept, but there’s a scene in the manga where the characters talk about becoming your absolute self.
In everyday life, I feel like everyone has these moments where they think, “I’m with this person, so I can be myself,” or “When I’m with this person, I have to be careful and put on this mask.” I think that’s a universal experience for everyone, even for these characters that live in this near-futuristic, slightly fantastical city of Kowloon. They experience the same things we do and are always trying to look and become their most authentic self.
I would like my readers to look at that and search for those commonalities to be able to empathize and sympathize with what I’m trying to depict in the manga.
While reading the manga, I noticed that you use Kowloon Walled City as a primary setting for the manga. Were there specific things that influenced the tone of the overall story?
I’ve always loved the idea of Kowloon Walled City. That influence comes from the documentaries that I watched when I was in elementary school and the photo books that I looked through when I was very young. I was enthralled by its atmosphere, and it’s always been my desire to draw a manga that was set there. At first, I had a hard time coming up with a story that would fit nicely into that background, but I eventually managed to find the right story for it to use as the setting.
As far as the atmosphere or tone of the story goes, the setting is prettier and easier to live in than the actual Kowloon Walled City. It’s not quite realistic, and part of that is because the story is set in the near future and is fictional.
What I’m trying to create is a Kowloon Walled City that I would want to live in. It’s an idealized version of the city that, especially around volume two, is a really fun-looking place. The real-life version, probably not as much.
The real Kowloon Walled City doesn’t exist anymore, but it seems to be its own distinct character in the manga. What details did you add to your artwork to make that setting unique and authentic?
I basically looked at photo books, and because of the current state of things around the world, I haven’t actually been able to go to Hong Kong. I would ideally like to do my research there, but I can’t. I got my information from books and magazines to get as close to a first-hand experience of what Hong Kong is like, what the city’s like, and what the people there are thinking, feeling, and living through every day.
So I tried to get what I can from the materials that were available to me. I also tried to follow the social media accounts of Japanese people who live in Hong Kong to try and get some ideas and inspirations for Kowloon’s setting in the manga.
If you were to visit Hong Kong, what would you like to see there specifically?
If I’m able to go there, I would like to visit a part of Hong Kong that has all these billboards and street signs with neon lights everywhere. I hear those spots are getting taken down and being made prettier and more gentrified. My biggest desire is to go there before it all disappears and actually be there to see it in person. There’s also another city called Chongqing that I would like to visit because it has an atmosphere similar to Kowloon.
You draw many delicious foods like fried lemon chicken and boiled dumplings throughout the story. Was there a dish you liked drawing for the manga, and what’s your favorite to eat in real life?
I just want to mention that the lemon chicken, in particular, was drawn deliberately to make readers feel like they want to eat it and make them drool. I actually haven’t had Hongkongese lemon chicken yet, so the taste is something that I imagine what it might be like.
There are some recipes that I found on the internet as inspiration, but I have the feeling that actual Hong Kong lemon chicken is not going to taste exactly like how I’m imagining it in my head. China is such a large place, and if you go to different regions, there are different foods, and it’s all going to taste different. I think there might be Hong Kong lemon chicken somewhere in Japan, but I haven’t really come across it yet.
Regardless, what I always try to do when I draw food in my manga is to make the readers desire it. We have this expression in Japan called meshitero or “food terrorism,” and it’s basically when you intentionally draw or upload pictures of delicious food to incite the appetite of anyone who sees it. I really wanted to bring that into my manga when I draw the lemon chicken.
Well, mission accomplished, because you made me and the other readers really hungry with your beautiful drawings.
(Laughs) I feel like fried chicken is this fairly global dish that everybody in the world has had experience with. There’s a scene in the movie The Fifth Element where the main female character is just microwaving KFC and eating it endlessly. When I saw that, I knew fried chicken is something that, when you see it, you really want to eat it. Like, you just get this urge to eat chicken that’s been deep fried in oil, and I felt that with other types of works as well.
Staying on the topic of food, the manga’s heroine Kujirai likes smoking cigarettes after biting into some watermelons, which she described as her own unique quirk. Why was it important for you to add moments like that in the story?
When I was coming up with the character design, I wanted to make sure the character had a unique habit to stand out more. While I was developing Kujirai’s character, it just felt like she was missing something and needed that extra “Oomph!”
Eating watermelon and smoking a cigarette is actually my mother’s habit, and she used to say that it gives it this smoky flavor that makes it delicious together. I didn’t really think much of it, but I told that story to my editor, and he was like, “Oh, that’s so good. That’s such a nice story and background. Let’s go ahead and use it.” And so, it became the protagonist’s habit. I think I really made the right decision in making it her characteristic.
It’s so interesting because when I’m working alone, I have all these episodes or stories that I thought weren’t that interesting. However, when I tell them to other people, I’ll get all these curious responses, and it doesn’t only happen for this one character. In the past, all these stories that I didn’t think were that important or interesting have had opinions from other people. This helps me with character development, and it’s helped me many times. It’s a really fun job.
Kudou and Kujirai seem to share a prickly, but friendly relationship with each other in the series’ first few volumes. How will it evolve as the series progresses?
For Kudou and Kujirai, my personal desire is that they’ll end up together. By that, I mean I decide on the ending first when I start writing a story, but how I get there might change. The reason that the path to the ending changes is because I find that the characters start moving on their own and doing their own things. As a creator, it’s a super fun experience to see my characters go their own way, but I never want to change the ending. I always want to get to the ending I’ve set.
So, Kudou and Kujirai getting together isn’t the goal of Kowloon Generic Romance because it’s not set in the ending. I personally want them to be together, but whether or not that happens, I think it’s up to the characters themselves to decide.
Nostalgia plays a big role in the manga. What is the significance of that aspect of the story, considering that the characters are living in a place that no longer exists?
One big thing I want readers to get out of my works is the feeling of nostalgia, which is an important element in this manga. The word “nostalgia” is loud and clear in Kowloon Generic Romance, and I feel like it’s because I want to confront that feeling and really face it and look at it.
Another thing about the manga is this overarching theme of the past, present, and future for all the characters. If I’m looking at their story in real-time, then nostalgia is a big importance in helping to develop that. There’s also this big question of what even is nostalgia. Nostalgia is like this emotion that’s really difficult to grasp, pin down, and describe. Because of that, I want to delve deeper into it and really think about what it means.
I actually interviewed a neuroscientist who studies neuroscience and psychiatry. They said that even in all their research, it’s been difficult to answer the question of what nostalgia is and what type of emotion it is. I think it’s a really interesting and fun theme to explore, and it’s something that I want to try to describe the best that I can.
Kowloon Generic Romance is your second serialized work after completing After the Rain in 2018. What have you learned from the experience of having your manga featured in a weekly manga magazine?
One thing I’ve learned is the importance of maintaining my health. I really want to emphasize this because, unfortunately, I’ve seen so many young manga artists, especially for weekly magazines, pass away in recent years. I do feel like that comes from their overworking themselves. It’s not a healthy lifestyle because you’re sitting all day in a very cramped space, and your blood flow is really bad. I know some people will point at examples of older manga artists who’ve lived to old age, but I feel like that’s more of a lucky draw.
Obviously, health is going to vary between different people, and some people have gotten lucky and are able to work until they’re old. But, in a lot of cases, it’s not a very healthy lifestyle, and for me personally, I used to serialize weekly, and now I do it more monthly. That’s because last year, my health took a turn for the worst, and if I hadn’t gotten sick and recovered from that, I would have continued to push myself hard at the weekly pace. Whenever I got sick, it would have taken me longer to recover if I kept pushing myself.
It’s really important to know your own limits and keep yourself healthy.
As a professional manga artist, I’d imagine you’ve had to work with many editors and assistants to get your latest chapters to print. How do you make sure that the work process goes as smoothly as possible, and were there any challenges you had to overcome?
That’s a hard question to answer. I think it will differ between the author’s side and the editor’s side. As far as I’m concerned as an author, the number one thing we seek from our editors is that they find us and our works interesting. From the editor’s side, I think they have to face the issue of an interesting idea that will make money.
From the author’s point of view, our job is to express ourselves and showcase ourselves to the editor to see if they like us and are happy to represent us. For the editor, they’re trying to take the things that we’re expressing about ourselves and release them to the world and society.
So, they have to be our first readers. That’s what editors are for us. They’ll have to be able to read our works and be our first judge. They have to judge whether that work should make it out into the world or not.
As an author myself, I have to also think about the balance between the things I want to create and how the reception from the world is going to be. But that job really goes to the editor to look out for those things, balance them out, and lead us on the right path. The editors will take our work and show it to the world for us. So the important question becomes: Can I trust this editor? Can I trust this person? Will they be able to take the interesting things I’m showcasing and make them work out in the real world? There is a sort of vague sense of compatibility, but it really comes down to trust.
The world of manga is really about the connection between people. There are people you see face-to-face like the author and the editor or the author and the assistant that has to be there to make things work. But there’s also a connection with people you don’t see, like between the author and the reader. There’s still a connection between us as people.
Besides maintaining good health, what other advice would you give to any up-and-coming artists, whether they’re comic creators or someone in a related creative field?
If you’re in a creative field, my advice is to do what you want. So, if you’re a comic artist, draw what you want. I know it sounds so simple, but it’s so true. It’s important because we all have times when we have to do something that we don’t like or have to draw something that we’re not interested in.
If you’re up against that kind of situation, it’s just best not to do it and avoid it. I understand that if you let that opportunity go, it might be that you end up in a worse situation, and your mental health might suffer from rejecting the work. But I can promise you that if you go ahead and do something that you don’t even want to do, you will suffer even more, especially later on.
It’s important to love what you’re drawing and have something that you want to draw. I understand that there are times when you have something you really want to draw and really want to create it, but you don’t know how to express it. You keep pitching the idea around, but an editor keeps saying no. If that keeps happening, then you have to be able to put it aside and move on, because eventually, you’ll come back to it. You’ll inevitably draw that thing you were so passionate about, and the opportunity will come again one day.
It’s a usable idea that you have to keep on the back burner and not obsess about the fact that you’re not doing it now. So if you’re sitting there and are like, “I want to do it now! I want to showcase this to the world now,” that’s not a great mentality. You have to have the courage to put it away. That doesn’t mean you’re putting it in the garbage, but you’re just putting it in like a save file to always come back to.
If I had to summarize all this in one word, it’d be courage. You have to have the courage to do the things you love and the courage to put aside the things that you can’t do right now.
Most definitely. As someone who has delved into a lot of creative writing, I think that’s really great advice for anyone who wants to get into the creative field. I used to write a lot in high school, and I really appreciate your answer.
I agree. It’s the same in all the creative fields like writing manga or music. If I were to expand on that, I think relationships are very much the same.
Finally, three volumes of Kowloon Generic Romance have been released in English so far. Do you have a message for all the international readers interested in reading your work?
We’re only up to volume three in English, but there’s more to come in the series. There are going to be lots of niggling mysteries that are going to show up and snowball a little bit. The important thing is to focus on the characters and what they’re seeing and feeling, as well as how they’re changing and growing. If the readers keep their eyes on that goal, they won’t lose sight of the plot.
There are also going to be many different characters that show up in this story. I really hope everyone can find their favorite character and follow their emotional development along with the story. I hope you enjoy how these characters develop as the manga goes on. I would be really happy if you can make my work a part of your life.
The first three volumes of Kowloon Generic Romance are now available in English from Yen Press. Volume four is also now available for purchase as of July 18, 2023.
The series can be purchased in paperback and digital format at your local bookstore or online retailer. Jun Mayuzuki’s other manga series, After the Rain, is available in omnibus manga format from Kodansha’s Vertical Comics imprint.
Translator: Mimmy Shen
Special thanks to Yen Press, Weekly Young Jump, and Shueisha for their assistance for this interview.