INTERVIEW: How Online Culture Influenced Ru Xu’s Status Royale Comic Series

status royale comic series peter, vell, and henry feature image
© Ru Xu, VIZ Media

Comic artist and writer Ru Xu recently released the first volume of her e-sports comic series, Status Royale, this past February under VIZ Media’s latest VIZ Originals imprint. The series gave Xu the opportunity to explore online culture, gaming, and professional e-sports within a shonen-influenced story.  

Ru previously worked on the webcomic Saint for Rent with Hiveworks and the graphic novel series NewsPrints with Scholastic’s Graphix imprint. Saint for Rent was nominated for a Reuben Award in the “Online Comics, Long Form” category, while NewsPrints was nominated for an Edgar, a Kids’ Comic Award, and an Ignatz. 

Fresh off completing her book tour in Texas, Ru spoke to Anime Trending about Status Royale, the thought processes behind the series’ creation, and how it was developed in the VIZ Originals imprint. 

There have been a lot of sports manga and anime released in the past, and Status Royale features a lot of aspects of gaming and competitive e-sports. How did you go about adapting them for a static medium like comics? 

I realized that I had to make the gameplay as simple as possible to explain how the game works because I made [it] myself. So nobody is familiar with the rules. I wanted to treat volume 1 as sort of a tutorial mode that leaned into that aspect of video games, which is why there are a lot of inserts about the waiting screens that you often see in video games where they tell you, “This is how you should play this,” and “These are the units that you can use in the game.” 

I think a lot of people were wondering why I didn’t choose something like League of Legends as sort of the base for Status Royale. The truth is, I feel like League of Legends has a very elaborate and sophisticated playing style in its goals and how to achieve them. So I wanted to do something a lot simpler, and it just became more like a battle arena game. 

Originally, I was also looking into Overwatch and how that particular team versus team gameplay worked. I realized that I didn’t want to draw that many characters in a panel or in a battle at once, so I decided to focus on three versus three in Status Royale. I think there’s a good mix of what I can do with that sort of setup in terms of a game. So with that amount of freedom, as well as the rules to cement how the game works, [it] made me feel like I could do a lot with it.

The e-sports and gaming culture in the comic were really interesting. I have a lot of friends who are also really into League of Legends, but I’m more of a casual gamer and not as familiar with it, if I’m being honest. 

Well, I wanted to make Status Royale readable for casual gamers as well because I know what it’s like. Gaming for me has always been a lot of fun, especially with my friends and people you meet while enjoying a game. I wanted to make that a core tenet of Status Royale, which was basically to have fun. 

E-sports and gaming seem to have their own subcultures and quirks, and I remember spotting some gaming lingo in the comic. How were you able to effectively portray that through your story’s worldbuilding and visual storytelling? 

I’m a huge participant in online culture, and I’m what you’d call “terminally online” these days. I’m also in a lot of various fandoms like anime and gaming, so it’s true that when you’re in a fandom, you sort of develop in-community lingo that you use frequently. I wanted to incorporate that into Status Royale’s gaming community. 

In terms of general gamer terms like “meta” and noob,” gaming has been around long enough that a lot of people are already familiar with these terms. Editorial did want to stop me at certain points to sort of explain what certain terms meant like “meta,” which is an acronym for “most effective tactics available.” I had to slide that description into the dialogue a little bit and tried to make it as natural as possible. 

status royale comic panel characters using arena lingo
© Ru Xu, VIZ Media

In some of these cases, it’s easy to slide the definition in. In other cases, especially when I make up a term, I feel like as long as I have the context clues there, I trust my readers will be able to understand what’s going on.

You mentioned Overwatch already, as well as Yu-Gi-Oh, among the series that influenced Status Royale. Were there any other titles that influenced your approach to the general story and world? 

I definitely pitched Status Royale as a sports manga. So, I was looking at a lot of the archetypes and story arcs in sports manga like Eyeshield 21 and Haikyu!! Something I really enjoy in sports manga is exploring how the team dynamics are, and the interpersonal relationships between teammates and rival teams. That’s something I really wanted to incorporate into Status Royale, with not only the dynamic of the rivalry and team building, but also teenagers just goofing off and having fun. Games should be fun, and [the] people playing them should be enjoying themselves.

One of these teenagers having fun is your lead character Vell, whose personality and looks I believe are modeled from Ryuko Matoi from Kill La Kill

I’m a big fan of Studio TRIGGER’s work. I wanted to have a protagonist that showed my influence from them. I really like how TRIGGER does the thing where the protagonist wears the bad guy colors, like red and black, and the antagonist wears the good guy colors, like white, blue, and green. I thought that was a cute concept, and I wanted to explore that a little more in my series, which is why you get that nod to TRIGGER’s influence with both Vell and Jun’s designs. 

status royale comic panel henry, vell, and peter engaging in battle
© Ru Xu, VIZ Media

Other characters that went into Vell’s design include the shonen protagonists that define the genre, like Hinata from Haikyu!!, and just the hot-headed, really excited, eager, and optimistic shonen protagonist in general. I wanted to put Vell into that circle of archetypes, while still letting her develop in a way that I usually develop characters. I think it’ll be fun for readers to see how she sort of breaks out of the archetype as the story goes on. 

Why was it important for you to have a strong female protagonist like her lead the story as the main character? 

I originally intended the series to have a tongue-in-cheek tone because it becomes a reverse harem, and most of the characters and other players are boys. So it really gave me an excuse to draw a lot of different types of romanceable boy characters. That’s what I jokingly pitched to Viz and I was like, “I’m gonna do it that way,” and they were like, “Okay.”

status royale vell character spotlight panel
© Ru Xu, VIZ Media

I think it’s a lot of fun to have a female main character like Vell. I wanted to write her in a way that was still true to the shonen protagonist archetype, while having in the background the sexism that is involved in gaming. You don’t see it as much in Status Royale yet, but you’ll definitely see it explored with the all-girls team, the Starstrikers, who appear later in volume 1. They definitely had to pioneer their way through the competitive Status Royale gaming scene in a way that Vell hasn’t yet because she’s just getting into it.

I’ve noticed that in a lot of gaming series that if the protagonist is a woman, one of the core narrative arcs is about sexism and gaming. I felt like so many people have already done that in such a great and exploratory way, and I was free to explore it in a way on how I’d approach the situation and storytelling. I think just being able to explore how a female character would navigate any sports scene adds diversity to the number of stories with female characters in gaming. 

The gameplay explanations of Status Royale were interesting, especially when it went into the differences between on-sync, off-sync, and perfect sync. How did you develop those in-universe rules and mechanics for your story? 

One thing that you learn by just being online too much is that different people have completely different logic systems with which they view the world. I wanted to incorporate that into this game as well because some people, when they play a game, just want to be themselves while playing the character and having the character’s abilities. That’s kind of the off-sync mode in Status Royale

On-sync is when the players are like, “I am this character.” They’re going to let the character take over and do all the cool things that the characters are able to do in this fantasy world. That allows them to be able to do attack combos more efficiently by just giving up control to the characters. 

status royale jun cmyk blocking an attack
© Ru Xu, VIZ Media

I feel like this describes two different kinds of people who like to play games or immerse themselves in media. It’s the people who are very still grounded in themselves versus the people who go into it more for escapism. There are different types of people all over the place and it’s a spectrum of how they like to enjoy stuff. That’s how I was approaching how the players would interface with the Status Royale game.

Sports and shonen media often have rivalries that drive conflict in a narrative. Vell and Jun seem to have a particularly strong one, considering they were childhood friends. Why was it important to have that intense rivalry between the two characters? 

I think one of the main things I wanted to do was make sure that all the characters have really good chemistry with each other and [that] they fall into certain dynamic character archetypes. So, you have your “childhood friends turned to rivals” with Jun and Vell. You have your one-sided rivalry with Jun and Henry, and you have Vell and Henry as new friends figuring it out. In terms of Jun and Vell, I’m very fond of “childhood friends turned to rivals” character dynamics and that was a way for me to really explore that aspect. 

I really wanted to make sure everyone had some sort of relationship or hidden grudge against each other, and it may not necessarily just be negative things but positive as well. I’m interested in seeing how things play out, as events unfold.

I read somewhere that you’re teasing what’s going to happen between Vell and Jun in the second volume. Do you have any hints you could give? What should readers expect to see between the two characters? 

Volume 2 will definitely shed a lot more light on why Jun reacted so negatively toward Vell in that first scene where he blocks her. In some cases, it’ll make sense and click for people who are too online, like me. 

Status Royale is published under the new VIZ Originals initiative from VIZ Media. How were you able to pitch the series to them and begin work on the first volume?

I was kind of fortunate in that VIZ was in the starting stages of their Originals programs, so they approached me to pitch ideas to them. I had a few ideas in mind, but the concept of eSports was something that they thought would be very good for what they were trying to do with the program. 

Something that impressed me early on in the pitching process was that they wanted stories from people who grew up with manga and anime but told stories from their own point of view. They didn’t want a Westerner’s take on what a Japanese classroom setting would be. They wanted a take on what their own life was like. 

I was influenced by a lot of the stuff that VIZ translated and put out in the 2000s. It kind of fit really well that I got to return to my roots in terms of comics, while being able to express a story that really reflected my experiences growing up in some ways. I think it was a really good match.

Now that you’ve worked with VIZ and had a chance to go on a book tour to promote the series, what does it mean to you for your work to be featured in the Viz Original imprint?

Like I said, it’s more of a homecoming for me because it’s an honor to be published alongside some of the titles that I grew up with. I’ve had a great time so far, and I look forward to what happens next.

What advice would you give to other comic creators interested in submitting work for Viz Originals?

I think you’ve got to go with what makes you happy to draw and what makes you happy to write. Because if you’re pursuing a concept that you’re not really into, but you think an audience would like, you’re probably going to burn out pretty quickly. I think that’s what happens with a lot of people who try to chase an audience, rather than letting the audience come to them. The audience should really like what you’re all about.

status royale comic panel fights and poses
© Ru Xu, VIZ Media

I think that it’s really important and it took me about 10 years or so to fall into this idea that you can just enjoy yourself when you’re writing a story. It doesn’t have to necessarily be all about your ideals and what you’re like as a person. Because you never really know what story takes off. 

If you’re in that stage in your creative career when you have to make a name for yourself and get the biggest audience possible but do it in a way that isn’t necessarily true to yourself, it will net you the eyeballs to really take off and make you popular. However, you kind of end up being pigeonholed into that particular project. In terms of the genre and subject matter, it’s a lot harder to switch to what you really love writing or drawing about once you are known for something else. 

My advice is just start doing what you love to do so that anything that takes off is still something that you love. 

What opportunities do you see the Viz Originals imprint providing for comic creatives? 

It’s definitely great to have another publisher enter the fray for both young and old creators, whether they’re veterans or new comic creators. It’s really great to have them interested in publishing stories because a lot of people want to tell them. 

I like that VIZ is interested in the human element of creation in comics, so it’s really cool that they’re not interested in any of the AI stuff that’s coming around. They want the comics to be made by people. It’s really part of the reason why I like working with VIZ. 

What is your message for those discovering Status Royale for the first time and what do they have to look forward to in volume 2? 

I hope you have fun reading the series. For volume 2, we’re just going to kick it up a notch with the gaming and go into more competitive game theory. There’s going to be more characters and character developments that I hope people will be really into, especially if they liked how things were with the characters in the first volume. 

The first volume of Status Royale is available from VIZ Media, with select chapters available to read for free on its website and VIZ app. You can visit Ru Xu’s website to see more of her work and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

William Moo is a freelance writer who has previously written for OTAQUEST and MANGA.TOKYO. He enjoys watching lots of anime every season and reading from time to time. You can follow him on Twitter @thewriterSITB.
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