Remember that 2014 interview with Ichikawa Haruko about Houseki no kuni? If I remember correctly, only a few snippets have been translated, so I decided to do it all. (After that I realised the HnK part was only half of it, but the second part about Ichikawa’s art can wait for a bit).
So here it is – (the interviewer though ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )
Boys up, girls down. The sexless gems are alluring!
Charmed by the beautiful and fragile Phosphophyllite
Anthropomorphism is a widely used concept in manga nowadays, but I was really surprised to see gems as your main characters! How did you get this idea?
I: I studied in a Buddhist high school and had the chance to read sutra. Among them there were descriptions that said ‘the Pure Land is made of jewels’. I have always thought that such a cheap, yet human scale of values had an intriguing complexity to it.
Then you must have been interested in minerals for quite some time.
I: Indeed. However, I have only been seriously researching and collecting them for the past few years. Think about a world of gems where every single one is unique; it seems endless and once you get addicted to it, it gets pretty dangerous.
Why did you choose Phosphophyllite as the main character?
I: Phosphophyllite’s beautiful colour and rarity make it very valuable. On the other hand, it is brittle and it is not fit to be used as a practical decoration…I found that charming.
The mineral’s particularities are then related to the character’s scatterbrain attitude and carelessness, despite having such a weak body.
I: Exactly. The eagerness to do something is not accompanied by actual strength. I had never written such a character until then, so I figured it might be interesting.
I can’t help but shiver when I see the gems fighting even though they’re in danger of breaking! I actually thought the loss of Phos’s legs was an enrapturing moment though…What were you feeling when you drew that scene?
I: I thought ‘Wow, that’s rough, Phos, do your best’. I got rather sad thinking about a situation where one can only go forward recklessly, without giving up, since they’ll never die, no matter how many heavy blows will come. I do believe that is its strong point though.
I felt relieved that Phos’s mending went well, but battle scenes or moments when the gems’ bodies are damaged are so upsetting. Yet this feeling coexists with the detachment brought by the knowledge that they aren’t going to die anyway. It makes my heart flutter, it’s both troubling and comfortable.
I: The possibility of perpetual restoration sound pretty painful. I am thinking while drawing that life having its limits might actually be a good thing.
Is there a character you like in particular? Of course, I am thinking you like them all, but still.
My favourite is Rutile. That kind of rough personality makes me relieved. The mineral itself is extremely delicate, so I feel a little bad the character ended up like this.
I am going to ask purely for myself here, but how do do you feel about Kongou-sensei and Cinnabar?
Kongou-sensei is a little scary, but he has got a particular charm and resembles my type of man.
Kongou-sensei is usually extremely strict, but sometimes his gentleness is brought to light. I love that!
Even among minerals, Cinnabar has a rather different disposition, and the silver and blood red shine of the crystal has an extremely dangerous charm. I wanted to express that through my art.
The burden of having a lower hardness than Phos and having to stay away from everyone because of that body that constantly emits poison really touched me. I’m looking forward to the future interactions between Cinnabar and the only one willing to come close, Phos.
I quite like the part where Cinnabar shows up in Phos’s dream.
When I draw, I pour my soul into the gems’ dazzling looks
The gems have an unusual, mysterious charm. I feel that makes them very sexy. We know they are sexless, but how do you see and draw them?
I draw the upper part boy-like and the lower part girl-like; the inorganic, asexual ‘complete nothing’ of the minerals is definitely the most alluring thing to me.
I see…so they’re attractive because you did not give them any physical sexual characteristics. What difficulties did you encounter while designing them?
Diamond’s droopy eyes and thick eyebrows. I put in everything I find cute and that made it extremely difficult, but I ended up liking the design all the more.
Diamond’s both appearance and personality are cute. The scenes where Diamond shows up calm me down! These relaxing, daily life scenes that show up once in a while are truly enjoyable.
That is because I think you should also find some fun parts while reading.
Still, the art seems to be actually glittering, sometimes I even forget it’s all black and white. I think it’s amazing!
Drawing the cross section parts of the minerals is really difficult. If I don’t make them glittery enough, you won’t see they are sparkling! That’s what I tell myself while drawing.
Your use of colours is also marvellous! All the colour illustrations of the sixth chapter were collected in the digital version of the first volume; have you thought of a full colour edition?
Thank you. Colouring is difficult though, so I would rather not think about it.
Speaking of colours, the promotional video released at the same time as the first volume was also splendid…Did you make any requests during its production?
I completely entrusted it to people I have faith in, so I had no minute requests. I am truly thankful for that. At first there was talk I would do it myself…that was a close call.
The way it perfectly captures the atmosphere of the manga and the dream-like visuals…I can’t help but watch it over and over again.
It is indeed a wonderful animation. The last scene in particular is really cute.
I would like to see more if possible! There are still more unrevealed mysteries in the manga, but I can’t help but wonder if you had already planned the ending of such a setting and story before you started serialisation.
I have various ideas prepared as an outline, but I do change things halfway through too. There are a lot of things I decide upon after looking at the balance and sensations I convey while drawing.
How should we regard the enemies of the gems, the ‘humans’ that appear in the story?
I will gradually reveal more about them, so I think you will enjoy the development.
Speaking of which, this is your first serialised manga. Did you have any particular thoughts when it started?
Not really. It briefly crossed my mind that serialising is difficult and indeed, it did turn out to be difficult.
What should we look forward to in Houseki no kuni from now on?
Please look forward to Phos’s development.