The two-woman team of Akira Himekawa (known separately by the pseudonyms A. Honda and S. Nagano) are truly international artists. Not only do they draw the “Legend of Zelda” and “My Little Pony” manga, they also illustrated the manga “Gold Ring,” which was originally published in Arabic in the United Arab Emirates, and Finnish publisher Amimaru has released their “Yuana and the Silver Moon” series, a story about a Native American boy, digitally in English. At home in Japan, they drew the 2003 “Astro Boy” manga, a miniseries based on a television cartoon which in turn was based on Osamu Tezuka’s original creation. And their original series “Gliding Reki” earned them a jury recommendation from the Japan Media Arts Festival.
Honda and Nagano don’t let any grass grow under their feet. They have traveled to the UAE, Dubai, China, Germany and Canada to promote their manga, while their personal travels have brought them to Nepal, Thailand, Bali, Spain, France, England, Mongolia and the U.S. They have a particular interest in nature and spirituality, so their travels often take them to places with intriguing traditional cultures.
At the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, they took a break from panels and signings to talk a bit with CBR News about their work, their travels and their new horse.
CBR News: What is it like to meet manga fans outside Japan?
S. Nagano: One of the things we notice is the passion of the fans is really explosive compared to how they react in Japan. They are really emotionally invested in our works. In Japan, manga is regarded as such a normal everyday life thing–of course there are events for which our fans get very excited, but we hardly ever see this level of passion as we do overseas.
A. Honda: When it comes to bigger events in Japan, ones that have anime and cosplay events as well, the excitement of the event tends to rise, but it’s rare to see this kind of excitement among the fans at a manga-only event.
The first event we went to in Germany was Animagic, and I was unaware before getting there that Zelda was such a big part of international Japanese culture. When we got there and we got onto the stage for our event, there was a huge round of applause. Back home, only musicians that got that attention. That was really amazing. Working in the field of manga animation or video games, it’s so rare to be treated as a celebrity in Japan that it was an unusual reception for us to handle.
We have noticed that TCAF is a lot calmer, and they are more interested in the academic and creative side of manga, but when we go to the other manga events that cater to the Akihabara culture, we have to build in immunity to the fan reaction.
Your travels aren’t limited to comic cons; what interests draw you to other countries?
Honda: I personally as an artist have always been working around the theme of animals and people, and I’m also really interested in the religions and myths of different areas. Of course, at first I wanted to see the Himalayas, Nepal, India. I was looking for basic spirituality, a connection with nature, as inspiration for my own growth as an artist.
Nagano: After we take trips, we often come back and draw pictures or art inspired by our trips and try to make it come back to life from our memories.
What sort of research did you do for “Yuana and the Silver Moon,” and how did you get the idea for this story?
Honda: We went to Montana twice, one year after the other, and there we were able to see some of the [Native American] culture and the rodeos of the area.
Nagano: We are really interested in those kind of first nations cultures. Even from Japan, when we went to Mongolia, since we are all basically descended from the same culture, we are interested in traversing the routes. There’s something about the way they treat nature, the way they look at nature, what they consider to be divine or holy, and the influence of animism has really resonated with us.
Honda: Originally, we drew a lot of these fantasy stories in Japan. It was because of our work in these fantasies and nature that Nintendo thought the Zelda world would fit our style very well, and that is how we got the offer in the first place.
How do you work together?
Nagano: First we decide who gets to draw which characters. Honda-sensei tends to draw [“Legend of Zelda’s”] Link and the birds and animals, but I drew the goddess. And [Honda] also drew the crowds and the other people — she’s very good at drawing protagonists. She likes to draw the protagonists and the animals and I take care of the backgrounds and scenery. And that’s how we share the work. But the story, we think about together — we think about the plot together.
How do you feel about working on licensed products versus characters and stories you create on your own?
Honda: Of course there are things we like and don’t like about each of those working environments.
Nagano: It’s not Honda-sensei’s forte to draw styles based on other people’s character design. Because she has such strong inspirations of her own, tracing the work of other people doesn’t bring her a lot of satisfaction. But of course, work like “Zelda” has so many fans overseas, it is really our connection to the world. It’s what brings us overseas to see our fans internationally, so it is a very, very important piece of work.
What about “My Little Pony”?
Honda: There is not a very strong culture for promoting horses in Japan, but I personally have always loved horses, and I own my own horse now. In other parts of the world, we see how horses are respected and how useful they are in society, and we could see how “My Little Pony” has such a deep impact here compared to Japan.
I see how popular “My Little Pony” is overseas. The first time I saw “My Little Pony,” I had this flash of thought that they sell the kind the toys I would like to buy.
Do you ride your new horse?
Nagano: He is still a colt, but we hope to ride him in the future.
[Honda shows a drawing she did of horses in an earlier style.]
Honda: This is the sketch we showed to Hasbro. It’s something we really enjoyed working on. Before “My Little Pony,” these were the horses I liked to draw. The reason I used to draw pictures like this comes from the fact that I used to watch a lot of Disney movies and Loony Toons as they started to come to Japan, so that was a strong influence.
Of course, I felt no hesitation adapting these styles of American cartoons, but in Japan, it was considered a bit of a strange style to be working in, so I kind of had this little bit of a complex. But as Japanese manga began to spread into the world, I found my problems disappearing because if overseas fans were seeing my work, they would not feel the strangeness of my work. They would accept it as is.
Mimmy Shen served as translator for this interview.