Japanese author, illustrator
Manga is the Japanese word for comic book, and a manga-ka is the creative mind behind the dynamic artwork and complex storytelling of the Japanese comic. Romance, world-shaking adventure, and exotic robots—these features power much of classic manga, and they are at the center of the wildly creative works of manga-ka Yukiru Sugisaki. Versatile and productive, Sugisaki has produced several popular manga series that include both the subtle emotional development of shojo, or girl manga, and the rollicking science fiction adventure featured in shonen, or boy manga.
Unlike graphic novelists in the Western world, who often welcome celebrity, Japanese manga-ka are frequently shy of personal publicity, perhaps preferring to be identified with the fantastic characters they create. Yukiru Sugisaki has never even publicly identified herself as a woman, though fans who have seen her at book signings have publicized that information. She often draws herself as a man, an adolescent boy in a baseball cap, or a male bunny rabbit, and the only personal information she releases are her birthday (never the year), her astrological sign (Capricorn), and her blood type (O). Many in Japan believe that blood type reveals information about one's character in the same way that some Westerners believe in astrological signs. Sugisaki has also revealed that she is interested in video games, theatrical plays, and collecting anything to do with rabbits.
"When it comes to Sugisakisensei, I'm always on my toes!"
PAUL MORRISSEY, SUGISAKI'S U.S. EDITOR
Sugisaki began her public career as a comic artist by drawing dojinshi, or comics created by fans. (Dojinshi, often interpreted to mean "underground comic," can also be translated as "same substance, different people.") Though most dojinshi are privately photocopied and passed around among friends, some are published and widely distributed. One of Sugisaki's most popular dojinshi was Escaflowne, which was published in book form in 1996 by the Japanese publisher Kadokawa. Escaflowne is the story of a teenage girl whose interest in the occult results in her being magically transported to the distant planet Gaia, where she must help a mysterious prince revive the sleeping god, Escaflowne. The original Escaflowne story had been created by HajimeYadate and Shoji Kawamori, and Katsu-Aki had drawn a serialized version of the comic. The romantic adventure story appealed to both boys and girls and became one of few manga stories that were published in both shonen manga and shojo manga magazines.
Another important Sugisaki dojinshi is Sotsugyo M (Graduation M), which has its roots in a popular Japanese CD-Rom game called Sotsugyo. The game centers on five graduating high school girls, and it has inspired many dojinshi. One of these, Sotsugyo M, changes the lead characters to five high school boys. Sugisaki's Sotsugyu M stories were published in serial form in Asuka, a popular girls' manga magazine.
Graphic Novels (in English translation)
(With Yoshiyuki Tomino) Brain Powered. 4 vols. (2003–04).
The Candidate for Goddess 5 vols. (2004).
D.N. Angel 10 vols. (2004–05).
Lagoon Engine 3 vols. (2005).
Lagoon Engine Einsatz. Forthcoming as of press time.
Achieves U.S. success with shonen manga
After this point, Sugisaki began to publish more original stories, and many have been translated into several languages. One of the earliest was a science fiction story based on a popular anime, or animated cartoon show, called Brain Powered, which aired on Japanese television in 1998. Teaming with writer Yoshiyuki Tomino (1941–), Sugisaki provided artwork for manga stories that expand on the anime, which concerns an epic battle to save the planet from destruction. The competing forces in Brain Powered are mecha warriors (mecha is a Japanese word derived from the English word "mechanical"). While mecha can refer to any kind of mechanical creation, it is most often used in manga to mean giant robots or people wearing body armor who are part human, part machine.
Brain Powered describes an earth overwhelmed by severe climate changes, natural disasters, and unwise human choices. Out of this chaos, two forces emerge: Orphan, a group of evil scientists who use living machines called Antibodies to gain control of Earth; and Brain Powereds, mechas who oppose Orphan. Sugisaki's black-and-white artwork in Brain Powered is intricate and explosive, and the panels are packed with up-close detail that increases the impression of fast-paced action. Brain Powered was originally published as a serial by Kadokawa in Shonen Ace, a boy's manga magazine. In the United States, it was collected into four volumes of graphic novels and published by TokyoPop in 2003 and 2004. Located in Los Angeles, California, TokyoPop is one of the few American publishers of authentic Japanese manga, which mean that they read right to left in the original Japanese style, rather than left to right in the Western style.
Sugisaki followed up Brain Powered with another science fiction mecha adventure, titled The Candidate for Goddess (in Japanese, Megami Kouhosei). Set in the year 4088, The Candidate for Goddess relates the story of another embattled universe, where humans face a new enemy named Victim. Victim has destroyed planet after planet until only the planet Zion and its colonies are left. To combat Victim, people have created a defense force of giant robots called Goddesses. These mecha are controlled by human pilots, who train at Goddess Operation Academy. Five volumes of manga tell the stories of the brave young men who are the candidates for Goddess.
Like Brain Powered, The Candidate for Goddess is a boy-oriented action story, and the artwork reflects the intensity of the story. Word balloons leap outside of panels, and close-ups reveal the characters' emotions with impact. Though action and adventure are primary, the boys' relationships with each other are also at the center of the stories, which explore friendship, trust, and betrayal.
Returns to shojo manga
Sugisaki's next series would take her back into the territory of shojo, or girl manga, with a wildly popular ten-volume series called D.N. Angel. The hero of D.N. Angel is Daisuke Niwa, a sweet and sensitive fourteen-year-old boy who is experiencing his first crush on a girl named Risa. Daisuke is a member of an unusual family. For one thing, he has been trained by his parents to be an expert thief, an occupation that makes the kind and honest Daisuke very uncomfortable. In addition to this, he discovers a remarkable family curse: when the boys of the Niwa family turn fourteen, they are occasionally possessed by Dark Mousey, a dashing, mysterious, and ghostly thief.
Japanese Manga: Something for Everyone
American comics received a severe blow in the 1950s, when social "experts" denounced comic books as a bad influence on young people. Dr. Frederick Wertham's 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent claimed that reading comic books led to juvenile delinquency. However, in Japan, comics never suffered this criticism, and comic books there have been a part of mainstream culture for decades. Not only do Japanese people of all ages enjoy comics, but creating dojinshi, or fan comics, is a popular hobby for many comic readers.
There are many different types of Japanese comics, designed to appeal to every age, gender, and interest. Small children who are learning to read begin with kodomo manga, or children's comics. As they grow older, they begin to read shonen manga and shojo manga, boys' and girls' comics. Shonen manga feature stories of action and adventure or sports, but can include romance as well. Shojo manga often revolve around romance, but can also be dramatic adventure stories with female heroes.
There are also manga for gay audiences. Shonenai manga tell stories of love between boys and shojo-ai manga describe girl-girl romances. Many non-gay readers also like to read these stories, and, indeed, gender changes and same-sex romances are also frequent features of regular manga.
Adult Japanese comic readers have a variety of manga to choose from. Seijin manga for men and redikomi manga for women deal with adult subject matter, including romance and sexuality. There are even pornographic manga, called hentai. Other manga deal with practical aspects of daily life, such as how to win at mah-jong and other gambling games, how to succeed in business, and how to be a good housewife.
When Daisuke approaches Risa to tell her that he likes her, he turns into Dark for the first time. Dark is not only three years older than Daisuke and skilled at the art of stealing, but he is also a handsome, ruthless ladies' man, while Daisuke is, as Risa crushingly tells him, the kind of boy girls only want to be friends with. To complicate matters further, Risa is a twin, and Dark loves her sister Riku. When Daisuke sees Risa, he transforms into Dark, and when Dark sees Riku, he transforms into Daisuke. Supporting characters include a bunny named With who can transform into either Dark or Daisuke, and Krad (Dark spelled backwards), who is Daisuke's enemy.
All of these transformations, combined with the Niwa family business of thievery, lead to many humorous romantic adventures. The plot devices of mistaken identity, twins, and confused lovers can be found throughout classic literature from Greek drama to the works of English playwright William Shakespeare (1564–1616). Sugisaki adapts them perfectly to the manga tradition, with cute big-eyed characters and magically transforming animals.
The volumes of D.N. Angel include plenty of lighthearted adventure, but there is a real message about adolescence to be found in the stories. The gentle Daisuke must transform into to the handsomer but much more hardhearted Dark to appeal to the girl he likes. However, Risa is a shallow, competitive girl who is drawn to superficial qualities, like Dark's good looks. Riku is independent and smart, a genuinely good person who hates Dark and appreciates Daisuke. Hidden behind the romance and silliness are deeper messages about the value of being true to oneself and the cost of growing up. D.N. Angel not only became a monthly serial in the shojo magazine Asuka, but it became a popular anime and has been translated into several languages. The English version was published by TokyoPop.
In 2002, Sugisaki followed up D.N. Angel with another shojo manga called Rizelmine. Rizelmine is a madcap comic boy-meets-robot romance, that, like D.N. Angel, has a more serious underlying theme. In Rizelmine, fifteen-year-old Iwaki Tomonori finds himself married to twelve-year-old Rizel, a mecha girl made up of tiny robotic parts called nanobots. Rizel's makers find that she needs to learn to love before she can become fully human, so they force a marriage with Iwaki. Iwaki is not happy with the arrangement and tries to avoid Rizel's advances. However, he must take care, because Rizel is primarily a weapon, and her bodily fluids are pure nitroglycerin, a volatile explosive. It is not uncommon for boys to make girls cry, but when Rizel cries, her tears are dangerous.
Rizelmine is another dark parable of adolescence. Feeling trapped by choices he never made for himself, Iwaki is often cruel to Rizel, whose pain can destroy buildings. This creates an interesting twist on some typical shojo manga themes, such as how girls can attract a boy and the relationship between a typical boy and a girl with superpowers. Though the stories in which Rizel chases Iwaki to an explosive end are comic, they are also disturbing. The story was published in the United States by TokyoPop in 2005.
Bridges manga worlds
Continuing her unusual career of drawing both boys' and girls' comics, Sugisaki's next work was Lagoon Engine, a science fiction action adventure about Yen and Jin, the Ragun brothers. Yen and Jin are part of a family whose destiny is to fight the Maga, evil ghosts who stalk their neighborhood. The ghost-story adventures involve a cast of boy adventurers and explores yet another facet of adolescence when some of the boys get crushes on each other. Three volumes of Lagoon Engine were followed by Lagoon Engine Einsatz, which returns to the favorite Sugisaki theme of transformation with Sakis, a girl whose destiny is to transform into a man and become king of Lagoonaria. Though TokyoPop published Lagoon Engine, Lagoon Engine Einsatz was published by AD Vision, a Houston, Texas-based producer of Japanese manga for North American audiences. In early 2005, Lagoon Engine Einsatz was serialized in the American manga journal NewType, becoming the first Japanese comic to be published in English before being released in Japan.
Sugisaki carefully oversees the production of both the Japanese and Western publications of her work. She is meticulous about the quality of the reproductions, translations, and cover art, leading Paul Morrissey, one of her TokyoPop editors, to say on the publisher's Web site, "When it comes to Sugisaki-sensei, I'm always on my toes!" (Sensei means teacher and is a term of respect.)
For More Information
Clements, Jonathan, and Helen McCarthy. The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation since 1917. Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 2001.
Galuschak, George. "D.N. Angel, Vol. 1." Kliatt (November 2004): p. 28.
Galuschak, George. "Yukiru Sugisaki: Rizelmine." Kliatt (November 2005): p. 25.
"Lagoon Engine, Vol. 1: Review." Publishers Weekly (February 21, 2005).
Lipinski, Andrea. "Yukiru Sugisaki: Rizelmine." School Library Journal (November 2005): p. 177.
"Rizelmine: Review." Publishers Weekly (September 19, 2005).
Boudreau, Chad. "Manga for Beginners." Comicreaders.com. http://www.comicreaders.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=96 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Deppey, Dirk. "She's Got Her Own Thing Now." The Comics Journal. http://www.tcj.com/269/e_own1.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Morrissey, Paul. "Lagoon Engine: The Editor Speaks!" TokyoPop. http://www.tokyopop.com/dbpage.php?propertycode=LGE&categorycode=BMG&page=article (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"NewType to Publish New Manga from Yukiru Sugisaki." Animetique. http://www.animetique.com/pressview.asp?pID=103 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Sato, Kumiko. The World of Shojo Manga. http://www.personal.psu.edu/staff/k/x/kxs334/shojomanga/index.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"Yukiru Sugisaki." Anime News Network. http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/people.php?id=5959 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"Yukiru Sugisaki." Prisms: The Ultimate Manga Guide. http://users.skynet.be/mangaguide/au1793.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).