Born March 5, 1970 (Osaka, Japan)
Japanese author, illustrator
Manga creator Yu Watase made a name for herself in the shojo manga (Japanese comics for girls) market by refusing to limit her stories to the confines of that genre's narrow definition. Typically, shojo manga are defined as romantic stories dealing with the emotional well-being of the characters, while shonen manga (Japanese comics for boys) are a collection of action-packed adventure stories. Watase combined elements of both genres to create unique manga series with female protagonists. Watase related in an interview on the EX Web site that she thinks "it's kind of funny that in Japan where we have shounen [sic] manga and shoujo [sic] manga and we separate it. I feel that everybody shouldn't really separate those two, and I want to portray something that has almost everything."
"I feel manga is one tool that can be used to communicate to other countries in the entire world."
While still categorized as shojo manga, Watase's works offer readers fresh perspectives; her characters deal with their emotions and love interests while simultaneously battling evil rulers, dealing with the consequences of being a descendant of a celestial being, or finding themselves transported into a magical, ancient book. Animefringe reviewer Patrick King's description of one of Watase's volumes applies well to her work in general: Watase writes "Shojo, the way it ought to be. Nothing too frilly, plenty of action, and an engaging romantic tale tucked in for good measure." Her series Alice 19th, Ceres: Celestial Legend and Fushigi Yugi form the foundation of her extreme popularity in Japan, as well as in the United States.
A professional by age eighteen
Born March 5, 1970, Yu Watase grew up in a small town near Osaka, Japan. Her interest in drawing and storytelling started when she was about five years old, and by age eighteen she had published her first story, "Pajama de Ojama," in a popular monthly shojo magazine. Since her first publication in 1989, Watase continued writing and drawing. Watase briefly attended an art school after high school, but by that time she was also working as a professional manga artist with her own studio in Tokyo and her own assistants. She dropped out of the art school before graduating and went on to become one of Japan's most popular manga creators by the mid-1990s.
Graphic Novels (in English translation)
Fushigi Yugi. 18 vols. (1999–).
Ceres: Celestial Legend. 14 vols. (2001–).
Alice 19th. 7 vols. (2003–).
Imadoki! 5 vols. (2004–05).
Driven to do her best work, Watase developed a strong work ethic. She related to EX that she works almost every day from about noon to midnight. Her long hours were in part dictated by her insistence on drawing her manga by hand. Although interested in the capabilities of computer graphics, Watase draws her manga on paper with a traditional pen dipped in an inkwell. "I feel that using new media and computers is okay, but jarring," she told EX. "The traditional way has more feeling. So I want to continue in traditional ways with pen and paper."
Foundations of popularity
Fushigi Yugi catapulted Watase to popularity. Published in Japan between 1992 and 1995, the series made Watase one of her country's most recognized manga creators. Upon its first publication in the United States in 1999, Fushigi Yugi became publisher Viz's best-selling shojo title.
Shojo manga are frequently marked by notes and asides written by the author directly to the reader. Appearing in the margins or as whole pages interrupting the flow of the story, these author communications provide readers with feelings of closeness to the author. Each shojo manga creator uses these notes in his or her own personal way. Yu Watase offers insight into her motivations for creating characters in certain ways, discusses her trips to industry conventions, or tells about her journeys for the purpose of manga research, among other things.
In volume fourteen of Fushigi Yugi, for example, Watase discusses a variety of things, from the differences between creating anime and manga, and how seeing the anime of her work helped her look at her drawing more "objectively"; to revelations about her manga, about which she confesses: "I've never looked at my own drawing and screamed at how good they look. In fact, I get sick of them pretty quickly." She also explains how she developed the continuing storyline for the series: "There were all sorts of ideas floating around my head, but in the end, I couldn't avoid the idea that Fushigi Yugi is pretty much a work that centers on Miaka and the Suzaku Celestial Warriors." She goes on to describe her characters in detail, among other things. Throughout her other manga, Watase sprinkles similar thoughts, each relating how thankful she is to her fans and offering insight into how much work is required to create manga.
Fushigi Yugi tells the story of Miaka, a young girl alternately studying feverishly for her placement exam (she's not a particularly good student, so this exam is causing her great stress) and living out an incredible adventure in the pages of a magical book called The Universe of the Four Gods, where she discovers that she is a priestess of the god Suzaku and where she falls in love with the warrior charged with her protection. Watase centers the fantasy on Miaka. She describes her character in Fushigi Yugi, volume eleven: "I wanted to depict a girl who was honest, pure and innocent. A kid that is doing her best to cope with every situation she encounters, but her naivete can work against her too." To complicate matters, Miaka's real-life friend, Yui, is also living a normal school life as well as a parallel one in the same book, where she is a priestess of Seiryu, the archenemy of Suzaku. The thrill of Fushigi Yugi revolves around the friends' ability to solve their troubles and how these attempts play out in both their real lives and the fantasy world of The Universe of the Four Gods.
Fantasy added spark to Watase's next manga, Ceres: Celestial Legend. Originally published in Shogakukan's Shojo Flower Comics between 1996 and 2000, the fourteen-volume manga series weaves a tale about the marriage of a celestial being with a human and the consequences of this marriage for the couple's descendants. Ceres highlights the life of Aya Mikage, a descendant of the celestial maiden, Ceres. Aya, unlike some of her relatives, possesses powerful magic. Though Aya wants only to be a normal teenager, she must learn to master her powers to battle evil, which means she must even fight against the deadly plots of her own family members. The Mangamaniacs review noted Ceres as "a satisfying story that surprised … in a lot of pleasant ways."
Watase's third manga series, Alice 19th, explores relationships by highlighting the power of communication. The story revolves around Alice Seno and her older sister, Mayura. Like most siblings, Alice and Mayura have a hard time getting along, and to make matters worse they pine for the love of the same boy. Watase turns this relatively normal story of sibling rivalry into a fantastic exploration of the power of language. Alice and her love interest, Kyo, both learn they have the power to become Lotis Masters, people possessing the power to use magical words for good. In the meantime, however, Mayura becomes possessed by the evil demon Darva, who is set on destroying the world. King noted in Animefringe that Watase "crafted a story containing believable characters that rise to the occasion in extraordinary circumstances. This series remains realistic despite the overt slant toward the fantastic." Published in Japan in 2001, the seven-volume series began publication in the United States in 2003.
Watase has also produced short stories and various shorter manga series, including Imadoki! and Absolute Boyfriend. In the United States, Watase's work is labeled as being appropriate for mature audiences only. Though Watase's stories involve younger teenage female protagonists, the storylines often include nudity and sexual content that American readers often associate with stories for older teenage audiences. These differences are typical of many Japanese manga because the social expectations about sexual content in Japanese popular culture are different from those in the United States. The different ways cultures categorize content does not diminish the popularity of Watase's work, and she enjoys strong fan support in both Japan and the United States. Proud of her works' appeal, Watase explained to EX that "I feel manga is one tool that can be used to communicate to other countries in the entire world." Indeed her works have reached many: Watase's manga have spawned numerous translations, novels (written by others), anime (animated cartoons), films, and even music.
For More Information
Watase, Yu. Art of Fushigi Yugi. San Francisco: Viz, 2002.
"Animazement—Yu Watase—2004." A Fan's View.http://www.fansview.com/2004/may2004/052904a.htm (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"AnimeExpo98—An Interview with Yu Watase (continued)." EX: The Online World of Anime and Manga.http://www.ex.org/3.4/11-feature_watase2.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"AnimeExpo 98—One of the 'Seven Stars of Anime Expo,' an Interview with Yu Watase." EX: The Online World of Anime and Manga.http://www.ex.org/3.4/10-feature_watase1.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Arnold, Andrew. "Drawing in the Gals." Time.http://www.time.com/time/columnist/arnold/article/0,9565,589081,00.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"Ceres: Celestial Legend Vol. 1." Mangamaniacs.http://www.mangamaniacs.org/reviews/ceres.shtml (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"Ceres: Celestial Legend Vol. 4: Chidori." Animefringe.http://www.animefringe.com/magazine/2003/08/reviews/08/ (accessed on May 3, 2006).
King, Patrick. "Alice 19th. Volume 2 Inner Heart." Animefringe.http://www.animefringe.com/magazine/2004/02/review/12.php (accessed on May 3, 2006).