Interview with Iori Miyazawa and Gengen Kusano
Sequel to the "Yuri made me human" interview with Iori Miyazawa, this event titled "The last summer and yuri of the Heisei era" was held on 24.08.2018 at the yuri section of the Shosen Book Tower store.
You can read the original interview on the Hayakawa Books blog.
A Russian translation of the interview is available here.
If something is unclear or requires corrections, please message me at @kati_lilian.
■ Infernal curtain-raiser
Iori Miyazawa (@walkeri, I.M.): Thank you very much for coming today, I'm Iori Miyazawa.
Gengen Kusano (@The_Gen_Gen, G.K.): Good afternoon, my name is Gengen Kusano! Please call me Gengen! The sci-fi writer Gengen Kusano is delighted to make your acquaintance!
Rikimaru Mizoguchi (@marumizog, R.M.): And so, today we have Miyazawa-san, famous for the exciting "Encountering Yuri in 2018" interview held during the SF Seminar, sitting next to Gengen-san, author of the extremely radical yuri sci-fi anthology "Last and First Idol".
G.K.: It's a dream match-up!!!
I.M.: Oh yeah... Even though I was insisting so much that I don't want to talk about yuri in public, thank you very much for dragging me out on stage again...
R.M.: First of all, why don't we look back at the overwhelming response to the transcript of the "Encountering Yuri in 2018" interview.
I.M.: Looks like quite a lot of people read it... During the interview I said that "yuri made me human", which became the title of the transcript at the Hayakawa Books blog, and some time later a friend met me with "oh look, it's the human!"
R.M.: To be more specific, in just three days the transcript broke the record as the most viewed article at the Hayakawa Shobo blog, and by a wide margin. It was in the top links of Hatena Bookmark and "interview with Iori Miyazawa" was trending on twitter. It even reached the Korean and English segments of the internet via some volunteers.
I.M.: I don't know about the Korean translation, but I found someone trying to translate it into English. No idea if it ever got anywhere, but they were tweeting "This guy is an absolute madman" and stuff. Come on, that's rude, I haven't said anything out of the ordinary... is what I thought.
R.M.: Well, a madman is still a human, so. As a matter of fact, that day Gengen-san was sitting in the front row of the audience, so he came up in our conversation a couple of times.
I.M.: I was talking how yuri is about depicting humans, to which you replied that "some authors these days manage to depict yuri without actually depicting humans", and we were both looking at Kusano-san.
R.M.: You were listening to the talk in person, Gengen-san, any impressions?
G.K.: Hmm, the pressure was too strong, it was so strong that at times it was convincing, but on the other hand I felt opposed to it every now and then. That's how I honestly felt. Perhaps this is because our approaches to writing are different.
R.M.: At the SF Seminar Miyazawa-san brought up the concept of "yuri of absence", and in general I feel that he said about everything there was to say, but since we have you with us today, Gengen-san, can you tell us about your thoughts on yuri?
G.K.: Give me a bit of time. I'll draw a diagram.
R.M.: A... diagram?
(Sound of a whiteboard rolling out on stage)
■ Strong yuri, weak yuri
R.M.: Uhh, please explain this diagram, then.
G.K.: I would call the approach Miyazawa-san described in his lecture "Strong Yuri". And it's all about the emotionalism. It focuses on feelings and the human heart, and if you take that to the extreme — fictitious relationships become real... That's how it goes.
I.M.: Fictitious, as in, relationships between fictional characters.
R.M.: "Fictional characters don't exist, but their relationships are real".
G.K.: That did feel convincing for a moment. That would mean that I — that is, the author — am a magnificent, godlike entity. Why — because I have a metaphysical ability to bring imaginary beings into reality.
However, I had doubts whether I actually possessed such divine powers. That's when I realized that my goal is not "Strong Yuri", and changed course into the opposite direction. That is, "Weak Yuri".
R.M.: Weak Yuri.
G.K.: "Strong Yuri" is characterized by realism. It focuses on feelings. On the reality of having emotions in a fictional setting, and its ultimate expression — making emotions real. That's what I'm calling "Radical Strong Yuri", when you reach that stage — fiction becomes real.
R.M.: Feelings of characters become equivalent to feelings in the real world.
G.K.: In "Radical Strong Yuri" the boundary between fiction and reality disappears altogether. Taking my works as an example, when I was writing "Evolution Girls" (TN: the novel is included in the "Last and First Idol" anthology), I was standing at the "Strong Yuri" side of things. I was operating under the premise that the feelings of the cast are real, studied personality analysis from the psychology standpoint, and was creating characters based on which kind of personality they fall under. But I got worried that using this method may not get me very far. Because when I submitted the plot of a new story to Mizoguchi-san, my editor, he replied with "I want you to write more sensible characters".
R.M.: That I did.
G.K.: I took his advice, and that got me thinking — what exactly makes a sensible character, what does "sensible" mean, how can I go about making a character sensible. I pondered a lot about this, and it occurred to me that it means a person's theory of mind must be functioning in a sensible way. "Theory of mind" is the ability to logically interpret the state of mind of another person, what they may be thinking, and hypothesize that this must be the feeling they are experiencing. It doesn't require the feelings and the mind to be real.
R.M.: Does this really make a sensible character...
G.K.: I named this approach that ignores whether the mind is real or not "Weak Yuri". As opposed to the realism of "Strong Yuri", "Weak Yuri" is yuri based on anti-realism, or, perhaps, epistemology. Interestingly enough, if you take "Weak Yuri" to its extreme, real people's minds become fictional.
R.M.: So we're nothing more than fictional beings ourselves, you're saying.
G.K.: That's right. Like when you read a sentence in a book and logically assume that "there must be a feeling of sadness here", you see someone's facial expression and logically interpret it as "there must be a feeling of sadness here". In "Weak Yuri" taken to the utmost extreme, in "Radical Weak Yuri", even the relationships between real people become imaginary. Basically, the extremes of both "Strong Yuri" and "Weak Yuri" places real beings and fictional beings on the same ontological level. The Ouroboros comes full circle.
To provide a concrete example, we can take a look at Yutaka Maya's mystery novel "More Than Friends, Less Than Detectives". The protagonists are two wannabe-detectives, two girls with completely different personalities and lines of reasoning, one relying on intuition and the other on logic. In the end there is a twist that topples over the logical paradigm surrounding the feelings of one of them, and I saw something akin to "Weak Yuri" — that prioritizes theory and logic — there. You could say it's yuri that utilizes twists in a theory, something intrinsic to the mystery genre. However there is a right answer in this story, so it's still within the bounds of realism.
As a more relativistic and multifaceted example, there's "Yuri Kuma Arashi".
R.M.: The anime directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara.
G.K.: This can be said of all anime directed by Ikuhara, they aren't based in realism at all. That's why they are said to be difficult to comprehend. But if you understand that they're not based in realism, you find room for interpretation.
In "Yuri Kuma Arashi" the so-called "Yuri Trials" are held, a process by which what you have felt, your background, your true nature are ratified by the "Yuri Approvals" given by the court. In that world, your heart is multifaceted, it depicts a world that permits a self-contradictory heart to exist. I found "Weak Yuri"-ness there.
(Pointing to the diagram) I've written "Cause and Truth" next to "Strong Yuri", cause is something that affects the world — and truth is something that exists independently, on its own. On the other hand, the leitmotifs of "Weak Yuri" are "Reason and Theory". Reason itself cannot affect anything, it only functions as one within a theory when it's interpreted as being a valid one.
I.M.: (looks away from the whiteboard)
R.M.: Why are you looking at me?
G.K.: And what's important to form a theory is an individual's life. The entire life of this individual determines their understanding of what feelings are on display. Depicting a character is the same as depicting how their entire life determines their theory of mind.
Now I'm finally getting to the writing principles, to how I wrote characters when I was told to make them sensible. I was writing them while contemplating about the theories of mind they possess, and how they come to understand what feeling is being expressed according to those theories.
R.M.: Thank you very much. I'll be more careful with my words next time.
I.M.: You said some interesting things. "Radical Strong Yuri" is making relationships of fictional characters real. "Radical Weak Yuri" is making relationships of real people fictional. As an example of the latter... Would you say the so-called """yuri fanservice""" of real idols is one...? (TN: "yuri eigyou", business yuri)
G.K.: (pointing at I.M.) There is a fictional relationship between us as well!
I.M.: Our relationship is imaginary?
G.K.: Everything is imaginary. We're living inside an imaginary world.
G.K.: The border between fiction and reality loses any meaning. They become one.
R.M.: By the way, you were saying that in "Strong Yuri" the author essentially becomes God, but what will the author become from the "Weak Yuri" standpoint?
G.K.: Hmm... The world?
R.M.: I see.
G.K.: God is above, the world is below. They are one and the same, existing simultaneously.
G.K.: One more thing. I believe that yuri and hard sci-fi genres have a very strong affinity for each other. That's why I expect a lot of hard yuri sci-fi to be produced from now on.
R.M.: Why do you think so?
G.K.: The fatal flaw of hard sci-fi is that it's not interesting to anyone except for fans of science fiction. Its main course are scientific explanations, and even though there are many different stories, in the end they always give way to walls of scientific text. But readers, except for sci-fi fans, barely feel any catharsis from that. Let's be honest, what's so interesting about having to read a longass explanatory infodump? That's why the sad reality is that hard sci-fi won't spread beyond the sci-fi fanbase. However if you make that hard yuri sci-fi, the scientific explanation segment becomes a scene of women having a conversation with each other. In other words, a yuri scene, something that all of you love.
I.M.: I'm very impressed. You're absolutely right. The scientific explanation part in hard sci-fi always ends up being a long conversation, doesn't it. It didn't occur to me that you could integrate the relationships in it, and it does seem like a great combination.
R.M.: You used that technique in the last scene of "Dark Seiyuu", right?
G.K.: Exactly. Though at the time I haven't formulated it in words yet, I ended up putting it into practice.
R.M.: Miyazawa-san, I think in your "Otherside Picnic" the sci-fi setting is also explained in character dialogue.
I.M.: That was out of necessity, or rather, it's a result of a struggle to avoid dry explanations and somehow shove them into the conversations. I'm sure everyone does that... I thought that in hard sci-fi, which inevitably has an explanation part, consciously doing that is the right way.
G.K.: I'll be mass-producing hard yuri sci-fi from the "Weak Yuri" standpoint.
■ GenGeneral principles
R.M.: Let's move on to the next topic then. How should you make yuri sci-fi from 2018 onwards — during the previous interview Miyazawa-san presented the ideas of interspecies yuri and yuri of absence. The latter states that just an emotional scenery is enough to create yuri, even without humans. Sounds difficult to outdo this, but do you have any ideas, Gengen-san?
G.K.: I've been thinking, differentials really are yuri, aren't they.
G.K.: Differentials, mathematical ones. Let's say we have a function. Like "X = 2Y". If you define one of the values, it defines the other one as well, right? In other words, one of them depends on the other. That's yuri, isn't it. A function is a pairing. You get it, right?
I.M.: I do.
G.K.: A differential represents how f(x) changes with respect to changes of X. When one of the women is going through a change, how does that change her partner — to answer that you need to calculate the derivative of the function.
I.M.: Yuri can be represented with formulas, you're saying.
G.K.: You can model yuri with a differential equation. What do the function represent — for starters, mental state. Happiness, anger, there is a multitude of dimensions. X and Y, a function of the feelings of them both. A function that expresses what one of them feels when the other one experiences something. Or you can also represent various situations with functions. For example, how does one of them react when the other one calls her. What does one of them do if the other one gives her chocolate on Valentine's Day. Or maybe a probability space. If one were to become a writer, what would happen to the other one — describing such counterfactual space with functions. In "Weak Yuri" these functions would define the theoretical parameters of the characters. The theoretical model of one of the characters contains mental states, possibilities, and situations that can be expressed with functions, as well as different functions regarding the other character's theoretical model. The relationships between these functions give birth to new functions. That is functional yuri, from my "Weak Yuri" standpoint. In "Strong Yuri", these functions all exist in reality.
I.M.: I see, this was very easy to understand.
R.M.: Indeed it was.
G.K.: You still have to find the original equations from the differential one, that is, backwards-deriving from countless situations what exactly is this pairing like — which solves the differential equation.
I.M.: Can you also represent real human relationships in this manner?
G.K.: There are as many theoretical models as there are people, and they all change with the passing of time. Functions change depending on people and time, and new functions are formed out of the relationships between existing ones. That's what reality is.
I.M.: I understand everything now.
G.K.: I was wondering if I could turn it into a short story. If I could write it in Toh EnJoe's style, maybe.
R.M.: A functional yuri story, I see.
I.M.: The way Mizoguchi-san said this made it sound like "if you carelessly blurt something out, I'll actually make you write it".
R.M.: Oh no, I wouldn't.
■ A man accelerating into nothingness
R.M.: I'd like a few words from you as well, Miyazawa-san.
I.M.: Let's see... There are many conventions, rules, and things like that making up the yuri genre as it is right now, but I think they are growing antiquated in geometric progression.
For example, in the previous interview I brought up "onee-sama" as the first one among the concepts that should be updated. I feel I didn't explain it very well, but I didn't intend to say that the "onee-sama" concept itself is outdated. In things like 80s-90s shounen manga there was something like a contempt for the genre, "yuri is where they shout 'onee-sama~' and stuff, right?". That's what I've been seeing, and what I wanted to say is that these days things are rapidly progressing from there.
Just like that, I think that yuri we are reading right now will be getting more and more outdated, eventually becoming cliché. I can't yet say what exactly will change and how, but I believe the mission of yuri creators is to keep the updates rolling so the genre doesn't grow stale. Though if you follow this to its logical conclusion, yuri as a genre itself may end up becoming cliche.
R.M.: The more yuri is made, the more it weakens, you mean.
I.M.: I mean, to begin with, saying "I'm writing yuri" yourself feels kinda frivolous, has a nasty vibe to it (※). "Shut up and do it seriously", you'd think. I feel that the more you talk about something, the more you put into words, the more stale it grows. And it's not just individual cliches, you can say it about genres as a whole. And perhaps in the end the yuri genre will become something as banal as relationships between a human and a human.
(※ Note from I.M.: This is referring only to what Miyazawa feels towards himself. These words are not directed at anyone else. Dear readers, do not use them as a convenient cudgel to beat people you don't like with. Make your cudgels yourselves)
R.M.: The very yuri that made Miyazawa-san a human.
I.M.: Talking about a specific direction, I think there is a quite a difference in perception growing between people who follow Virtual YouTuber yuri and those who don't. Virtual YouTubers put yuri-like relationships between real people on display. Unlike yuri between completely fictional characters, you start to get this feeling, "should I really be allowed to watch this?". Like, the relationships we get to see are indeed wonderful, but shouldn't they normally unfold somewhere far away from any peeping eyes...?
R.M.: The internal conflict: is it really fine for me to consume this as content?
I.M.: Rather... You get this feeling that you want them to happily spend time where nobody's eyes can follow, without any regards to ourselves. Especially with Virtual YouTubers, there are many cases of people who know well the worldview of yuri otaku becoming Virtual YouTubers and doing yuri stuff. It's like a Russian reversal, "in Soviet Russia characters are watching you!". You get anxious that our observation has an effect on its targets, or rather, when you happily chatter about two women getting along with each, "this is yuri, ain't it", you get a sense of guilt for selfishly categorizing other people's relationship. This is so blatant with Virtual YouTubers that everyone is at a loss for words.
That said, all of this is nothing more than behavior of a small fraction of extreme otaku (TN: "genkai otaku", kind of "painfully over-the-top otaku"). Yuri as a creative genre is still developing, and I believe it's going to keep rapidly expanding in the future. I think listening to the rants of extreme otaku is insane (looking angry, for some reason).
R.M.: Though it sounded as if you declared yourself to be an extreme otaku.
I.M.: Well, yeah... That's why even if there are inconsistencies in perception like that, yuri as a genre will probably keep functioning as a home... in a home and away game fields sense.
R.M.: What do you think about this, Gengen-san?
G.K.: Maybe it's because I'm not watching Virtual YouTubers that much, but I can't say I'm definitely feeling what Miyazawa-san was describing. Is there any difference with, say, following seiyuu or idols' relationships?
I.M.: I wonder about that. I'm, conversely, not very well-versed in seiyuu and idols so I don't really know.
R.M.: But on the other hand, there are no such fears in regards to something that is completely fictional? When you were writing yuri in your stories, Miyazawa-san, were you feeling any sense of guilt about pairing the characters together?
I.M.: No, I wasn't. Because when I'm writing it, I'm doing it with a firm conviction that there is a strong relationship there.
R.M.: I see. So it's not so much an issue during writing, it's extreme otaku behavior that appears in situations like this, when you cannot avoid talking about yuri.
I.M.: Well... y-yeah... kill me, please……… (suddenly groans)
R.M.: Are you all right?
I.M.: Now look, there are these ideas like "I want to become a wall" or "I want to become a decorative plant and look after them". But I never wish for anything like that.
R.M.: Why is that?
I.M.: Huh? Because I'm unnecessary, of course.
R.M.: You don't want to exist even as a wall?
I.M.: Yes. I don't want to be an observer.
G.K.: I don't really get this "want to become a wall" thing either. How much consciousness would that wall have?
R.M.: Though walls are frequently anthropomorphised.
I.M.: That's just a wall-shaped human, I'd say. I don't want to become a wall at all. A barely acceptable idea would be something like what mangaka Tetsuya Imai-san tweeted when "Kemono Friends" was airing, "I want to become human remains lying around somewhere in the far corner of Japari Park". That's the absolute maximum I could accept.
R.M.: Like that corpse of a Kunekune victim (TN: a Japanese urban legend, similar to Slenderman) in the beginning of Otherside Picnic.
I.M.: Hmm, I'd prefer if it was more weathered.
R.M.: As if a century had passed since then.
I.M.: Exactly. At most, bleached bones scattered around. Of course I don't need consciousness, I wouldn't want to affect anything with my observation. I want to write unobservable yuri.
R.M.: Unobservable yuri, I see.
I.M.: I want to become nothing.
R.M.: Let's do our best.
■ Public editorial meeting
R.M.: In conclusion, if you have any announcements regarding your new works, please go ahead. Let's start with Miyazawa-san.
I.M.: The first volume of the "Otherside Picnic" manga is now on sale. Eita Mizuno-sensei of the "Spiral" fame is drawing it. Square Enix is making an incredible comic adaptation, so I very much recommend checking it out.
R.M.: I get to read the storyboards of every chapter, and Miyazawa-san also goes through them, it really is wonderful.
I.M.: Mizuno-sensei takes the source material very seriously and incorporates its aspects into his work. I think it is a truly respectful adaptation.
R.M.: There is also an all-new short story written by Miyazawa-san specifically for this tankoubon release. It's about Virtual YouTuber activities of a character called Kozakura, and based on our discussion today it's quite a sinful episode, I wholly recommend reading it.
How far will the manga adapt the original novel is not set in stone, so as long as it's well-received it will keep going on, I'll be very glad if you support it.
I.M.: Also, the new chapter of the "Otherside Picnic" novel will be released by the end of August. It's titled "Sanless-san and Karatist-san" (TN: Sannuki-san to Karateka-san), and features the return of Sorawo's karate-using underclassman. The third volume is scheduled to release in November.
R.M.: Thank you very much. Your turn, Gengen-san.
G.K.: Right! Hayakawa Books will be publishing my new long novel. With a serialization being planned.
G.K.: The book is titled "Megaevolutionary Animal Death-game". I'm writing the climax of the first volume at this very moment, so I'll probably hand in the first draft in September. Consequently, it should be published next spring!
R.M.: This is the first time I'm hearing about this. I see.
G.K.: What?! You mean it's not coming out?!
R.M.: The project hasn't been greenlighted yet, and yet all of a sudden you're already clearing the way for it.
G.K.: It's a multi-protagonist yuri ensemble. There is a total of 18 characters, 18 girls building up their mutual relationships. The total amount of pairings is about 150. You can imagine it as a combination of "BanG Dream!", "Kemono Friends" and "Gene Diver". The entire class of an all-girl school, all 18 students, are sent 8 million years back in time to the Miocene epoch, where a battle unfolds for the history of humanity, for the history of life itself, it's a hard yuri sci-fi adventure.
R.M.: This is all only if the draft is interesting, and if the project is given the go-ahead within the company.
G.K.: Indeed. So everyone, please put some pressure on Hayakawa Books! If the first volume sells well, I'm planning to turn this into a series!
R.M.: "If the first volume comes out," that is.
G.K.: Yes! The first hurdle to clear is to publish volume 1! The first volume will sell well! Then all the bigwigs at Hayakawa Books will say "All right, go ahead!" and confirm the serialization! That is my plan, so please help me out! I've got nobody else to rely on except for you!!!
(TN: the first volume of "Megaevolutionary Animal Death-game" really was published this spring)
R.M.: I often hear "you can't win against Gengen" from people who've met him, and I can certainly understand them. How about your projects with other publishers?
G.K.: The most recent one is a short story in the upcoming Shousetsu Subaru #10 releasing in mid-September. It's a sci-fi story combining VTubers with Wittgenstein's philosophy. Please look forward to it. There is a somewhat yuri-ish development in there, too.
Also, there are plans by Shogakukan to publish a school rom-com under their Gagaga Bunko label. They put a harsh restriction that the protagonist has to be a boy, and for some reason I ended up writing a school rom-com light novel, but I can't write one to save life, so when I proposed a story where sci-fi and fantasy invade the rom-com world, I more or less got an OK. This is also planned for next spring, so look forward to it! (TN: Released since then under the name "This Is a School Rom-Com")
R.M.: All right, thank you very much.
■ Public editorial meeting (extra round)
R.M.: Actually, I also have to make an announcement today. Though I haven't told either of you in advance about it.
R.M.: With the way things have been going lately — "Otherside Picnic" was very well-received and got serialized, Kusano-san's "Last and First Idol" is the first debut work to win a Seiun Award in 42 years, the "Yuri made me human" interview exploded in popularity, and we have so many people coming here today... Considering all this, you cannot possibly ignore the momentum of yuri sci-fi any longer.
And so — I want to do a special yuri feature in the S-F Magazine.
R.M.: I've got the permission of the editor-in-chief, so it will happen right before the end of 2018, in the issue releasing in December. And so... I've got two writers sitting right next to me, yes?
R.M.: Kusano-san. Functional yuri, was it?
R.M.: May I ask you to write it?
G.K.: Uhh... I've got another idea! "Super Doping Battle", a story about doping to the extreme to win at sports and...
R.M.: Is that yuri?
G.K.: ...The girls are fighting each other, so...!
R.M.: Don't you think functional yuri sounds more interesting?
R.M.: And now, Miyazawa-san. Unobservable yuri, you were saying?
(Applause in the meeting hall)
R.M.: Well then, we decided on two of the stories right here, right now, so I'll be doing my best to make the special feature happen. Thank you very much for coming today!
(24th August 2018, Tokyo, Shosen Book Tower)
※ ※ ※ ※ ※
● Iori Miyazawa （@walkeri）
Born in the Akita prefecture. Made his debut with "My Magic Sword is Too Noisy". In 2015 won the 6th Sougen SF short story award with "How Gods Walk". Joined the Adventure Planning Service, worked on replays and setting of "nSANe" and other TRPGs. Hayakawa Bunko JA is publishing his "Otherside Picnic" novels.
● Gengen Kusano （@The_Gen_Gen）
Born in 1990, in the Hiroshima prefecture. Graduated from the Keio University environmental informatics department, currently studying in the Hokkaido University Graduate School, Faculty of Science. In 2016 his "Last and First Idol" won a special prize in the 4th Hayakawa SF Contest, and he made his official debut as a writer with the release of its digital edition. The same work received the Sense of Wonder Award ("Idol Soaring Into The Future Award") at the 48th Seiun Awards (Japanese short stories category) in 2017, the author himself received a prize at the 27th Dark Nebula Awards (guest category), and the story was also published in English.
● Interviewer — Rikimaru Mizoguchi （@marumizog）
Editor in Hayakawa Shobo's S-F Magazine, editor of "Otherside Picnic", "Side-by-side Dreamers", and "Last and First Idol".
(TN: S-F Magazine with the special yuri feature was only available physically and quickly sold out despite having several reprints, but the stories have been since re-published in the new sci-fi yuri anthology "A Bouquet For Asterism" that is available in e-book form)