May 5, 2019

Yuri made me human — interview with Iori Miyazawa

Iori Miyazawa is a science-fiction writer and author of the yuri novel series Otherside Picnic (Urasekai Picnic) and a novel in the same genre Side-by-side Dreamers (Soine Dreamer). An official English release of Side-by-side Dreamers was recently announced by J-Novel Club, with the first chapters already available on their website (and it's really good!).

The interview took place in May 2018 during the Science Fiction Seminar and commemorated the Japanese release of Side-by-side Dreamers. The topic of the interview was "Encountering Yuri in 2018".

You can read the original interview on the Hayakawa Books blog.

A Russian translation of the interview is available here.

If there's something unclear, please ask me to correct or clarify things where it may be necessary: @kati_lilian.

07.07.2019 Addendum: Side-by-side Dreamers has since been released in full, and J-Novel Club also picked up Otherside Picnic for an international English release.


Iori Miyazawa (@walkeri, I.M.): Hello, my name is Iori Miyazawa. I was invited on this stage since Hayakawa Bunko started publishing my Otherside Picnic novel last year.

Rikimaru Mizoguchi (@marumizog, Hayakawa Books editor, R.M.): Otherside Picnic is a science-fiction survival horror novel that tells a story of two girls exploring a world full of mysteries that lies on the other side of our own. While it's highly regarded for its SF and horror elements, the "two girls" aspect was especially well-received, and so it became serialized with two volumes having been published to date.

I.M.: I'm really glad that yuri fans also took so well to it.

R.M.: And so today, in this "Encountering Yuri in 2018" segment, I would like to ask Miyazawa-san about the forefront of yuri that he experiences when writing his novels, or, perhaps, as a reader that comes in contact with the culture as it exists in 2018.

I.M.: They told me to "talk about yuri", but frankly speaking it's easier said than done. I don't really want to say anything...

R.M.: Among the young readers of today, and even writers, many feel a desire to read or write yuri. Take Gengen Kusano, the author of Last and First Idol (TN: Saigo no Shite Saisho no Idol, released in English by J-Novel Club). Except people from the industry told him "yuri light novels won't sell".

I.M.: That's just unforgivable.

R.M.: So in order to change this state of affairs, among other things... I just want to hear your personal opinion here, your thoughts and ideas about yuri.

I.M.: I see... It's true that I don't want to say anything... I think there's this mutual understanding among yuri fans, "don't talk about yuri, make yuri". If I accidentally blurt something out, it'll provoke a flame war, and I don't want to have what I say here spread around with a totally different meaning. And if it does, I'll have to slice you all in half. I'll be talking today with these feelings in mind.

R.M.: All right, go ahead.

 4th May 2018, Tokyo, Ochanomizu, Zendentsu Hall

Nine updates

I.M.: Well then, let's talk about yuri in 2018. But before we start... If you ask people that haven't been following the latest trends in yuri what does "yuri", in fact, mean, most of them would answer something vague like "love between two women, I guess?", so first I'd like to share several old concepts and ideas that are in need of an update. (starts writing "common obsolete concepts" on the whiteboard)

1. "Onee-sama" (TN: literally "older sister", in yuri/class S works often refers to an upperclassman)

This is a very old concept, there was a time when the hierarchy between female students was a major element of the yuri genre. The so-called "Class S novels", stories about romance between female students. Symbolic representations taken from those were prominent for some time, but there is much more variation in how modern yuri is expressed.

2. "I want to get in between them"

"Let me (♂) join these buddy-buddy girls" is a phrase typical of a male viewpoint, and it will get you killed. Never listen to anything those kinds of people have to say.

3. "It's just a transient phase of puberty"

Saying this will also get you killed. Even if a relationship is intentionally depicted as yuri, some will nonetheless insist it's all a fleeting delusion, people who can't take a single step out of their heterocentric values where love only exists between a man and a woman. Report spam → Block user.

4. "The relationship being same-sex has to cause conflict"

The number of works depicting love between women as something absolutely normal has been growing, so I'd say this kind of trouble is something you can write in if you want to, or if the story demands it. But it's not at all necessary.

5. "Yuri and rezu are different things" (TN: rezu, coming from "lesbian", is often used in Japanese communities to refer specifically to R18 content)

There are some people who want to split things into "yuri" and "rezu" based on whether those have sexual content, but this distinction doesn't exist.

6. "It's not yuri if there's a male character"

The recent influx of yuri works established that yuri featuring men in its cast is also a thing. For example, in the Korean movie The Handmaiden there is a "man who wants to get between the two girls", however it's an incredibly strong yuri, and it even accomplished an unbelievable feat of making said male character seem charming. There is also the American comic Sunstone, released in Japanese this year, with the ex-boyfriend of one of the girls making an appearance, and they are depicted as being on friendly terms with each other.

7. "It's all just lookism"

A commonly heard criticism is that it's always, in the end, about young and cute girls, but there are many works where this is not the case. Yuri about relationships between adult women in their 30-s/40-s has been gaining traction as of late, and, say, the manga Veranda of Metamorphoses (Metamorphose no Engawa) is about a relationship between a high-schooler, who is not at all a so-called "pretty girl", and an elderly lady. Yes, "pretty faces" is important, but this would lead to a serious discussion about facial attractiveness in general.

8. "Yuri made by men is fake"

You can't escape from your masculine value systems, after all — however, the number of strong yuri works written by men disproves this argument. It's the same as saying "women can't write BL", which shows how utterly nonsensical it sounds. Although it is frustrating that for me as a male yuri writer there is, in the very end, an impenetrable wall.

9. "Crazy psycho lesbian"

I think it got popular around 2014. It's basically a female version of a pervert character, but I haven't seen those much as of late. It's hard to use this character type these days, you would have to raise the degrees of each element — of craziness, psychosis, and lesbianism, — to make it work.

That's it, some of these stereotypes could still be living inside of you, but I hope you understood that an update is required to keep moving at the speed of 2018. If you see someone who's still stuck-up about this sort of stuff, tell them "oh come on, it's 2018".

R.M.: All right.

Strong yuri

I.M.: Next I want to talk about the prerequisites of yuri. First, the concept of "woman". In daily life, if you say "woman" unceremoniously, that's quite a strong word, it even feels frightening.

R.M.: Right.

I.M.: But it's an unavoidable word in the context of yuri. It's a condensed concept wrapped in many overlapping layers of meaning, it's a if you add tons of quote marks to """woman""". And "woman and woman" is a relationship vital to understanding yuri. Because if you ask what is yuri — it is unmistakably a "relationship between a woman and a woman".

(TN: referring to someone as 女/onna in Japanese can be about as rude as referring to someone as "that female")

R.M.: I wonder if this is how most people perceive all this.

I.M.: They typically do, within my range of observation.

R.M.: I see.

I.M.: This "relationship" doesn't necessarily have to be "love", love is one of the things this colossal "something" envelops within itself. I think at this point everyone can agree that the definition of yuri as just "love between two women" is no longer applicable. This "something" that connects two women together is sometimes referred to as an "unidentified enormous emotion". This concept dates back to around 2016. The better you depict the change in the "emotions", the more "high-resolution", the more real the work of fiction will feel. High-resolution yuri is "strong" yuri.

R.M.: Do you theorize that yuri can be classified by its "strength"?

I.M.: I didn't come up with the words "strong yuri", but I do always strive to write strong yuri. Which is, basically, to depict human beings. Though it's been said that this is what science fiction have never been good at since time immemorial.

R.M.: But I feel that some authors these days manage to depict yuri without actually depicting humans.

I.M.: True... (both end up glancing at Gengen Kusano sitting in the audience)

But let's return to the subject at hand.

R.M.: Right.

I.M.: If you take this idea further, while fictional yuri depicts relationships between "two women", even though these fictional "women" don't exist, the fictional relationship between the "two women" is very much real.

R.M.: If relationships between people in real life are constructed from certain kinds of fiction, then, if you flip it, relationships between fictional people exist just like the real ones... I guess that's what you mean.

I.M.: It's not that you can just make them real and call it a day, but it certainly increases the "strength". And just like with emotions, I believe that if you don't avoid female libido and carnal needs in your writing, that will make it stronger. These were the prerequisites of yuri I wanted to share with all of you.

R.M.: Thank you very much.

  "Otherside Picnic" by Iori Miyazawa

■ Assault of a carrier strike group

R.M.: To continue, can you tell us about the 2018 yuri content you've been observing?

I.M.: Before that, let me talk about the "Jaguarman series".

R.M.: What's that?

I.M.: "Jaguarman series" is a collection of AMVs featuring Jaguar, a character from the anime "Kemono Friends", along with Devilman, Casshern, Tiger Mask, and many others. It became a lifeboat for refugees after the "Kemono Friends" commotion, but at first these were just very kind videos full of "i like dis" remarks.

R.M.: So it's from Niconico Douga culture.

I.M.: Numerous videos drew further upon that context, becoming outlets for people to talk about what they love. This spirit, sort of, of "i like dis" is spreading as a cultural phenomenon. And it's the same with yuri. Though you feel the tension, at the same time others are supportive of what you love. "i like dis" — "yea me too".

R.M.: A culture where it's easy to share your "likes".

I.M.: So then, regarding yuri content in 2018. First of all I must bring up the "BanG Dream!" franchise. It's a multimedia project by Bushiroad where actual voice actresses do real band performances. This concept was developed into novels and manga, and there was even an anime series. A social game called "BanG Dream! Girls Band Party!" was released in 2017, and this "Garupa" has some amazing yuri. I'm calling this "Bushiroad's bloody powerful carrier strike group".

R.M.: A carrier strike group of yuri.

I.M.: The story of the 25 characters is updated about once every 10 days, and the "woman-woman" relationships in its text are also updated with tremendous vigor. There is "weight" behind every spoken word, and you can spend all eternity just following them.

R.M.: The protagonist doesn't get involved, it's all about the yuri between the heroines themselves, right?

I.M.: It's common in social games with lots of female characters that the developments are often favorable towards the player. However in "Garupa" the player has no such human rights. The player can only stand still and listen, and thus is often made fun of as being "just a wall".

R.M.: A wall.

I.M.: The player does get a position of a freshly hired music club assistant, yet isn't involved in the actual story, and is only shown the changing relationships between the 25 girls. Take the Valentine's Day event, for example — in other games the player would receive chocolate, right? The player gets none. And only gets to listen to the episodes where girls give other girls chocolate and that's it, see you next time, sort of.

R.M.: It was announced the other day that the game has over 6 million users now, so it looks like making the player a wall was a hugely successful plan.

I.M.: The president of Bushiroad told in an interview that they're turning "Garupa" into one of the pillars of the company. With the release of the English version they truly intend to take over the world with yuri content. In 2018 following "Garupa" is how you can experience the frontiers of yuri, I believe.

R.M.: The wall that you mentioned reminded me of "Liz and the Blue Bird" that opened in theaters a short while ago. The official twitter ran a poll asking "who did you identify with while watching the movie", and besides the main characters there was a third option of "a wall or a desk".

I.M.: I also went to see "Liz and the Blue Bird". I guess this notion first appeared in BL, where you don't self-insert into one of the characters, but rather prefer to see yourself as a wall or a decorative plant watching over the couple. And in this movie the camera explicitly fixates on walls and floors.

R.M.: From the get-go the shot composition makes it seem like you're peeking at the two of them from where you really shouldn't. The pamphlet even states that it's intentional.

I.M.: Yeah, it was totally nerve-wracking. From the tiniest movement of the characters to the backgrounds and the music, everything was permeated in the "woman-woman" tension. I thought I was gonna bite the dust right there.

R.M.: Speaking of which, your novel "Otherside Picnic" is in first person, but it's not written in a way that would make you associate with the main character. I'd even say that it's trying to resist effortless self-insertion.

I.M.: That's right. It's not a narrative trick or anything, but I try to use the strengths of telling the story in first person to their fullest, deliberately avoiding depictions of anything the protagonist herself doesn't look at, I'm paying attention to this sort of stuff when writing.

R.M.: So that's why only the description of the beauty of her partner is so excessively detailed.

I.M.: In sci-fi you don't want to write characters that are too stupid. It's common in horror fiction to have plot developments where someone's foolish actions lead to the worst possible outcome. But I think in science fiction the readers' interest would be dampened by the presence of irrational characters. Yet in real life people end up doing illogical stuff, so in "Otherside Picnic" I let the characters occasionally do or say something careless, to show that things doesn't always go their way.

R.M.: I do feel like you frequently describe miscommunication between the characters, or their feelings having a different side of the coin, so to speak.

I.M.: Well, I think it's fairly common in shoujo manga and such.

  Manga adaptation of "Otherside Picnic" by Eita Mizuno (artist or "Spiral", etc)

■ Air strike of the "V"

I.M.: Speaking of yuri in 2018, you can't avoid mentioning the Virtual YouTubers (speaks with a serious tone)... Roughly speaking, it's when you put a character skin on a YouTuber, and there's been a sharp increase in their numbers from the start of this year.

R.M.: They use a specialized app to synchronize their expressions and movements with the characters when they talk in front of a camera, so this tech allows them to stream as if they're these characters themselves. They're also called "Vtubers".

I.M.: They use all kinds of things from 3D models to static sprites, but it's the relationships between those Virtual YouTubers that are... extremely, er... terrific... It's the so-called nmmn (namamono) (TN: a term that refers to content based on real people, as opposed to fictional characters), or rather Vnmmn, you get to see virtual "humans" with a real soul getting along with each other every day on streams and social networks. Do you get this? Even if they've been staying silent, that just makes you wonder if they've been doing something out of the viewer's sight, you can feel meaning in the silence itself, and that only drives you deeper down...

R.M.: At this point it's a non-stop supply without even a minute's break.

I.M.: But you also feel anxious whether you should consider this as content for consumption in the first place... You're presented with raw, exposed emotions, and the line between character role-play and the real "self" leaking out from the soul gets blurrier and blurrier... Though if you mention it to idol otaku with a long history of nmmn appreciation, they might just say "well, duh, what else is new". But still, announcing a "sleepover stream" from a hotel room on the day of an event and letting you hear sounds of their life together, that's something you'll never get with any idols! So... following Virtual YouTuber yuri is really... making my head... go bonkers...

R.M.: Are you all right?

I.M.: Anyway, it's a terrifying swamp... To talk about it, you must dive deeper first...

R.M.: So basically the state of things that you've described so far is, like you said in another interview, "the zone of complete air superiority patrolled by AC-130 gunship-like masters of yuri".

I.M.: Indeed. Heavily armed fighter aircraft circling around. Sometimes one of them would hit the limit and start to fume... But then the incredibly powerful Garupa aircraft carrier would come, and Virtual YouTubers would unleash an army of drones. To produce original yuri in 2018, you have to fly through this territory with just a single novel. That's why I'm so desperate with "Otherside Picnic"... I'm writing this with "it's kill or be killed" in mind.

R.M.: Reminds me how you once said in a meeting that "yuri is the same as gangsta rap".

I.M.: At least when you mean the extreme yuri otaku community (TN: "genkai otaku", kind of "painfully over-the-top otaku"). If you say something careless, you die. So the possibility of losing the "respect" is always keeping me on my toes. Though maybe it's just me.

R.M.: For the sci-fi element, you're incorporating first contact themes from "Roadside Picnic" (TN: released in Japan as "Stalker"), and for the horror one — you're scaring the readers with real ghost stories. So you're saying that you're committed to writing yuri that is as strong as either of those.

I.M.: Exactly. I'm relying on my nerves a lot.

■ Towards the infinite possibilities

R.M.: I want to ask you about the potential of yuri beyond 2018. What kind of yuri, SF yuri could appear next on this highly competitive battleground?

I.M.: Out of obvious things, interspecies yuri. I've recently read "The Soul of an Octopus", it's a book about an octopus, but straight from the beginning it depicts something that you can only describe as interspecies & age difference yuri between a 54 y.o. woman, the author, and a 2 y.o. female giant octopus.

R.M.: Interspecies & age difference yuri between a 54 y.o. woman and a 2 y.o. female giant octopus.

I.M.: The author lowers her arm into the water tank, the octopus approaches her. The author's monologue goes on top of it, but the octopus can taste her with her suction pads, and since female octopuses, like humans, possess estrogen, she says "It is possible that this octopus, in fact, knows I am a female". She then adds, "her embrace is an experience unlike any contact with a human", and so on — her immense feelings are flowing onto the pages.

R.M.: I feel like this depends on interpretation.

I.M.: Are you trying to say I'm crazy?

R.M.: No, I'd never. It's more like, with due training you can start to feel the yuri. I've heard that there can be BL between a ceiling and a floor, it's something like that.

I.M.: I think pairings between a ceiling and a floor are commonly accepted in the BL community, but I haven't seen much of that in yuri. But on the other hand, I think a concept of "yuri of absence" is beginning to form.

R.M.: Yuri of absence.

I.M.: That is, an emotional scenery is already yuri.

R.M.: Right.

R.M.: Wait, what?

I.M.: A cliff is towering over the sea, grass is growing on top of it, there is a fence, the gray ocean and sky are stretching beyond the horizon, there is an empty bench for two... Someone was uploading these images with a "#yuri" tag. You can totally get that.

R.M.: So it's like the cover of chapter 9 of "Otherside Picnic", where the two girls ride on a farming vehicle, and a boundless meadow is around them... You're saying this is yuri.

I.M.: Yes. Now remove both girls from this scenery.

R.M.: Right.

I.M.: A rusty, decaying vehicle is resting on top of wheel tracks.

R.M.: Right.

I.M.: Then you imagine that one day two girls were there... Isn't that already totally yuri?

R.M.: Right...

I.M.: So a grassland somehow becomes yuri.

R.M.: A grassland, huh.

I.M.: Not the Tokyo Sougensha publisher. (TN: "grassland" is "sougen" in Japanese)

R.M.: I get that much.

I.M.: For some reason that's enough to feel a taste of yuri in a vast scenery.

R.M.: In that sense, you're writing your ideal yuri in "Otherside Picnic". You're combining scenery yuri with character yuri.

I.M.: You're seriously on point there. I actually didn't have any interest in writing about human emotions, originally. There's a famous saying, "sci-fi is all about the image" (TN: this quote is attributed to Masahiro Noda, a prominent SF writer in Japan). I shared that point of view and, if anything, preferred to only write the setting and the scenes, the sights. But to write yuri you have to focus on the feelings and emotions of the characters, so in the end I had face humans.

R.M.: You first faced humans to write yuri.

I.M.: You could say that "yuri made me human".

R.M.: Did it all begin with "Otherside Picnic"?

I.M.: "Otherside Picnic" is the first time I had to tackle something that is so densely filled with human emotions. Even though the techniques I'm using are common in shoujo manga, I was surprised at just how difficult it is to apply them to science fiction. So I'm writing "Otherside Picnic" as a combo move consisting of the imagery I want to write and the emotional impact.

R.M.: I see. Thank you for the interesting talk.

I.M.: Oh, there's something else I really want to mention, a variation of non-existence yuri — "this music is yuri".

R.M.: Please elaborate.

I.M.: There is this movie called "Sicario" by Denis Villeneuve, released in 2015 (TN: released in Japan as "Borderline"). It's a thrilling masterpiece about the drug war in Mexico. The composer of the movie soundtrack, Jóhann Jóhannsson, passed away this year, and according to one of his interviews, there were two themes in the soundtrack. The sense of dread of two wild beasts glaring and pouncing at each other represents the battle to the death between the illegal police force and the mafia. And the other theme was the melancholy of the border area, two emotional themes. If you listen to the soundtrack with that in mind, you cannot perceive it as anything but "yuri". Though the movie itself is not yuri at all.

R.M.: So if neither the story nor the characters have any yuri, what exactly are you supposed to imagine?

I.M.: Two wild beasts glaring and pouncing at each other. It's yuri, isn't it?

R.M.: I see.

I.M.: And the sentimentality of the border area is also yuri, so I believe this soundtrack is unmistakably yuri, but people don't tend to agree with me on this.

R.M.: Count me not surprised.

■ With kindness and respect

R.M.: To wrap this up, a couple of announcements regarding Miyazawa-san's new works. Season 3 of "Otherside Picnic" is starting this spring, the manga adaptation by Eita Mizuno continues to be published and is garnering high praise, and this summer a single-volume novel "Side-By-Side Dreamers" will be released.

I.M.: As the title suggest, it's yuri about sleeping side-by-side.

R.M.: It's sort of a high-school girl version of "Inception", so please look forward to it. ...Though compared to social games and Vtubers that we were talking about today, it takes slightly more time to produce novels.

I.M.: They're tough opponents. "Garupa", YouTubers' videos, social networks, we have to oppose such rapid and mighty firepower with novels. I'm scared out of my wits, but I don't intend to lose.

R.M.: In conclusion, how do you think people who became interested in yuri for the first time should approach it, with what feelings in mind?

I.M.: I was intimidating today, but I believe that yuri is a kind genre.

R.M.: (looks at the "obsolete concepts" on the whiteboard)

I.M.: No, that's not it. What I wanted everyone to understand is that these stereotypes have one thing in common — the lack of respect towards the genre and the people. Stand on the shoulders of your predecessors and write relationships properly, that's what I was trying to say. I think yuri has a much wider definition than sci-fi (the audience starts to get noisy), as long as you have the "i like dis" spirit and face it with respect, it will reward you and welcome you with open arms.

R.M.: And you yourself draw upon the ideas you were talking about today, forming the constraints and resolve you need as you keep writing "strong yuri".

I.M.: Yes. I want to get stronger.

R.M.: Thank you very much.

(04th May 2018, Tokyo, Ochanomizu, Zendentsu Hall)

In August 2018 Gengen Kusano joined Iori Miyazawa and Rikimaru Mizoguchi for the second round, and you can read the sequel interview here:

"Yuri made me human — part 2"

I only said perfectly normal things in the intervew, so it feels embarrassing...

● 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.

● Interviewer — Rikimaru Mizoguchi (@marumizog)

Editor in Hayakawa Shobo's S-F Magazine, editor of "Otherside Picnic" and "Side-by-side Dreamers".

◆  Iori Miyazawa's notes in preparation for the interview and later additions; "MisaKoko TaeSaaya //////"

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