Interview with manga writer Ebine Yamaji

By Yuki Keiser July 2007


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1. It was the editor's idea!

Profile: Ebine Yamaji
Manga writer Ebine Yamaji lives in Tokyo. Her novels, which include Sweet Lovin' Baby, Indigo Blue and Free Soul, are known for their rich portrayals of the lives of young women, and several have been serialized in Feel Young magazine, as well as published by Shodensha. In 2006, her manga story "Love My Life" was made into a well-known movie of the same title starring Asami Imajuku.

Readers interested in purchasing her books (Japanese text only) should visit www.s-book.com.

Few lesbians in Japan do not know of Ebine Yamaji. To date, four of her manga have been published - featuring her own distinctive style of girl-loves-girl stories, including "Love My Life" - which was made into the movie "Love My Life," released in 2006. The movie itself gained wide attention for the casting of Asami Imajuku, a highly popular Japanese model, in the starring role. Tokyo Wrestling speaks with renowned manga writer Ebine Yamaji about her work. While her books include themes of homosexual love, they are quite easily found in most book stores. Her artwork is simplistic and cool - all the while conveying adult love stories based in true-to-life human relationships. Yamaji's fans span not only Japan, but also the world. In France in particular, she is recognized and highly regarded for her manga, which have been translated into French and are the first to explore queer romance. Over the course of our talk, Yamaji enlightened TW as to why she became a manga artist, her sources of inspiration, her reflections on the movie "Love My Life", and her thoughts on lesbian culture in America.


―First of all, could you tell us more about why you became a manga artist?

Early on, I hadn't particularly wanted to become a manga artist at all. But there was this one time where I had tried my hand at a story and decided to send it in to a magazine asking the editor how it measured up to industry standards. I later got a call from the editor explaining to me that he couldn't exactly rate the work since the manga itself was not geared for commercial publication, but he would find me a manager if I was interested in pursuing my writing and illustrating. I figured I had no reason to refuse him (laughs), so I responded that I'd give it a shot. That was during my second year in high school. So, from there, as I continued to illustrate work and have people review it, I was soon nominated for an award and eventually made my official debut.

―What was it that led you to try your hand at graphic novels? Did it come from a passion for reading manga?

When I was a child I LOVED manga, but in all honesty I found myself drawn more to rock and roll in my final years of middle school and more or less stopped reading manga around then. But one day, when I was in high school, I was hanging out at a friend's house and kind of came upon this one manga. It was Fumiko Takano's story "Zettai Anzen Kamisori" ("Absolute Safety Razor") and the moment I saw it I just thought, "This is IT!", like EUREKA! I didn't particularly feel drawn to creating manga or aim to become a manga writer, really. The fact of the matter was that I suddenly happened on something big and it became a way in which I could pass the time - since life was so boring in high school. So I kind of just got the materials I needed to illustrate and began to write (laughs).

―That's quite funny for a start (laughs). So when was it that you were sure you wanted to pursue work in manga?

Well, you know, for one time I did completely quit writing manga. For about two and a half years after graduating college, I wasn't writing any manga and, in fact, I was hardly working at all. But then when I had to think about making a living, I realized that the only thing I could really do was write manga. And that was the first time I considered becoming a professional manga artist.

―That's certainly later than most people would expect. I also wanted to ask, from where do you draw inspiration for your stories?

Well, "Love My Life" took form when I happened to borrow a book from a series by Francesca Lia Block - a popular writer of young adult novellas - from my local library and I loved it. I thought the story itself was so cute, and it set a light bulb off.

―Was that story also lesbian-themed?

A lot of topics come out in that story - and they are all thrown together. They involve gays, lesbians, the young, the old, and more. It was the kind of book that just by reading it, your attitude and view of the world is refreshed since you witness all the characters doing their best to get something positive out of life despite their own troubles. And there's no separate treatment of sexual minorities; they're included in the story just as everybody else is. After reading that book, the initial story for "Love My Life" came to me in a flash. And I began to put it to paper right then.

―The theme for your manga was something slightly taboo, which we don't normally come across; did your editor get back to you with any particular commentary on that?

As a matter of fact, it was the editors that had suggested I try writing a girl-loves-girl kind of story to begin with - and that had been the operative start to creating "Love My Life" (laughs). Looking back, after my hiatus from manga-writing, I had a chance to work with Feel Young magazine and, as fate would have it, I had in fact produced another lesbian-themed piece for them in the past.

―Why was that? Were such stories popular at the time?

I don't really remember much about the time, but I'm not the kind of person to write about something just because it's popular (laughs). The story "Miyuki", contained within the collection Sweet Lovin' Baby, was the most popular of my pieces from 10 years before, so when I had a chance to work with Feel Young again a decade later, they suggested that I try writing a girl-loves-girl kind of story once more.

―Early on, why do you think lesbian-themes resonated so well with your readers? It seems interesting to me that a love story taking place between two women would be so popular with a straight, mainstream audience.

Well, to hear it put that way, I'd have to agree. But I never really got into asking why it had done so well. I just simply figured it was a good thing (laughs). Since I personally wasn't in the best shape when "Miyuki" was released, I actually thought that I hadn't done a good job illustrating it and even forgot what sort of story it was that I had written. Looking back at the time, I think that Rieko Matsuura's Natural Woman triggered me to write "Miyuki". But anyhow, my editor had made a sincere suggestion to me so I thought I'd go ahead and consider it.

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copyright Ebine Yamaji 'Sweet Lovin' Baby'/Shodensha Feel Comics


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translated by rayna rusenko