Mihara Mitsukazu, Asumiko Nakamura, Junko Mizuno, Kaoru Fujiwara, Maki Kusumoto -Who are they and how do they fit into the wider goth culture?
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION (based on info from bakaupdates and around the web)
Fujiwara Kaoru: She’s the most mysterious of the five, since we have little to no info about her. She was born on April 5th, 1978, and made her debut in Kimi to Boku magazine. The adventures she had with plagiarizing fashion magazines is more famous than her actual work, which is a shame because her stories have a distinctive ominous dream-like air. Maybe the fact she’s written mostly short stories with rather cryptic dialog and surreal situations made her name an obscure one. Her longest work is If You Wanna Destroy The World, a 3-volume long vampire story, that also got to run for awhile on JManga in English. She’s back after a 9-year break.
Kusumoto Maki: Born on July 15th, 1967, she debuted at the age of 17 in the Weekly Margaret, one of the most popular magazines at that time. Her early best-selling Kissxxxx also contributed in her fame especially among visual kei fans. She studied philosophy in Tokyo and perhaps as a result her characters struggle with their existential demons (see: Die tödliche Dolis) and many of her stories give off a feel of existential unease. Her short stories are very minimalistic and have the most bizarre and vague lines you’ll meet in comics. It’s noteworthy that in her official page it’s stated that she doesn’t really like to be classified as a mangaka. She currently lives in London.
Mitsukazu Mihara: She came to this world on October 17th, 1970, and she’s among the most important names in Japanese gothic culture as she’s credited with helping shape the GothLoli look through her work in the Gothic & Lolita Bible. In 1994, she won the first “Feel Young New Face Manga Awards” Judges’ Special Prize with her short work, The Children Who Don’t Need Rubbers. She’s a very prolific mangaka and writes stories that are certain to leave you disturbed. In that sense she has a strong dramatic and horror pen. She has also experimented with some sort of meta humor in her Haunted House but with questionable results.
Mizuno Junko: You’ve most probably stumbled upon her very iconic drawings and you don’t know it. She’s been interviewed for the Japanorama documentary and used her work as eyecatches. Born on May 27th, 1973, her drawing style mixes childish sweetness and cuteness with blood and terror—a so-called kawaii noir style or gothic kawaii. Currently residing in San Francisco, she is constantly working on new comics, paintings, illustrations, and designs for products ranging from toys to clothing. In 1996, Junko Mizuno self-produced a photocopy booklet called “MINA animal DX” which brought her to the attention of the publishing industry in Japan. Soon after, she debuted as a professional comic artist and illustrator. In 2007, she started showing her work in galleries in US and Europe.
Nakamura Asumiko: Asumiko Nakamura is one of Japan’s hidden gems. The artist, born on January 5th, 1979, has penned more than 15 titles since 2002 and has reached critical acclaim for her sensitive protrayals of romantic narratives featuring a wide range of characters – men and women, young and old. Nakamura has worked in a range of genres for an equally broad range of audiences winning recognition in almost every category – shojo, women’s comics, men’s comics, LGBT fiction as well as erotic fiction. Her characters stand out for their jelly-ish shape and demonic eyes. She’s now probably mostly known for her BL titles but she started with oneshots in Goth & Lolita Bible.
THE GOTHIC LABEL
What makes a manga gothic? To answer this question we have to remember manga is visual literature. As such there are two main factors to be taken in account: a. the fashion sense of the characters and the depiction of their environment, b. the themes of the story. Music is rarely a factor since manga is mute (exception: the Kissxxxx manga where the main character is part of a visual kei band).
The first part, fashion, is the easiest one. Ted Polhemus, an American anthropologist, writer and photographer, describes gothic fashion as a “profusion of black velvets, lace, fishnets and leather tinged with scarlet or purple, accessorized with tightly laced corsets, gloves, precarious stilettos and silver jewelry depicting religious or occult themes”. I’ll add to that studs, platform or combat boots, strappy belts and generally cage-like clothing, extreme hairstyles and make up. An important part of the package is the DIY accessories. Gothic aesthetics are usually seen as lowbrow art as part of a subculture but nowadays it’s not unusual to see gothic fashion in catwalks by famous designers.
Of course there isn’t a single way to dress gothic: gothic lolita, aristocratic gothic and kawaii/pastel gothic, a newer trend, are some of the ones I could name. Gothic lolita is the baby of Japanese youths that spread out later in many parts of the world and, if one were to guess from the name, so is kawaii gothic which incorporates many anime features like big round lenses and pastel (mint, lavender, light blue and yellow) hair. Both of these avoid white-powdered faces and go for a relatively natural style.
The main source of fashion news in the goth subculture in Japan appears to be the Gothic & Lolita Bible, an initiative of the singer Mana, who also owns the Moi-même-Moitié label and often appears in the magazine wearing the clothes he designed. Gothic & Lolita Bible is a quartely mook and was first published in 2001 by Index Communications as an extention to KERA fashion magazine. When TOKYOPOP’s North American department was still functioning, there was a short-lived attempt at bringing some material overseas, but inevitably they focused mainly on interviews and stuff that wasn’t time-dependable.
You can take a taste of what Japanese goths wear from a tumblr page filled with scans from the magazine and the website of Tokyo Fashion. If we want to associate each of the mangakas mentioned in the introduction with gothic fashion style, Mitsukazu Mihara dresses her characters in elegant goth many times (though there are other types as well like Dokuhime is a shiro loli); Kusumoto Maki goes for punk goth and elegant goth; Nakamura Asumiko is more of the goth loli and sweet loli than anything else; and Junko Mizuno plays with gothic kawaii and guro gothic.
In the visual department, there also seems to be a trend to have splashes of colors in oneshots stories. Examples of this are The Jail Cell 10 Meters above Ground by Mitsukazu, Le théâtre by Nakamura, Breakfast by Fujiwara, Ikasama Umigame no Soup by Kusumoto, and Cinderalla by Junko Mizuno -though this last one isn’t a short story.
Then, of course, we have the setting to consider which in gothic stories is usually a cemetery, a castle, abandoned places, houses with secret pathways, forests etc. In Door to Heaven by Fujiwara Kaoru the story takes place in a very high and mysterious tilted Piza-like tower; in Deserted Place by Mitsukazu Mihara a man enters a ruined building with shards of glasses and a bone on the floor; in her other oneshot, The Vampire and I we see the classic haunted mansion; in Kusumoto Maki’s The Funeral Procession of K most of the story is unfolded in a building with a spiral staircase and chapped walls, and the rooms have old ornate furniture and objects; and in Till Dawn by Nakamura Asumiko we get a glimpse of a cemetery and the main events transpire in a small tower in the middle of nowhere.
Lastly, the most difficult part to map was the literary themes, because it needs a holistic picture of the bibliography of the five mangaka, which wasn’t possible with the resources I had available. I’ve also grown up in a non-English-speaking country which means that I needed to cram myself with what’s gothic literature in the first place. For those who, like me, don’t have the cultural background I think that bringing up some names will help you get a better picture: Edgar Allan Poe, Baudelaire, H.P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations, R.L. Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and many more.
If we go by the official definition, gothic literature is a mixture of romanticism and horror with melodrama and occasionally parody as side dishes. Should we simplify this, at its core there are vampyric, generally supernatural and death themes or stories of female disabilities and societal horrors (incest, rape). Death stands at the center of The Funeral Process of K. Characters struggling with eternity and loneliness is the focus of If You Wanna Destroy The World. Woman’s entrapment within domestic space is a major theme of Female Goth and can be seen in a way in Dokuhime.
Additionally, the goth subculture has incorporated and celebrated the last decades deviant sexual practices like BDSM and fetishes. This is reflected in the work of the above mangaka as seen in Fetish by Fujiwara, Chicken Club by Nakamura, DOLL: IC in a Doll by Mitsukazu and almost all the works of Mizuno.