They say the best ideas come from panic. Nothing gets inspiration flowing faster than a looming deadline. Kore Yamazaki can testify to this.
Faced with a publishing date too close for comfort, the noted manga artist from Hokkaido, Japan, found herself stymied by a dearth of ideas. Desperate, she went with a story she had written some time ago for a personal project. Little did she realise how big her idea would become.
The project has proved to be the keystone for The Ancient Magus’ Bride, a fantasy series that has been a roaring worldwide hit. In 2015, it was ranked top in a survey of over 2,360 bookstore employees in Japan to determine the year’s Top 15 manga series of under five volumes.
Volumes #2 to #5 have charted on The New York Times bestselling manga list, while Vol #4 debuted at No. 1. In Oct 2017, her manga was turned into a popular anime series. And as of Dec 2017, her work has reached five million print copies sold.
“I didn’t know it was a NYT bestseller,” said Yamazaki, 28, through a translator at our interview in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. “My father and friends had to tell me about it. I was very shocked, but knowing it has such a wide reach not just in Japan, I feel I need to put more effort into my story.”
Yamazaki was a guest at Comic Fiesta 2017 in KL. At a panel session with fans, she spoke about her life, her work and the complexities of being a mangaka (the Japanese word for a manga artist or author).
It was almost destiny that she grew up to create fantasy worlds. The youngest of four siblings, with a substantial age gap between all of them, she often found herself playing alone. To amuse herself, she would play outside or hike into the woods.
“I think because I had these experiences, I got to see and hear things I wouldn’t normally have. I think this comes out in the manga,” she said. Yamazaki also enjoyed reading, losing herself in fairy tale books and manga like Sailormoon and Gegege No Kitaro.
“Part of me wanted to be a writer when I was younger,” she said, “but it was a bit more difficult when you just have your words to create a setting. I found it was easier to get a reaction with a visual element.”
Yamazaki remembered drawing since she was three years old, so creating manga was the next logical step. She posted her work online and was discovered by a publisher who signed her, an admirable achievement considering she was a self-taught artist.
She credited her years as an assistant to another mangaka for the bulk of her experience in the industry. “That was one of the most difficult parts of becoming a mangaka,” she said, laughing.
Eventually, Yamazaki was creating her own manga including Frau Faust, Futari No Renai Shoka, Transparent Museum and Denpatou. Then came her most successful shonen or manga aimed at male teens.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride is the tale of a poor girl sold into slavery. At the auction, Chise Hatori is bought by a man who appears to have the head of a beast. Elias Ainsworth turns out to be a powerful magician who wants to make Hatori his apprentice – and his bride.
Main characters aside, Yamazaki said her other favourite is Alice, a former street urchin and magician’s apprentice who she describes as “a very honest character”.
Though the series features magic, fantasy and folklore, much of its plot contains elements from traditional faerie myths. Yamazaki said this was intentional as she had long been fascinated by these subjects.
“I’m not an expert on fairy tales and mythology, but just learning about them from other cultures is interesting,” she said. “What I find fascinating is that many cultures have stories that overlap. I really enjoy finding those and so want to know more about mythology.”
Though questions about the future of the characters and their story were banned by Yamazaki’s handlers, the mangaka revealed she does have a vision for the ending. “I have an idea of how the resolution of the greater plot should be. I am exploring all the different pathways that could lead there,” she said.
It’s safe to say that fans of The Ancient Magus’ Bride are in for one heck of a ride.