Three years ago, the Kirie sisters told Riarumi about their dream to become manga artists. Now, Riarumi is incredibly proud to share that we are interviewing them once again where, this time, ‘Kirie’ will be telling us about their new chapter as professional manga artists, their debut manga “Brother Buddy”, and other feelings and experiences they’ve had since their 2014 interview.

So wonderful to see you again! So, since last time we met, a lot’s been happening – you’ve turned professional! Big, big congratulations to you both! Could you tell us how it happened?

We won the Grand Prize of the 74th Shogakkan New Comic Award in the youth category in 2014. Our debut work “Hitori Shizuka” appeared in Shukan Spirits (Weekly Sprits) in August 2014. You can read “Hitori Shizuka” on Shogakkan New Comic Award’s website, so we’d be very happy if you’d like to check it out.

Tell us about your manga series, Brother Buddy.

It’s a story about professional diver brothers. The older brother is a talented diver and his younger brother can see ghosts. They help ghosts in the water. Since the story is about brothers and we are sister manga artists, we sort of see ourselves in the brothers. We would carefully talk about how we felt about each other, how we saw each other’s roles, and we paid great importance to describing the psychology of the characters. Prior to drawing the manga, we interviewed professional divers in Okinawa. Professional divers have a variety of responsibilities in the water, such as building things (for example, bridges), salvaging sunken ships and ocean surveying. We were very impressed to learn how hard it could be to work underwater and to hear about their skills in various fields. There are still so many things we want to draw about professional divers, so we hope to create a sequel to Brother Buddy someday.

How did it feel when you first saw your manga in print, and knowing that many, many other people were also finally reading it?

Our dad bought a copy of the manga magazine with our debut manga on the morning of its release and he brought it home to us. So we read it in our drawing room.  We remember saying to each other, “I can’t believe that the pieces of our manga manuscripts that used to be scattered all over this room are now in a book which is on sale in book stores and convenience stores all over Japan!” And also, “are people really reading our manga?!” . We felt it was so surreal but we saw some comments on the internet which said things like, “reading Hitori Shizuka made me cry”. Seeing that, we almost cried out of joy.

Is life and work as a professional manga artist how you imagined? What’s changed?  

We are sister manga artists but we don’t clearly divide our roles. The younger sister is mainly in charge of the work for Spirits magazine, while the older one helps with drawing, modifying drafts, comments and panel layout, and meetings with the editor. I think our roles will diversify in the future. We would like to draw manga in various fields. Therefore, we would like to take advantage of each other’s strengths each time we work on a new project (new manga). In general, we determine a direction for the manga – where we want the story to go – and then we decide our roles. But we rarely discuss our roles seriously. We’re relatively relaxed. Because we’ve been creating stories together since we were kids, even though we’ve now become professional manga artists, we still feel like we’re ‘playing’ with the characters in our manga. We rarely feel like drawing manga is a job.

But our life has changed a little. Before our debut, my professor back in university said to us, “if you can imagine a professional manga artist’s lifestyle and if you can live like that, you can be professional. ” Hearing his message, we tried to live like professional manga artists. For example, every time we started drawing new manga, we gave ourselves a deadline. We also analysed if the workload felt sustainable if it were to become a regular series. We try to live as professionals in terms of what time we wake up, how long we’re drawing, how long our meetings are, and so on. However, after becoming professionals and drawing manga which had potential to become a regular series, we started to feel like we didn’t have enough time. So we’ve learned that we should be stricter with our time and scheduling, because we want to have enough time to go out for dinner and hang out with friends too!

What are the biggest difficulties or negative points about becoming a professional?

When we re-drew drafts again and again. We felt it was very difficult to express what we would like to express to readers. In particular, it gets more difficult when you draw manga, the setting for which is not this era but the old days, because customs and values were different then compared to now. So it is very challenging for us to express situations or backgrounds of characters and their feelings. But we believe that we all share some universal feelings and values throughout history, even across different countries. Our one-off manga “Taika no Tsuru (Crane of Inferno) appeared in Weekly Spirits in 2015. It’s a story about a massive fire, which happened in the Edo period. We drew this manga in order to encourage the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and to encourage hope for reconstructing in the aftermath.

We are facing the biggest difficulty right now. We are struggling because there is a disparity between ‘what we want to express in our manga’ and ‘what they, i.e. publishing companies, want us to express’. There was one story we really wanted to draw, but they didn’t allow us an opportunity to take advantage of our strong suits in that genre, so we had no choice but to give up on drawing the story. That was the saddest moment for us since becoming professional. However, we came to realize that if there are people who are expecting certain stories from us, it’s very important for us, as professionals, to meet their expectations. So we focused on trying our best to meet their expectations. By doing so, we believe that we will be able to create a story which makes us think, “we are so glad and proud that we drew this story”, when look back one day in the future. In the meantime, we’ll keep trying our hardest to get an opportunity to draw what we really want to draw!

Three years ago, you told us “if we become successful, there’ll be more opportunities to try to make readers happy with our manga.” You also mentioned you want to do a comedy manga about eating out. Is that still true?

It’s been always the case that we want to make people happy before becoming professional, or afterwards. There are countless ways to make people happy, but we chose manga. We believe that manga is just our “tool” to achieve our goal, which is to make people happy. So we believe we will see what we want to draw and what we should draw. It’s meaningless if we cannot make our readers feel a sense of fun or encouragement, or if we cannot make other people’s lives better. This is our philosophy. When we face difficulties, we sometimes tend to lose sight of this spirit, because we feel as if  “getting our project approved by publishers” and “getting our manga published” are our ultimate goals. However, we always try to remind ourselves of our original spirit.

We still definitely want to do a comedy manga about eating out because we love eating! (laughs) We gained a little weight after becoming professional, so if we do a comedy manga about eating out, we are sure we’ll gain more! (laughs)

What’s next for the Kirie sisters? What should your fans look forward to?

Our fans … we’re happy if there are any! (laughs)

There are many things we want to do next. We want to draw historical and fantasy manga, as well as manga for boys and girls. Our mother is a writer, so we are planning to draw a manga based on her novel.

Right now, we are preparing our new series for Monthly Spirits. It will appear in Monthly Spirits soon. It’s a story about an emergency medical technician. We hope many people will read it!

Have there been any changes to your opinions or perspective you shared in your interview two years ago? And how has your success and recognition affected your feelings of self-confidence and self-belief?

Basically, not much has changed. In our interview three years ago, we shared that we believed self-confidence and self-believe were more important than skills. We believe that we were able to be professional because we believed in ourselves and never gave up. “If you don’t believe in yourself, you will be never able to accomplish anything”. I think this means that you can’t keep trying if you can’t believe in yourself. I think it’s true because if you don’t keep trying, you can’t improve your skills.

I believe that debuting as professionals is just a starting point for us. It’s been over two years since our debut. We’ve been encouraging each other and improving our self-confidence and self-belief. We might lose our sense of self-belief hundreds of times in the future. But we believe that we can get it back because we believe in each other no matter what happens. Even if I can’t believe in myself, I will always be able to believe in my sister. It’s difficult to put into words, but what I’m trying to say is that, because I can believe in my sister, I can believe in myself. And I, in turn, am believed in by my sister.

Now that you’ve become professional manga artists, do you have any new goals for the future? How would you like to see your life in five years?

Our first goal is to have our own series and to be read by many people. In five years, we hope we would be contributing to the world and people in any way possible. We hope that the characters from our manga would have a lot of friends and they would be happy. We would like to keep drawing manga that makes people happy and, using what we earn, in terms of influence or financial gains, we would like to contribute to other people’s lives. On top of that, we would like to go to a hotel dinner buffet twice a month, to buy an iRobot and to buy an annual passport for Disney Land.

What advice do you have for young women who wish for success in a creative industry (like art or writing or drama), but believe it’s unlikely for them or very rare?

We are still new manga artists and far away from success, but if we were to give any advice, we would like to tell you that it’s necessary for manga artists to discover and emphasise your strengths in order for your manga to be chosen by publishes. There are many elements such as comments, drawing, the way characters are designed, their reality, emotional expressions, atmosphere, the comedy, emotional points, elements of mystery, horror and expertise that you can utilise as your “unique selling point”  in your manga. We believe that it’s more important to make a few elements absolutely exceptional, than to make every single element above average. In other words, we feel that a manga with a ‘200 score’ on one or two particular elements is usually chosen by publishers above a manga that has all elements with scores above 70. Of course, it’s ideal to improve all elements in your manga and there are some elements that you should achieve to a certain level. But what we are trying to say is that if you can decide your strong suit, i.e. elements in your manga which you can say “this element is definitely greater than what can be found in any other manga” and ” this is absolutely our strong suit”, it will resonate more with someone’s needs and will be chosen by publishers.

However, here’s the most important point. This is what Shigeru Mizuki, the manga artist of ‘GeGeGe no Kitaro’ said. “If you keep drawing, you can make it”. We also believe that if you like manga and keep drawing, you can eventually make it.

Do you have any further advice or comments for readers? Anything more you’d like to add?

Thank you very much for reading our interview until the end. We really appreciate this opportunity to share our thoughts and feelings with readers. We really wish from the bottom of our hears that all readers will make their dreams come true!!

Kirie, once again, thank you so much for your time. I couldn’t be happier or more inspired to see how far you’ve come already in the three years since we first met. And I – along with all our readers, I’m sure – are looking forward to following and supporting your continuing journey. Congratulations on bringing your dream to life!