Araki: My meeting with CLAMP was quite interesting. Though I don’t know if it’s all right to say this.
Nekoi: It’s fine, please go ahead. *laughs*
Araki: By coincidence, they frequent the same beauty salon as my wife. So apparently she was chatting with the beautician saying “My husband draws manga,” and they told her “We have other clients who are mangaka too.”
Nekoi: That’s right. Then I heard that Araki-sensei’s wife was there and basically it turned into a huge deal.
Araki: We live quite close so I said “Why not come over sometime if you like?” and that’s how it started.
Nekoi: But really, I’ve only met Sensei four or fives times in total up to now. And it was always the four of us as a group, so I think this is the first time we’ve had a one-to-one conversation. I’m really nervous.
Araki: Come to think of it, at first I believed CLAMP were male. I thought it was a man pretending to be a woman in order to draw in a girlish style. And then I heard rumors that it was several people collaborating and not just one person, and I thought, “What the hell?”. There were too many pieces of information flying around, I couldn’t make sense of it. It was pretty mysterious.
Nekoi Tsubaki’s fascination with Araki’s slightly alien work
Nekoi: It was really very early on that I encountered Sensei’s work and thought “Wow, I love this person’s manga” – with Devil Boy BT.
Araki: BT! I got into so much trouble with the editors for that one. They said right off the title was impossible, there’s no way you can run a manga called “Devil Boy” in Shonen Jump, and that the main character was evil. I had to explain that it was essentially a rehash of Sherlock Holmes and in the end somehow I convinced them.
Nekoi: That’s amazing, it was that difficult then. I couldn’t have imagined but there was something alien about it I found as a child, I think, and that fascinated me.
Araki: Really though, the 70s were a period in the manga world where you had to develop to set yourself apart from the crowd. That was the tide, to go where no one else had gone before. I worked hard on that, so it makes me very happy to be told someone liked it.
Nekoi: I loved it!
Araki: Thank you very much! But, to think those readers back then have become what they are now… it’s amazing. They even criticized my work. *laughs*
Nekoi: Please don’t say things that sound so awful~
Araki: They crowded up and were like “Why did you do such a thing to Jotaro there!?”
Nekoi: But, anyone would do that if they had their favorite mangaka in front of them! You don’t know if the chance will ever come again, right? So you want to run up and make them tell you everything!
The black-and-white aesthetic admired by Araki
Araki: If I had to say what interests me the most as someone in the same line of work, it would be how you divide the work among the four of you. I’ve heard you don’t use assistants so… In any case I would venture that XXXHOLiC is mainly drawn by Nekoi-san, is it not?
Nekoi: I wonder if that’s so… perhaps that’s not the case? *laughs*
Araki: It must be Nekoi-san, surely. The kimono styles, the atmosphere of the art has that feel to it… I don’t suppose you can tell me?
Nekoi: No, it’s quite all right, I’ll answer.
Araki: Ah, you can tell! I thought this might be CLAMP’s greatest secret. *laughs*
Nekoi: I’ll go with the conclusion. The female characters in XXXHOLiC are drawn by Mokona.
Araki: Eh! Yuuko-san and Himawari-chan and everyone!?
Nekoi: That’s right. I draw the male characters, the youkai, and any spirits that aren’t in human shape. And animals. The covers and color pages are Mokona and I together. The overall flow is blocked out by Mokona from Ohkawa’s script, after which I check it, and that’s how things typically advance. If we get stuck on anything, we go back to Ohkawa and ask, “I don’t quite understand this part, what is it supposed to be?” and then we fix it. Once everything is settled, Satsuki, Mokona and Nekoi each draw our parts separately.
Araki: You’re really systematic. How did you establish XXXHOLiC ‘s global aesthetic?
Nekoi: There’s a concept for the cover or opening art each time, and that’s decided by Ohkawa. The story and worldview are all Ohkawa. She’s like the overseeing producer.
Araki: There’s something of an Art Nouveau element to it, design wise.
Nekoi: There’s a Japanese-ness to it, and Chinese too.
Araki: The gothic atmosphere that permeates the work is a large part of its charm. All that flat black is great.
Nekoi: We decided not to use screentones this time.
Araki: Yes, it’s good to have a clear divide between black and white. That’s something I can’t do. I can’t bring myself to color something in as a flat surface. I have to crosshatch and make it stand out in 3D. Something like a school uniform, it’s frightening to color it in… if I bring it down to a basic aesthetic level, perhaps.
Nekoi: But if I had to choose I’d pick Tsubasa‘s tactile feel. *laughs*
Araki: I see. But you can also draw in a gothic style. That’s amazing! All of XXXHOLiC has a flat, decorative feel to it, like Japanese prints or Alphonse Mucha.
Nekoi: Ah, Mokona likes Mucha.
Araki: I thought so. It comes across. And the base color of the tankoubon covers is never white.
Nekoi: That’s true. It’s always gold or silver, and then colour printed over it.
Araki: The feeling that there’s an overriding concept at work is what makes it special. I think it’s cool. With the JoJo series I wanted to use the classical method as a base and then introduce modern elements in the singular. For instance, drawing in a realistic style but coloring in completely impossible colors. Or completely impossible poses.
Nekoi: Impossible poses… but the fans imitate the poses? The “JoJo stances”.
Araki: True, true. That’s the thing, I aim for impossible but then am like, “Huh? Well, I guess it’s possible after all…” *laughs*
Where is reality? The day the kappa appeared in Toono
Araki: Does CLAMP ever travel for research purposes?
Nekoi: Almost never. We know that drawing from imagination can’t approach the solidity that comes with research, that level of reality where people can say, “Turn the corner right there and you’ll see my house…” But if you take the scenery from XXXHOLiC, for example, the place where Yuuko-san exists is an enclosed courtyard really. Aside from that I think depicting fantasy in a fantastical way is also a matter of technique. Well – one of our early stories did have an Indian flavor to it.
Araki: I understand. For my part, you see, I’m currently drawing a journey as my main theme. I started wondering about the psychology of someone who’s been walking for three days straight. So I went and walked the Kumano pilgrimage road, which is a World Heritage site, to see what it was like.
Nekoi: Wow. And did you understand anything from it?
Araki: Yup. After three days, first of all you want to throw away everything you’re carrying. I even wished I could throw away the cell phone they told me to carry in case I came across a bear. And when I saw the shrine at the end of the road, I felt thankful from the bottom of my heart. I honestly and unironically thought, “Thank god I came this far without getting hurt.” It cleansed my heart, perhaps? I understood then that the road was put there in order to give people that experience.
Nekoi: That’s a World Heritage site for you.
Araki: XXXHOLiC takes place in a magical alternate world, doesn’t it. What I get hung up on is, what are those youkai-like things!? The ones shaped like young girls and the ones shaped like animals, and the monster types, are they all part of the same existence?
Nekoi: Er… the properly-formed youkai and the monster-like ayakashi are different things actually. But then, if you put them all together one can’t say much other than “Well, that’s the kind of world it is.”
Araki: The “stands” in JoJo can be conceptualized as a reification of hidden talent, with their source being a sort of energy that’s been in the earth since ancient times. So there are no real monsters or youkai in my story. I’ve never really been able to get the existence of such things. I looked at Mizuki Shigeru-sensei’s drawings and thought they were lovely, but when I saw something like a “bean washer” in the picture I would just think, What’s up with that? I couldn’t see any reason for that creature to exist. Purely for the sake of washing beans?
Nekoi: That’s true. It’s the sort of world where you go take a bath and there’s an “akaname” in there.
Araki: Exactly. What the heck is it? Is it an enemy? An ally? What does it want? If you can’t figure out that much how are you supposed to fight it! Is what I think.
Nekoi: That’s a Jump-like way of looking at it. *laughs*
Araki: With that in mind, the other day I went to Toono, in Iwate. In order to gain a better understanding of youkai.
Nekoi: Wah~ Such lengths. *laughs*
Araki: “I’d like to draw youkai too~” was what I was half-thinking. *laughs* So I went to the Kappa River there, the one that’s famous for kappas, and stood on the riverbank spacing out. And as I was standing, there was this middle school-aged boy there at the same time, and he bursts out with, “Hirohiko’s in the Kappa River!” Like, “Onii-chan, look, there’s a Hirohiko in the Kappa River!”
Nekoi: *big laughs*
Araki: And even I for some reason thought for a split second, “Gah, I have to get out of here!” At that moment I finally understood what it must feel like to be a youkai. *laughs*
Nekoi: You understood what it feels like to be a youkai, huh… *laughs* I bet it’s passed into legend by now. His brother came and said, “There’s no such thing, you’re lying!” And he said, “It was really there, I saw it!” And there was a huge disturbance, and years afterward you’ll hear the story of the kappa Hirohiko in the river.
Araki: So there, I think that might be what youkai really are.
Fightin’ Presidents and drama at high noon
Araki: If it had an Indian flavor… do you watch a lot of movies? On DVD or whatever.
Nekoi: I watch films in the usual way, because I’m always following fads. I liked Jurassic Park.
Araki: I like stuff like that too. Like Jaws. But recently I’ve really been into Michael Mann’s films: Heat, Collateral and so forth. I like the sense one gets that the characters are driven by fate, but they don’t hesitate over their actions. They hurtle toward their destiny in a way that goes beyond considerations of good or evil. It makes me weak at the knees. They’re not movies you’re supposed to cry at but I get tears in my eyes anyway. I think, “Oh, you people!” Do you have anything like that?
Nekoi: I’m faddish but I did like Independence Day.
Araki: The story’s pretty astonishing in that one. In order to fight with aliens, they get into a flying saucer that was buried on earth by aliens in the past. The human strategy was like ripping off the opponent’s fundoshi in sumo. The designs all came from other SF works. And on top of it all the President himself flew the saucer to fight. When I saw that I decided the party would be battling the President in Steel Ball Run.
Araki: Yeah, I realized a fighting President is awesome. Was there ever anything like it?
Nekoi: It’s very American. Although maybe Americans themselves don’t realize it. And it was a German who made it. I think he made it with the intention that that’s what Americans would like to see, and it really hit home. I like it too! *laughs*
Araki: What about Japanese films? I don’t go to the theater but I watch a lot of DVDs. I saw Sekachu and so on.
Nekoi: Wow, you saw it?
Araki: Yes, it was good.
Nekoi: Was it!
Araki: Yes. I’m the type who cries at everything. That’s right, lately I’ve gotten hooked on daytime soaps. Ever since Shinju Fujin I can’t go without checking in with the latest developments. She became his lover with the aim of getting her hands on his fortune! It’s awesome!
Araki: The dialogue gives one thrills down the spine. They say such dangerous and suggestive things the viewer’s left panting. Like, is it all right to show that? But there they have it on television, at high noon.
Nekoi: It feels like you watch it to enjoy the names.
Araki: Exactly. A lot of mangaka seem to watch soaps, because time-wise it’s just when one’s getting out of bed. Morita (Masanori) sensei told me he also watches them. *laughs*
CLAMP’s mystery versus Kishibe Rohan’s skin: and onward, legend
Araki: Many of CLAMP’s mysteries were made clear to me today, so for my part this has been a meaningful hour spent. Thank you very much.
Nekoi: The pleasure’s all mine, thank you very much. Though I would have liked to talk more about JoJo.
Araki: But today we’re talking about XXXHOLiC.
Nekoi: Don’t you think we should reveal more of JoJo‘s mysteries too, even for the sake of the reader?
Araki: Oh, I think it’ll be quite enough if you say “He’s so cool and looks just like Kishibe Rohan ♥”. *laughs*
Nekoi: Oh yes, that’s true. He’s so cool and looks just like Kishibe Rohan. *laughs* And you look younger and younger in the photos that get published these days.
Araki: That’s because I’m a hamon user. *laughs*
Nekoi: Please do become a new legend in Toono, I’d love to see it.
Araki: Leave it up to me. *laughs*
Translated from Japanese by Petronia.
Interview originally published in XXXHOLiC Official Guide Book (Kodansha), released on November 17, 2006. Original text available upon request.
If you found mistakes in this translation or would like to contribute with translating other interviews, please contact me.