CLAMP Interview – Puff magazine (June/2004)

Though they are in the midst of a very busy work schedule publishing for two weekly magazine series simultaneously, we invited the CLAMP members to speak with us in the Kodansha conference room…

15th Anniversary!

Congratulations on your 15th year!

puff_july_2004Ohkawa: Thanks. But I wonder why the 15th anniversary is being celebrated as a milestone? *laughs* I could understand if it was the 5th or 10th or the 20th, but the 15th
Nekoi: The DREAMS COME TRUE band is also celebrating their 15th anniversary, so it’s all right. *laughs*
Ohkawa: So we’re the same as DREAMS COME TRUE. *laughs* But for fifteen years to have passed already—it came as a surprise.
Nekoi: By the time we noticed we had reached our 10th anniversary, it was already over. *laughs*
Ohkawa: None of us realized it was our 10th anniversary until our readers told us in their letters. So without our thinking anything of it, the day went about as usual.

Since the first 10 years passed in just the blink of an eye, do you have more memories of the 5 years that came afterwards?

Ohkawa: No, my memory capacity has been declining in the past few years, so instead I can better remember things that happened long ago.
Nekoi: Authors that remember their painful deadlines must think “I can’t let this happen again!” but we are usually the type that forgets the pain once we’re past the danger zone.
Ohkawa: Oh, so that could be the reason for the amnesia! *laughs*
Igarashi:  We missed a lot of deadlines, but I don’t really remember the exact dates.
Mokona: Speaking of dates, the girl who was born when our group debuted turned 15 this year.
Ohkawa: You mean the Morning Musume idol girl. We made our debut before the youngest girl was even born! *laughs* Before we knew it, fifteen years had really flown by.

The Key to 15 Years

We pressed for the secret to CLAMP’s success as manga artist team of four.

The four of you have been doing group work together for a long time. Has there been any change in your relationships?

Ohkawa: I’ve come to understand that there are “land mines” that we really can’t talk about. The other three have been friends ever since high school, so working together was like an extension of our friendship. We presumed on one another, we fought, and we were in danger of breaking up a few times.
Nekoi: The reason bands break up is often due to “differences in musical sensibilities,” and I understand that impulse well. It’s due to the total number of choices there are to make about the work. So ultimately it becomes a question of taste.
Mokona: For example, take the question “Who is your favorite CLAMP character?” Some of us would say, “OK, I like this character,” and the others would think, “No way! That one’s no good at all!” But when we encounter a situation like that, at the end of the day we still have to come together as a group and draw.
Igarashi:  All four of us hardly ever agree about whether any character is OK. When that happens, we discuss our mutual preferences and decide whose interpretation will take precedence. Lately those interactions have gone more smoothly because we have been working together for so long. *laughs*

What qualities do you appreciate in your fellow members?

Igarashi: Mokona puts her pen to the paper and pours all her effort into the artwork, so she’s an extremely hard worker. She’s amazing. *laughs* I also think Ohkawa is an eloquent speaker, and Nekoi is an artisan in her trade. *laughs*
Mokona: Igarashi seems to know everything. I don’t know anything about cars, but she knows cars really well, and even knows things about different car models. She’s fantastic with calculation and figures, and she’s an expert at ordering goods. Ohkawa is great at drafting proposals and writing scripts of course, and she always surprises me with her ideas. Every time it’s like, “Oh! So this is how it turns out!” Nekoi works at high speed, but she draws things that are so pretty and detailed.
Ohkawa: Igarashi tends to piece together lots of patterns yet she manages to keep her designs balanced. I don’t have that talent so I’m very envious of her. Mokona puts forth her best effort as she works, and Nekoi is the most professional out of all of us.
Nekoi: Igarashi is very knowledgeable. I admire the focused look Mokona gets when she leans forward and draws. The plots and details that Ohkawa comes up with are realistic and touching, they’re great. *laughs* I look up to them. *laughs*

Looking Back On Old Works!

RG Veda & Tokyo Babylon

When you look back on your debut work RG Veda, how do you feel about it now?

Ohkawa: Every time I look back on it, I think, “What in the world is this?” Since it was our debut work, from a technical standpoint it was very raw and showed our inexperience, so our panel compositions were a hot mess. I think other creators are like that too, because when it comes to first works we become extremely emotionally attached. At times we were so excited that when we thought “I want to draw it this way!” we were blindly presumptuous, but at other times we also made incredibly cynical plans, and when we reread it is incredibly embarrassing.
Mokona: What’s odd is that our deadlines and output now should be more intense, but my impression is that our time working on RG Veda was actually harsher. We had to work with all our might every day just to draw two pages each day. Our hands were probably slower back then.

So you would say drawing the pictures took more time than creating the story?

Ohkawa: No, coming up with the story also took a long time. We were always revising and ending up feeling like the story was better before we revised it. In comparison to the people we are today, you know, we were really green and inexperienced. *laughs* We were always getting upset.

In what way?

Nekoi: We would get irritated with ourselves. Back then, if we were to do things together as a team, we would say things we shouldn’t say and argue.
Igarashi: “I’ll never listen to you again!” was something that was said a lot. *laughs* We couldn’t figure out how to work around our closeness, so we couldn’t just say “redo this!” to each other. We would stay up all night until daybreak and everything would be OK, but then if someone said, “Uh, I just drew six fingers,” everyone would cry, you see. *laughs*

How did you feel when you reached the last chapter?

Ohkawa: Oh, there’s a before and after to the last chapter! *laughs*
Mokona: By that point we were utterly wrecked, and we had to drop the last half of manuscript, but the editorial department was kind enough to take care to write, “First part before the last chapter.” But when you looked at it, anyone would think there were still two more chapters to come, which was funny, and after that everyone began to relax into harmonious camaraderie.
Nekoi: But normally there’s only one last chapter! *laughs*
Mokona: I didn’t feel like it had ended until quite a while after that point had passed. But when the thought came that “I won’t be drawing Ashura and their friends again,” it felt deeply profound.
Igarashi: I was rereading the paperback edition to check it over, and I was overcome with nostalgia. Or maybe I should have said embarrassment… *laughs*

Do you ever read it over again?

Mokona: We do reread…fortunately. *laughs* RG Veda was our lucky break, after all.
Nekoi: Since some time opened up about a year ago, I suddenly wanted to reread it all from the first volume, but… “Yikes, revisions!”
Mokona: Like,The tempo of these panels is awful!”
Ohkawa: I think that when you look at our scripts from back then it’s possible to tell that we were still searching for our own style. As it really was our first time, and we overestimated how far we could go, and if we didn’t go far enough then we didn’t know whether we had reached our readers.
Mokona: If we drew even one crying scene, that’s how it was. Every time we worried about how much crying we should show and what kind of background we should use with it.

How about Tokyo Babylon?

Ohkawa: Babylon was our first work to be drawn out as planned. RG Veda broke down in the middle as we were writing it so the page count fluctuated, but with Babylon the number of stories was on target. We decided on seven volumes and on what kind of story it would be from the start, and wrote it all out on paper because we thought that if we did it this way everyone would admire us. *laughs*
Igarashi: So that’s how it went, and everyone praised us.

But Tokyo Babylon and RG Veda were serialized at the same time. Why did your designs turn out differently?

Ohkawa: The problem was that if we drew Babylon according to RG Veda‘s design, the story might come off as false.
Mokona: Our art isn’t realistic by any means, although RG Veda characters had eyelashes both above and below, but in Ohkawa’s opinion that design didn’t seem quite right and so we changed it for Tokyo Babylon. Still, the designs did get a little mixed up, initially.

Hokuto-chan’s western clothes are very unique to her. Who made up the designs?

Ohkawa: When it comes to clothes, we’ve always brainstormed them as a group. When only one person designs it all becomes the same type. When I buy the clothes I like they end up looking similar—it’s the same sort of thing.
Igarashi: Near the end of the 1980’s when the bubble economy burst, people were looking at the world through those bold primary colors.

In your early works, your last episodes were often very shocking.

Ohkawa: But are they really? To the characters we created, sometimes they weren’t shocking at all. Although since we know the story so well that perspective might be unavoidable. *laughs*
Igarashi: The more gag parts there are in the first half, the bigger the gap in tone between the gags and the serious developments at the end.
Nekoi: My favorite characters tend to die suddenly, so that could be quite shocking to some readers.

X ~ Chobits

X is your longest series, but presently it’s still on hiatus, right?

Ohkawa: The problem was that the content and portrayal of the ending we were planning would be difficult to publish in a magazine.
Mokona: We had been drawing X for over ten years and its serialization had been stopped many times, and each and every time a lot of parts depended on the social climate.
Igarashi: Among other things, the biggest instances were the Great Hanshin earthquake (Kobe, 1995) and the Sakakibara case [sic] (i.e., the Kobe child murders, 1997).
Ohkawa: After so many people died in the Great Hanshin earthquake, we wondered what we should do if we were to continue with the earthquake motif—and it wasn’t just us; we discussed the issue at length with the editing department.
Nekoi: Even now I remember turning on the TV that morning, and it was truly unimaginable what was happening. Many of our friends and acquaintances had died.
Ohkawa: At the same time, we received letters from people who lived in Kobe saying, “I can’t read this anymore,” and for a while we were seriously worried.
Mokona: The Sakakibara case painted a bleak picture. Though Asuka as a manga magazine allows a high degree of artistic freedom, several times in the narrative, scenes where characters lose their heads came up.
Ohkawa: Even now, several times when it came down to whether we needed to make changes to the themes or depiction of the story, we discuss it with the editing department and explain our reasoning to them all, and one way or another they have come through for us. But when it came to the ending we were planning, we weren’t sure if the publisher could run the chapter or not. If so they would want us to draw a different ending than we planned in order to run the ending. Putting aside the matter of the chapter that the publishing magazine suspended publication of, since X had never been stopped before that of course we wanted to draw it to the end even if its serialization was interrupted. It was actually an extremely difficult situation. But no matter what form X took, our conclusion was absolutely that we wanted to draw it.
I don’t want this to be misunderstood: even though the situation came to this, the publisher did no wrong. Rather, they have been patient with us, and still wish to continue publishing. If there isn’t a good way to do it, we’re still searching for a solution and we intend to keep talking with our publisher about it, so please, we ask you to wait a little longer.

Now on to Magic Knights Rayearth. Did you have to be careful drawing for a children’s magazine?

Ohkawa: Instead of comparing magazines, since it was the first time that we had received the request “We want you to create another CLAMP-like story for us,” we thought we would like to publish a story that was unlike anything that Nakayoshi had run before. The stories where girls fight included titles like Princess Knight and Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. When we all put our heads together, we thought, “Nobody’s done giant robots yet!” *laughs*

Did you encounter any hardships?

Nekoi: Hm, what was difficult about Rayearth... Pasting screentones on the mecha armor and helmets was a pain. *laughs* That could take more time and labor than RG Veda did.
Igarashi: And the side character designs also required using more tone.
Mokona: My gripe is about the robots too, but they were hard because they had so many blades sticking out of them.

How did you feel about Card Captor Sakura?

Ohkawa: I always wanted to do something with magical girls in it. I wanted to write cute stories about sweet girls who go out and do things. But at first nobody would believe me since it seems they thought it would turn into an un-cute story by the end. *laughs*
Nekoi: Sakura isn’t a happy memory for me even though it was fun. I was often sleepy. *laughs*
Igarashi: The anime staff also did a great job so our readers were charmed by it.
Mokona: In the last part they ran out of dress patterns and that could be troubling. *laughs* In fact, for the anime video/DVD jackets, they drew Sakura-chan with new flowers every time until gradually they ran out of flowers to draw, and then they ended up drawing imaginary flowers. *laughs* They had never had to draw flowers until then. They were drawing from illustrated flower references, but when flowers are drawn so realistically they look scary!
Nekoi: Very little can be understood about flowers from just the line drawings of them.
Igarashi: I didn’t realize they were going to design pink tankobon editions. *laughs*

For Clover, you created a different sense of atmosphere and used techniques that were different from before, didn’t you?

Ohkawa: Simultaneously, I changed the setting but kept the same characters. When I told Clover‘s story for the other CLAMP members to hear the first time, it came off as incredibly stiff and flat.
Igarishi: Whether in the car or while eating breakfast, it was just, “and then this-or-that happened,” and it was almost like she was watching a movie.
Nekoi: Yeah. She would go on and on about it without shelving it once.
Mokona: It was as if she was explaining a novel she had read before. *laughs*
Ohkawa: At the time, it was just one out of many stories I had made up. Later I tinkered with the characters, but the origins of Clover, Wish, Chobits, and Gouhou Drug were all conceived then.
Since the publishing magazine Amie was like Nakayoshi‘s “big sister” magazine, we thought our readers would understand without over-explanation, and with the adult atmosphere we thought we could pull off the story without an elaborate setup. Actually, there is one story left to tell because the publishing magazine suspended publication, which meant we were never able to present Clover‘s last song.

Does that mean you had already completed the story?

Ohkawa: Yes. And since I had already told them the ending, the other three know it too. *laughs*
Mokona: I do know. *laughs*
Igarishi: I cried. *laughs*

So you began serializing in a children’s magazine, a girls’ shoujo magazine and finally a young adult seinen magazine with Chobits.

Ohkawa: When I first thought of Chobits, computers were lacking in ability and the environment for them was still not good.
Igarishi: Computers would often cry “Error! Error!” but you would never know what the error was.
Ohkawa: And on that thought, if there was a computer that could think in words, that would be good. To be honest, I thought a cute girl character would be nice. Since the story had a little bit of adult content in it, we didn’t think it would be possible to work with Nakayoshi on it. Then when we brought it to Young Magazine, we received the OK. Since it was serialized with a seinen magazine at first we received a lot of letters from men, but somewhere along the way as the story’s themes began emerge the number of letters we received from young women began to increase.
Mokona: Among the men who wrote to us, there were some whose letters said, “this is so uncanny.”

Even taking differences of age into account, I think your readers so far have been mainly women, but when your audience changed to men, did reactions differ?

Mokona: While we were drawing Sakura, we received plenty of letters saying things like, “Sakura-chan is so cute!” but with Chobits a lot of the letters were devoted to desire. *laughs*
Nekoi: It was stuff like “Chii’s indecency is…” “The picture of disarray was good,” “No panty shots, huh,” and so on.
Mokona: We couldn’t help wanting to draw her with panties showing, but gradually the frequency of that decreased. Her last outfit was a slip dress. “If something happened, maybe her skirt would ride up,” or “if she got wet, it could turn transparent,” we were thinking. But we did no such thing… *laughs* We also wanted to draw her in negligee, but although we bought a lot of materials and sent memos of cute poses to each other, in the end we didn’t show that many breaches of privacy. *laughs*

Tsubasa & XXXHOLiC

With both Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE and XXXHOLiC being serialized in two different weekly magazines at the same time, isn’t it hard to keep up?

Ohkawa: The deadlines are. *laughs* But while calculating both story strands, depicting them is fun.

Do you divide up the work?

Nekoi: While working on XXXHOLiC, it’s as if pressure to draw Tsubasa is also building up.

You change design styles between each of your works, but Tsubasa especially has tended towards thicker lines.

Nekoi: The magazine’s printing was not very good quality, so at first the editorial department’s advice was “thin lines are too delicate, and tone will make scenes hard to see.” Actually they were kind enough to give us a printing test run, but as it was a total failure we decided to avoid using tone as much as possible. It was really difficult to print onto the colored paper of Weekly Shonen Magazine. Although XXXHOLiC was still being serialized in Young Magazine on white paper, so that was still okay.
Mokona: When we worked with the girls’ magazines we didn’t encounter anything like that. I think the linework we used in Sakura probably would have turned invisible in Shonen Magazine.

The works we had been discussing until now all had stories that were already decided. Is the story of Tsubasa decided as well?

Ohkawa: No, relatively speaking. *laughs* It’s our first time to go ahead without deciding the outcome of the last volume.

Is XXXHOLiC‘s story also undecided?

Ohkawa: XXXHOLiC is the opposite. As long as the episodes that link XXXHOLiC to Tsubasa aren’t completely transformed, the story won’t end. But Tsubasa isn’t decided either. *laughs* Since from the start, already we knew without having to think that somewhere in the middle of Tsubasa we would end up doing some country’s story that we had only just thought of.
Igarashi: Every time we would be stumped by the country’s name.
Ohkawa: I’m no good at thinking up place or character names. Even titles.

Then who usually thinks up the titles?

Ohkawa: Nekoi does. *laughs*
Nekoi: Not all of them.
Ohkawa: As for Tsubasa‘s title, being published in Weekly Shonen Magazine with a name like Tsubasa, wouldn’t you think the story would be about pilots or racers or even hot-rods? *laughs* That’s what we thought. And so, since we didn’t want an unusually elaborate title to become something that a young child couldn’t read, we settled with Tsubasa. But since it looked like people wouldn’t understand what the story was about with the title on its own, Nekoi came up with a subtitle, and we all thought, “that’s it!” *laughs*
Igarashi: Card Captor Sakura was also like that.

Is it also hard to think of character names?

Ohkawa: I’m no good at all. Take the troubling character of Ichihara Yuuko from XXXHOLiC, for example. We were always changing the kanji in her name, but it’s just the name of our nailist who takes care of us. I don’t think she herself knows. Actually, we would rather she continued not to know. *laughs*
Mokona: That would be scary. *laughs*

Do you often borrow names from familiar people?

Ohkawa: Yes. Since the names of our acquaintances actually occur in real life, they are easy to use. Don’t made-up names feel awfully artificial? In the past we always thought, “the kanji in these names are too elaborate!” but now, as long as there isn’t a reason not to use it, we’ll go with a name that doesn’t feel false. The people whose names we use might be a little upset by that, though. *laughs*

Since you use a lot of relatively complicated names, I wondered if you liked the process of coming up with them.

Ohkawa: That’s what a lot of people seem to think, and once we even had to come up with a name to give to a child. We were incredibly nervous. We decided on the name “Yuzuki-chan,” but after we had given it we made it a character name. [“Yuzuki” is the name of a persocon character in Chobits.] *laughs* Since Watanuki Kimihiro and Doumeki were characters with meaningful names it was a little different, but when it comes to characters that are unaffected by the core concept of the story, there really are a lot of our acquaintances’ names to be found in that category.

This is the Turning Point!

Tell us about the turning points that you have had in the last 15 years.

Nekoi: When we were drafting Kumara’s section in RG Veda, I was sticking screentone onto the sunset and I was thinking, “I feel like I’ve somehow had a breakthrough,” and “I think I’m finally getting the hang of sticking screentones.” *laughs* It was around the time when Kumara-tan hadn’t died yet and Ashura was teasing the young brides that I suddenly started to feel comfortable with what I was doing.
Ohkawa: For me it was during Karyoubinga’s part in RG Veda when her death scene was drawn.
Mokona: I was drawing the background of the underground city for Kumara’s part. The scene was very dark and since we were running out of time, I couldn’t take a pass, so I gritted my teeth and smeared ink there roughly with magic marker. Afterwards the editor at that time praised it, saying, “This is great!” and I thought, “You call that great?”
Igarashi: During the first stage of RG Veda, I poured all my effort into fixing the lettering on a single panel. I was so sleepy that I spilled ink all over! *laughs*
Mokona: But that was the moment you got serious, wasn’t it? *laughs* You realized it was okay for the ink to spill over as long as you could change it back. *laughs*
Igarashi: Exactly. *laughs*

Has the way you draw your works ever changed?

Mokona: It’s more or less the same. Still, it’s clear that in a certain sense our drawing methods changed with Tsubasa and XXXHOLiC.
Nekoi: Up until now, we had been drawing panel layouts for manga in which neighboring panels overlapped. But with both Tsubasa and XXXHOLiC, we began to separate all the panels in our layouts.
Igarashi: Also, there is a difference in the panel borders. Recently other mangaka (manga creators) have started drawing thin vertical borders and thick horizontal ones. Our Tsubasa started the trend.

How about the way your stories are created?

Ohkawa: For most of our works, I don’t tell anyone about the progression of the storyline before it happens. When Mokona realized that Hokuto was going to die in Babylon, she was so shaken that she couldn’t draw Hokuto’s smiling face anymore, and after that I stopped telling them about the plot. Ah, but since Chobits, I could tell them about it again.
Mokona: These days we switch up who works on the character design and the drawing, multiple people draw the characters even in the same work, and the one who drafts doesn’t always do the inking.
Nekoi: Even now our roles in the process aren’t terribly distinct.
Igarashi: In a truer and bigger sense, you might say all four of us are equal creators.
Ohkawa: And in a negative sense, we quit putting restrictions on our creative process. There are times when we can’t always decide on every single detail to our satisfaction, but even when that happens, I think it is different now. Of course, I think there is a proper way to plan and make decisions from the start. But now if an interesting idea comes to light, we wouldn’t say, “it’s different from our initial plan so we can’t use it.” We are more flexible.

Has the ending of Tsubasa also been decided?

Ohkawa: Yes. At this point, the story is taking a little turn as it heads towards the ending. Then again, Seishirou turned out differently from our original plans. *laughs*
Mokona: Yeah, at first Subaru was the one in that role.
Nekoi: The role of Syaoran’s teacher.
Ohkawa: When we met with our supervisor we said it would be Subaru, but as we were writing the script we changed our minds and went with Seishirou instead.
Igarashi: It was quite a shock for the artists. *laughs*
Mokona: It had been a while since we had last drawn a young Seishirou. *laughs*
Ohkawa: The change really was quite spur of the moment. *laughs* From an episodic standpoint, actually either of the characters would have been okay, but rather than draw “Subaru chasing somebody” a second time, drawing “Seishirou chasing Subaru” seemed to be a better choice.
By this point we had already changed our minds about several episodes, so some characters that were supposed to come out would not appear, and in some respects the story didn’t quite develop as planned. But this one time, it felt like the kind of experience when a “character moves of their own volition.” I haven’t experienced anything like that since. Wasn’t there another author who often said, “Characters move in ways I could never predict”?

If so, isn’t it possible for the ending to change too?

Mokona: Then what would become of the storyline established by all the prior scenes if we did that? *laughs*
Nekoi: Well, complete changes in story or protagonist do happen often in shonen and seinen magazines, after all. *laughs*
Ohkawa: But of course we hope unexpected developments would occur to us, too.
Mokona: Already we’re not just talking about Seishirou, we’re straying from the original question… *laughs*
Ohkawa: Sometimes I find myself thinking, in a good way, “if only I could draw out the story for a little longer…”
Nekoi: Right now we are keeping what we have already decided, though there is a rushed feeling about them.
Mokona: Right. If we end up hating it, we definitely won’t keep it.
Igarashi: Girls’ clothes, for example. *laughs*
Mokona: They didn’t used to be our strong suit.
Nekoi: But now we are okay with them.
Mokona: In fact, sometimes we even enjoy drawing them. *laughs*
Ohkawa: Recently I have been thinking that even if we made mistakes, or things turned out differently from how we said they would, it doesn’t matter as long as those missteps make the story more fascinating. Speaking for myself, if I became so constrained by what I previously made up that the story became dull and boring, it would be a shame.
Nekoi: I think, even if we are told “this is different from what you said,” or “this is totally wrong,” as long as we can admit honestly that “I did say that, but this is what I want to do now,” if we can present it that way it will be all right.
Mokona: I always thought, “going back on your word is super lame,” or “it’s a shame if we can’t do what we promised.” But then, human beings change, and it’s because we can change that growth is possible.
Igarashi: We couldn’t grasp this concept without fifteen years’ experience, after all.

In other words, even though the story is progressing according to plan, that could change if you think you want to go ahead with an interesting new idea?

Mokona: Even now when we deviate from the plan, it’s like “It’s the end of the world!” we feel so shocked. *laughs* But now I think this way: “Oh, I got it wrong. But everyone will forgive me, right?” *laughs* Thinking this way helps to relax a little.
Ohkawa: Whether everyone will actually forgive me after the fact is still tricky, though. *laughs*

To conclude, a message to our readers.

Igarashi: “CLAMP no Kiseki” (translated: “The Wonders of CLAMP”) is being published to celebrate our 15th anniversary. Read it and you may behold our journey over the past fifteen years.
Ohkawa: Certainly I would be too embarrassed to read it. *laughs*
Mokona: While writhing in embarrassment, we too want to look back on fifteen years.
Nekoi: Fifteen years have really flown by. *laughs*

Translated from Japanese by Dorotheian.


Interview originally published in Puff magazine (Zassosha), July 2004 issue, released on June 3, 2004. Original text available upon request.

If you found mistakes in this translation or would like to contribute with other translations, please contact me.