Supposedly it’s a bad idea to judge a book by its cover. With this particular volume, however, doing just that is highly recommended. This is because the rich and colorful design on the outside is the perfect introduction to the varied and detailed tour of the fuzzy, furry, odd and wonderful Japanese mascots within. “Fuzz & Fur” is the second book about Japanese pop-culture icons by English brothers Edward and John Harrison. Their first book, “Idle Idol”, was a photographic guide to the inanimate figures which attract and greet customers outside Japanese shops and restaurants. “Fuzz & Fur” takes that premise and logically expands upon it by using pictures and detailed text to introduce the reader to a huge variety of animated, three-dimensional Japanese characters, basically guys in costumes playing fictional or mythological figures.
Here in the United States, at least, when you think of a person in a character costume, you typically think of a sports mascot, something like the Philly Phanatic or the San Francisco 49ers mascot Sourdough Sam. Or you see giant mice and anthropomorphic dogs, rabbits and ducks at amusement parks created by entertainment companies such as Disney and Warner Brothers. But that’s about it. However, in Japan fuzzy, furry costumed characters are far more ubiquitous, and are created and used for a wider variety of purposes than just promoting sports and entertainment. Japanese mascots are used to promote tourism, consumer products, government programs, and agriculture.
Since childhood, mangaka Natsume Ono harbored a deep fascination for Italy and other foreign destinations. She began drawing comics about them as a self-publishing dojinshi artist and eventually had the opportunity to visit the Italian peninsula in 2001. After nearly a year, Ono returned to Japan to start the web-comic La Quinta Camera. Her work was quickly noticed by the manga industry which lead to her start as a professional mangaka. Since her debut, Ono’s follow-up Ristorante Paradiso was a huge success spawning both a sequel and an anime adaptation.
GR: Critics often talk about the complexity in your narrative and your mature writing perspective. Some attribute it to your late start as a mangaka. Do you think starting your career at a later age affected the way you approach your stories and characters?
Natsume Ono: I’ve actually been drawing manga for a while. What’s considered my debut happened after I developed my writing style. So, I’ve been writing a little bit longer than is generally acknowledged.
GR: You were about twenty-six when you started drawing the web comic La Quinta Camera. When did you decide to pursue manga as a profession?
NO: So, I have been drawing manga as a hobby for a few years. I took a break from work to visit Italy for ten months to study Italian. When I returned, I found myself out of work. For nearly a year, I just continued drawing manga. I thought to myself, “This is what I’m doing anyway; I should try to do this professionally.” That was the first time I decided that I want to be a professional mangaka.
GR: You’ve mentioned that you studied abroad in Italy. How old were you?
NO: I was twenty-four/twenty-five. It was 2001-2002. Nine years ago.
GR: Did you travel all along the peninsula or did you stay in a particular city such as Florence, Rome, or Venice?
NO: I was in Bologna. Looking back I wish I visited other cities, but I was just in one city at that time. [laughs]
GR: A major theme in many of your works [such as Not Simple and Ristorante Paradiso] is the concept of travel. Can you discuss the way you use travel as literary technique in your work?
NO: This doesn’t answer the question directly, but I don’t really think about the “why”. So, I’ve never really thought about travelling or what it represents. Because to me, the character just starts moving. Then I look back and think what that might have meant for the characters to have done that. But there isn’t really a purpose when they start moving.
GR: Is it related to the Japanese concept of jibun sagashi no tabi (“a journey of self-discovery”)?
NO: I never tried to impose my personality in any of my books. It is precisely why I’m careful to keep myself out of it, so that common traits are developed which maybe represent something deeper inside of me. But none of it is done consciously. [laughs]
GR: More specifically in the manga Ristorante Paradiso and La Quinta Camera, I’ve noticed you frequently use Italy as the setting. What is it about Italy that inspires you?
NO: I have already been using Italy as a stage for my writing before actually going there. It’s really based on a childhood admiration of Italian culture. There certainly were Italian sports on television, and I loved the food. As a child, I kind of liked Italy and started drawing comics about it. Then I decided that I wanted to keep using Italy as the setting, but wanted to see it before trying it again. That’s why I actually went there so that it would make sense [in my work].