Kaori Yuki is a pen name used by the horror manga writer and artist who says Kaori is part of her real name. Yuki began thinking about creating manga in elementary school because she liked to draw. She started publishing in the Japanese manga magazine Hana to Yume in 1987 and rarely appears in public, saying she likes to live like a hermit, though she has traveled to places like London and Germany to do historical research for her series.
Yuki seems to be working constantly; her Twitter feed is updated almost daily with drawings from her works in progress. She’s worked on many shorts and series, including Devil Inside, Angel Sanctuary, Earl Cain, Godchild, Boys Next Door, Blood Hound, Ludwig Revolution, Fairy Cube, Grand Guignol Orchestra, Demon from Afar, and Alice in Murderland.
Yuki can’t envision her life without drawing and writing manga. She doesn’t have to go search for motivation; it just exists inside her. She says, “It’s not even a question of motivation—it’s obvious: I am a mangaka, so I draw manga. It’s a bit of a chicken and the egg…I do not see what I could do other than mangaka. It’s not even imaginable for me…I don’t have anything if you take away manga.”
Most of Yuki’s influences come from the Western canon. She’s drawn to Grimm’s fairy tales, stories from the Bible, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass rather than Japanese stories. Yuki explains that for her, “it’s simply because that is what is foreign and is not understood intrinsically.” The Western influences for Japanese are “more exotic and mysterious,” she says. “That’s the allure of Western culture for me but also for many Japanese. What they say in fairy tales or the history of France and elsewhere, it seems really mysterious to us.”
As a woman, Yuki found it hard at first to make it in the manga world until she found what she truly liked working on and then a readership followed. “It’s true that when I started, I did not manage to sell my manga well. One of my colleagues—an older mangaka—made the following reflection: ‘Frankly, with this type of stories and designs, you’ll never sell.’” This shocked Yuki at the time, so she tried her hand at more traditional stories. “I tried to get into romantic comedy, and I proposed several stories in magazines, but it did not work,” she says.
She had her breakthrough when a magazine asked her to do a series. “The first chapter had not really been appreciated, the second a little more, and from the third, we finally got better reader response,” she says. “It turns out that this miniseries was rather dark in the genre, scary, and my editor at the time said, ‘It’s that kind that you should do.’”
Much of Yuki’s work is historical, and she likes to get the details right, but there are added complications when she is trying to accurately represent a time period visually. “I try to find books myself, and I also ask my publisher to collect data on the time, on who had a particular culture,” she says. “What is complicated is when there is not a lot of accurate data on the time visually. Even if there are drawings, all this was arranged to the taste of the time and does not necessarily reflect reality, so I had to put my own ideas in finally.”
When Yuki sits down to draw and write, she has certain materials she likes to use, and she’s not a big fan of color. She likes Pilot’s art ink because it “dries fast.” For color, she prefers Canson paper with color ink, and uses pen and mechanical pencils for the main lines. Yuki says, “For the drawings, I try to draw it from different angles, but it doesn’t work all the time. I also pay attention to design and layout, but it looks really bad when it’s done. To tell you the truth, there aren’t much colors that I like. I really suck at this.”
Yuki’s titles feature a lot of strong women characters, who are often seductive and evil. Yuki says she’s drawn to many different types of women. “I love female characters who are strong, and perhaps even more than the male characters. Their strength lies in the fact that nothing is holding them. For me, there are really many kinds of female characters that seem attractive. There may be a sexy woman, charming and with a big chest; the little girl who needs to be protected but has a big mouth; the girl full of energy that looks like a tomboy…”
Yuki tackles a lot of dark themes in her work, such as incest, which she believes is easier to get away with in a manga, where the characters are obviously not real. She thinks, “It’s okay if it’s a film or a manga. They should wear a condom—I’m joking.” But because the subject isn’t approached a lot, Yuki says, “It doesn’t happen, so I wanted to write it.”
Sometimes her work has become so twisted and controversial that magazines have censored it or asked her to change the story. Yuki says, “The themes of murder or incest, they are not problems for magazines, as they are among the favorite themes of the readers of shoujo manga.” It’s when she’s visually portraying murder and sex where she’s run into trouble by pushing it too far. “If I start to draw a particularly horrible murder scene, sometimes they ask me to change a little,” she says. “This can especially be a problem: how to show things. The sexy scenes, I’ve always wondered what is the limit in shoujo manga. I do not draw too much to avoid the problems, but it really is a question I ask myself: How far can we go in the description of a sex scene?”
To get ideas, Yuki likes to immerse herself in music and the world around her. She says, “I put on my Walkman and go for a walk. Depending on the song, sometimes I am crying as I walk so I don’t notice the people or a cat in front of me. I get surprised when I almost crash into them. I’ll probably get run over by a car one day.”
The music she listens to comes from her high school days and includes Culture Club, Animotion, Talking Heads, Tears for Fears, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Billy Joel, Kate Bush, John Howard, Peter Gabriel, the Cure, David Bowie, and the Pet Shop Boys. “The musicians that made me during high school,” she says.
She’s also influenced by many Western movies, as well. When asked to list them, she mentions a lot of teen classics, as well as horror films. “The Legend of Billy Jean, Picnic at the Hanging Rock, Sid and Nancy, The Dead Zone, Paperhouse, Pretty in Pink, The Hidden, Heathers, Phenomenon, Salome, Gothic, Torch Song Trilogy, Fright Night, Lost Boys, Aliens…There’s more, but I’ll stop here.”