Interview with Keiko Nagita
On the occasion of the release of the first novel of Candy's adventures, "Candice White, the orphan", the author Keiko Nagita, the writer of the original manga under the pseudonym "Kyoko Mizuki", was the guest of the Pika editions at the Paris Book Fair 2019 which took place from March 15 to 18, 2019. I had the honor and privilege of doing an interview with her on Saturday March 16 at her hotel. Being a huge fan of Candy for over 20 years, you can imagine my happiness and excitement to meet the person who wrote the story of the characters that made me dream so much. I would like to thank again Mrs. Keiko Nagita and her agent for giving me their time, as well as Clarisse and the entire Pika Editions team for giving us this unique opportunity, and all my friends from the Bulle Shojo staff for their support. I was so nervous that I stammered my questions a bit, but Mrs. Nagita and her translator did an extraordinary job with very detailed answers.
It is a real pleasure and honor for me to be able to carry out this interview with you. Can you briefly introduce yourself and recall your career journey for the new generation of readers who would discover you with the novel?
Keiko Nagita: From a very young age, I wanted to write novels for young girls, novels that I adored such as Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna or A Little Princess. I often wrote in my corner and at 17 I got an award in a magazine that published this kind of novels. Then at 19, I was able to make my debut and had my first publication of a novel for young girls.
A manga editor spotted my first published novel and offered me to write a manga script. Back then, in Japanese manga, there were a lot of stories going on abroad and we could write stories in universes we wanted. So, I wanted to do the same. So I wrote a lot of manga scripts that were happening in countries I had never been to, such as Finland, Germany, Italy and the United States. The country that has appeared the most in my manga scenarios is France.
The publisher I used to work with was very fond of girls' novels himself and one day he said to me : "It would be nice if you write a manga script like the novels you love so much, like Anne of Green Gables, Daddy-Long-Legs, A Little Princess. ". And so for a long time I thought about how I could adapt this type of novels for manga. It seems easy at first but it turned out to be quite difficult because in this kind of novels it's always the same concept. It is about an orphan to whom a lot of terrible things happen but who fights nevertheless, never gets discouraged, remains full of life... It was very difficult to write something that was completely original and new. By continuing to write manga scripts, I met Yumiko Igarashi, who made very cute drawings. This meeting was made because the publisher proposed that we work together and I thought it might be interesting, and that's how Candy was born and it was a great success.
Hitherto, Yumiko Igarashi had never drawn mangas that were happening abroad and had a rather sober style with her stories that happened in Japan. I wondered how she was going to express a story that would happen in the West. As Yumiko Igarashi is a very talented designer, I was looking forward and was hopeful about the drawings she was going to propose and she put a lot of effort into achieving this result which I really liked.
And so, at first I started with novels for young girls that I loved to write, then it was more fun to write manga scripts so I've continued this for 10 years. Then I stopped and now I'm working as an author of teenage girl novels. It was a little long for a presentation. (Laughter)
No, it's very good, very well detailed (laughs). Actually, that answers one of the questions I wanted to ask: why did you choose a story that was happening in the United States and Europe rather than in Japan. And so, if I understand well, it is because it fascinated the readers at that time and also Mrs. Nagita?
Keiko Nagita: Yes, exactly. Today novel authors in Japan can freely write stories that happen abroad but at the time it was much more difficult. If a Japanese author wrote a story that was happening abroad while she had never been there, she would have been asked why she was doing it. So, this type of stories that was happening abroad with Genevieve or this kind of characters, was only possible in manga. And it amused me a lot to wonder in which country the next scenario was going to happen.
It seems to me that you have already come to France to write the end of Candy's manga years ago. How do you feel about coming back here and what are your impressions of France in general?
Keiko Nagita: Actually, after writing the last chapter of Candy, I came back several times but it's true that the writing of this last chapter had become something very distant in my memory but now, while coming back to France, it's as if all of a sudden it came back to me very strongly as a memory in my head. It is a very strange experience, as if I had traveled back in time.
At the time, I do not really know why, but I decided that I would write the last chapter of Candy in France. I went alone while I did not even speak the language. I think today I would be too scared to do that. I took a train to a place called Luynes and then I took a bus. Really, I do not know what took me (laughs). In Japan, my whole family was worried about me.
You were brave indeed...
Keiko Nagita: My editor told me, "But why going so far, can't you make do with a hotel in Japan?". (Laughter)
What prompted you to write a novel after all these years? What was your feeling during writing?
Keiko Nagita: Actually all these years, I did not think about Candy, or rather I was trying not to think about it. Forty years ago I released a rewritten version of Candy in a novel based on Candy's script which was 2000 manuscript pages. This had been reduced to about 500 pages for a child readership. But in fact this version did not please me too much. A publisher offered me to release the pocket edition of this novel. On this occasion, I reread it and in fact I thought it was what I thought, this version did not please me. It was a script rewriting for children and I thought it was not possible to release it as it was and I wanted to cancel this release in pocket edition.
So, I wondered why this edition did not please me and I understood that it was because Candy had grown up, had evolved with me. She had grown old with me and in my imagination we continued to communicate together and so I knew what life Candy was leading once the manga was over, I knew what had happened to her without being able to write it. Often, after finishing writing a story, the characters do not leave my mind. I wonder what they have become and I worry about them. Especially since I tell stories of separation and I worry all the more about what they have become. They are a bit like the members of my family. Of course, for Candy that was the case too. One day, miraculously, it was as if Candy and the others came to talk to me. I heard Candy whisper in my ear that if this version did not suit me, why not rewrite their story. So I started to recall since the moment Candy had been picked up. Lots of images that have reappeared in me, like Slim's painting.. And since I had been wondering for a long time what the characters had become, the writing was done in a very fluid way. I could write the story very easily.
However, I had promised the publisher that this novel would last two volumes but if I wanted to write everything I wanted, it would have taken more than 10 volumes. So I had to ask myself a lot about what I was going to keep, what I was going to cut, what I was going to choose. As there have been several cuts, I do not know if this may have disappointed some readers but finally I was happy that they could imagine in their mind what could happen. Throughout the writing process, I felt like I was walking in a dream and I was really very happy. I did not face problems at all, it was done very easily and in an instant I finished writing this long story. It was almost as if it was not me who wrote it, as if Candy and the other characters had written for me.
Regarding the manga, as it was published in a magazine that was intended for a very young readership, there were a lot of restrictions and I was told that it should not be a story too adult or too complex. There were a lot of things that I wanted to write but that I could not do in the manga, especially in the last part, and I think that the fact of being able to write it in the version of the novel is also a relief for the characters themselves who are probably more satisfied that I was able to write their story as I wanted it.
The end of the manga's story, is full of revelations but it's also a little frustrating not to know if Candy will find happiness, especially in love, or with whom. The fact that we discover her as a young married woman in the novel is a relief. Did you choose this ending for the manga from the start? Weren't you afraid of the fans' return and their expectations?
Keiko Nagita: I told myself there was a risk that I would disappoint some readers but the concern is that in a series of manga, everything does not depend on the will of the authors. In series, if at the end of one or two volumes the series do not meet with success, the publishers ask the authors to finish it quickly. So the authors think about a story making sure that it can be concluded at any time so I only wrote the main lines of Candy's story, without knowing how many volumes it would last. But it turns out that from volume 2, it was a huge success and the publisher told me to continue as much as I wanted. So I played with a huge freedom in the ideas I brought to the script. But the story ended within these broad lines that had been imagined from the start. In reality it would have been necessary to close this part and to open a second chapter for the continuation. It would have been ideal but it would not go too well with Candy's drawing style, which is a very cute style, to develop Candy's story as an adult. To put it bluntly, it's not very credible that Candy at age 30 still has her ponytails and keeps her look. At the time there were also no magazines where it would have been imaginable to publish such a sequel to Candy who became an adult. That's why it did not happen.
Is there a character you prefer or one you are most attached to? Among the couples that fans love - Candy / Terry and Candy / Albert - which one do you prefer?
Keiko Nagita: My favorite character is Candy. In terms of couples, during the whole writing process, I did not stop feeling sorry for Terry, I thought poor him and at the same time I thought that Albert was really full of charm and my heart was pounding while writing (laughs). It's something I could not express in the manga. Yet the readers themselves, they had felt it and I wonder how they did it. And to answer your question, I think it's up to Candy to choose between Terry and Albert, I do not know (laughs). Sorry.
Do you follow shoujo manga today? What do you think about them ?
Keiko Nagita: I really like manga and I read a lot. But from my personal point of view, the shoujo manga is disappearing. Why do I say that? It's because we no longer have all these stories that happen in universes we do not know, far away, as in the past, stories that happen on a much larger scale, in a world that we do not know. I find it unfortunate that today's readers have a very reduced point of view. At the same time, in video games, we have a lot of fantasy stories with stories happening in completely foreign worlds. I think it's great but at the same time I think there is a bit too much. It's always the same thing, we talk about Final Fantasy for example, there is a little bit too much (laughs). And to get back to manga, I hope someday we will come back to a time when we can describe much richer universes. Then, I do not know if this phenomenon that I see today is due to the readers, if they are the ones who do not want to read this kind of stories that happen in unknown countries, or that they are not given the opportunity to read this kind of stories and finally their point of view is getting more and more reduced. I do not know. I continue to search for quality shoujos in works that come out. Whenever I meet publishers I ask them if they have recently discovered an interesting shoujo and the answer is always no. This is the same observation in the novels for young girls. The topics are always things much closer to everyday life, the theme of bullying, abuse, parents who commit violence on their children... This reduces the point of view and I find it a pity. And I hope that one day will come back when we will be able to find stories that happen in larger universes.
Interview done for Bulle Shojo website. Special thanks to Mrs. Keiko Nagita and her agent, the interpreter, and the entire Pika editorial staff.