utomaru is an illustrator and designer who
dishes out eye-popping color and dazzling line work. Powered by generations of Japanese
subculture, ‘80s anime and manga, with a generous helping of American superhero
comics, her work feels nostalgic, familiar, and contemporary at the same time. Maybe best of all, her portraits of
imaginary cute girls come without cavets and are free of the pretention that sometimes bogs down
otaku-inspired art from Japan. The big picture is that a new generation is inheriting and remixing the past, and the results are close to literal eye candy as you are likely to get.
Please introduce yourself!
I'm utomaru. I'm an
illustrator and a graphic designer. Yuko Motoki is my real name but my friends
call me utomaru. It's been my nickname since I was 15.
When did you start drawing?
Probably since I was 4
years old. I began to study illustration and graphic design in earnest and
eventually went to art college and I began to do design for some minor rock
bands from when I was15 years old.
Tell us about one of your
favorite illustrations that you have done.
I always think my best
artwork is my newest one. Right now, I like my illustration of Iron Man (above) that
was created for an event flyer. But it is hard to show off proudly because it
is unofficial. Another one I like is an illustration of a girl wearing a rabbit
helmet. I painted it for the cover of the book by my and finished it the day
What are some of the influences
on your artwork?
My father was my biggest
influence. He owned many magazines, comics, and movies from the 1960s to the
1980s, and they greatly affected me. He didn’t dare give them to me, but they
were always put in a position where I could see them and handle them.
Do you have any favorite films,
TV shows, or books you can mention?
It is a very difficult
question. Stanley Kubrick's “The Shining” is special to me the way it is for
many other people.
Also, I like the movie
director Teruo Ishii. Often to relieve stress from school, I would go to
Japanese grindhouse theaters and see his films. I also like flashy movies that
have cruelty, monsters, and lots of explosions.
I know that American superhero
comics are among your favorite things. Can you explain why you like them so
I think, it was slow.
That is from 18 years old probably. I have read Japanese magazine about
American comics called "MARVEL X", and also I have found "INFINITY
GAUNTLET". It's soooo amazing! It was trigger. Few years later, I read
Watchmen that has been republished to fit the movie then and I was shocked
Your illustrations have a
strong 1980s flavor. What is it about that time period that appeals to you?
A lot of movies and
Comics in 1980s are very energetic, violently and flashy. (Is it just me or is
it really so...? Probably some are sober but I love something extreme.) This
are my favorite. I would like to recreate the atmosphere of those.
Why do you think you mainly
draw pictures of cute girls?
Because it's cute! Cute
girl is the best motif than anything else. But, to be honesty, I also like boys
or old man. However I just have not had a chance to draw until now.
Your use of color is one of the
most striking things about your art. How do you choose which colors to use?
It's not a natural
ability. I alaways make color selection mechanically based on hue, saturation, and brightness. Because I studied it in
school. I think anyone could do it.
Please tell us about your brand
Bangkillporn and how you are involved with it.
I began Bangkillporn in
May of last year with another illustrator named Superlog. We are illustrators,
but because we didn’t necessarily have a lot of work, we came up with Bangkillporn to be kind of an advertisement for ourselves.
What does the word
"otaku" mean to you?
The meaning of this word has
become lighter now. But, but in the truest sense, it means few people who are
familiar with everything. An extremely small number of them are around me.
What is your image of American
Everyone is good at First
Person Shooters! Why? Because they have guns?
As the current Era of Warring Idols gathers momentum in
Japan, it seeks out new hosts around the world, mutating and evolving like a
hungry virus in order to survive. In recent weeks, we’ve seen the bizarre
“B-pop” inspired shenanigans of Brazilian-Japanese idol unit Linda III Sei.
Now, the girls of hy4_4yh (pronounced “Hyper Yoyo”) have set sail for Indonesia
and a new frontier in hyperactive sound.
Safeguarding their passage into these strange lands is DJ Jet
Baron, aka Mandokoro Takano, formerly of pioneering Japanese nerdcore group Leopaldon.
Ever on the hunt for bad taste and Asian trash culture, DJ Jet Baron
eventually tuned into the obscure Funkot (“funky kota”) scene happening in
Indonesia based around terrifying 180 bpm music that some house music pundits have compared
to Happy Hardcore. Back in Japan, Jet Baron became a prophet of sorts, holding
sweaty Funkot parties at his Acid Panda Cafe club in Tokyo and getting the
music out to the masses via appearances on TBS Radio. Funkot became something
of an underground sensation and took up roots in Japan, which have now borne strange
fruit and even stranger outfits...
Formed in 2005, Idol unit hy4_4yh (above) were already a crazy and
borderline uncontrollable bunch of zany girls to begin with (their live gigs are particularly exhausting), but now they have sold
their souls to Funkot in their new song and video “Ticckkeee Operation ~ YAVAY”, arranged by Jet Baron, and the results may just have you thrashing about on the floor and frothing at the mouth.
The song makes much use of the word YAVAY (which most people just
Romanize as “yabai”, but whatever… ), which the official hy4_4yh ministry of propaganda claims, “is a new Japanese slang. It's an adjective which means more than
CRAZY, COOL and ILL.” The video makes use of the only three known locations
that can visually match the fury of the wild Funkot beat: the synapse frying Tokyo
Robot Restaurant, the streets of Shibuya, and the Acid Panda Café itself.
Where Japan will go next in search of new sounds and gimmicks
to mine is anyone's guess, but know this: the Era of Warring Idols has gone
global and the prognosis is YAVAY.
Future generations will
look back on the current Era of Warring Idols (アイドル戦国時代) in pure wonderment and stark terror. Maybe there
will even be memorial buildings and military museums filled with hundreds of
bizarre and sparkly girl’s dresses hung up behind bulletproof glass, along
of autographed relics, and interactive
“survivor’s tales” from fans and performers alike.
The war’s inevitability will be one of the major study points for
visiting students, and how,
short of going back in
time to prevent the invention of the microprocessor, there really could have been no way to stop it: the Rise of the B-Grade Idols.
The flashpoint occurred the moment that indie producers
latched onto affordable tech which made it cheap
and easy to create idol music, idol promo videos, and, of course, idol groups. AKB48’s and Perfume’s marches out from the otaku underground into the mainstream helped to map out a new world,
and “Idol Units” became the coins of the realm.
It’s been this way for years now: every month, a new indie idol group comes down the line, buzzes up
the Japanese net for a bit,
and gets a shot at either becoming some kind of next big thing (Momoiro Clover Z
occupying that spot now) or remains stuck in idol limbo with regular gigs and maybe -- if they are lucky -- a TV theme song or two.
Either way, the idol scene is now crazier
than a cuckoo clock (neophytes
would do well to investigate BABY METAL, Team Syachihoko, and 9nine for proof)
and you either dig it, or you don’t.
I’ll be writing up a
piece about idol audiences later on (with a particular emphasis on
female fans, who have been totally ignored in the Western dismissal of idol
culture) but to these eyes, it’s like pro wrestling: you can either hoot and holler at the dumb show biz spectacle or take great offense to it. The line is drawn, and for some doubly so after the recent AKB48 “apology
video” scandal, but most "Japan pundits" probably stood on the sanctimonious side of
disapproval already. Even so, I have a sneaking feeling that history will sort
it all out for us and get the last laugh. Pop eats itself, and in 20 to 30 years, people will be “discovering” old indie idol gems much in
the same way that people
continue to “discover” obscure kayokyokusingles today. But seriously, why wait for an expiration date when
Linda III Sei is happening right now?
Pardon the long preamble and background set-up on
B-grade idols, but I think it is
necessary to try and explain how something as
spectacularly odd as the new idol unit known as Linda III Sei (リンダIII世) could even exist in the first place.
Let’s look at what we got here: Linda III Sei is five girls, ages 11-14, bound together by their
background as third-generation Brazilian-Japanese living in Gunma Prefecture. As a bonus to their
presumably working class backgrounds (Gunma is one of Japan’s major manufacturing centers, and has
a large, decidedly non-prosperous, Brazilian populace), they were hand picked by the fickle finger of fate to be idols performing near the exit signs at electronic
stores like Yamada Denki in Ota city (below).
Their official bio claims
that their sound is “not K-pop, not J-pop”, but “B-pop” influenced by Brazil’s Baile Funk party scene. But in truth, the
group’s first release, “Future Century eZ zoo” (未来世紀eZ zoo) is an ear
bending Frankenstein monster of auto-tune settings, 8-bit sounds, some English and mangled Japanese, that bravely remembers to include
a full-on samba interlude on the bridge. The result is something strange and shockingly new.
The song’s stylistic mash-up is the sonic equivalent of the inexplicable outfits the girls are forced to
wear: steampunk tops, medieval torture straps, tattoo tights, and sneakers. Again, we are in
the realm of indie producers, and the ones behind the scenes here are said to
have worked on songs for Johnny’s boy band V6
and some anime themes. But everything goes out the window once you see the video for "Future Century eZ zoo", which first erupted two weeks ago.
Linda III Sei look like
they put together hours before the video was shot; dance like the choreography
was taught seconds before. The sheep and chickens probably just wandered into the frame. I get the same feeling I get from Wassup Rockers, Diane
Arbus pics and early Harmony
Korine films: “I am gazing at something that cannot possibly exist, but the
world is so fucking weird that I guess it must”. The only major misstep in a
work of otherwise synapse rattling chaos, randomness, and literal darkness are the zombies. Is
there anything more plebian and ordinary than zombies at this
Lots of questions begin to whirl about, and the group is so
new that there’s just not a lot of answers. But decoding names can turn up some
clues. As mentioned before, the girls in the group are third-generation Brazilian-Japanese,
hence the name “Linda the Third”. Also, the girls have said in interviews that “they
want to steal fan’s hearts”, just like anime/manga anti-hero Lupin the Third,
and their use of a familiar-looking retro font for their official logo seems to
hint at this connection. And would you believe that Terry Gilliam is also part
of this goulash? His 1985 film is known as “Future Century Brazil” in Japan (未来世紀ブラジル), a reference
that bonkura fans will immediately pick up when considering the title of Linda III
Sei’s first single.
Either way, identity
politics and outsider status are the key to Linda III Sei’s gimmick and
could effectively be mined by academics for days. For others, the Brazil-Japan connection will be about as culturally enlightening as a drunken night out to a Philippine Pub. The Japanese net is intrigued for
now, and their facebook and YouTube pages are swarmed with comments in Portuguese. While it is unlikely that you will see them on NHK's Red and White Singing Contest anytime soon, seriously, how often
do you see Brazilian-Japanese people in the
spotlight, even one as wobbly as this?
Call it exploitation, call it trash, call it pre-apocalyptic performance art. It's a motherfuckin' ZOO and future history will
call them IDOLS.