Translation: Asano Atsuko interview from the No.6 Guidebook
September 21, 2011 2 Comments
Asano Atsuko talks about her inspiration for the themes and the characters of No.6. What I personally like are her musings on politics and about the rigid lines that we tend to classify society by.
reference: Asano Atsuko, 2011, No.6 Complete Guide, Kodansha, pp.90-97
The state*, the individual and No. 6
[*The “state” (国家) that Asano-sensei is referring to here isn’t something like e.g. the state of California, but rather the governing apparatus of a country, i.e. the politicians, parliament and the bureaucracy that implements all the laws and policies.]
ーWhat was behind the birth of “No.6”?
After the terrorist attacks in America on September 11, 2001, I spent some time pondering the relationship between the state and the individual. America is a big country where countless people live. And yet, in that large country, a small number of terrorists appeared and brought about such a huge disaster (lit: incident). Whilst I was thinking about the meaning of that revelation, the following question came to mind: what can individuals achieve against something so large as a state? I wanted to try asking myself that question by writing a novel (series).
And just at that time, I was invited to create a work under the YA! Entertainment label. On the one hand, I had this heavy theme – but I also wanted to write an interesting story, and I thought I’d be able to do that for an audience of young adult readers.
ーWhat was the first thing that came to your mind?
In most cases, when starting a story, the first thing I think about is what kind of characters I want to write about. From that, I start to see the themes and the story that those characters set in motion. But for “No.6”, I started with the theme of “the state and the individual”, which was slightly different from (how I began) all my other works. Expanding on that theme, I decided to write a story about an autocratic state crumbling and moving towards rebirth.
ーWhy did you set it in the near future?
With that setting, I thought that I’d be able to write what I intended.You might say that it’s a sci-fi story set in the near future, but I didn’t intend to write it as sci-fi.
ーWas there a model for the utopic city of No.6?
The suffocating atmosphere of No.6 is, I think, similar to that of Japan. (From the outside), Japan may seem like an ideal country: it has water and sewerage systems, public transport runs on time, you can get anything you want as long as you have money, and it even has social security. But despite all that, there are people around me complaining that “it’s sometimes hard to breathe”. I myself felt something chaining me down when I was a teenager, and I find myself wondering why, in this country, roughly 30,000 people take their own lives every year. Even though we are so blessed, why is living so difficult? To confront that question, I needed a city that was extremely repressed.
ーSo that suffocating atmosphere you felt was the model for No.6?
I think you can say that, because with September 11, I felt a sense of suffocation as well. Wasn’t there an atmosphere that made it difficult to say things like “I want to know what the terrorists are thinking”, or “Are they really evil?” Even if you wanted to discuss it, I think there were many people who detached themselves from the problem, as if saying that “terrorists are different from us”, or “it’s something from another world”. But I want to think about it without that detachment. (In the end), the struggle to prevent myself from being swept along by the thinking of those around me became the strength I needed to develop this story.
Shion and Nezumi
ーHow were the two main characters born?
Because it was to be a “YA Entertainment” series, I decided that I would have boys as my protagonists. Once I expanded my image of a world in the near future, two boys came to my mind: one who lived within the state, and another who lived alone. One that knew nothing, and another that knew everything. Something like ‘light and dark’, you could say, that’s how Shion and Nezumi were born as such contrasts. But even though they are complete opposites of each other, rather than regarding each other with hostility, they’re drawn to each other. But from that (sort of) relationship, it turned into me just wanting to write about the two of them.
ーFrom an adult’s perspective, their relationship is rather mysterious.
It’s not just restricted to male characters – I rather like writing about relationships between people of the same sex. When you write about opposite sexes who are drawn to each other, you typically end up with them falling in love, or (becoming) husband and wife… To a certain extent, there is a fixed ‘template’. But if you write about people of the same sex, a relationship that you can’t express with words like friendship, comradery, love or hate is born. I think that there is great value in writing relationships where you can’t draw lines like that. Between Shion and Nezumi is a ‘unique relationship’ born of particular conditions and particular experiences, something that only they have. I wanted to write it because I wanted to know what that relationship would be. Of course, such ‘unique relationships’ can be formed between people of the opposite sexes too. It’s not like we get ‘mass-produced’ feelings whenever two people meet. But I really feel that what’s really interesting to write about are the ‘original’ feelings that come from relationships between people of the same sex.
Karan and Safu and their impact on the story
ーNext, I’d like to ask you about Karan’s parental feelings and Safu’s love.
I was able to write about relationships between (guys) because its something I don’t know, but for the heart of a parent or of a young girl in love – they’re feelings I can write about from my own experience. Especially in Karan’s case, I think a part of myself really came through. The feelings that Karan holds towards Shion and Lili, rather than a process of creation, it was like I was simply bringing out what was in my own heart.
ーWhat do you think of Karan as a woman?
She’s a very mysterious woman. At first, even I felt that she was “a foolish mother”. Although she felt that something wasn’t quite right in the life she was leading, because she was able to live without any loss of freedom, she didn’t try to find anything out, and didn’t even know what she didn’t know. A part of me is like that too, so I ended up putting my own feelings into her – at times, I put too much of myself in. But even she, who had been “a foolish mother”, started to fight. Relying on her own feelings and on her brains, she came to value a way of life that protected the people you care about with an illogical love.
ーSafu, too, loves illogically, doesn’t she?
I wrote/introduced Safu into this story, a story dominated by boys, because I wanted to add the essence of girls to it. I wanted to write about a girl with a strong/dignified presence, a girl who loved straightforwardly. However, at the start, I didn’t think that she’d be so deeply involved. I assumed that I understood how a girl would act. But Safu sometimes does things contrary to my expectations. For example, at the correctional facility in the 9th volume, when she cried in front of Shion, it shook me to the core – I was like “Aah…she ended up crying”. What happened to Safu in the end may be rather bitter, but it was really important for the story.
From September 11 to March 11: Speaking of Miracles
ーWhen you were writing the final volume, the Touhoku Earthquake occurred.
I was actually meant to finish the manuscript by February, but my struggle with that delayed it into March, and (we) met with the earthquake. The quake itself was a natural disaster, but the response to the later issues at the nuclear power plants had me once again thinking about “the state”, just like September 11.
ーThat’s a pretty big coincidence, isn’t it?
I did wonder about the timing. I even thought that, if there was some kind of meaning to the coincidence, it was because I’d written a half-baked answer (to my question). From the time I started writing the story, I had an image that “No.6” was a story that I’d end with ‘destruction and rebirth’. But because of the March 11 quake, the reality that there are many different paths to rebirth was brought home to me. Within the world of “No.6”, for example, the ways that Shion, Nezumi and Yoming see rebirth are all different, and it’s impossible to pick any one way as “the way things should be”. However, in order for the story to end, it was essential for some kind of rebirth to start. Those two problems – how to end the story properly, and what kind of rebirth should I write about in the end – I was doubly shackled by these two weights simultaneously hanging over me.
ーBecause of the Touhoku Earthquake, what readers take from “No.6” will certainly be different.
With a great danger in front of you, when you are confronted with difficult individual decisions…I wonder if writing the following kind of story to contemplate the world is an appropriate response. You could make the story the end of your questioning as well, right? Saying something like “let’s all do our best”, or “let’s support each other”, taking each others hands and standing up – as long as you do that, a happy renaissance is waiting for you. I think it’s possible to take heart from a story like that. However, I think that another kind of story is necessary.
ーYou mean something asking about how rebirth should be carried out, right?
No matter how may tens or hundreds or years I take, I don’t think I could pick out “the one best way” for rebirth. However, precisely because it’s impossible to do so, I think there’s value in writing (this kind of story). In the last volume, I suggested what my present self could do with all my might.
Destruction, Rebirth, and…
ーWas there anything you were thinking about as you finished the last volume?
I was surprised that No.6 (the state), which was that fearsome, was so fragile. With just a little internal pressure, it was easily destroyed. Until I wrote the 9th volume, I thought that No.6 would not disappear as long as Fennec and the doctor (the man-in-white), the two tyrants controlling No.6, remained undefeated. However, as I was writing, I realised that what had to be defeated wasn’t either of them. They were just a small part of the state – it wasn’t them alone that was holding No.6 up.
ーIn that case, who was holding No.6 up?
The people who didn’t even try to find anything out, who didn’t even try to find out why they felt suffocated. As a result, they thought of themselves as victims, but in reality, they were intimately involved. It’s the ignorance and indifference of the citizens that gave the rulers their power. If the citizens don’t change, No.6 will never disappear. in the end, I realised that the thing known as “the state” is not something different from “the individual”, but rather, it’s the collective of “the individual”.
ーIs this the answer to the question you posed at the start, about the relationship between the state and the individual?
I don’t know if you can say that I’ve given an answer. Even now, I am not confident that I really brought the story to an end. However, I am glad that I was able to create the story of “No.6”.