Special Interview with Mariko Shimizu

"I've always liked absurdity."

Let's begin with your favorite author.

I like Yasutaka Tsutsui and Masahiko Shimada, as well as Mariko Ohara and Ryu Murakami, amongst others. I find it amusing how in Ryu Murakami's works like "Popular Hits of the Showa Era", he pointlessly and violently kills off characters as soon as he's bored with them. Masahiko Shimada is more difficult to read, but I like his stories about strange college students... Around that time, I think it was about 2 years ago, he wrote "From a Penal Colony with Love" and I remember becoming very moved by works about school life for awhile after that.

Do you read any foreign novels?

I haven't read very many. I read some very basic classics a long time ago, like "Gone with the Wind" in junior high. I hardly ever read them because I can never remember the character's names. Translations of conversations, especially in American novels, are full of American humor and it always makes me feel like yelling "Just get to the point!!" (laughs).

Is there anything else that has influenced your work?

Shoujo manga has had a large influence on me. My favorite series is Akechi Shou's "Manager" series. There are always themes of rewarding good and punishing evil with a decent amount of absurdity mixed in. Its worldview is always interesting and cool. Of course, I also enjoy Moto Hagio and Ryoko Yamagishi. I'll avoid naming names, but I dislike works that have the mentality of a spoiled child. I've never been a fan of disingenuous scenes where characters cry whenever things get rough or some kind of messy situation occurs. I prefer works that are more 'out there'.

On a completely unrelated note, do you like "Evangelion"?

I put the effort into giving it an earnest viewing, but I just didn't like Shinji. Even putting Shinji aside, I still didn't really like it. The large amount of detail and effort that went into it is very apparent, so that aspect was interesting at least. In the recent production of it, I enjoyed the sudden flashes of light during scenes of destruction because it created an atmosphere akin to a theatrical drama.

Do you watch many films?

Yeah, obviously I enjoy movies (laughs). If pushed to say, I think I prefer Japanese films over Hollywood. I'm a fan of Takeshi Kitano and Tarantino. I also enjoy Kinji Fukasaku, especially his productions with strong aesthetics like "Promise". As for historical films, it's weird how they always open with a picture scroll. Every time I sit down to watch one, it's like "here we go, anooother picture scroll", but they're enjoyable anyway (laughs). I work in theatre, so I enjoy dramatic things.

Please tell us about the kind of plays you're involved with.

The current one is very similar to a shoujo manga (laughs)... but it has a dry feeling to it. The setting is very intricate like "Baroque", but the story is more the kind of thing you'd find in Shonen Jump.

"In my theatrical troupe, I write and produce screenplays."

Incidentally, how many people are there in your theatre troupe?

To be honest, strictly speaking I'm not an active part of any troupe. I'm more of an independent producer. However, there are always people I regularly work with. There are roughly 5 or 6 people at the core, plus people we recruit here and there along with guest actors. One of them was Mr. Fuji, who was a designer for "Baroque". I remember him saying that he was going to be very late for a rehearsal because he had an interview at Sting. Around that time we were nearing the end of performances for our current production, and they had been searching for someone to write a story for them. So Mr. Fuji introduced me to Mr. Yonemitsu who was in charge of "Baroque", and they hired me to write a prologue to the game. It was an amazing coincidence, because the female characters in the play that Mr. Fuji and I were involved in at the time were named Eliza and Alice, just like the characters in the game.

"Beware of spoilers."

Can we talk about how you approached the job?

Yeah, sure. I was wondering when we would get around to that.

Were there any kind of instructions from the production team regarding the concepts for the story?

No, I only had an incredibly vague meeting with Mr. Yonemitsu to go over the basics at the very beginning. I started working on the story based on the few development details I had been given. There were more meetings along the way of course, so that I could better synchronize with game elements such as Grotesques and the Malkuth. It was also Yonemitsu's idea from the start to have the story take the form of an email conversation between two people. I didn't really think that would work out as a device if it was used more than one or two times, but Mr. Yonemitsu said he didn't really care what I did, so I just wrote whatever I wanted to. Of course there were strict checks to remove game spoilers, but we rarely disagreed on the story contents outside of occasional comments on the composition.

Did you create all of the characters yourself?

That's right. Other than the Malkuth Order and the Grotesques, all of the characters were thought up by me and named after characters and actors from the productions my theatre troupe have worked on. It felt like getting to write one of my dramas while playing around in Mr. Yonemitsu's world. I mean, I was consciously writing it as a novel, but the content was written in a way that would have made for an interesting play. That's why the scenes I write often begin when characters enter a setting, and end when they leave it. I'm always thinking about when characters who have left the scene will reappear later, or if maybe all the main characters can come together 3/4 of the way through the plot. Personally, I tend to think in very theatrical terms.

Was there anything that made it especially difficult to write a "Baroque" novel?

Unlike novelizations released after a game's launch which have to focus somewhat on game mechanics, this story was serialized before the game had been released. As such, I had to be careful of spoilers. However, because I was allowed so much artistic freedom, "Baroque" didn't provide any major difficulties. I wasn't sure how complex to make the narrative though. If it's too straightforward, readers will get bored, but they'll have a hard time following it if it's too complex. Once the outline of the story had been agreed upon, I decided to find a middle ground and proceed by introducing concepts in small quantities.

I think it's easier to comprehend than the game is.

I think Mr. Yonemitsu may have also felt that way. Even though it hadn't been released, I was able to grasp the game's basic elements fairly easily, but I had to find ways to work around the strict no spoiler policy. I'm still not sure if my interpretation was correct though. I hope everyone who plays the game will enjoy what I wrote. However, there will inevitably be people who don't think it fits the game (laughs). The Tarantella Melody, for instance, probably doesn't appear anywhere in the main story.

"She's certainly an appealing character."

So, who was your favorite character and who did you enjoy writing the most?

I like all of the characters, but I'm partial to Kitsune. He's the narrator every week, after all (laughs). Thinking about it however, I think Ruby was the most fun in the end. In regards to details concerning the game elements, since the protagonist is essentially the reader, it was difficult to describe their personality or appearance... It was an interesting story to write because it's a supporting character writing the story rather than the protagonist. As for Kitsune, there is no description of what he looks like at any point during the story. Instead we get a lot of minute details about Ruby, such as her thin eyelashes or her wide eyes. The Ruby from the play that she's based on is a lot like that. Wide eyes, petite, delicate limbs, and an unexpectedly developed chest, she's certainly an appealing character (laughs). You can see photos of her on the theatre troupe's home page.

Do the characters in the story have personalities similar to their theatrical counterparts?

Ruby is similar. By that I mean that I think their basic character roots are similar. Suzume's name and character were taken from two different people, and there are some similarities such as his twisted personality. How an actor has played a character inevitably rubs off on my perception, but my vision for characters is an idealized one not based in reality. In the case of Fumi, he was originally written as a pretty boy but ended up being a more human character when depicted on stage. This time, I wanted him to be a character that just wants to indiscriminately watch the world burn.

Would you like to write another story with these characters?

There are many parts that could be expanded upon, so if the situation arose, I'd like to give it a shot. The old guy playing straight man to an impudent young girl is a great set up... It's an arrangement that just works. Kitsune is in his late 20s, so he's a little mature to be the protagonist of a novel. For that reason, the people around him are mostly younger boys and girls. The protagonist's friend (Suzume) is also an older guy; I think I just prefer adults and older men. I've got my raincoat on Uncle... (laughs)*.

*TN - I couldn't figure out what she was referencing here.

When you were writing the novel, were you conscious of the fact that most of your audience would be people who played games?

I was aware it wouldn't be targeting grown women and that I needed to write about cute girls. When you age something up for women, things start getting a little weird. When you target adult men instead of boys, younger readers can still enjoy it, but the atmosphere seriously changes in fiction made for adult women. Anyway, during a meeting with Mr. Yonemitsu it was decided that the story should begin in a relatable setting like a school. From there we would gradually advance toward the other side, so I was always thinking about how to get closer to "Baroque". There was talk initially about going with a incident report format, but we decided not to because the readers may not follow the story unless there was a main character actively moving the plot forward. As this was a side story, however, I wouldn't be able to depict the actions of the game's protagonist. We decided to go with someone like a fortune-teller, who people could bring things to in order to find a solution to their problems. It wasn't what we had been expecting, but it made the scenario interesting.

"A strange shop for troubled boys and girls"

Did the Baroque Shop originally have a motif?

It did not. Everyone was just writing down minor details trying to decide on something. 'Who is the main character again?' When we were thinking about things like that, we decided a private investigator wasn't very interesting, so we went for a different occupation. In horror manga, I feel like the owners of strange shops always turn out to be demons. Since this is a strange shop for troubled boys and girls, they have to sell secret items there. So even though I never concretely stated anything about it, I think I may have been working with that sort of atmosphere in mind. Since I was writing it largely by myself, around that time I started to see the world around me like Kitsune does. Even outside of "Baroque", I think there are a lot of people who see themselves differently from how they actually are. For example, if I'm wearing a brand name dress and I think it's beautiful, other people might just pay attention to the frayed threads and wrinkles in the fabric. I can't do anything about my face or figure, but at least I can iron my clothes (laughs). People find reality unpleasant or unacceptable, so they enter a world of their own making where those things don't exist...
I wonder if that means I should get an iron instead of going to a Baroque Shop?

Please enjoy my novel.

Would you feel up for writing a sequel?

I suppose the story is over, as it's now synced up with the "Baroque" game. As such, I think I'd want to try using the characters in a stage play. In the case of spin-offs, I feel that they're human dramas that work very well on stage. I think a sequel would be possible if it were in such a format. I could be on board with it even if it were published in novel format... probably? (laughs) If I were to write it, I would like to consider who would play the leading roles, as well as how to include things I couldn't the first time around because of spoiler restrictions. But anyway, I hope people who played the game will enjoy my novel as well. Seriously (laughs). I'm not very assertive when it comes to explaining my work, so I hope the readers enjoy it however they wish. I don't want to say that whatever I think is the correct answer, so please draw your own conclusions as you read.

Have you gotten any interesting reactions from readers during the novel's serialization?

I haven't received many, but someone did write me to say that they were looking forward to playing the game because of my story, so that was nice.

I would liked to have seen their reaction after they played the game.

I agree. I think I did a good job for an outsider coming into the project. That's not to say I think what I wrote was a big deal. I don't think it should have as big of an impact as the game itself does. I hope that clears things up.

So, what are your plans for future work?

I'm working on a novelization of a game called "Natural", but there's sexual content so please don't read it unless you're over 18. There's also our theatre troupe website, so if you're interested in our work, please come and visit us.

Thank you very much for speaking with us today.

Thank you very much.

Translator's Note: The bottom of the article reiterates a summary of Mariko Shimizu’s career and provides a link to the website of her theater company "Girls' Fairytale" (http://ddi.digital.net/~ruby), accompanied by a photo of Ruby and Kitsune's real-life counterparts. The website is no longer online, but can still be accessed via the Wayback Machine.