Hello from Manga Planet! We are an online subscription service for officially licensed Japanese manga as well as a website for news on anime, manga, and fan culture in general. We had the honor of doing an interview with anime song singer and voice actress Diana Garnet, who is a HUGE manga fan. In Part 1 of our interview, she talks about her background as well as her love for manga.
Hello! My name is Diana Garnet and I’m a Tokyo-based singer and voice actress for anime and games. I’m originally from Washington D.C./Maryland in the United States and came to Japan to pursue my passion.
I’m probably best known for performing Naruto Shippuden ending “Spinning World” or Meow Meow Japanese History endings “Thank you for the Music” and “Hello Again.”
Mostly, I just read all the manga and enjoy being a part of the anime and manga community. I originally started as a fan myself, so it’s awesome to have the chance to work in the field I love.
When did you get interested in Japanese culture or manga and how?
My dad was part of the first wave of anime fans in the 80’s, so growing up we watched anime together as naturally as if they were Disney films. I watched Star Blazers (Uchuu Senkan Yamato) and Galaxy Express 999 around the same time as Star Wars on VHS. We watched Ghibli movies interspersed with Balto and Lion King. It was years before I even realized it was anime. I just thought some shows were in other languages sometimes.
I probably first became aware of anime as a genre early in elementary school as I came to the realization people weren’t watching all the same things I was. There was a pretty harsh stigma about anime back then too, and manga was nearly non-existent.
It was also around that time I became obsessed with the openings and endings featured in the shows – the powerful 90’s female vocalists like Tamura Naomi and Hirose Kohmi with their flawless vibratos and astronomical ranges that became my ideal.
I wanted to learn as much as I could and be closer to the source so that I didn’t have to experience Japan through a filter or with a time delay. Streaming services didn’t exist yet, and the internet was young, so international content came to the West a few years later. What was brought over was very limited. Only a tiny percent of titles. This ultimately fueled my hunger to watch, read, or listen to as much as I could possibly get my hands on, regardless of my preferences. From then on, I would seek out anything I could about Japan in general. History, books, art, games – and of course – anime and manga.
Please share any memories you have of manga during your childhood. Which manga attracted you the most and why?
I think it was around junior-high that I started gravitating more towards manga than anime. Up until then, manga wasn’t really widely available – there were only a few publishers doing a small number of titles. Sometimes, art was edited or content abridged.
At that time they were flipped for a Western audience and often resized, so some artists didn’t want to license to the West in fear of their artwork being warped.
It was labor-intensive for the publishers as well, so books were rather pricey and the content was aimed decidedly towards adults and niche collectors. There were a lot of gritty or risque titles, but even so, I just couldn’t get enough and would raid my local comic shop as often as possible to search for new titles or the monthly magazines that ran manga. When I was 12 or 13, a ton of new publishers started picking up all kinds of manga. There were a lot of series aimed towards teenagers, girls, and kids coming out too. I saved all of my pocket money and got everything I could. When I was old enough, I even started working in a bookstore so that I could get them as soon as new volumes came out. Literally right out of the box.
The first manga I ever bought for myself was probably CLAMP’s Magic Knights Rayearth (volume 2, because my brother bought #1.) I must have been about 8 or 9?
To this day, that particular series (and CLAMP works in general) hold a special place in my heart.
That said, I’d say a series that was really a turning point for me was Asamiya Kia’s Steam Detectives. I didn’t really have a solidified “type” back then – I just read everything – but looking back on it, Steam Detectives is very much my type (and quite possibly the catalyst for the formation of my current preferences.)
To this day, I tend to prefer series with adorable, innocuously ingenious protagonists chasing dark secrets and hiding their personal pain.
I also really enjoy a steampunk aesthetic and a good mystery.
Unfortunately, the series was never fully published in English, so it also became my catalyst for learning Japanese as well. After a few years of searching, I managed to find the remaining volumes at an import bookstore and taught myself Japanese with a handheld dictionary so I could finish the series.
However, the manga that really changed how I looked at manga overall was probably Hikaru no Go. I tripped over it around age 13, around when the anime started (but I preferred the manga and read ahead immediately.)
I’d never seen art like Obata’s. It was (and still is) on another level. I’d never come across anything like it story-wise either; it was the first “sports manga” type I’d seen. It wasn’t until much later sports manga got a foothold in the west. Prince of Tennis followed soon after, but North America never quite got on board until recently. Not only that, but Hikaru no Go was about a game! Mind sports! And you could be a professional? Professional gaming wasn’t really a concept I’d heard of either.
Thinking back on it… Wow, the world’s changed.
Anyway, there’s an entire community, an entire world being accurately depicted in Hikaru no Go. Until then, none of this was even within my realm of possibilities. I had a vague familiarity with Go due to sheer luck (I’d seen the basic outline before via a family friend) but I’d never known the name, the purpose, or the really intense and intricate world it encompasses.
I was obsessed.
I mean, I’m pretty easily influenced in the first place; I started karate because I watched Ranma 1/2, I began playing tennis and joined my high school team because of Prince of Tennis, I started baking mountains of bread because of Yakitate! Japan; but nothing hit me as hard as Hikaru no Go.
In any case, I’d say because I came across this series, a lot in my life has changed for the better. It’s been there for me when I needed it. It’s made me a better person, and It’s ultimately connected me with so many amazing people.
I don’t know a single series that has changed an entire industry the way HikaGo has inspired, influenced, and enriched the Go community worldwide.
Other than those turning-point titles, I’ve reread Kei Toume’s Kurogane, Gaku Miyao’s KAZAN, and Yellow Tanabe’s Kekkaishi until they fell apart. Kekkaishi, in particular, is – in my opinion – literally the perfect shounen manga. Perfect characters, perfect setting, perfect intrigue, perfect ending. Perfection.
Do you remember any Japanese contents such as games, TV programs, Japanese songs, books, movies, food, arts, etc. that you watched, listened to, or consumed during your childhood?
Yeah, pretty much everything! I’d say the majority of my childhood was filled with Japanese media in general. My home was pretty balanced in what we consumed, so we didn’t lean too heavily towards one media over all others.
I tended to play a lot of fighting, platform, and JRPG games. On Wednesdays, my dad would come home from work a bit early and we’d either watch anime or play games together. The Street Fighter and Darkstalkers franchises, in particular, were some of our go-to’s.
On my own, I really liked the Suikoden, Final Fantasy, and the Tales of series. I also played Darkcloud 2 and .hack to death.
We didn’t have a ton of access to Japanese music outside of anime openings and endings (which would often become available as soundtracks when licensed, so we managed to collect quite a lot) but I remember buying my first J-pop CD. I think I was maybe 11 or 12 and it was my first trip to New York. We found one of the two (at the time) Kinokuniya stores in the USA, complete with a music section. I didn’t really know many artists outside of anisong, and I wasn’t really sure how to go about searching for them anyway as everything was ordered in Japanese (I couldn’t reliably find anything, as I had yet to learn hiragana) but a CD caught my eye. It was red and had a black cat on the cover. I was a pre-teen so I was a bit embarrassed by the name of the band though. It was Porno Graffiti’s first album, Romantist Egoist. I listened to it over and over. The flow of the songs was great – it really worked as a full album, rather than stand-alone singles – despite the fact that the songs played around with genres and sounds quite a bit.
I didn’t know it at the time (because we were still 2 years off from importing the series) but one of the songs, Hitori no Yoru, was the opening for GTO.
To this day, they’re my favorite band. I’m always happy when they have a new release – even more so when it’s attached so a series I love – and I enjoy how they never stop experimenting with sounds and picking up new influences.
As for food, we were lucky to live in an area fairly well known for our seafood (yay Chesapeake Bay!) so we had quite a few delicious sushi places in town. It became kind of a ritual to have sushi about once a month on the way home from Karate class.
After I studied abroad, I became completely enamored with Japanese curry, too. Luckily, our local Asian supermarket (Maryland’s famous “Korean Korner”) stocked the Vermont instant curry roux!
Is there any manga you are personally into right now?
I’d say that Aimoto Sho’s Kemono Jihen is my most favorite anything right now.
I don’t think I’ve ever come across a manga more exactly my type. It’s actually a bit dangerous how much I’m in love with this series. I swear the author must be my long lost twin or something because it’s downright unnerving how much this series is everything I’ve ever loved and needed in my life.
I have a serious thing for youkai series. That coupled with super well executed mystery elements, fantastic art, a fine-tuned balance between humor, blood, action, and character building, and we have a winner! The characters themselves are intriguing, purposefully flawed, but still adorable; not so unrealistically so they become unrelatable though. It’s cute, dark, well paced, makes me seriously feel for the characters from the get-go, and keeps me on the edge of my seat. There’s nothing that isn’t my favorite kind of manga.
I’m also surprisingly into Sono Bisque Doll wa Koi wo Suru by Shinichi Fukuda. I don’t usually go for romance, and in general I’ve felt that recently we’ve been bordering on too many “gyaru” type manga, but this one is far too adorable and well executed. More than it being a romance, a coming-of-age story, or even a surprisingly comprehensive how-to guide on cosplay and the cosplay community; it’s about the acceptance of one’s hobbies and tastes no matter what they are. To not take people at face value, and to have confidence in your passion. The characters are legitimately great children and I want them to be happy forever and keep loving what they love omg you guys are perfect never change. This series has punched me in the gut a surprising amount of times for what’s otherwise a relatively light, cosplay-based romance manga.
I’m also super into Misoshiru de Kanpai! by Sasano Sai, a cute series about Miso soup!
Even after all these years living in Japan, there’s one thing that’s constantly eluded me. I could never make delicious miso soup.
It should be easy, right? I mean, it’s a daily staple. It should be pretty straight forward???
In waltzes Misoshiru de Kanpai!. At its core, it’s an adorable, not-quite-a-romance coming of age series about two childhood friends innocently making soup together.
It’s got all the elements you need for a good story. Well-thought-out characters, good pacing, proper amounts of conflict, a dash of romantic interest, humor, and the occasional heart-wrenching scene.
It also holds the secrets to everything you need to make delicious miso soup!
This series started a miso boom in our house. We began collecting all kinds -red, white, even peanut – and getting fancy with dashi! Being a treasure-trove of delicious information aside, it’s a well-balanced, expertly crafted manga. Anything that can inspire you to learn more or try something new is great in my book.
What are your top three manga recommendations?
Of all time? That’s legit rough because it really depends…
Separating What I think is a masterpiece of art or storytelling versus what ticks my personal bias boxes is a huge struggle.
Manga I recommend to everyone though might be…
Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura. I recommend this title to literally everyone.
Not only is it often a surprisingly accurate portrayal of the time period and subject matter, it’s also a really, really well crafted, all-encompassing epic series with flawless storytelling, amazing characters, and painstakingly detailed art.
I personally enjoy this aspect of the series, but some arcs can be paced a bit more slowly than others, or linger on certain subjects or characters. I find it dynamic – like I’m really experiencing the lives of the characters with them. I think that flexibility, along with Yukimura’s ability to make the philosophies of the characters both at odds and in tandem with each other, amazing. It manages to be simultaneously humorous, philosophical, political, heart-wrenching, full of action and gore, peaceful, perilous, informative, hopeful, ugly, and beautiful all at once. It really makes you think about mankind’s potential for both violence and peace – hate and love.
After over a decade of me proclaiming it’s unparalleled greatness from the rooftops and swearing up down and sideways that it will one day get an anime adaption (to the point people around me definitely worried for my sanity,) it finally got one last year! The anime is great too, but the manga has character development and details you can’t get anywhere else.
On an unrelated point of bias: My name stems from the Norman invaders that conquered England in the 10th century, so this series holds some personal family sentiment for me as well.
Natsume Yuujincho by Midorikawa Yuki.
A series about an orphaned boy, closed-off and shunned by the world because he can see spirits, and how he learns to relate to those around him via the friendship and kindness of both spirits and humans.
This is another series that has a fantastic anime adaption, but I recommend reading the manga as they’re wildly different formats that hold different limitations and challenges in pacing and storyboarding.
Midorikawa’s strength definitely lies most in her pacing. She’s a master of portraying the characters’ emotions – even subtle fleeing ones – through her medium. The art is simple and somewhat inconsistent, but that only adds to the effect – you become completely trapped in her world.
The manga has been going for the better part of 15 years, and yet, it’s managed to stay fresh. It’s fun to watch her art evolve and her characters grow. Despite the fantasy setting, it feels organic. Reading Natsume Yuujincho is like being caught in a dream: Your sense of time distorts and you’re able to fully experience the characters and the world they live in.
This series never fails, even on the 8th time through, to both move me to tears and make me laugh out loud. It’s both light and heavy – a true storytelling masterpiece,
Lastly, Sahara Mizu’s Tetsugaku Letra is a manga I think everyone should read. This series – and Sahara Mizu’s works in general – portray human emotion so deeply and thoughtfully that it changes how you think about others, their pain, human limitations and potential, and how you interact with and see those around you. Her capacity for empathetic storytelling – for illuminating the complex emotions and fragile psyches of her characters – is masterful. Her willingness to tackle difficult subjects such as mental illness, dementia, eating disorders, and gender roles is refreshing and groundbreaking. Everything she writes is so thoughtful and engaging, and I feel Letra, in particular, has her talent for character building on full display.
This series will make you a better person.
What do you think of Diana’s manga recommendations? Is there any title you’d recommend to Diana? Let us know on our Twitter account!
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Official Website: http://dianagarnet.jp/
In Part 2 of our Interview, Diana talks about her activities as an anisong singer and voice actress in Japan! Click here to read!
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