The image of an Afro-Brazilian named Marina de Melo do Nascimento graduating from the Tohoku University Master’s Program went viral in April 2021 and was a source of pride in Brazil, since the country has been ravaged by COVID-19 and the current political and economic crisis.
Nascimento studied the work of one of Japan’s famous feminist scholars, Kishida Toshiko (1864 – 1901), and her place of study is especially meaningful given that Tohoku University was the first university to accept women as students back in the early 1900’s. Nascimento is also known as Mmyoi and is the creator of The Bride of the Fox. The story is about a Princess named Nubia who accepts an arranged marriage on behalf of her little sister; but while waiting to meet her fiancé, she falls in love with a strange man with fox ears.
In an exclusive interview with Anime Feminist, Nascimento recalls how she became interested in manga and anime and how coming from a country with the largest Japanese diaspora influenced her life choices to pursue her dreams in Japan.
What got you interested in anime and manga?
When I was a kid there was so much anime being broadcasted on TV, so I used to watch shows like Saint Seiya, Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon, among other titles. My aunt used to buy me Japanese manga here and there because she always saw me watching anime (they cost around two dollars at the time). Since I didn’t have good access to the internet nor did the TV work really well, I spent a lot of time reading and re-reading manga and copying the drawings from them.
Which are your favorites and how have they influenced you?
I used to say to my family that comics molded my entire personality. They were my companions through most of my childhood and I loved Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon the most when I was a kid. Even though they are not similar in the slightest, the idea that I would be able to watch the next episode the following day was incredible to me. I used to write stories about my favorite characters and I think my mom still has my old notebooks. It was my way to pass the time. After that I started to read and watch Inuyasha, which somehow got me interested in romance-themed comics. Nowadays, my favorites are Utena, Fruits Basket, Akatsuki no Yona, Inuyasha, Yuri on Ice, and Hunter x Hunter.
Brazil has the largest Japanese community outside of Japan and you studied Japanese at a language school in São Paulo. Being an Afro-Brazilian woman from the impoverished neighborhoods of São Paulo, how were you treated at the school and in the community?
The Japanese community I grew up with were mostly Okinawans. My first part-time job was actually at a stationary shop run by a married couple of Okinawan descent. They always used to tell me to study Japanese, but when I started to look for a language school, one of the teachers didn’t accept me because according to them I had no use for the language. I had to wait until I entered the University of São Paulo to actually study Japanese.
This leads to my next question, how did you navigate the challenges of being a Black woman at the University of São Paulo and Tohoku University?
São Paulo University’s Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences Faculty is a very open place. You can find many people from the same background as me and overall the Black community is very active on campus. All of my friends also rode on the same long bus rides from Parque Dom Pedro I bus terminal, which is the only place that connects the east side of São Paulo to the west side, which is often known as the rich side of the city. Since the buses were always packed, we always had to wake up at 4am to get good seats in order to attend 8am classes. Transportation is extremely challenging for those of us that live on the east side, but for the sake of attending good schools we are willing to do it.
At the University of São Paulo, you studied feminine stereotypes in shojo manga. Why was this your primary focus and what were your findings?
The “Good Wife, Wise Mother” (Ryōsai Kenbo) ideal, was popularized during the Meiji period as a model for female education and during my research I noticed how that concept is still present in Japanese comics. The primary focus of “Good Wife, Wise Mother” was to turn female students into intellectual wives who can talk with their husbands and would ensure their children would get a good educational start at home. After WWII, shōjo manga gradually became more popular and was seen as a new way to tell different stories while also following major societal changes for women. Despite the progress reflected in shōjo manga, the “Good Wife, Wise Mother” ideal is still glorified and seen in comics like Black Bird. The protagonist, Misao, is a modern version of that ideal and after understanding her role in her husband’s family, she sacrifices herself to give birth to a son. Once she successfully becomes a mother and wife, Misao is considered to be a complete person with her family.
What made you decide to study at Tohoku University? What were the barriers you faced having to study abroad?
Tohoku University was the first Japanese university to accept women, so it was always my dream to come and study here. At first, I did not get a scholarship and it was difficult to pay for my tuition all by myself. I’m currently working two jobs as a teacher and I help at the university’s library once a week. I recently received money from an honor’s scholarship, which helps me pay my tuition and my overall survival.
It is not easy, but I am doing my best!
What inspired you to study Japanese history with a particular focus on the Japanese feminist movement in the 19th century? Why did you focus on Kishida Toshiko in particular?
As I became more interested in feminist studies, I decided I wanted to research feminists that were not particularly well-known. I was always more interested in the Meiji and Taisho periods, and I ended up reading one of Kishida’s speeches from the 1880s. I learned how unknown she was and decided to focus my research based on her work. I discovered that she was inspired by a British Suffragette named Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett and overall she was discussing topics that are still applicable to this day. In one of her texts, she argues that women are repressed for being more talkative, but it’s actually men that talk the most and exclude women from important conversations and we are basically treated like mere pieces of furniture during parties. I thought researching her life was interesting and timely since she lived 150 years ago.
You published your own manga series called “The Bride of the Fox”. What were your main influences for this series?
I love yōkai stories. My love for silver-haired yōkai came from Inuyasha and Kamisama Kiss, but the inspiration for my story came from Black Bird, Hell Girl, YuYu Hakusho and my favorite Ghibli movie, Spirited Away. I am also a fan of Kwaidan, a book of short stories that was translated by Lafcadio Hern’s, which also features many yōkai stories. I also try to mix African and Afro-Latin-American influences in “The Bride of the Fox” such as all the characters have Zulu, Yoruba or Xhosa names and all the buildings resemble architecture found in cities across Latin American countries. Nature is also present in my story because I grew up surrounded by it.
What was the creative process like?
My creative process is actually simple. I have a set of crucial scenes that I want to show for each chapter and I calculate how many pages I should publish for the weekly updates. I also always try to end on a cliffhanger for each chapter for added suspense. Having this in mind, I allow myself to make necessary changes to dialogues and scenes to adjust to my readers comments, but overall I keep the crucial moments in the series intact. I’m always open to criticism from my readers so that I can grow as a writer.
What were the difficulties in publishing your series?
Writing and drawing all by myself is really difficult. I have two jobs and I’m currently doing my PHD so I try my best to work on the story during my free time. Since I try to publish at least three to five pages a week, I try to condense the work to a maximum of one or two days, but sometimes I don’t have free time. However, the fact that I love my story and my fans give me so much support helps give me the strength to keep drawing. I also genuinely love drawing too so my busy workload is actually welcoming.
What are the main themes you hope fans will learn from your series?
The most important theme about The Bride of the Fox is respect. The antagonist, Dumisani, is a villain because he does not respect the female lead, violates her boundaries and does not take “no” for an answer. In so many romance-themed stories this behavior is often associated with the male lead, who is abusive towards women, but is still loved by everyone in the story and the readers. I tried to make my male lead, Taiga, someone who is not controlling or possessive and generally wishes nothing, but the happiness of the protagonist. I also consider self-respect to be another important aspect in my story. The female lead, Nubia, is always hard on herself and fails to recognize her qualities. This happens to so many Black women because we are crushed by racism and misogyny. We are taught to never see ourselves as enough, always lacking, to the point we give up and accept lower opportunities. Race is not something I mention in my comic, but learning to recognize yourself as a capable human being and knowing your worth is something I hope comes through to my readers.
What is the primary focus of your PhD research?
In my PhD research I am looking at magazines targeting teenage girls from the 1900s to mid 1920s in order to understand how they perceived life, love, gender roles, and beauty standards. What I am more interested in, is finding out if these magazines were places where transgressive ideas also showed up. Currently, I am focusing on how sexuality was approached, specially how romantic friendships between girl students were portrayed.
Is there anything else you want to tell our readers? What’s next for you? Where can people find you and support your work?
I’d like to tell people to support small creators and check out more stories by POC creators around the world. There are so many beautiful stories available to read for free on Webtoons or Tapas. If you have the chance to become their patrons, by all means do!