Mana-sama Speaks, Sort Of: An Interview with the Eccentric Visual Kei Star
When visual kei artist Mana's global legion of fans refer to him as Mana-sama, it isn't just a cute nickname. The Japanese honorific is a term of respect more than endearment. After reading and listening to scores of devotees invoke his name, it might be a sign of adoration too, like the mastermind behind Moi dix Mois and former member of Malice Mizer resides on some higher plane, which, in fact he might.
The one-named J-rock icon isn't even typical by rock n' roll standards. He's a frontman who doesn't sing, a celebrity whose fashion line has not ended as one big failure of vanity and a rock star who will never try to convince you that he's no different from the common people.
Nearly three hours after the start of Anime Expo's press junket on Wednesday, almost twenty minutes after I was led to the room where we were supposed to chat, Mana finally arrived. I was asked to leave the room shortly beforehand that so that he could "get comfortable." I was also asked not to take photos, as Mana was not in his stage clothes.
He came down the hallway flanked by people, a few handlers and the convention team members who were trying to make sure that everything went smoothly. When I was led back into the room, he sat by himself on a large sofa. Off to the sides were a representative from his label Midi:Nette, two translators and what appeared to be a personal photographer.
Even without the elaborate, goth make-up and cumbersome dresses that have become his signature, often-copied style, one could still tell that this was a guy worshipped by many. His hair -- long, jet black and clearly flat-ironed -- hung artfully over his face. He dressed in items from his popular clothing line Moi-même-Moitié, black pinstriped pants and a black shirt that was unbuttoned about a quarter, maybe half, of the way down. He never removed his sunglasses, never smiled and rarely spoke in anything above a whisper.
Although I was sitting across from him, he never looked directly at me, always sitting with his face cast to the side, feigning disaffection. For fifteen minutes, we went back and forth between English and Japanese with the translators. All I managed to learn were things that befit an over-the-top rock star who essentially invented the Gothic Lolita look. It takes about six months for him to produce a Moi dix Mois performance, creating the costumes and choreographing the band's moves. He's inspired by Notre Dame de Paris, Bach and ballet, although he couldn't say which ballets he liked best. He enjoyed traveling through Europe to see old castles and Leonardo da Vinci pieces. He doesn't really read novels.
After fifteen minutes had past, I left the room knowing nothing and everything about the musician. In an age where the barrier between entertainment producers and entertainment consumers has been nearly eradicated, Mana still lives by the rock star code. Maybe illusion is better than reality.
Moi dix Mois plays Anime Expo at the LA Convention Center today at 3 p.m. Mana will make another scheduled appearance at the convention Friday at 1:30 p.m.