By Rini Lestari (Kagoshima)

She was ditzy, she was lazy, she was bad at schoolwork, and she cried about every little inconvenience—but she was also brave, had a talking cat, and wore a hella cute battle uniform. She will punish you in the name of the moon and I was HOOKED. Like a lot of little girls in the late 90s, ever since I met Sailor Moon on my TV screen when I was around six or seven years old, I was enchanted by her. Maybe it was her personality that resonated with me (I was also a crybaby and academically average at the time), or maybe it was because of the fact that despite her flaws she was able to kick butt and become a very capable and brave person over time. I think that most of all, it was her world that sparked something within me. Her world was sparkly, shiny, and magical! Her world had cute girls! Her anime world ignited my curiosity. I wanted to know more about this magical, two dimensional world from Japan. Ever since then, I fell deeper and deeper into the anime rabbit hole. Growing up, watching Pokemon, Naruto, and One Piece with my brother every morning before school while we had breakfast became a ritual. I looked forward to watching an episode of K-On! on TV every Friday evening. Reading anime fan fiction on my school computer became an almost daily routine. Anime had seeped into my normal life, and as an artsy person, it naturally became the biggest inspiration for my art as well.

I don’t remember exactly when I started drawing, but after dipping my toes into the sparkly world of anime and manga, art became a bigger interest for me. Shortly after watching Sailor Moon for the first time, I remember drawing something in an anime style for the first time. It was a seven year old’s interpretation of Sailor Moon. It was shaky, it was cringe, but my mother said it was cool so it must’ve been good, right? It was the first time that I saw an art style that I liked and applied it to my own art practice. I felt like I was leveling up my art.

I also started becoming interested in manga around this time. I grew up in the hectic city of Jakarta in Indonesia before moving to Australia. Jakarta had no shortage of translated manga in their bookstores. Indonesian manga and anime nerds like myself were spoiled for choice. My parents would buy me random volumes of shoujo manga they thought I would enjoy at the time. And I would find my brother’s Dragon Ball and Doraemon manga volumes around the house as well and I would non-consensually borrow them. I remember looking at these black and white pictures on the pages for hours. I would study how these lines made the shape of their eyes, and how some strategically placed lines would form dynamic action scenes. The big eyes, pretty characters, and sparkles that made up their world drew me into the world of anime art even more. The heroines of these shoujo manga were beautiful and stylish. The characters in my brother’s manga were dynamic and wacky. I wanted to draw characters like that too. After studying them, I would try to replicate them myself. A habit I never grew out of, looking back on it now. My replicas of these characters were shaky at best, but I was so proud of them at the time! Growing up I was always praised by my peers and the adults around me for my drawings, and so, little me kept on drawing and I loved doing it. 

After watching Cardcaptor Sakura when I was little, I longed to rollerblade underneath sakura trees on my way to school. So, like a lot of nerdy kids that are interested in anime and manga, my interest in Japan increased as well. In 2019, I entered the JET Program to teach English in Japan as an Assistant Language Teacher. I was sent to the ash-covered city of Kagoshima in southern Kyushu, and now I am nearing the end of my five-year appointment. I’ve had many good times, I’ve had many bad times, and I’ve received plenty of nihongo jouzus. But more importantly, I’ve had valuable experiences that contributed to the development of my own art style and cemented my love of art. 

I fell out of love with drawing for a few years during my time in college. The community around me had all of a sudden shifted from supportive to “maybe you shouldn’t do that.” The same adults who praised me for my art now told me to focus on more “important”, “practical”, and “realistic” things. You can’t make a living out of art apparently. Then depression hit too hard, and so for a few years I just didn’t want to draw. But after coming to Japan, I fell back in love with drawing again. The reason, funnily enough, was because of how unfulfilling this job can be sometimes. I knew before coming to Japan that teaching wasn’t for me, and after coming here, I definitely know that teaching isn’t for me. Japanese work culture says that teachers still have to come in to work during school vacations even though there are no students to teach. That means there are very long, very dull, never-ending stretches of desk warming during school vacations. To put it in anime terms, I came to Japan expecting a beach episode (fun, with maybe a little bit of frolicking) and what I got was a filler episode (dragged out, unnecessary to the plot, and with a lot less frolicking). Being cooped up in the office for so long doing nothing made me think, “Why AM I here?” It wasn’t to sit in this office chair and play The Sims all day while I pretended to work, that’s for sure. “Do I want to stay feeling unfulfilled and useless for the rest of my life?” Hell no. And so when I got home after a long day of telling my Sim family to eat and sleep so they don’t die, I longed to return to the thing I actually loved doing: making art. I bought my first real digital art equipment with my adult money and started drawing again for the first time in years. The long stretches of desk-warming, among other reasons, made me know for certain that I wasn’t meant to work in this sort of office environment. That salaryman office life just ain’t it. So I kept on drawing, determined to upgrade my art skills so I would never live this office life again once I’m done with my appointment on the JET Program. I think I am drawing more now than I ever have before. 

The relationships I’ve made during my time in Japan also cemented my love and deepened my relationship with art. Many of the other ALTs, colleagues, and local Japanese friends I’ve met in my time here are also talented artists. Being able to meet other artists, especially ones from a different walk of life, was very valuable for me. Now I can see firsthand how other artists work and how they’ve kept their creative passion alive while they navigate this sometimes rigid world that we’ve found ourselves in. I came from knowing almost no other artist friends to now knowing so many other anime artists, musicians, digital artists, writers, photographers, and painters, plus someone who made a life-size paper mache alien doll thing for fun. Many of my students at the junior high schools I have taught at are also massively talented artists at just 12 to 14 years old. It blows my mind that these talented kids are even considering becoming anything BUT artists when they’re older. I know that they think this way because their adults most likely told them the same thing MY adults did, that art will never be a viable option. I would’ve liked for someone to slap me when I was in the same position my students are in and told me to pursue art from the get-go, but then I wouldn’t have met the people I have met in Japan. I would’ve been a lot sadder if I had never met all of these people, and probably been less inspired to keep working hard on my art. Life works in mysterious ways. Maybe I was meant to experience this filler episode. 

After meeting the people I have met, and experiencing the canon events I have had in Japan and back home, I feel like I have leveled up my art immensely. These experiences have inspired me to keep making art, and led me to develop my own art style over time. If I had to describe my art style now, I would describe it as “modern retro.” I aim to convey the feeling I had when I first fell in love with the anime world by capturing that hazy, nostalgic look that all old anime seem to have, combined with the sparkles and magic that I fell in love with all those years ago when I was only six or seven years old. I still make fan art of my favorite characters like I did when I was younger, only now it’s more cutesy, pastel, and soft. I want to create the feeling that you’re viewing my art with nostalgia goggles.

Now that I’m nearing the end of my appointment in Japan, I am more determined to pursue art full-time. I’m not getting any younger, it’s time I behaved like a shonen anime protagonist and got stronger to pursue my real dreams. When my time in the JET Program ends, I hope to open an online store and sell my art prints among other things. I hope to also table at anime conventions and sell my art in person. Despite the sometimes dull work life, I’ve enjoyed living in Japan very much. The end of my time in Japan is frightening, but I’m also hopeful about what’s to come in my art career. 

I think it’s about time my filler episode ends.

Rininta Lestari is an Australian fifth-year JET based in Kagoshima City. She loves art, anime, and pink things. You can find more of her work on her instagram: bunny_skull_scribbles.