Tea Drinker. Cat Collector. Introvert bordering on absolute hermitude. Gamer. Cosplayer. Anime fan of 27 years. When he's not partaking in the standard authorial clichés or neck-deep in the newest JRPG, he's drowning his stories in sarcastic satire and metaphor with a healthy serving of adventure and sometimes a dash of romance. Still a stealthy dabbler to the world of published work, he's currently scheming his inevitable conquest. You can keep up with his world domination and his animal minions at @zimriazz on social media.
What anime/manga/light novel inspired your short story?
The characters and story actually originated as Yu-Gi-Oh! original characters for a Yu-Gi-Oh! spinoff fan series created by an old friend and I during our freshman year of college. The story never went anywhere much further than character creation and setting, but both those things drew elements and influence from Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's and a bit of character influence from Yu-Gi-Oh! GX. So suffice it to say that the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise was where it began. When given a chance to revitalize the story and its characters and transmute them into something new, I kept the inspiration of the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise, but I also drew from themes and elements of sports anime such as Haikyuu!!, Free!, Sk8 the Infinity, Welcome to the Ballroom, and Kono Oto Tomare (even though many of those team sports elements wouldn't show up in this first short), along with the exciting transformation sequences often featured in super sentai shows like Ronin Warriors, Saint Seiya, and Power Rangers or magical girl shows such as Magic Knight Rayearth, Princess Tutu, and Sailor Moon.
What was your process like for writing this story? Did you have a specific idea for the ending or a theme you wanted to write around?
This story's creation was actually a really unique process for me as a writer. To use the old bits I liked and make them work within the world I wanted to, I had to create an entirely new game/sport that would have the same function to the world as what I'd had before. So the creation of an original game that would actually make sense was something I'd never done. It was simultaneously fun and incredibly difficult. Aside from the game itself, the characters, their backgrounds, and how they meet already existed as bits and pieces, then I had to adjust character motivations and delve further into characters and worldbuilding. So while most of the process wasn't much different from the typical process of exploring and polishing characters and ideas, the creation and smooth integration of an original game/sport into the story was a unique and exciting first for me as a writer!
As for endings, the ending structure of this short basically came with the genres I chose. The card game anime, super sentai, and Saturday morning adventure anime genres all have a habit of introducing the characters, world, and end with a battle of sorts against a rival or minor antagonist to establish the conflict and the manner of combat as well as establish the characters' strengths. The themes, while they also aligned with the anime genres I chose, already existed in the characters and their dynamics. Even with the lack of established story beats we had almost fifteen years ago, Chirikawa's past and how she ended up where she is was one of the first things I had attached to her character. Likewise with Ikkou and Takuhei. So the themes of cultural manipulation and control, poverty, and dreams not being what you expected have been there since the beginning. The story's skeleton had already been laid out years ago, all I had to do was fill it in naturally.
What was your favorite part about writing this story? Was there anything challenging about it?
My favorite parts of writing this one are probably being able to explore these characters and their interactions along with creating and implementing the game/sport of Moshbattle. The former was a long-awaited opportunity that only stoked the desire to bring further explore these old benched characters I'd never had an excuse to be able to use. While the latter was one of the most fun aspects, it was also one of the most challenging. No one could call me a big participant of party games, much less a sport! So creating one from scratch was a monumental task for me. Hours of research and studying styles of dance and figuring out how to implement those into the sport. Formatting Moshbattle rules to where the movements, dance genres, and mechanics all worked in tandem like a well-oiled machine (or at least an attempt at one). It's like an addictive and tremendously difficult logic puzzle.
Do you have a favorite sentence or quote or paragraph from the story?
It's a tough decision, especially since most of this story is based primarily on establishing world and characters and I haven't gotten to a point where I felt I could fish out some good lines, but I do really like Takuhei's line "You wanna see the sewer rat dance for his life, don’tcha?” Takuhei and Aramu's dialogue were both especially fun to write. However, a certain moment involving the unfortunate fate of the seams of a certain electric blue cat shirt seems to be a memorable favorite among my friends and editor, and I can't say I disagree.
Can you tell us about one character in the story? Any insights into who they are as a character that we didn’t get to see in the story?
All the characters have insights and tidbits we don't see in the story, so if I were to choose one character to share something about without approaching spoilers, Chirikawa Arjet might be the most interesting place to start. While her first name "Arjet" is strange enough to the public that most assume it isn't the one she was given at birth and can only be written in katakana that spells the name out, her last name is written with the kanji for "dust" and "shell". She's a very private person who lives by herself, but the state of her home suggests some strange habits. A great deal about her mental state can be inferred from this alone. Her condo is perpetually messy, but the clutter is all generic comfortable clothes and pre-made food wrappers, even though she can cook and her drawers and closet are filled with colorful clothes that haven't been worn in years. She keeps her communication lines open with the people she cares about, but she hasn't talked to most of them in a long time and she doesn't talk to new people voluntarily. Chirikawa is a character who lets her actions speak for her, even if doing so can create misunderstandings. While she loves cats and would be allowed to have one in her condo, she remains alone. Her favorite music is old jazz. While she never speaks of family, she doesn't appear to have a steady job but never seems to need money. Thus is the only information that can be currently revealed sans spoilers.
Can you briefly share about your other works? Where can people find you if they want to read more?
I have multiple shorts in a number of anthologies, including "A Kind of Death" and "Aphotic Love", that feature stories about love, its essence, and its heartbreaks, including two of mine, one loosely based on Beauty and the Beast with a twist on fairy tail tropes and the other a genderbent retelling of Hades and Persephone. I also have a short in the upcoming "The Heights We'll Fly to" featuring a wingless fairy before her arranged wedding and a devotional in "Finding God in Anime Vol. II" about, what else? Yu-Gi-Oh 5D's. I've also released two shorts on Go Havok and wrote for a currently-hiatused short webcomic on Webtoon called "Jenski." I'm currently at work on my debut novel, a trilogy, and a collab novella with Beka Gremikova. Links to most of my stuff can be found at http://linktr.ee/zimriazz or @zimriazz for most socials.
The sport of Moshbattle is an important element in your story, and it was an incredibly intriguing one. Where did you get your inspiration from?
Moshbattle had a number of different origin points. I needed something that would serve the purpose of extracting human energy as a power source like Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, but I needed it to make sense physically. I needed it to have the feel of Yu-Gi-Oh!, but also believably be a sport where celebrity players would be determined by a honed skill instead of something that could be easily taught or rely on luck or plot armor. Something not just anyone could do. I still wanted to implement monsters like most card game anime but I wanted it to be realistic in the idea that you couldn't just buy a booster pack from the corner store. So the idea of using DNA as a catalyst for creating monsters came into being, as well as the need for a physical skill to be the sport more aligned with sports anime. In sports anime, particularly the good ones, skills are honed by practice and when another team or player is more skilled, it's a legitimate threat or even a loss that makes sense realistically. I also wanted something where I could have a range of diverse characters that perform the sport differently and be interesting without becoming monotonous. That's when shows like Welcome to the Ballroom came to mind, right alongside 15 years of watching talented dancers and dance-offs at anime conventions. Thus the idea of using dance as the sport's activity began to percolate. The diversity of dance styles plus the necessary skill was the perfect combination. The last piece of the main puzzle I'm going to credit to my old college buddy who brainstormed the characters with me eons ago. Right around that time period, we would get out of class and head to the mall and play Dance Dance Revolution at the arcade. Combine that with re-watching the old Yu-Gi-Oh! episode that featured DDR, and I got myself a sport. I even got some inspiration for the holographic menus from the Western show Chaotic and a number of isekai and gaming anime. I also ended up formatting rules for Moshbattling in pairs, as a team such as dance troups or boy bands, or even a battle royale mode. It's still an evolving idea so there are things that need polish, but as far as inspiration goes, to sum it all up in one phrase I guess you could call it "nostalgia in a blender."
Ikkou and Chirikawa are a great pair of characters, and their dynamic gets more and more interesting as the story goes on. Where do you see their relationship going?
Ikkou and Chirikawa's relationship is one of the things at the core of the story in the big picture, so her knowledge and experience ends up having as much of an effect on him as his mischief and steadfast nature has on her. Even though she has the advantage of greater experience, he has just as much to bring to the table, and the exploration of these two as more of a duo or even partners rather than just teacher-student is something I'm very much looking forward to. Any further would be venturing into spoiler territory. So, look forward to it?
Considering this is called "Stage One," it feels like there's more story to be told. Can you give us any hints as to where the plot might progress?
Absolutely, there is a great deal left to be told. We've met only half the main cast at this point. I suppose a bit of a "preview" for future installments wouldn't hurt. After Aramu's loss, he seeks refuge in a club where he can forget his woes, but lo and behold, what happens when a notorious deaf Mosher in the club challenges him and calls him "washed up"? Ikkou is finally officially registered, but how will it affect his life in the city when the Vervin Energy Corps tampers with his data and reissues him the new ID Tag "Slumbeat"? When Chirikawa runs into a flashy old friend from her old job, how long will she be able to keep her old identity under wraps? They say "never meet your heroes", but if Ikkou gets the opportunity to find out what happened to champion Mosher Maxi Forge and maybe even meet her, would he take it? And where is Kubo Takuhei? All and more to be explored in future installments.