Yuma Natsume is tired of being thought of as beautiful. She’d rather be known as the powerful voice fronting Die Database, and the one that made 99% Natural so memorable. I talked to her a few weeks ago, and like her bandmate Masae she made sure we used the Agartha Labs Narrative Engine for translation from Japanese.
Junk Magnet: How has it been going back home in Hakone?
Yuma: So many tourists! Like always, it’s pointless to ride anything that connects to the Hakone Tozan Railway, unless you just love crowds and switchbacks.
Junk Magnet: Isn’t it normal for Japanese to put up with masses of nearby bodies?
Yuma: Remember, I’m practically a country girl! I did whatever I could to stay away from the the constantly crowded areas around Hakone, and when it was absolutely necessary to mingle with crowds, I would just zone out with my MiniDisc player.
Junk Magnet: Aren’t you a bit young for MiniDiscs?
Yuma: Not really – I got the player when I was a little girl. I think my father wanted to make up for my horrible childhood.
Junk Magnet: Surely you’re joking..
Yuma: No! I was chubby with more braces than teeth, and my yell was little more than a whisper. I always got made fun off. I was a daddy’s girl, though, so he compensated with gifts.
Junk Magnet: Like what?
Yuma: All sorts of Game Boys. Fancy clothes, especially for a pre-teen. I even had my own private English tutor.
Junk Magnet: Tell me more about that – I didn’t know you were holding back your English skills.
Yuma: Yeah, right before I hit puberty, Kaia was my tutor. She would come over just about every night, and we would have lessons for an hour. She was pretty good, because she had lived in the US for a while. She had a German accent, though, even when she spoke Japanese.
Junk Magnet: That’s weird… do you know where in Germany she was from?
Yuma: Bavaria? Munich? I was never that good at foreign cities. Anyway, Strauss-sensei was so nice to me, and she made me feel less awkward.
Junk Magnet: Hold on for a minute – Kaia Strauss from Munich? What year was this?
Yuma: Umm.. I was 12, so around 2000. She lived in Hakone for a few years.
Junk Magnet: I’m going to send you an email. Let me know if this was your tutor.
Yuma: You mean you think you might know her? OK, I got something…. Yeah! That’s her alright. She looks a bit younger in that picture, though.
Junk Magnet: Younger? OK, that’s just too weird. That was taken a few months ago.
Yuma: Kaia always looked either much older or much younger than you’d expect. For example, when we used to hang out in Tokyo….
Junk Magnet: What? When was that?
Yuma: Yeah, about a year before 99% Natural started, she ran into me on the set of [Tokyo Tower Suicides]. Well, we were location shooting, and she was just there in the crowd. Of course I got her into the shoot, it had been so long since I last saw her. That was almost 8 years later, and she didn’t really seem to have aged at all.
Junk Magnet: I’m sorry I’m spending so much time on this, but it’s just so crazy. You know Kaia Strauss!
Yuma: Sure. After we met again, we used to hang out all the time. And the funny thing is, on the night I first met Masae at the Circle X, Kaia was waiting outside for me, smoking. We had just finished a late dinner, and she wanted to stop at that particular store. I don’t know why, but I’m glad she did.
Junk Magnet: Oh God, that’s too much.
Yuma: If she didn’t make me go in to get her something, I don’t think there would have ever been a 99% Natural, or even Die Database.
Junk Magnet: Don’t tell me she met Satomi, too.
Yuma: No, I don’t think so…. she had to leave Japan right after that, and I haven’t seen her since 2008. It’s too bad, I really miss her.
Junk Magnet: I’m going to talk to you more about this when the interview is over. Crazy. So, how is your family?
Yuma: They’re alright. The earthquake didn’t hit too hard in Hakone, but it was still a big mess. Things have recovered somewhat, but our hearts and minds haven’t. At least, my mother is still really shook up. She ordered me to leave Tokyo and come home as soon as possible. Only now did I return back to my place.
Junk Magnet: Are you still in Ueno?
Yuma: No, I moved to between Shibuya and Harajuku, – almost next to the Design Festa Gallery.
Junk Magnet: I love that place! I saw it in 2009 right before that day you took me on the Shinkansen to Hakone.
Yuma: Yeah, but I don’t know why you made me ride the Hakone Ropeway. Fuji-san isn’t going anywhere.
Junk Magnet: At least we took the bus from the train station – those valleys are so beautiful.
Yuma: I always love hiking when I’m back home. It feels like a piece of heaven.
Junk Magnet: So I wanted to get back to you as an awkward pre-teen…. when you do think you blossomed?
Yuma: Oh, do you consider me a fragrant flower? Or are you just poking around my budding breasts?
Junk Magnet: There’s no way that phrase can’t sound awful in English after being translated. But yeah, I want to know if there was a time when you started to feel empowered, attractive…
Yuma: The stereotype would be that puberty made it all happen, but honestly I think I wasn’t really noticing, not even when the braces came off. I think it took the attention of that talent scout before I actually realized that something was up.
Junk Magnet: I know you’ve gone over that story over and over in interviews. I guess I’m less interested in what happened – you’re discovered and you start modeling – than in how it affected you.
Yuma: OK. One of my favorite movies is [Hana & Alice], by Iwai Shunji.
Junk Magnet: Yeah! I saw that when I first visited Tokyo in 2004. Do you mean you feel like Alice?
Yuma: Yes, and I think Aoi Yuu did such a marvelous job with that role. I think she really captured that charge you get when it’s like the whole world starts to notice you. Of course, she went through a very similar experience in her personal life, with modeling and acting.
Junk Magnet: You still haven’t met her, right?
Yuma: No such luck! I wish she was a Die Database fan, then I could invite her to a concert as thanks for expressing that feeling, and letting me see when it counted. In 2004 I was 15, 16, and my talent agency was really pressing me hard for more extensive gravure video work. I’m sure they cared in theory about my “career”, but mostly they wanted to use my barely covered body as a money machine. Not that it didn’t work for hundreds of naive girls and their enabling parents…
Junk Magnet: I sense you’re not a big fan of the bikini videos you made.
Yuma: Honestly, I could only look at each one once, right after they were filmed. I’ve never even torn off the shrink wrap of the copies they sent me. I think they will be good to look at when I’m an old lady, but it’s not like I want my potential grandchildren to see them or anything.
Junk Magnet: How do you feel about the constant reference to that part of your life, by fans and critics?
Yuma: No one really seems to think it’s a huge deal – it’s not like they’re shutting down all of the online stores that sell videos of young “sexy” girls. Sure, some cities like Tokyo are starting to crack down a bit on manga and such, but I guess it’s just a very Japanese thing, for good or ill.
Junk Magnet: But how do you feel – knowing that anyone can buy a DVD featuring your 15 year old self…
Yuma: I don’t like it at all, OK? I felt pressured, like this was the only path leading to stardom, away from all of the tourists and Hakone. I don’t want to talk about it any more right now.
Junk Magnet: I’m sorry. I guess I was just trying to contrast that part of your life, to now, which seems to be far more comfortable for you.
Yuma: I know you’re just doing your job. Yeah… things really turned around once I was able to realize my dream to be a real actress, and musician.
Junk Magnet: Do you have any particularly fond memories from the past few years, since 99% Natural started?
Yuma: It goes without say that I love [Massive Cloud Burst] – I just can’t help it. I know you’re aware of Satomi doing the score… did you know they actually let us talk to the writers about our characters?
Junk Magnet: Really?
Yuma: Yeah! I totally got to fix up Hikari a bit – at first she was just too much like a random harem girl, just throwing herself at the feet of Hinata. There was lots of sex, too – I had them cut out a bunch of things. Don’t get me wrong, I love sex, but I just didn’t want to see Hikari used that way.
Junk Magnet: That explains so much! Fans were always wondering why MCB was so much less hentai than the other games coming out at that period. And there have been miles of forum posts spent trying to figure out if the plot and characters were just accidentally so similar to Die Database.
Yuma: I’m not saying that we wrote the story or anything, but once we agreed to be the faces of the game, we wanted our say.
Junk Magnet: And you wanted to keep the Cosmic Kimono.
Yuma: You better believe it! I tolerate all of the other cosplay as long as it means I can still dress up as Hikari.
Junk Magnet: That reminds me – Die Database is really known for not just its intense live shows, but for you in particular. You really dominate the stage like few others can.
Yuma: Thank you. I know you can see Yuki in my stage presence, but I was also influenced by Natsu from Sentimental Bus, not to mention Sheena Ringo, Yoshimi from Boredoms and OOIOO, and Yako from Melt-Banana.
Junk Magnet: I also see some Puffy in there.
Yuma: Sure! Sometimes at practice me and Satomi do our Ami/Yumi thing, even the cute dances.
Junk Magnet: Please tell me you have that on video.
Yuma: Don’t you wish!
Junk Magnet: Alright, now for the game show lightning round! Are you ready?
Junk Magnet: What cities do you want to visit in the US?
Yuma: Yuma, Arizona! Do they have a huge sign that says “Yuma”? If so, I will steal it! Or at least have Masae take a picture of me in front of it.
Junk Magnet: That’s your grand itinerary?
Yuma: OK – Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and anywhere else that will have us.
Junk Magnet: Didn’t you already go to New York for Fashion Week last year?
Yuma: Yes! No key to the city, but at parties the non-gay designers kept passing me their room key cards. I didn’t take up their offer, but now I have a collection of keys to the best hotels.
Junk Magnet: Didn’t you wear Satomi’s dress?
Yuma: It was magnificent. I was so sad, though – on the last day someone stole it out of my bag! They even stole all of the holographic tech that attaches to it. I want that dress back! If the thief is reading this, I will forgive you as long as it’s returned in one piece.
Junk Magnet: Throw in some of your teenage bikini DVDs and I’m sure you’ll have a deal.
Yuma: I hope you don’t mind the view when I’m standing over your dead body.
Junk Magnet: Next! Is there something you just can’t wait to buy in the US?
Yuma: I want to go to one of those insanely big Targets or Wal-Marts and get some clothes that have flags and eagles on them!
Junk Magnet: Something you really want to eat?
Yuma: Anything from one of those big food trucks! Line them all up in a row and I’ll spend a few days constantly eating. Little yet satisfying bites of joy.
Junk Magnet: Any requests from your fans in the US?
Yuma: When I jump into the crowd, please don’t grope my body too much!
Junk Magnet: That time it’s not the fault of the translation engine.
Yuma: I’m not naive – all of the guys in the front row have crazy hands. Just try to respect what I’m doing – some songs just aren’t the same unless I’m right there next to you, singing and shoving and punching away.
Junk Magnet: Punching?
Yuma: I’m trying to establish an aura of danger, so people will actually want to attend.
Junk Magnet: I think the guys and girls that want to be punched by you would make the perfect fans!
Yuma: Yes! And the ones waiting for hugs and kisses better wake up – Die Database rides puppies and kittens like roller skates!
Junk Magnet: I wish I could share your expression right now – even your scrunched up angry face is cute.
Yuma: Die Database eats cuteness for breakfast, and poops out puppies and kittens! That we ride! Plus there’s cosplay!
Junk Magnet: Any last words?
Yuma: We’re taking requests! Twitter @DieDatabase and let me know what songs we should play from other artists! We promise not to make fun of you too much!
Junk Magnet: That’s what you told me when we first met, and look where it’s gotten me.
Yuma: You better shape up, or we won’t put you on the guest list ever again!
Junk Magnet: Make sure to buy [Knee], Die Database’s amazing debut album, out this summer at a store near you!
Yuma: Keep kissing up and you just might deserve one of our punches. Dangerous, highly entertaining punches of love.