talking anime: studio moonchild

words and designs by iqmall

“Anime was just cartoons on the television for us. We never knew where they originate from and frankly, we didn’t care. It was entertainment all the same. No matter how bad the dubbing of the voices was, it was enough to keep rambunctious kids glued to the television set every weekend morning.” That was the beginning of a love story with Japanese culture for the dynamic duo, Studio Moonchild.

Anastasia Catharina (@anacathie) and Muhammad Firdaus (@freakyfir) met in 2010 during a course in industrial design, set on making it in the gaming industry. As life intervened with their dreams, they ditched the idea of establishing themselves in the game industry and worked on smaller projects. Game studios are notorious for their quick turnaround and everywhere they looked, their dreams started collapsing within each other. They decided to carve their place in the industry. Creating in their unique styles presented opportunities that allowed them to freely express themselves. “It’s simpler. The connection is more direct. We’ll create and someone out there will be able to appreciate it.”

Even though they got their start as illustrators in Singapore, both Ana and Firdaus spent their childhoods away from the island city. Ana is from Indonesia while Firdaus grew up in Malaysia in his formative years. And while television watching was universal, the programs will differ ever so slightly. Cult favourite classics like Ruroni Kenshi and Flame Of Recca were on-air in both countries but spoke in different languages. A quirk they found amusing during their first meetings.

But that is where the similarities end. Ana loved the shoujo anime of the 90s like Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon. A trait that has subconsciously shaped her illustrative subjects. “In the beginning, it was just me trying to perfectly copy what I liked. If it had anything to do with Sailor Moon, I was going to draw it. But as I grew up and got deeper into the culture, I got drawn to female main characters. They shared a characteristic that I gravitated towards” She also has a penchant for anime films, citing the amazing storytelling and drawing styles of Mikoto Shinkai and Hayao Miyazaki as well as Neon Genesis Evangelion as paramount inspirations. And as famously said by Miyazaki himself, “Women tend to be more realistic. Men on the other hand, more idealistic.” Something that would probably support her subconscious artistic decisions.

Firdaus instead grew up in the golden era of machismo action series. Super Sentai planted the first seed for his love of the mecha genre with their episode-defining beat downs by epically assembled giant robots. Following that, the likes of Patlabor, the Transformers and Gundam series only nudged him to the metaphorical edge until Neon Genesis Evangelion pushed him over, to a place of no-return. He was hooked ever since. Lending to his naturally inquisitive and escapist nature, robots were the gateway for him into the future. “Looking at them. There’s always fascination and wonder. A glimpse of what the future could be. As a big fan of sci-fi books from Isaac Asimov amongst others, they always pose a question. “If we are the creators of robots, what does that say about us?”. That question has never left me. “A genre of endless possibilities and no set guidelines, Firdaus finds himself in a good place. On the cusp of the next huge technological age, his inspirations will never run out.

Normally, such aesthetically different subject matters stay far away from each other. But, perhaps ironically, the marriage of gargantuan robots and feminine characters is a staple in Japanese media. It would not be a stretch to say that the meeting of Firdaus and Ana is the work of destiny. The chemistry they have built for themselves has got onlookers calling their joint works a play on the classic “beauty and the beast” trope. Having recently returned from an exhibition in Sweden, the pair exude an almost telepathic understanding of one another. “We would usually divide the work based on a few factors. The walls and stories we want to tell. And when that happens, Ana gets lesser space due to the nature of her characters and vice versa. For our recent overseas trip, the tables were turned and I knew immediately that her style would shine through in this larger canvas.”, said Firdaus.

When asked about the influence of Japanese media in the current times, they both congenially agreed that it has dwindled from 20 years ago. With the rise of prominence of the Hallyu wave, Japanese influences have taken a back seat finding its last influence in subcultures away from the forefront of mainstream media. However, it is not a bad thing. Doubling down on nostalgia is still a proven strategy in many industries. And for anime and anime fans alike, these shows or manga are sacred relics. Protected heavily by those who yearn for the better days.

Studio Moonchild is still in its infancy and having to rely on history to inform the future is a dead man’s game. If they’re not penning a new illustration for Inktober, painting a new mural on lands abroad, they’ll be pondering and discovering. An identity to their brand. Something more.