When Cute Girls Save the World: Interview with Hori Benny

When Cute Girls Save the World: Interview with Hori Benny

In this interview with Hori Benny he talks about otaku culture, the exciting fashion of Invasion Club, and the future of tattooing in Japan.

As a kid what I loved about anime and manga was how powerful the female presence was. At times these characters could be submissive, shy and cutely coquettish but, more often than not, they were empowering, creative, and confident in their sexuality. They were exactly who I wanted to be when I grew up. And this is what I love about Hori Benny's work. Whether blazing guns, or covered in mysterious creamy liquids, his tattoos are wonderful homages to a world many people deeply resonate with.  

Not only an illustrator of beautiful babes, but also of gamer ink, and comic book heroes, Hori Benny has been in Osaka, Japan for 16 years now. Carving out a haven for fellow weirdys to fly their freak flags through artwork, his shop Invasion Club is an extension of his colorful and eye arresting tattoos. Fun, flirtatious, and ever evolving in that unique universe of sci-fi and fantasy, his portfolio of ink and clothing is one to keep an eye on. 

I was attracted to the idea that I could self actualize as an artist if I was willing to work at it.

Have you always been artistic? How did you get into tattooing and why were you drawn to it?

I've always enjoyed drawing. But it didn't change from a passive hobby into a career until I became exposed to tattooing while in Japan. I was impressed by the devotion of not only Horishi (Japanese tattoo practioners) but of Japanese artists in general. They helped me to realize that any talent is only as good as the time one spends sharpening it. I was attracted to the idea that I could self actualize as an artist if I was willing to work at it.

Why do you love anime and manga? What were the first graphic novels or shows that you remember loving and what are your favorites now?

I cut my teeth on American comics as a little kid. But a few daring comic book studios in America were just beginning to publish parts of manga in a westernized format - Studio Porteus, Viz, and Dark Horse comics among them. The stories in manga I found much more entertaining, gripping and well paced than the formulaic super hero regurgitations. I suppose my teenage libido was also involved. I loved the aesthetic of cute girls in mecha saving the world. This was in the late 80s, and there was no Internet to speak of, the west hadn't been inundated yet, so I found the styles and the characters very exotic and attractive.

I feel like “nerd culture” is becoming way more accepted and appreciated the world over. Do you think we can say the same for Otaku’s? How would you describe the Otaku or anime/manga culture in Asia to someone who wasn’t familiar with it?

The word Otaku in Japanese is, for most purposes, synonymous with Nerd or Geek. In the same way that there can be horror movie nerds or car geeks, there is an otaku for everything. But by itself it generally refers to anime, manga, sci-fi, and the tertiary subcultures that orbit it. You're right that it is definitely more accepted. The Internet has allowed us to reform our cultural tribes - we are no longer bound by the town we were stuck born into. And thus subcultures can thrive via the exchange of information. Let's face it - life is hard and we all have our share of problems, but we also have the unique priveledge of escaping into our hobbies occasionally. I think otaku is now a worldwide phenomenon. Anime/Manga conventions in the West, and likewise the rise of western movies/comics fandom in the East.

Can you talk about your book...why were you drawn to putting the project together? What is it about the Japanese tattooing culture that really resonates with you?

 I have always wanted to write a book about Japanese tattooing. Most of the books on the subject either lacked a lot of depth, or were simply collections of Japanese body suits. Beautiful to look at, but nothing to properly introduce the average reader to the symbols and motifs prevalent in Japanese culture. The biggest reason I felt compelled to work on the project was that I've grown tired of the "gatekeeping" mentality toward Japanese tattoo culture. Where do we draw the line of tradition. What is it and who gets to decide? These are open ended questions, and I want people to understand that the cultural practice of tattooing in Japan is not some static thing frozen in time, but something that has grown and changed long before the Edo period (which is what most people think of when they picture "irezumi") and long after it. Every Japanese tattoo family has their own styles and conventions, but Japanese tattooing both precedes and supercedes these conventions.

What is the tattoo culture and community like in Osaka, particularly? Why did you decide to open a shop there?

Osaka is an old port town, a town or merchants, comedians, and restauranteurs, the second largest city in Japan. I chose to open here not only because I apprenticed here, but unlike Tokyo which attracts the ambitious from all over Japan, Osaka is home to a much more laid back person. It also has boasts amazing food, and has access to Kyoto - a hub of Japan's cultural heritage right next door.

As far as the tattooing community goes, Osaka was one of the cities really leading the charge of a tattoo boom that began in 1998 but which has since died down. This is largely the result of the Osaka city government adamently  prosecuting the practice of tattooing which, at the time of writing is on its way to the Japanese Supreme Court. No more events, conventions.. its definitely returned partially to the underground compared to 16 years ago when I first came here.

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With the win of Taiki Masuda in the Japanese courts, things could be perceived as really changing, positively, for tattoo artists in Japan. How do you feel about the current state of things, and what are your hopes for the future of tattooing in Japan?

 The case is by no means out of the woods yet. While Matsuda has won in the Osaka prefectural court, the case will no doubt be challenged up to the supreme court. The result may still take years. The tattooing community Japan has many challenges ahead. The impending 2020 Olympics offer a ray of hope that Japan will become more open to visible tattoos due to the influx of foreign influence. But Resistence to change by an ever aging population and a crashing birthrate are largely responsible for the stifling atmosphere around tattooing. With fewer young people propping up elders who often live into their 100s (and often are setting precedent into their 80s and 90s) youth culture (piercing, tattooing, grafitti, etc) have a hard time gaining a foothold in the public mind as viable cultural properties. It's also worth mentioning that tattooing is and always has been an unregulated industry. Imagine that - there are no regulations, no safety inspections, no standards - nothing but the moral obligations of the individual tattooer to keep their studio clean and professional. On one hand I think we all despise the intrusion of government into our craft, but on the other hand, it is still a wild-west mentality and customers are left to their own devices to determine whether or not they are at risk when they choose a studio. My personal hope is that one day there can be responsible and reasonable regulation that ensures a safe environment for both tattooers and clients alike so that tattooing culture can continue to flourish.

Beyond tattooing, what are you passionate about? How do you spend your free time, and what do you do on your vacations?

Free time? Vacations? Those are two words I forgot about a long time ago! In seriousness though, I really enjoy drawing and creating even on my off time. Making clothes the last couple years has been a lot of fun, but I also enjoy occassional gaming and of course music. Psyched to go to Ultra this year!! Now that my studio has stabilized I will be taking more and more trips abroad. 

Any plans for 2019 you’d like to share?

Yeah! Ill be taking more trips - LA is on deck for sure but I have more planned. Not all in stone yet, but Taiwan, Singapre, Mexico, LA, Italy, and France among others are all on the list. Anyone who is interested can find out on my Instagram. Also for those who like to wear their nerd fashion literally on their sleeves, I've finally managed to move my brand Invasion Club into full blown cut-and-sew items which will finally be on sale with our relaunch in February! Don't miss it!

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