In Bounce Back by Misako Rocks!, a new Manga OGN available beginning today from Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, November 16th, 2021, life is great for Lilico in Osaka, Japan: she has a group of close friends, she’s on the basketball team, and she’s plenty popular! But all that goes sideways when her father accepts a job in the United States and she’s forced to move away from her home.
The Beat caught up with Rocks over email to learn more about what inspired the story of the new graphic novel, to find out about the origins of the kawaii animal character, and to uncover how the personal experiences of the author informed the experiences of Bounce Back‘s protagonist, Lilico!
AVERY KAPLAN: One of the important plot points in Bounce Back is that Lilico moves from her home in Japan to New York City, somewhat against her will. Have you ever experienced anything like this?
MISAKO ROCKS: As for moving to America, I was totally opposite to Lilico. I’ve dreamed of moving to America from Japan since I was a kid. But the reality was very difficult since I didn’t understand English. It took a long time for me to adjust myself to a new culture and school. I was going through the same experience as Lilico. I was frustrated with myself and everything until I met awesome friends in America.
KAPLAN: What do you hope readers who have experienced a move under similar circumstances to Lilico take away from Bounce Back?
ROCKS: Not knowing a foreign language or new culture, or being put in any situation that’s completely new to you, can be very scary. But you can use this as motivation to learn and be brave! I tried to be open to new things when I was an exchange student. This helped me a lot, and anyone who takes this approach will make new friends and gain confidence just like Lilico does in the book.
KAPLAN: In addition to human characters, there is also a cat character, Nicco! What goes into designing a character that is not human?
ROCKS: I always had an idea to add a kawaii animal character cat, dog, or squirrel to my story. Nicco’s personality is based on my grandfather, who is all about “tough love,” but I didn’t want to draw another human character as Nicco. I thought it would be funny if a kawaii animal gives life lessons to the human characters!
KAPLAN: Early on in the story, Lilico faces bullying from her classmates, even though they don’t know anything about her. Was it important to you to show that bullying can take place unprovoked?
ROCKS: Yes. This happened to me in Japan and America. I think a student or person who looks or thinks about things differently gets a lot of attention from others. I was very confused and lost confidence when other students picked on me. But things got better after I started standing up myself! I used this experience for Lilico and am hoping young readers will learn and be inspired by her experience.
KAPLAN: One of the characters makes her own clothes! What inspired you to include this character element in this comic? Did you enjoy designing the homemade clothes?
ROCKS!: Yes! Me and my friends used to love going shopping in Harajuku to find fun and kawaii clothes. That was my favorite thing to do in Tokyo. So I designed my own character with Harajuku outfits! Also, I’ve met many cosplayers in America who adore Harajuku fashion and make their own costumes. Those elements helped create Nala.
KAPLAN: Can you tell us about what the sources of inspiration behind this comic were? What went into making this story a Manga OGN?
ROCKS!: I’ve been teaching manga drawing to elementary and middle school students for years now. Originally I taught in NYC schools, but now I teach online at learnmangawithmisako.com. My manga students inspired me to create Bounce Back. I got to know them really well and learned that every student has a unique story to tell. My main characters Lilico and Nala are based on my real students. I wanted to make a story that kids in the U.S. (and everywhere, really) relate to and that motivates them to challenge themselves!
KAPLAN: Another important element of Bounce Back is basketball! What made you decide to feature this sport in the story?
ROCKS!: While growing up in Japan, I didn’t play sports at all. But I’ve loved watching sports. A documentary of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Basketball Dream Team has been one of my favorites. Plus, my husband played basketball for his entire school life. He told me about his teammates, how they won and lost games together and bonded as a team. It was very inspiring and I even felt jealous of him! I wished I was on a team when I was a kid. I can’t be in a team now, but I can create one in my stories! That’s one of the reasons why I used basketball as an element.
Bounce Back is available at your local bookstore and/or public library beginning today!