naka renya: Kawaii Characters From When The Internet Was a Game

‘When I first got on the internet, there was a meme called “Words You Must Never Search.” There were a lot of shady websites in that category, their designs were quite influential for me.’
chorareii naka renya interview portrait

naka renya’s (@naka_renya) glassy-eyed, RGB-colored characters are popping up all over Japan! They sneak into parties through projections, intervene in music streamings, star in album covers, playlists, flyers… These characters don’t go unnoticed because, despite their vintage video game style and basic screen colors, they couldn’t be more current. 

Many creative disciplines are currently recalling the early days of the internet: the sounds, the visual aesthetics, the type of photographs, etc. Also, the innocence and inexperience with which we used our game consoles and the internet when everything was a game without “likes” or algorithms. Naka Renya’s characters seem to represent the freedom and purity of our first contact with technology.

chorareii naka renya interview cyber

Chorareii: First, introduce yourself!

naka renya: Hello, my name is naka renya. I was born in 1999, I’m 23 years old now. I’m from Nagoya, Japan, and currently based in Tokyo. 

My favorite things are gummy bears and sashimi, and I hate raisins. Raisins scare me.

I want to know more about the creatures you draw. Who are they, and what is their personality like? Do they resemble you at all?

The characters I draw are more like my friends. Since I was little, I have loved drawing Pokémon. When other kids were playing outside, I used to draw Pokémon.

My characters don’t speak, but they are friendly and a little mysterious. They often have no mouths and it is difficult to understand their emotions. I myself am not very good at expressing my emotions so they may be like me in that regard.

chorareii naka renya interview e5 fairy egg album cover
naka renya’s cover design for e5

Your characters sometimes appear as if they were part of a video game. Are there video games that inspire you? 

There are a few video games that have inspired me, Pokémon, Mother2, and Undertale… but the most influential of them all is Moon. I love the graphics, the story, the form, and the fashion of the main character of Moon, which has influenced the characters I draw. I like all LOVEdeLIC games. 

Having one of my characters appear in a video game is one of the projects I would like to develop one day. 

What would a videogame starring your characters be like? 

It would be fun to play a game that visualizes the Internet you imagine and surfs the real Internet just by wandering around. It would be absolutely awesome if my character appeared as the main character in that game.

chorareii naka renya mineral osaka merchandise collection
naka renya designed a clothing collection for Mineral Osaka store

Your designs sometimes include environments that look like the internet, such as web pages. Are you visually inspired by the internet?

Yes, I am. When I first got on the internet in my teens, there was a meme called “Words You Must Never Search” and I was obsessed with it.

There were a lot of shady websites in the “Words You Must Never Search” category. For example, “Angel Park Musashi (えんじぇるぱーく武蔵)”, “Love Fairy Printin (愛の妖精ぷりんてぃん)”, etc…

I think the cluttered layouts, the elements that make you feel uneasy when looking at them, and the eye-catching colors from these websites were quite influential for me.

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In addition to the cuteness of the characters, the most distinctive feature of your illustrations is the vivid colors. Why did you choose such color tones?

I consciously use colors in my illustrations that can only be produced on the screen. As I answered in the previous question, I get inspiration from the internet and web pages, so I want to express colors that can only be produced on the screen. For this reason, I often use glitch-like colors (such as highly saturated greens and pinks) that occur in video games, internet bugs, etc.

Besides, I love the combination of green and blue because it looks like the earth.

chorareii naka renya video game M@gi<An+ mp4
M@gi<An+.mp4 is a video game animation by naka renya

Some of your characters are angels, they are surrounded by crosses. Other Japanese alternative artists I’ve talked to (the tattoo and visual artist Teji, Masato Nakano, etc.) often draw angels and demons. Why do you think artists of this generation are interested in this kind of characters?

Hmmm, I wonder why… Of course, I think some draw them in a religious context. This is my personal opinion, but maybe everyone has a longing for heaven. This has nothing to do with death. By including angels and demons in their works, they evoke heaven and hell. 

Angels and demons are essential for me and other artists to convey heaven. The image of heaven differs from person to person. A person who likes cats would have a heaven full of cats. In this way, I feel that if you draw a space with an assortment of your favorite things, you will inevitably arrive at heaven, and drawing heaven will lead you to draw angels and demons. I hope I conveyed that well.

chorareii naka renya interview avyss playlist cover
naka renya designed the cover for Avyss Magazine’s weekly playlist

Japan is probably the country where mascots (or ゆるキャラ) are most used for brands, cities, government agencies, etc. How do you feel about mascots? Do you have any favorites? Would you like to design one sometime?

Mascots for cities and government agencies are often chosen by children’s applications, so it is very interesting to see many exquisite designs. Personally, I like the Snowlets, the official mascots of the 1998 Nagano Olympics. There is something a little creepy but adorable about them.

I would love to design a mascot for a city or brand someday. It would be fun to see a character costume I drew handing out balloons at events and such.

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chorareii naka renya kato massacre vj
naka renya VJing and live drawing at K/A/T/O MASSACRE vol.374 party.

You are deeply involved in the alternative music scene in Tokyo. You VJ at parties, design flyers, do album artwork, collaborate with the music media Avyss, and more. What inspires you most in the current Japanese music scene?

The most inspirational figure in the current Japanese music scene is Y ohtrixpointnever. He was the first artist I contacted. 

When I listen to his music, visual images pop into my brain. I can imagine a vast field, but I can also imagine a magnificent virtual space. The harmony of nature and the internet in his music has been very influential. Thanks, Y ohtrixpointnever!

chorareii naka renya interview loli syugo album cover 2023
naka renya’s cover design for loli主語

Where would you like to see your characters appear? What kind of projects would you like to do in the future?

There are many things I would like to do in the future. I want to make a zine, a feature-length animation, an independent game, and many other things.

Among them, the one I want to do most is to hold parties. I would like to invite artists that I listen to when I am drawing and design the venue using my drawings. It would be great to make a huge sculpture of a character I drew and have it appear on stage.

I think the party itself will become a work of art when the artists I am inspired by perform in the space of my drawings. If anyone is interested in cooperating, please contact me!

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ヽ( ⌒o⌒)人(⌒-⌒ )ノ

Follow naka renya on Instagram (@naka_renya)  and Twitter (@renyasan1)


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