Thursday, January 29, 2004

Manga in Japan and the US... 

So, Tim wrote up an interesting entry the other day, and also got some responses.

A couple of comments from me. First, obviously Japan isn't a big wonderland that some people think it is. I happen to think it is still really cool, but it has various issues of its own. As for the infamous article from Japan, here is something to keep in mind. Mainichi may be a good newspaper, but the WaiWai section is pretty much a mini-tabloid. Look at the articles on the left, with titles like "Bare-it-all babes boogie woogie back to the stage", "Schoolgirl streaker caught in jaws of rabid stepfather", and "Confessed cannibal wins heart of little angel". Certainly manga has issues of acceptance, but WaiWai is going to focus on any bad aspects.

I tend to think the situation in Japan is a bit like daytime (or even primetime to a degree) television in the US. Everyone is always talking about how horrible TV is, but at the same time a lot of people watch the shows. That combined with Japan tending to be very prim and proper in a lot of ways causes friction. This is the country where some ladies will flush the toilet constantly to cover up any improper sounds. But as the article says, people have grown up with comics now, so things are changing.

Anime still has a pretty big stigma of being for kids (mostly Miyazaki movies are like an exception where everyone goes to watch it), but many more adults read manga. But some that read it probably wouldn't feel as comfortable doing it on a train. One funny thing about the article is how America is brought up and the tone is almost like them being embarassed about what Americans might think of them...

I'd say there's quite a bit of self-deprecation going on even from fans, but that happens in a lot of hobbies. Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga has the first volume translated to english and skewers the industry. The anime Excel Saga involves a secret organization trying to improve the world, and their first thing is to kill a manga author, not just because he created the manga the anime is based on, but also because manga authors are the scum of the earth..heh. Actually, I just saw a hilarious episode of Excel Saga where two characters end up in America. Excel misuses english street slang and as they're about to get attacked by people, a kid comes to the rescue throwing anime cells to the crowd. Eventually they find out he's doing animation for a shady character in the hopes of making it over to Japan as a real anime animator. Lots of fun poked at how America has a skewed view of things, as well as fun little details (like them commenting to themselves about how the kid is doing cells but most animation companies use computers now).

There's also an aspect of removing preconceptions. A lot of talk happens sometimes about how manga is attractive because it is exotic and from another culture. I think that plays into it to a degree, but more so the lack of your own culture. For instance, a lot of people might read manga that was aimed at little girls originally like Cardcaptor Sakura or Marmalade Boy. In the US, we are once-removed. I'm sure that a guy reading it in Japan would suffer from a stigma and the overall growing up of "this is for you, this is for them". For instance, something like Dawson's Creek has a specific target audience and probably most adults aren't going to watch it even if it is a good show (I haven't seen it so I'm not sure). On the other hand, someone in another country might feel less direct pressures.

Something to keep in mind is that there are manga fans and anime fans in Japan. There are fans in America. There are probably more fans in Japan due to the size of the industry. Both of these usually like a lot of the output and view it as an artform. However, it is more than that in Japan. There a lot of casual readers also, and likely way outnumber the fans. It is probably fair to say that most of the people reading manga don't usually view it as art, any more than most people usually view ER as part of the artform of television, even if they enjoy it. They're also more likely to have a couple of specific shows they enjoy rather than a love of the whole medium. More on this in my next entry...

In one of my comments section, John Smith linked to this old article by Colleen Doran in which she and others like Dave Sim went to Japan and had some illusions shattered. It was interesting to see how both the americans and japanese had misconceptions of how the other did their work, causing them to either critisize or idolize more than they should have based on those beliefs.

Speaking of Colleen, I think I can see where people would get the idea it is manga-influenced, but also why Tim doesn't see it right away. I'm not sure how much shoujo manga he has read, but I think the similarities stem more from things that may not be immediately obvious. Now, I have the first volume, but haven't read it yet, so if I make mistakes, feel free to correct me. I'm going by what I've read of it and what I've seen flipping through it.

Her art style is a standard older american style with no big eyes to be found. However, there are a lot of beautful men and characters that are a bit androgynous, as well as detailed clothing. There is a normal female protagonist (who is attractive but not a sex kitten) who gets sucked into an epic sci-fi/fantasy situation. There are people with different sexualities and angst and love triangles (quadrangles?) involved. It may not look like manga but the artwork favors some similar attributes (aka what actually appeals to a lot of ladies) and some of the story elements are also similar to what is in a lot of manga. I was in a chatroom last night and I said A Distant Soil could be good as digests for readers of girl's manga. He commented that he didn't think it'd work because of the various sexuality in ADS, and I commented that he obivously hadn't read much shoujo..heh

Another interesting connection is that Colleen had Tomoko Taniguchi do some fanart in one volume which got her noticed by CPM and then published. There is a bit more info. here, and Colleen had a long introduction to the original Call Me Princess volume. I "think" Call Me Princess was the first published shoujo in the US, because of Colleen's involvement. Now shoujo is a massive force in bookstores...

As for the ooold US manga monthlies, it may not have had massive amounts of impact, but I'm sure it did some. I'd think that especially the colorized Akira probably impacted a lot of people. But in the long run, it was probably the anime that did the most. I watched Robotech and Voltron as a kid, as well as Warriors of the Wind and Unico. Tons of people saw Speed Racer or Astro Boy before that. As a kid, the anime style was just another cartoon style and that carried into adulthood.

As far as fans in the US having a backlash, I have definitely seen it happen. Manga was always something that could easily be ignored if you weren't into it. Now that everyone is talking about it, there's been a lot of "Why is everyone talking about that manga crap. I wish they'd just shup up that fad already". And even besides manga, there is a bit of chaffing against expanding the market in general. Every time diversity gets brought up, there is always someone to claim that people are out to destroy superheros. There's also those that go on about how superheros are something unique to comics and what make it special.

I think that is all flawed. Comics are what makes comics special! It is cool that there are these long-standing shared worlds with a lot of culture built in, but that isn't the end-all-be-all of comics. People talk about how there are plenty mysteries and romance in novels, so why should someone bother... But then why are so many girls reading romance manga, when there is plenty of romance for YAs or for adults, and usually cheaper to boot? Why should they bother? Well, they must just like comics, huh?

And it is a powerful cultural force in general.. the culture of comics. So many people have come to read comics partly because they love superheros so much. Imagine if 90% TV shows were sci-fi stuff set in space, pretty much driven by the Star Trek franchise, but with various knockoffs. How cool would it be if you were a die-hard Trekkie that any time there was a big story about TV programs it was about Trek, or that if someone brought up TV you instantly knew you had interests in common? I think when a lot of people talk about people out to lessen superheroes, they might be thinking about sales, but sub-conciously I think it is really about importance. Other genres can appear without hurting sales of superheros too much, but it can't happen without lessening the importance of the superheros. I saw someone on a page that said something like "2003 was the first year you could mention comics and not be assumed to be talking about superheros". I don't know if that is true, but I think it is a powerful statement.

But for all the bad reactions from some sectors against manga, there has also been a lot of good stuff going on. A lot of bloggers and people like Johanna are taking manga more seriously, and even people like Legomancer who had strong opinions against manga in the past are willing to concede there is some stuff out there that they might enjoy. And in general people that were pushing for variety all along now have more of a leg to stand on.

Lastly, about selling american comics in Japan, I know that generally Marvel/DC stuff has had a hard time selling, but I don't know much about other stuff. However, here is something to keep in mind. No way pamphlets are going to work. There just isn't a distrubtion set up for it. Would either have to be anthology or trades. I think the biggest issues would be to have stories that appeal to them and also price. I mean manga in the US tends to be twice as expensive as manga in Japan. I mean, if most of the digests in Japan are in the $3-4US range (that's new, even cheaper in used manga stores), how can US companies match that? A color comic for $15 would probably seem way overpriced, especially for something that doesn't have the various local buzz associated with it. And will they even care so much about super-detailed artwork and color, being so used to many manga using a sparser style and emphasis on moving the story forward? I'm sure they'd appreciate it, but enough to pay a lot more? Even for me, being used to American titles, I find it difficult at times. A comic might be flashy with great color artwork and larger page size, but I have to stop and think "I'll probalby enjoy it, but will I really enjoy it TWICE as much as this manga that costs half as much?".

So, that makes it harder for a lot of the superhero stuff, and combined with the fact that they haven't been exposed to these icons as much over the years, and have less access to back-issues, so probably won't be into old continuities. But something like Hellboy does seem to make sense as it has a distinctive style and different sort of story.. Maybe stuff like A Distant Soil, but it might actually seem kind of cliched to some fans depending on how it is done exactly (I swear I'll read it soon..heh). Maybe stuff like Andi Watson? In any case, I do think it is probably a hard nut to crack. It was easy for manga to take off here because of the shape the industry was in. There is plenty of stuff for most people coming out weekly in Japan. There has to be a real incentive for them to try something else..

Next will be a look at comic and manga culture...

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