More Manga Mayhem

April 21, 2008 at 2:52 am (Manga)

Unless my schedule forbids it, I usually say yes to going somewhere and talking to groups about things that I feel passionate about.  My basic philosophy in these regards is that if I find something interesting and dig into it to discover lots of things about it, I should share freely the stuff that I’ve learned.  I enjoy gleaning through the oddities and ephemera of a subject to root out the core necessities for understanding it.  Many of the topics I explore are subjects which don’t have a clear guide, either because they are new, or because the interest for that subject hasn’t been high in our profession, so there isn’t anything written in the professional literature.

This is bringing me back around to Manga, trust me.  It’s mostly because I’m giving this talk on manga readers advisory that I’m writing so much on the topic here.  There might be materials out there that explain all this, but in order for me to prepare, I need to write things down in a coherent fashion at least once.  Putting words in order on a topic takes me many steps toward being able to articulate it later.

Why is manga a difficult topic?  I don’t find it difficult, because I’ve been reading it for about a year, and generally enjoying myself.  I’m fascinated by Japanese culture, and manga seems like a great way to get a broad sense of the culture and values of Japan without reading a textbook about it.  In manga there are heroes and villains, beauty and ugliness, good and evil, and the many shades between.  Every character has conflict, and often the protagonist and antagonist are neither good nor evil – they simply act in opposition to each other towards conflicting goals.  Sometimes toward the same goal, but with opposite methods.

If you look at Miyazaki, the mastermind behind Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totorro, and Nausicca, and compare his films with the major Disney films, you can see what I mean.  If you look at Disney animated movies, particularly from before around 2000 (I don’t count any since then because they were so awful that I haven’t bothered to think about them), you can see some major trends – Often, someone dies in the first few minutes.  Often, the protagonist has only one or no parents.  Often, the protagonist and antagonist confront each other in a fight, and the antagonist is killed because of his/her own treachery.   Good and evil show their true colors, and it’s easy to tell who the hero is and who the villain is because of what they say, how they act, and ultimately how they die.

In Miyazaki’s films, there is rarely an antagonist that is not sympathetic.  “Castle In The Sky,” has one example, with the character of Muska.  “Castle Of Cagliostro” has the evil Count.  But in the rest of the movies, if there are antagonists, they are revealed to have a great depth that makes them hard to hate or kill.  For example, in Naussica, the antagonist might be the woman general of the Tolmekia, but as the film progresses it becomes clear that she isn’t as bad as we’d like her to be.  Instead of killing her, Miyazaki liberates her and opens her eyes – and not in a cheesy way, but in a beautiful and understandable way.  It’s a freaking masterpiece.  Princess Mononoke is very similar, in that the major players all feel very strongly about what they are doing, and are at great odds with each other, because the world is in a state of change.  When the world is in flux, our concepts of good and evil are often in flux as well.  Some characters fight to maintain the old ways, and others fight for new ways, because in the new ways they find freedom and liberation from tyranny.  It’s hard to hate any of the characters in Princess Mononoke once the final credits roll.  They’re just human, and they act like humans.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point – even in anime and manga that is accessible to younger audiences, the work often has conflict and depth that appeals to readers of all ages.  “Hikaru No Go” is an example of a manga that has absolutely nothing in it that anyone could complain about in terms of content.  It’s about a middle-school student that plays Go, and works toward becoming the best in the world.  He has a ghostly companion that helps him along the way.  If this was just for children, it would be cute and fluffy, but it’s full of complex issues and emotions, and can be a good read for any age reader.  In America, too often things that are accessible to children are dumbed down and cutesy-fied to the point that as an adult i’d rather hit myself in the head with a bat than watch or read them for another moment.

It could be that with the popularity of manga, as well as trends in literature for younger readers, that we might see more “all ages” type offerings that actually appeal to adults and children alike.  I hope so.  Time to go.


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Manga manga manga!

April 16, 2008 at 6:25 pm (Manga)

This series of posts is mainly to help me gather my own thoughts together on the subject, because i have to do a presentation on manga readers advisory in a few weeks.  Any input would be appreciated!

Some other notes –

“Cinemanga” is what happens when an anime movie is made directly into a manga by taking cells from the film and adding text bubbles to them.  The images in a cinemanga are usually in color, and are exactly the same as in the movie.  In some cases, this is the only way to get the movie in book form – like there’s no original manga series to draw on.  This is the case with many Miyazaki films, like “Spirited Away,” and “Castle In the Sky.”  It’s not my favorite kind of manga, but some people might find them enjoyable.  As far as Miyazaki films go, the only original manga series that i know of that’s available here in the states is “Nausicca,” in seven volumes.  It’s a beautiful series, telling a much vaster and more intricate story than the film.  The film really only tells the story from the first two volumes of the manga, with lots of cutting, pasting and rearranging.  Nausicca makes for an excellent book discussion, because it has a lot of themes to explore, like environmentalism, politics, war, nature, etc.  Of course, it would be ideal if everyone could read the whole series, but there you have a pretty sizable expense – about $70 retail for the whole series.  I think it would be great if we could read one series over the course of a year, while also reading single volumes of other manga, and just have people take turns with reading each volume in the sequence, so we would only have to buy one or two sets of the series.  I haven’t managed to get the logistics figured out yet, but when I do you’ll be the first to know.

As far as R/A goes with manga:

Similar methods apply with manga as with other forms of R/A, and some differences.

What have you read before?

What did you like about it?

Getting answers to these two questions from a teen can be like pulling teeth, but it’s a place to start, and I can’t help you much with methods for getting a teen to open up a little bit.

If you can get a sense of what they’ve read before, you can go a long way towards recommending something new.  So far in my experience, most people aren’t so set in their ways that they’ll only read giant robot manga, but it’s possible.  Mostly boys are going to be interested in Shonen, particularly action shonen, and girls are interested in both shonen and shojo, and are much more forgiving of the romantic elements of shojo.

Some manga publishers are nice enough to put genres on the covers of their books, as well as the word shonen or shojo.  That’s awfully nice, but you can pretty much tell the difference between the two types by looking at the covers:

Now, you tell me who the target audience for these two manga is.

Another way to help people find more manga that they like is to find out how they found the titles they already read – are they manga versions of anime they’ve seen?  Manga versions of video games they’ve played?  Something they’ve been reading in a manga magazine like Shonen Jump?

Cartoon Network shows a variety of anime series, some in their evening Toonami section, and others in their Adult Swim section.  If they liked something from one of these sections, they might like other things.  At their website, Cartoon Network has a list of the different series they’ve shown, both current and in the past.  That can help you track down titles that aren’t necessarily on tv right now.  SciFi channel has “Animondays” where they show a couple of different anime series, and this can be a way to look for more titles too.

Also, there are several manga and anime sites that rate titles and have their readers compare manga and anime to each other, building a kind of “if you like this, then you might like that” sort of thing.  The ones I’ve used aren’t super in-depth yet, but it’s still an option.

The thing I recommend most is to read some manga.  Try out a variety of titles, and really give yourself over to being open and interested in what’s going on.  There’s a lot of junk and filler in the manga world, just like in every other fiction genre, but there’s also gems out there, and niches that you might find yourself more forgiving of than others.

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More Manga

April 15, 2008 at 9:49 pm (Manga)

So last time I talked about the main types of manga. It gets more complicated than that though because manga is just a format, so there are plenty of genres and themes and so forth. Most manga that you can get from say, Tokyopop, will have one or two genres listed on the cover – “drama,” “fantasy,” “romance,” “comedy,” etc. There are also commonly occurring archetypes, like “young girl discovers she has magical powers,” and “young man becomes the pilot of a giant robot.” These archetypes will show up in every genre, so there are young magical girls who get into romantic entanglements, and there are young magical girls who save the world in a dramatic fantasy. Likewise, there are fantasy worlds where young men pilot giant robots, and there are dramas where young men pilot giant robots. Of course, there are young women who pilot giant robots, too, and young men who discover they have hidden powers. Depending on how much action, violence, romance, etc. these stories could be either shojo or shonen.

Whew! Is that complex enough? It’s not as bad as it sounds. Just because these two ideas seem to be a part of dozens of manga series doesn’t mean they’re all clones of each other. Some titles stand out as being quintessential for one genre or another, but there are hundreds of titles and series that are quite good and unique and interesting.

As far as finding titles that appeal to teens (which as you might recall, is one of the reasons I’m thinking so much about this) there are some issues.

First of all, Japanese culture is different from American culture. I know, I know, hard to imagine, right? 🙂 The places where our cultures are different can cause a little confusion and consternation with readers and also with their parents. For example, non-sexual nudity is not uncommon in shonen and shojo manga. Generally, it’s not peppered throughout the book, more often it’s just one scene or another. By non-sexual I mean partial nudity that occurs during the regular circumstances of living, like someone climbs out of bed and changes clothes. Many times, there is a comedy element, where someone is trying to get a peek at something they shouldn’t, and gets in trouble for it, or accidentally gets a peak at something and feels embarrassed.

Aside from different tolerances for nudity, violence, sexual discussion/situations, there are a lot of elements to the art that might take some getting used to. Many times, a character’s state of mind or emotions will be shown through symbols, or by some form of extreme caricature.
Something else to bear in mind about manga is that the artist drawing the manga is responsible for the pages where the story is being told. The artist generally doesn’t make their own cover. Also, sometimes the first page or two can be a full page drawing of one of the characters, and often this isn’t the work of the main artist either. I mention it because sometimes the cover and first page of a manga can give you the impression that the manga is going to have more of something in it then it actually does. For example, .hack//Legend Of Twilight has a pretty tame cover, but has a partially naked character as the first picture, in the bath. Then the rest of the manga is just a normal story, with no nudity and no one taking a bath. Strange, but I think it has to do with selling the book.

Oh, let’s mention the way that manga gets to America.

First, almost all manga starts out serialized in manga magazines, like Shonen Jump, or Shojo Beat. Japan has many hundreds of manga magazines, serializing thousands of manga storylines every week or two or every month. Some of the magazines cater to niche markets, others just publish what’s popular. When a manga series becomes popular enough, it will often be repackaged in book form. At some point, someone decides which of these series might sell in America. The series is then translated and republished for an American market. In some cases, the American publication of a manga series isn’t very far behind the Japanese, but in most cases it seems like the American version of a manga is a few years behind. For example, a manga called “Spiral,” was published in Japan in 2000. The American version came out in 2006.

In Japan, if a manga is popular it will often be made into an anime, or cartoon. The anime will usually borrow from the manga, but isn’t generally a direct remake of it. Most anime series have a set length, like 13 or 26 episodes. Anime creators take bits and pieces of the manga and build a set of stories, usually with one overarching theme. So, the anime can end up being quite a bit different from the manga. Anime can also be in the form of movies. If a manga is popular, a feature length anime might be made out of it. Or, if an anime tv show is popular, a movie might be made. Because a movie is on 90 minutes or so in length, huge liberties are sometimes taken with the original manga stories and characters, and the movie might look nothing like the original manga.

Other places where manga comes from: Popular video games might get a manga. Or, a popular manga might get a video game. Sometimes an anime will get made that has no manga equivalent. In that case, usually a manga is made to help promote the show.

Manga is generally considered a Japanese made item. Other countries have artists who are creating manga-like stories, with manga-like art and formatted like a manga. Whether or not these should be called manga is up for debate, and some people probably feel pretty strong about what is and isn’t true manga. For example, South Korea has produced some great manhwa series. Also, some artists in the United States have embraced the medium and are now producing manga-influenced comics, which look a lot like other manga.

Thats all for now.

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Yeah, I like manga

April 10, 2008 at 5:20 pm (Manga)

I’ve just started leading a manga book group for teens.  Unlike regular fiction, I have a real easy time reading outside my usual genres in manga – maybe because it’s a fast read, or maybe because even outside of genres there are a lot of other aspects to manga that can be appreciated, such as the art style and so forth.

Manga is something that is becoming very popular in America, not just with the kids, but with adults as well.  Manga has its standard categories – giant robots, girls with psychic powers, etc. – much the same way American comics have their standard categories – superheroes, mainly.  But there is a wide range of other topics covered in manga that appeal to a wider audience than most of the popular American comics can appeal to.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a huge variety of American comics and graphic novels that appeal to a vast range of tastes and interests, but until very recently most of the non-superhero comics have not made it into the mainstream of comics.  In Japan, there are many titles in many genres that have become popular, so the things that are being translated and imported for our consumption are widely arrayed.

I recently went on a trip to our local large book store to discuss manga with our manga selector, and had the opportunity to put my thoughts in order on the topic, so I thought I’d write them up here in case anyone needed a crash course.

First, manga is a Japanese word meaning “comics.”  Pretty straightforward, I know, but there you go.

Manga is separated into several broad categories, but mainly “Shonen” meaning “for boys” and “Shojo” meaning “for girls.”  There are other styles of manga for adults, such as “Seinen,” which is for older boys and young men.  Some other types of manga you might run across include “Yaoi” which means something like “boys love” and feature young men in love with each other.  Another style of manga is “hentai,” which is essentially XXX, and at times can also be very violent, bizarre, or otherwise disturbing.  A final category you might run into when researching manga is “doujinshi” which is basically comics that feature popular characters, but which are written and drawn by fans, not the authorized artists.  In America, this practiced would be squashed as quickly and as brutally as possible because it infringes copyright.  In Japan, there is a general unspoken agreement that as long as the amateur artists don’t get too big for their britches, and since the doujinshi help to express the popularity of an existing manga, then it’s OK, and everyone just lets it go.  Doujinshi often portray the main characters of manga and anime in romantic relationships that don’t exist in the original manga.  These can range from innocent and fanciful to hentai style.  It’s not likely that as a selector or a big chain bookstore shopper that you will come across any doujinshi, but if you shop on ebay for manga, it’s all over the place.

Well, that’s enough for now.  I’ll write more on this topic in the near future, and start some lists of titles that seem to work good for kids.  In the mean time, have a lovely day!

Sgt. Frog - comedy manga - looks interesting...

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