: Manga, quite simply, is the Japanese word for comics. You might be surprised to know that it is also the most successful comics industry in the world. Its popularity in the U.S. has grown steadily since they first began to filter into this count ry a few decades ago. When Americans read them, they were shocked at how different the art and methods of story-telling were from the comic books they were used to. The answer is simple, manga developed a great deal in total isolation from the rest of t he world and achieved its own fundamental laws and techniques through by such means. All that aside, one of the most astounding reasons for mangaís uniqueness is the fact that it stems from the mind of one man--and his name was Osamu Tezuka.
THE GODFATHER OF MANGA
: Tezuka was born in Osaka on Novemeber 3rd, 1926. He graduated from the from the medical department of the University of Osaka, but eventually decided not to become a doctor. During his time at the University, he began to draw serveral four-pane l comic strips for newspapers. A year later, Tezuka published a comic book titled New Treasure Island. It was published in a format called akahon , or red book , an inexpensive means of publishing deriving its name from the gaudy red ink on the cover s. Treasure sold a record 400,000 copies and changed the Japanese comics scene overnight. Within the first twenty days, it was reprinted, and the the number of copies purchased for that version doubled to 800,000. The foundation for Tezukaís startling success had been laid. In his autobiography, he described exactly what it was that made his manga different from its predcessors and contemporaries: (Translated from Japanese.) Until that time (Tezuka is probably referring to the publication of New Treasure Island), most manga were drawn from a two-dimensional perspective, and in the style of a stage play. The interaction of the Ďactorsí appearing stage left and stage right were composed as if from the viewpoint of someone seated in the audience. I came to the realization that there was no way to produce powerful or psychological descriptions using this approach, so I began to introduce cinemati c techniques into my composition. The models for this were the German and French movies I saw in my days as a student. I manipulated close-ups and angles, of course, and tried using many panels and even many pages in order to faithfully capture movemen ts and facial expressions that previously would have been taken care of with a single panel. Soon I would end up with long works of five or six hundred to more than a thousand pages in no time at all...Also, I thought the potential of manga was more than getting a laugh; using themes of tears and sorrow, anger and hatred, I made stories that didnít always have happy endings.
: In June of 1961, Osamu Tezuka began his own animation company. His most popular creation was called Mighty Atom and would later be broadcast in the United States under the title of Astro Boy. His innovations created a boom in the manga market and its consequencs would radically restructure it. The fans grew up reading the Godfatherís works through school and into adulthood. Tezuka passed away in 1989; he had done what few people in history had ever dreamed of achieving--he created a entire culture that still exists today. And the readers would never forget him. One of his manga titles has finally landed here in the U.S. in a translated version, titled Adolf. I believe there are approximatly six volumes, each consisting of over one hundr ed pages each.
: From here, the story of manga has only just begun. In the 1950ís there was an explosion of the two styles of manga, Shounen ( boys) manga and Shoujo ( girls ) manga.
BOYS WILL BE BOYS
: Tezuka transformed manga into a popular medium of postwar Japan, from childrenís entertainment into a sophisticated medium that the readers were reluctant to abandon as they grew older. However, even a legend like Tezuka couldnít make this for m into the wildly lucrative industry it is today by himself alone. There were other important factors behind it, namely the manga megazines. In the early 50ís, the competition between manga and televsion had led the manga megazines to reform their conte nt. In 1954 (the same year as the senate hearings to censor comic books in America, more about that in our censorship section), when broadcasting first began in Japan, there were a mere 886 television sets in the entire nation. Megazines began to publis h weekly editions, such as Weekly Shounen Megazine and Weekly Shounen Sunday. In the beginning, they were designed as a general information and entertainment magazine, with manga usually occupying no more than a bit less than half of the issue. Circula tion reached a maximum of roughly 200,000 and the publishers realized that it was the comics section that was actually selling the megazines. Therefore, they began to publish a larger amount of it. Educational stories were added amidst complaints from a few parents and educators, but it wasnít even close to a shred of the amount in the U.S. There were no large, organized anit-manga groups or goverment involvement so sales continued to rise in a steady flow. A majority of the content was mostly science fiction and epic adventures tales of the kind Tezuka had pioneered (they later were called story manga to distinguish them from the simpler-looking pre- Tezuka works). Teenagers, college students, and youn g adults began flocking into rental book shops that were similar to todayís video stores. Gekiga , or theatrical pictures was a genre particularly popular among older readers for its moody stories a more realistic style of art that seemed to shy awa y a bit from Tezukaís work. In the late 60ís, a new form of manga called Seinen ( youth manga ) made its way onto the scene in megazines like Monthly Big Comic and Weekly Manga Action. It became quite popular and posed a threat to the Shounen manga indu stry because several Shounen artists moved to the Seinen-based megazines, eventually shadowing the Shounens in overall profit.
: To combat the Seinen threat, the Shounens published stories featuring a toned-down Gekiga style to hopefully lure back the readers. The Seinens responded, in kind, by reverting to story manga techniques. These megazine wars , fought to gain to a larger portion of the older readers, began to increasingly neglect primary school boys, their core readership. Circulation dropped dramatically. Where did the profits go? Surprisingly, to a black sheep (it was a latecomer to the world of megazines) ca lled Weekly Shounen Jump. Remaining faithful to its pre-teen readers, Jump came out on top in the early 70ís. Itís only handicap was its inability (during its first few years of publication) to attract well-known artists, which would later work to its a dvantage. A stark contrast to the major comics publishers in America during this time, the large Shounen and Seinen megazines had to give their star creators complete free reign over their projects. Jump, using the a policy just the opposite, could dire ct its various teams of rookies to meet reader demand. Once big sellers like Megazine and Sunday are still struggling to this day. Jump still remains currently on top with bestsellers such as Takehiko Inoueís Slam Dunk and Akira Toriyamaís long-running Dragon Ball. In 1994, they had reached their record figure of 6,200,000 copies for one issue; a monothlithic status when compared to those of other current megazines.
: As far as format goes, Shounen and Seinen manga are published in phone book-sized edition of roughly two hundred pages or more. Their content almost always consists of stories highlighting adventure, action, courage, and friendship. Some also have a bit of heterosexual romance. Although they are much simpler than Shoujo ( girlís manga ), they are far more complex in their plots and characterizaton than a good deal of mainstream American comics (which is beginning to change, though). This is, by far, not the only manga left to cover--onward to the womanís world of Shoujo!
AND FOR THE LADIES...
: It may surprise you to learn that while females consistute a minority of comic book readers in the U.S., a vast number of Japanese girls and women read manga. Here we too often picture comic art as something masculine, something fueled by testostero ne. If you agree with that, itís time to change that belief.
: Tezuka is widely considered to be the father of Shoujo, which relies heavily on the cinematic elements he created. In 1954, he finished a story named Ribon no kishi ( Knight of the Ribbon ), an incredibly sophisticated tale combining drama, adventure, fantasy, tragedy, and romance under a fairy tale atmosphere. Before Ribon , megazines targeted soley at primary-school girls with simple, humor-oriented strips, like those seen in newspapers. Most Shoujo manga stories were created by men, w ho usually did them as a side project while working on the larger Shounen megazines. The plots usually focused on mother/daughter relationships because romance was, of course, probably not on many of the minds of girls that age. There were a few female creators before the 60ís, most notably Hideko Mizuno, Masako Watanabe, and Miyako Maki. As the girls began to grow into women, male artists began to realize they were unable to capture the hearts of teenage girls. With a revolutionary shift from a month ly to weekly format in Shounen megazines in 1963, another in Shoujo megazines followed five years the later. One of the first great female Shoujo artists, Machiko Satonaka, made her professional debut in 1964 at the age of sixteen. By now, women creator s were steadily replacing men, who were probably aware they were out of the game. With the arrival of the 70ís, a new group of talented creators rose into the spotlight. Nicknamed Hans no nijuuyo-nen gumi ( Magnificent Twenty-Four-Year Group ) because most were born in Showa 24 (1949 A.D. by the western calender). Some of the more well-known ones were Moto Hagio (There Were Eleven), Keiko Takemiya (Toward the Terra), and Riyoko Ikeda (Rose of Versailles). They experimented with new themes and styles , rejecting the traditional ways of the Shounen genre and appealed more to older readers. Their work also incorporated other, more male-dominated subgenres such as science fiction, for example. At the same time, the weekly format that boosted the market of Shounen manga began hurting Shoujo. Due to the hectic pace of weekly megazines, more attention was given to the art than the good storytelling Shoujo readers expected. Soon, weeklies turned into biweeklies, and finally back to the old monthly format . With the slower work schedule, creators could return to the original, more detailed methods of writing. By the end of the 70ís, Shoujo had defeated the stereotype of being homogenous. A number of subgenres such as fantasy, various types of science fiction, and homosexual-related stories (called shounen- ai , or boyís love ) had been firmly established. The 80ís brought forth an increase in stories targeted at more specific audiences. During that decade, the market had become more complex and adult women demanded better manga. The first megazine which tried to target adult women really seemed to targe t only housewives in general. Much of the content was similar to a soap opera: outlandish plots and lots of sleaze. Near the end of the decade, it became apparent that this formula attracted only a small niche and werenít selling well. Here in the 90í s, Shoujo for older women began taking on more respectible stories in a wide range of genres: from the highly liberal Feel Young, to the more conservative YOU or mainstream newcomer Chorus, to the unabashedly racier pages of Amour. At long last, there is finally a style of manga that caters to the diverse tastes of practically every girl or woman.
: Of course, men enjoy reading Shoujo manga as well.
: Exactly. A large number of men began to seek more the more of the in-depth stories found only in Shoujo. Unlike the simple, straight forward method used in Shounen, Shoujo provides a unique feel and energy within its pages. Plot aside, the art is usually better, with approximatly thirty-two pages per month. However, what impresses me most is the style of the panel arrangement. Most Shounen, Seinen, and American comics tend to use independently-spaced panels covering all of the art. Shoujo panels, on the other hand, possess neat tricks like fading or linking panels and splash pages (which were made popular in America). And thatís the state of the art!
: Before we wrap up our glimpse into this astounding form of comic are in the East, Iíd like to explain a few things to our American visiters. Mangaís most interesting feature (which Stephen didnít mention) is its heavy use of iconicism (symbolism). When reading manga, those who didnít grow up in Asia would undoubtably have a hard time comprehending exactly what they were looking at. Here is a short list that may be of some use:
1) EYES - One of the most important features in a manga characterís face are his or her eyes. To put it simply, the eyes are a window to the soul. You can discover what type of personality a character may have just from looking at the eyes. Despit e popular belief, not all manga characters have those large doe eyes weíve come to expect on this side of the world. Large eyes are used predominatly in comedies or manga with a rather light-hearted storyline. Villains or stories with a more somber mo od would have harsher and more realistic looking eyes.
2) NOSE BUBBLES - A feature of manga that tends to gross out less knowledgable readers is the ever-popular enormous-bubble-of-goo-sprouting-from-a-characterís-nose look. This is actually meant to symbolize that the character is asleep, just as w e would use a trail of z s.
3) BLOODY NOSES - This rather mysterious form of iconicism is meant to represent that the character is thinking thoughts that are a bit on the naughty side. Maybe they just need a cold shower.
4) EXPLOSIONS, EXPLOSIONS, AND MORE EXPLOSIONS - More action-oriented manga tends to have a good amount of pyrotechnics involved. In reality, Japan has very little street crime and people enjoy reading about things that seem alien to them. We never had exactly had a long line of Lex Luthorís of Dr. Sivanaís waiting to take over the U.S.
5) CLOSE-UPS - The answer is simple, adding more emotion and supsense sells comics.
6) MOTION LINES - This is a topic where Japan beats us hands down. While early superhero comics only had a few trailing lines to show movement, Tezuka created a more realistic and dramatic approach. Have you ever watched cars pass by or been sitting in a car watching the scenery roll past in the window. Looks blurry, d oesnít it? Manga began utilizing large amounts of streaks and lines to show either an object or its backround in motion. Motion lines also helped in determining from whose perspect ive we were viewing a scene, the protagonist (or antagonist) or a bystander?
7) CARTOONY OR REALISTIC? - Scott McCloud described manga as using a masking effect which combined cartoonier characters in lavishly-detailed backgrounds. The fact is that cartoons are heavily iconic in nature. Why do we look at a circle with two dots and a line in the center and call it a face? Thatís what iconicism is all about. Itís simplicity allows us to relate to it quickly and easily. As far as backgrounds go, a more realistic background helps draw the reader into the imaginary world th at the artist has breathed life into.
8) WEIRD DIALOGUE - I remember reading a short manga rendition of the Batman comics (the mini-series is actually titled Batman: Black and White, I strongly recommend it) by manga legend Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira, The Legend of Mother Sarah). On the ver y first page, Batman said: So youíre the one incredible. No, Otomo doesnít have a problem with words, itís just that if youíre reading imported manga, and itís in English, your chances are one hundred percent that itís been translated. In the past, wh en imports to the U.S. were rare, only purchased by a few dedicated fans, much of it was translated by those fans themselves. The exceptions were larger manga distributors like Antarctic Press or Viz, which usually had professionals translate; most of wh om were fans themselves. Today, your chances of recieving a more faithful translation are far better than even ten years ago, but English and Japanese are still two completly different languages developed in long-isolated regions of the world. Japanese is an Asian language and English descended from Germanic tribal tongues (English and German were actually once the same language).
: It is my hope that youíve learned something about a distinct and quite interesting world culture from reading this section. Furthermore, I hope that you go out and pick up a copy of a manga comic and experience it for yourself.