MANGA, JAPANESE COMICS



& GRAPHIC NOVELS


 





Dreamland Japan. Writings on Modern Manga

(by Frederik L. Schodt)

 

  
   see also:

Suehiro Maruo "Miminashi Hobichi in the Dark"

"Basilisk" Manga by Masaki Segawa

Manga Erotics







 

 


Dreamland Japan. Writings on Modern Manga

(by Frederik L. Schodt)




ENTER THE ID
 

 

In 1995, FORMER JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER KI1CHI MIYAZAWA began serializing a column of his opinions, not in a newspaper or newsmagazine, but in the manga maga­zine Big Comic Spirits. A respected seventy-five-year-old politician and thinker, Miyazawa probably rarely reads comics, but the reason he chose a manga magazine to air his views is clear. Big Comic Spirits is read by nearly 1.4 million young salarymen and potential voters each week. In today's Japan, manga magazines are one of the most effective ways to reach a mass audience and influ­ence public opinion. Japan is the first nation in the world to accord "comic books"—originally a "humorous" form of enter­tainment mainly for young people—nearly the same social status as novels and films. Indeed, Japan is awash in manga. According to the Research Institute for Publica­tions, of all the books and magazines actually sold in Japan in 1995 (minus returns, in other words), manga comprised nearly 40 percent of the total.

Such industry statistics are indeed impressive, even frightening, but they hardly represent the entire picture or the true number of manga being read in Japan. There were 2.3 billion manga books and magazines produced in 1995, and nearly 1.9 billion actually sold, or over 15 for every man, woman, and child in Japan. Given the wild currency fluctuations of that year, the value of all comics produced ranged from U.S.$7-9 billion (a sum twice the GDP of Iceland), while those actually sold were worth $6-7 billion—an annual expenditure of over $50 for every person in Japan. Yet this does not include the mil­lions of dojinshi, or amateur manga publications, that do not circulate in regular distribution channels. Nor does it reflect the fact that non-manga magazines for adults, which used to be all text and pictures, now devote more and more pages to serialized manga stories. Finally, it does not take into account the popular practice of mawashi-yomi, of one manga being passed around and read by many people.

Statistics also do not indicate the huge influence manga have on Japanese society. Manga today are a type of "meta media" at the core of a giant fantasy machine. A production cycle typically begins with a story serialized in a weekly, biweekly, monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly magazine. The story, if successful, is then compiled into a series of paperbacks and deluxe hardback books, then produced as an animated series for television, and then made into a theatrical feature. For a particularly popular or long-run­ning series, the cycle may be repeated several times. One manga story thus becomes fuel not just for the world' largest animation industry, but for a burgeoning business in manga-inspired music CDs, character-licensed toys, stationery, video games, operas, television dramas, live-action films, and even manga-inspired novels.

At Japan's largest and most prestigious publishers it is no secret that sales of manga magazines and books now subsidize a declining commitment to serious litera­ture. Indeed, since manga are read by nearly all ages and classes of people today, references to them permeate Jap­anese intellectual life at the highest levels, and they are increasingly influencing serious art and literature. It is no exaggeration to say that one cannot understand modern Japan today without having some understanding of the role that manga play in society.

 


What Are Manga?

 

What are manga, exactly, and where did they come from? A LITTLE    In a nutshell, the modern Japanese manga is a synthesis: BACKGROUND    a long Japanese tradition of art that entertains has taken on a physical form imported from the West.

In late 1994 I accompanied several well-known American comics artists to Japan for discussions with their Japanese counterparts. Will Eisner, the pioneer and reigning dean of American comic books, was along, and he was clearly shocked and puzzled at how popular comics are in Japan. After all, he himself had struggled long and hard to gain more recognition for comics in his own country. Yet when he took a long look at a display of 19th-century illustrated humor books in the Edo-Tokyo Museum, his face lit up in a satori-like realization of why Japanese so love comics: They always have.

Japanese people have had a long love affair with art (especially monochrome line drawings) that is fantastic, humorous, erotic, and sometimes violent. One of the most famous examples is the hilarious Chojugiga, or "Animal Scrolls," a 12th-century satire on the clergy and no­bility, said to be by a Buddhist priest named Toba. Today's manga magazines and books, however, also have direct links to two types of entertaining picture books from the 18th and early 19th centuries—toba-e "Toba pictures," after the author of the "Animal Scrolls") and kibyoshi, or "yellow-jacket books." These were mass produced using woodblock printing and a division of labor not unlike the production system used by manga artists and their assistants today. Often issued in a series, again like today's manga, they were beloved by townspeople in cities such as Osaka and Edo (today's Tokyo). In a very real sense, they were the world's first comic books.

The physical form of modern manga—the sequential panels with word balloons arranged on a page to tell a story—came from the United States at the turn of the century, when American newspaper comic strips like George McManus's Bringing Up Father were imported. But unlike the United States, where slim magazines called "comic books" were first compiled in the 1930s from "comic strips" in newspapers, in prewar Japan the first real "comic books" for children were hardback books compiled from "comic strips" serialized in fat, illustrated monthly magazines for boys and girls. This pattern continues today in Japan; individual manga stories are usual­ly first serialized along with many other stories in omnibus-style manga magazines and then compiled into their own paperback and hardback books.

 

The two predominant and most distinctive forms of comics in the world today are those of America and Japan; minor variations on both are found in Europe, Latin Ameri­ca, and Asia. Although they have an essentially similar for­mat, Japanese and American comics have developed into two very different art forms. Other than the fact that manga are read "backward" because of the way the Japa­nese language is written, the most striking difference is size. American comic books are usually between 30 and 50 pages long, contain one serialized story, and are published monthly But manga magazines, many of which are issued weekly, often have 400 pages and contain twenty serial­ized and concluding stories (some magazines have 1,000 pages and over forty stories); when an individual story is compiled into a series of paperbacks it may take up fifty or more volumes of over 250 pages each.

Prices of manga are also extraordinarily low, even given the dollar's gutted value versus the yen in late 1995. Where a typical 32-page U.S. comic book (with many ads) cost over $2, a 400-page manga magazine rarely cost more than $3-4. On a per-page basis, therefore, the manga was six times cheaper than the U.S. comic book, a mir­acle made possible by the economies of scale Japanese publishers enjoy and by the use of low-quality recycled paper and mainly monochrome printing.

Manga magazines are not intended to last long, or even to be kept. Most are tossed in the trash can after a quick read, or recycled. Stories that are popular, however, are preserved by being compiled into paperback and hardback editions; most of the best comics in Japan— even those from forty years ago—are available in such permanent editions at a very reasonable price. As a result, Japan has largely been free of the disease from which American comics suffer: speculation. Collectors dominate the American mainstream comics market, and they are more likely to poly-bag their purchases and place them in a drawer than read them, thus driving up the price of both old and new comics. In 1995, one collector paid $137,500 for a copy of Action Comics No. 1, which first introduced Superman. As Toren Smith, a packager of Jap­anese comics in the U.S., notes, alluding to a company that produces coins especially for the collectors market, "many American comic book publishers have become the equivalent of the Franklin mint."

Unlike mainstream American and European comics, which are richly colored, most manga are monochrome, except for the cover and a few inside pages. But this is no handicap when it comes to artistic expression. On the contrary, some manga artists have elevated line drawing to new aesthetic heights and developed new conventions to convey depth and speed with lines and shading. Using the "less-is-more" philosophy of traditional Japanese brush painting, many artists have learned to convey sub­tle emotions with a minimum of effort; an arched eye­brow, a downturned face, or a hand scratching the back of the head can all speak paragraphs. And since manga today are increasingly mass produced, artists can avail themselves of many new tools for quickly detailing monochrome backgrounds. The copy machine, for exam­ple, is often used by artists at high-contrast to incorporate photographs into backgrounds (in recent years some pho­tographers have filed claims against artists for "appropri­ating" their images in this fashion). Another modern-day tool is "screen tones"—ready-to-use, commercially avail­able patterned sheets that can be applied on a page to instantly create shadings and texture. Artists around the world use screen tones, but Japanese artists have access to such a variety that their overseas counterparts can only drool with envy. There are even screen tones for ready-made backgrounds of city- and seascapes. For those who prefer to draw by hand, there are special manga "background catalogs" with carefully rendered line drawings (available for copying) of the interiors of school classrooms, office rooms, train stations, restau­rants, and other popular settings.

 

 

Still, many manga are quite poorly drawn by Ameri­can and European standards. At the meetings held in 1994 between several noted American and Japanese comics artists, the Japanese boasted of the superiority of their form of comics—until it came to artwork, at which point they all looked rather sheepish and unanimously agreed that they could never match the draftsmanship of their Western counterparts.

The real hallmark of manga is storytelling and char­acter development. After World War II, a single artist— Osamu Tezuka—helped revolutionize the art of comics in Japan by decompressing story lines. Influenced by American animation in particular, instead of using ten or twenty pages to tell a story as had been common before, Tezuka began drawing novelistic manga that were hun­dreds, even thousands of pages long, and he incorporated different perspectives and visual effects—what came to be called "cinematic techniques." Other artists in Ameri­ca, such as Will Eisner, had employed cameralike effects a decade earlier, but combining this technique with the decompression of story lines was new.

The result was a form of comics that has far fewer words than its American or European counterpart and that uses far more frames and pages to depict an action or a thought. If an American comic book might use a sin­gle panel with word balloons and narration to show how Superman once rescued Lois Lane in the past, the Japa­nese version might use ten pages and no words. (Of course, the monochrome printing, cheap paper, and the enor­mous economies of scale enjoyed by Japanese industry also make it economically possible for artists to do this.)

Many American artists have been heavily influenced by Japanese manga in recent years, so that some of the differences between the two art forms have begun to erode. But if one were to make a gross generalization, it be that until recently many mainstream American comics still resembled illustrated narratives, whereas Jap­anese manga were a visualized narrative with a few words tossed in for effect.

The cinematic style enables manga artists to devel­op their story lines and characters with more complexity and psychological and emotional depth. Like good film directors, they can focus reader attention on the minutia of daily life—on scenes of leaves falling from a tree, or steam rising from a bowl of hot noodles, or even the preg­nant pauses in a conversation—and evoke associations and memories that are deeply moving. Japanese comics are perhaps unique in the world in that it is not unusual to hear fans talk about weeping over favorite scenes.

The cinematic style also allows manga to be far more iconographic than comics in America and Europe. Individual illustrations don't have to be particularly well-executed as long as they fulfill their basic role of convey­ing enough information to maintain the flow of the story. And why should they be? A young American or European fan of comics may spend minutes admiring the artwork on each page of his or her favorite comic, but not the Jap­anese manga fan. As I wrote in 1983, to the amazement of many in the U.S. comics industry, a 320-page manga magazine is often read in twenty minutes, at a speed of 3.75 seconds per page. In this context, manga are merely another "language," and the panels and pages are but another type of "words" adhering to a unique grammar. Japanese say that reading manga is almost like reading Japanese itself. This makes sense, for manga pictures are not entirely unlike Japanese ideograms, which are them­selves sometimes a type of "cartoon," or a streamlined visual representation of reality.

Japanese manga offer far more visual diversity than mainstream American comics, which are still shackled by the Greek tradition of depicting the human form and still reveal an obsession with muscled males and full-figured females. Only in American "underground comics" or "independents" can one find anything approaching the eccentricity of art styles that exists in Japan—where humans may be depicted in both realistic and nonrealistic styles in the same story, with both "cartoony" and "serious" backgrounds.

The diversity of manga extends to subject matter. American and European comics long ago began dealing with very serious themes, thus making the word "comic book" a gross misnomer {leading some to use the term "graphic novel" instead). Nonetheless, despite many fine experiments, the bulk of American material is still for young males and of the superhero ilk. In Japan, however, there are stories about nearly every imaginable subject.

There are manga that rival the best in literature. There are soft-core and hard-core porn tales for both men and , women. There are stories about the problems of hierar­chical relationships in boring office jobs or about the spiritual rewards of selling discount cameras in Tokyo's Shinjuku district. A true mass medium, manga provide something for both genders, for nearly every age group, and for nearly any taste.

Ultimately, however, the real triumph of Japanese manga lies in their celebration of the ordinary. As Amer­ican comic artist Brian Stelfreeze once commented to me, "Comics in the United States have become such a caricature. You have to have incredible people doing incredible things, but in Japan it seems like the most popular comics are the comics of normal people doing normal things."

Yet along with this celebration of the ordinary is the bone-crushing reality that the vast majority of manga border on trash. Even the good stories tend to run out of energy after a while. The pressures of mass production on artists, and the greed of publishers who wish to milk their cash cows dry, often result in watered-down stories being serialized far too long.

In the marketplace manga are treated almost the same as any other medium in Japan, but artistically they still carry the stigma of having once been an inexpensive form of entertainment for children. They are not taken quite as seriously. Some manga artists embark on their creative journeys with hopes of becoming the Tolstoy or Kawabata of manga, but most don't. Most start out wishing merely to entertain their audiences, and themselves, and possibly become rich. In the process they face far less scrutiny than serious novelists or filmmakers—"artists" in other media. (There are manga critics in Japan, but perhaps because the public still thinks of manga as a disposable commodity, nearly all of the critics support themselves with other jobs.) Lack of scrutiny has led to relentless pandering to the lowbrow tastes of readers and a more than occasional glorification of sex and violence. Another result, however, is an unselfconscious freedom of expres­sion and a refreshing creativity.

Manga are much easier to create than other forms of entertainment. Writers usually need education along with language skills. Filmmakers need social skills, enormous amounts of money, and a small army of production people. Successful manga artists may form a company and hire over a dozen assistants, a manager, a photo­grapher, and a chauffeur, but the entry-level requirements for the profession consist mainly of good ideas, a certain degree of physical and intellectual stamina, and pens, pencils, and paper. It isn't necessary to be a particularly good artist.

As a medium of expression, manga thus exist in a niche somewhere between film, records, novels, and tele­vision. Manga are usually low-calorie, light entertainment—something to read in a free moment before work or cracking the books to prepare for an exam, or while riding a train home, getting a permanent at the beauty parlor, slurping a bowl of noodles, or waiting for a friend in a coffee shop. They are highly portable, and—not to be overlooked in today's crowded Japan—they provide a silent activity that doesn't bother others.

 



Why Read Manga?
 

 

For a translator, or an interpreter, or any nonnative speaker who aspires to true fluency in spoken Japanese, reading manga is one of the best ways to keep up with the many changes that are constantly occurring in the Japa­nese language. The language in manga is alive and closer to the "street" than one finds in other printed media, and it is a source of many new expressions. Because of their visual nature, manga can also be an excellent language-learning resource for beginning students of Japanese. In what is surely one of the most interesting experiments in American publishing in recent years, in 1990 VaughanSimmons, an American in Atlanta, Georgia, took this idea to its logical conclusion and began publishing Mangajin, a magazine that uses manga with English explanations to teach Japanese language and culture; when readers tire of struggling with unfamiliar kanji characters, they can relax and enjoy the English explanations or the pictures.

But there is an even more important reason to read manga. One of the most confusing aspects of Japanese society for foreigners is the dichotomy that exists in public discourse between tatemae, or "surface images and intentions," and honne, or "true feelings and intentions." This custom of tailoring one's statements or actions to the situation exists in nearly all societies, but in ultra-crowded Japan, especially, it helps people harmonize with others and compartmentalize their public and private selves. It is also one of the main reasons Japanese people constantly feel they are "misunderstood" by foreigners, and—conversely—that foreigners often find Jap­anese people somewhat "inscrutable."

Reading manga does not necessarily make Japan more "scrutable," but it definitely takes the lid off many otherwise opaque aspects of its society. In the beginning, most non-Japanese (and even the few Japanese who don't normally read comics) find manga confusing. No matter how well translated, many are still very "Japanese" in story, visual style, and pacing. Pictures are intrinsically linked with verbal jokes and even puns. Sometimes characters seem to have nothing but dots in their word balloons, or to be gazing incessantly at horizons or making poignant gestures. Lecherous male characters suddenly develop nosebleeds. Plots seem to proceed in a rather roundabout way. Why don't they just get to the point? The answer, of course, is that manga are written and drawn by artists thinking in Japanese, not English, so it can take a non-Japanese a little more work and a little more patience to read them, even in translated form. A new visual and written vocabulary must be learned. Besides, manga are hardly a direct representation of reality. Most stories-even if they depict normal people doing normal things, or impart hard information on history or the tax code—at their core are pure, often outrageous fantasy.

But once the new "vocabulary" and "grammar" have been learned, it soon becomes clear that manga repre­sent an extremely unfiltered view of the inner workings of their creators' minds. This is because manga are rela­tively free of the massive editing and "committee"-style production used in other media like film, magazines, and television. Even in American mainstream comics, the norm is to have a stable of artists, Ietterers, inkers, and scenario writers all under the control of the publisher. In Japan, a single artist might employ many assistants and act as a sort of "director," but he of she is usually at the core of the production process and retains control over the rights to the material created. That artists are not nec­essarily highly educated and deal frequently in plain subject matter only heightens the sense that manga offer the reader an extremely raw and personal view of the world.

Thus, of the more than 2 billion manga produced each year, the vast majority have a dreamlike quality. They speak to people's hopes, and fears. They are where stressed-out modern urbanites daily work out their neu­roses and their frustrations. Viewed in their totality, the phenomenal number of stories produced is like the con­stant chatter of the collective unconscious—an articulation of the dream world. Reading manga is like peering into the unvarnished, unretouched reality of the Japanese mind.

 

Those who think that seeing beyond the surface or tatemae level of Japanese culture has relevance only to Japanophiles or language students probably don't realize just how much influence Japan is exerting over our daily lives today, or how deep that influence goes. Manga and anime, in particular, have permeated into the bastion of American civilization known as "pop culture" and have slowly wormed their way into the collective consciousness of the English-speaking world. Subtle and not-so-subtle references to both manga and anime appear with increas­ing frequency in major Hollywood films, in rock music videos, and in the work of artists. They may even be affecting our taste in colors. As the New York Times noted in an October 3, 1995 article, prominent fashion designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier are increasingly incorporating new, exotic tones such as those found on manga magazine covers. Our children, for that matter, are growing up watching more and more of what we think is domestically produced TV animation but which is actually repackaged Japanese anime with manga roots. Whether in the Americas, Europe, Asia, or Australia, it would behoove us all. there­fore, to learn more about the thought processes behind these works. Why was Astro Boy so different from other shows on television in the 1960s? What was the hidden nationalistic theme in Star Blazers'? Who thought up the transforming robot idea? Why did the female characters in the 1995 Sailor Moon series have such big eyes? Learning about manga, and Japanese culture through manga, can provide the answers.

For those who love comics, there is also another reason to read manga, and that is simply to see what can be done with the medium. Japan is the first nation to give the "comic book" format such legitimacy and to test its potential on such a grand scale. Manga are an experiment in progress, and for anyone who has the slightest interest in comics, in new media, in new ways of transmitting information, and in literacy, Japan is a fascinating case study. How far will Japan be able to go in using manga to transmit hard information? How easily will this new medium, once mainly for children, coexist with other forms of information? Will manga replace text-based communication? At this point, only time will tell.

Finally, the best reason of all to read manga is the simplest, and it has nothing to do with learning about Japan or its language or any other sociological gobbledy-gook. Manga are fabulous entertainment!

 

 


MODERN MANGA

AT THE END OF THE MILLENNIUM
 

 

 

 

IN THE LATE 19TH CENTURY IT WAS FASHIONABLE FOR WESTERNERS to visit Japan and remark on what an "'odd" place it was. Percival Lowell, who later became a famous astronomer and propagandist for the idea of life on Mars, did just this in an 1888 book called The Soul of the Far East, noting that "we seem, as we gaze at them, to be viewing our own humanity in some mirth-provoking mirror of the mind,—a mirror that shows us our own familiar thoughts, but all turned wrong side out." Fortunately (or unfortunately, as the case may be), Lowell didn't have manga to examine. Like many things in Japanese culture, comics in Japan are both utterly similar to and utterly different from their counterparts in the West. Yet it is pre­cisely where the vectors of "similar" and "different" intersect that there is so much to learn.

 


What's in a Word?

 

 

Almost everyone in Japan refers to comics as "manga,"  YOU SAY    but  the   English-derived  word   komikkusu   (and   even MANGA,     "comics" itself) is frequently used in magazine titles and I SAY    by industry and media people trying to sound sophisticat-KOMIKKUSU    ed. A representative of the Research Institute for Publica­tions, which tracks data on the publishing world in Japan and which always uses komikkusu instead of "manga" in its publications, told me that "manga" had long had a somewhat "unrefined" or "unsophisticated" image and had thus fallen out of favor. But in the near future, he pre­dicted, it would probably become popular again, for magazine editors were already beginning to think that perhaps there had been nothing wrong with it after all.

So, just like their counterparts in the English-speaking world, Japanese people have floundered about trying to find the right term to describe the sequential picture-panels that tell a story. In America, words used include "cartoons," "comic books," "funny books," and "graphic novels," but most people just say "comics"—a true misnomer for an oft-serious medium and a word also used for people who tell jokes for a living. In Japan, simple cartoons have in the past variously been referred to as toba-e ("Toba pictures," named after the monk Toba, who reportedly drew some of the earliest humorous scrolls), giga ("playful pictures"), and ponchi-e ("punch" pictures, after the British "Punch and Judy" and after Punch magazine). The word "manga" was coined in 1814 by the woodblock artist Hokusai, apparently to mean something like "whimsical sketches," but it did not come into wide use to describe sequential art and what we now think of as "comics" until the 20th century. Even then it seems to have been applied quite arbitrarily. It was originally written with the two kanji characters man  (which means "involuntary" or "in spite of oneself," with a secondary nuance of "morally corrupt") and ga  (which means "pictures"). Technically, "manga" can today mean "caricature," "cartoon," "comic strip," "comic book," and some­times even "animation," although younger generations invariably use "anime" for the last in the list.

In its vagueness, manga is therefore similar to the English "cartoon." In its implication of something humor­ous or less than serious, it is similar to "comics." Understandably, many people would rather refer to their favorite medium with a more precise word, one that might also confer more legitimacy on it. One substitute occasionally encountered in Japan today is thus gekiga ("dramatic pictures," equivalent to "graphic novels"). The other is the abovementioned komikkusu, an example of how foreign and especially English words are often used in Japan in place of perfectly good native ones, if for no other reason than that they tend to convey an air of new­ness and sophistication; often their very opacity provides an additional cachet. That the use of komikkusu creates an international Moebius strip of semantic confusion goes entirely unnoticed. Worse yet, in many circles in Japan. komikkusu specifically means manga books, and not mag­azines, which are called komikku-shi or manga-zasshi.

Even among industry people in Japan who might use the term komikkusu to sound sophisticated, when talk turns to comics overseas they will frequently revert to saying "manga" to differentiate the Japanese species from its American counterpart. American comics are referred to simply as komikkusu, or ame-komi, a catchy contraction for Amerikan komikkusu. Meanwhile, in the English-speaking world, after a smooth initial introduc­tion, confusion around the word "manga" has been amplified. In the mid-nineties, the London-based firm Manga Entertainment was widely perceived to have attempted to trademark the word "manga" along with its logo, and it persisted in using "manga" to refer to the translated Japanese animation videos it marketed (to dif­ferentiate its animation videos from its translated Japan­ese comics, it referred to the latter in publicity brochures using the awkward redundancy "manga comics"). As of 1995, many fans in Europe were therefore using the word "manga" to refer to Japanese animation, while fans in the Americas used it exclusively to refer to Japanese comics.

For all its flaws and imperfections, the word "manga" will continue to offer many design benefits to illustrators and typesetters. The beautiful complexity of the Japanese writing system makes it possible to write it horizontally from left to right (right to left before World War II) or vertically. In addition to being presented as MM using Sino-Japanese ideograms (kanji), it can be rendered as  with a lovely cursive phonetic script called hiragana, as 7Vtl with an angular phonetic script called katakana (usually reserved for foreign words or special effects), and as "MANGA," using the roman alphabet.

 


The Dojinshi World

 

I felt like Alice going through the looking glass when I SUPER experienced my first manga fan convention in the spring COMIC CITY of 1994. The trappings of American comic book conventions were there—hordes of fans, booths with people selling comics, and occasional costumes—but nearly everything else was topsy-turvy.

The convention was called Super Comic City 3, and it was held at Tokyo's huge Harumi Trade Center on April 4 and 5. The Tokyo fair is the biggest of a series of Comic City conventions that the sponsor—a for-profit event planning and publishing firm—stages in major Japanese cities throughout the year. It took up five giant exhibition halls and lasted two days. 1 might have become lost if it hadn't been for my able guides, Kan Miyoshi and Mary Kennard, editors from a Japanese publisher and experts on the world of manga conventions.

American comic book conventions are overwhelm­ingly attended by males, many middle-aged and some potbellied and tattooed. At Super Comic City, however, I had the slightly disorienting but by no means unpleasant experience of being surrounded by tens of thousands of virginal females in their late teens and early twenties. They appeared to make up at least 90 percent of the attendees; most were well-dressed, some even wearing frills and fragrances. But appearances can be deceiving. In the recent past, some of these conventions have been targeted by the police and the media due to the presence on site of some rather racy material; later in 1994, for example, a Comic City convention was shut down after a warning by the police. Fans, understandably, are a little sensitive. Mr. Miyoshi cautioned me about taking close-up photographs. "Many of the kids," he said, "don't want their parents or teachers to know they're here. ..."

A large American comic book convention might have scores of dealers' booths, but inside the vast halls of Harumi there were nearly 18,000 booths. The U.S. comic book market is dominated by male collectors, and dealers usually sell back issues of commercial comics of the male superhero variety. The real buyers (who are mostly adults) often treat their purchases as investments and, rather than read the comics, carefully slip them into plas­tic bags, hoping they will one day appreciate and be worth thousands of dollars. At Super Comic City conven­tions, however, the comics being sold are all dojinshi, or "fanzines," created by fans for fans and designed to be read, not collected. The creators are usually members of what are called saakuru, or "circles"—groups of like-minded amateurs who collaborate to create and publish their works. There are said to be over 50,000 manga circles in Japan today.

The dojinshi sold at the conventions consist of a variety of genres, including orijinaru (original works), ani-paro (parodies of popular animation shows), ju-ne mono (serious stories of love between gay males, of the sort pio­neered by Ju-ne magazine), and ya-o-i (from the phrase YAma-nashi, Ochi-nashi, Imi-nashi, meaning "no climax, no punchline, no meaning"; playful stories of a nonsensi­cal sort, often taking male characters from popular ani­mation series and depicting them in gay relationships). For males the most popular genres are probably bishojo ("beautiful young girls") and rorikon ("Lolita complex"). Some of the latter material would be regarded as kiddie porn in North America. Most dojinshi are manga, but not all. Some are novels with manga-Iike themes. There are also circles at conventions that market manga-style video games.

The level of organization at Super Comic City 3 was awe-inspiring, illustrating that the dojinshi subcul­ture has become an industry unto itself. Amateurs pool their funds and issue small printruns of their books (ranging from 100 to 6,000 copies) at a level of quality that rivals the mainstream manga industry. Hardbound books with lavish color covers and offset printing are not uncommon. There are thus a wide variety of busi­nesses present at the conventions that specifically sup­port the dojinshi market, including representatives of printing companies and art supply firms. For tired fans with an armload of purchases, delivery companies have trucks and employees standing by outside the halls, waiting to package up the books and deliver them to your home.

To help fans find specific artists and their works more easily in the vastness of Harumi's halls, the conven­tion sponsors issue a 380-page catalog. In addition to maps and ads for suppliers and printers, it is filled with postage-stamp-sized illustrations of the work done by each of the thousands of circles. Since printruns are limit­ed, dojinshi manga sell on a first come, first served basis. Popular  ones are quickly snapped up,  so  fans wait patiently in long lines to purchase books by leading artists. If the lines are too long and snake so far around the halls that it is difficult to see which artist they lead to, the last person in line is expected to hold a placard indi­cating where it goes, Waiting in lines is time-consuming, so savvy attendees like Mary Kennard—who is one of the few Americans working in this industry in Japan and often buys samples of the best dojinshi for her compa­ny—go to the show with a group of friends; before enter­ing the halls they formulate a plan of attack that allows them to cover as many booths as possible in the shortest possible time.

As I wandered around the floors of the convention halls, I was struck by the general mood—it seemed so feminine and genteel. But here and there were pockets of people of a noticeably different disposition. In front of the booths of popular artists of the provocative Lolita-complex genre, noisy crowds of young males rudely jos­tled each other in line, their sweaty bodies steaming up the air. Elsewhere, males roamed the halls in organized high-tech purchasing gangs. Like packs of predators, they coordinated their movements with wireless headsets and microphones.

Super Comic City is but one of many large manga conventions held throughout the year in Japan today. A single convention may draw over 200,000 fans, making it a sort of manga Woodstock. A world unto itself, the manga convention has become a forum for direct, unself-conscious communication between readers and creators, free from the constraints and pressures of commercialism.

 

The mother of all manga conventions in Japan is not KOMIKETTO Super Comic City, but an event with the more prosaic name of "Komike" or "Komiketto," short for "Comic Mar­ket." Held twice a year in Tokyo in December and August, Komiketto is a nonprofit event organized by fans for fans. Unlike Super Comic City, which was formed in the mid-eighties and has a heavy concentration of female fans of the ya-o-i genre, Komiketto has been around since December 1975 and has an attendance that is about 40 percent male.

According to Yoshihiro Yonezawa, president of the Komiketto organization and one of its founding fathers, Komiketto grew out of science-fiction fandom that for its part had been heavily influenced by sci-fi fandom and conventions in the United States. Now a noted manga critic, Yonezawa says that in the early seventies there were far fewer manga magazines in Japan and it was much harder to get anything other than very mainstream works published. In hopes of expanding and developing the medium to its full potential, he and some colleagues formed a coterie magazine of manga criticism. "To carry out the changes we wanted to see in the real world," he notes, "we started Komiketto."

The first Komiketto began with around 600 partici­pants. In 1995 the three-day summer event drew nearly 300,000 people to the Harumi Trade Center grounds and featured over 60,000 sellers of dojinshi. Traditionally two days long, in 1995 an extra day was added to cope with demand. The first day focused on anime-related, primari­ly female works; the second day featured original works, science fiction, music, etc.; and the last day was devoted mainly to male-oriented works and games. The so-called Planning and Preparation Committee was made up of a registered staff of 1,200 volunteers—among them Christopher Swett, a manga-loving officer in the U.S. Navy stationed in Japan. A fan of Japanese manga and animation ever since he saw Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy on American television, Swett had in the past put togeth­er his own dojinshi and sold it at Komiketto. His first book was around 100 pages long and contained the work of nearly twenty artist friends; he printed 300 copies, priced them at $5.00 each, and sold 178 copies at Komiketto in six hours, for a loss.

Why are dojinshi and dojinshi conventions so popu­lar in Japan? When I asked this of Yonezawa and his wife, Eiko, in the fall of 1994, she stressed, above all, that the conventions are fun and that there is a secret thrill of attending a convention and knowing one's favorite manga magazines and books are sold only there. Mr. Yonezawa stressed the ease and the fun of creation. "Dojinshi are something even amateurs can do," he said, "and they don't require much in the way of professional technique. It's maybe like rock and roll in the United States, because it doesn't require education and it's some­thing young people can easily do on their own with just paper and pens. Dojinshi also give instant results, unlike filmmaking, or even drawing commercial manga."

Both Yonezawa and his wife began drawing car­toons in the first grade by imitating their favorite charac­ters. Today their children are following in their footsteps. So many young Japanese are equipped to create dojinshi these days that by third grade they may bind their draw­ings into little books with staples and compete with their friends. Manga study clubs are common in elementary schools, as well as in junior high and high schools and universities. One reason so many people draw manga in Japan may have to do with the exam-oriented, academic pressure-cooker environment of modern Japan. "Manga," Yonezawa says, "are one of the few things young people aren't forced to do by their teachers, so it's a genre of expression they actively want to participate in."

Why are there so many more young women than men creating dojinshi and attending conventions? The academic environment may again be a factor. "Most of the males," Yonezawa says, "tend to be older and are col­lege students, because in the Japanese system, after being under extraordinary pressure for years to study for their entrance exams, this is when they finally have some free time." Females—apparently not under the same pres­sures as their male counterparts—start participating in the dojinshi scene as teens in junior high and high school. "That's  when  they   are  the   most   'free,'"   Yonezawa explains, also noting that "Girls tend to avoid going to the conventions alone, and usually drag along two or three friends, even if the friends really aren't that into it."

One factor in dojinshi popularity is probably not exportable. As Mary Kennard notes, "The proliferation of dojinshi owes a lot to the rather relaxed ideas of copyright in Japan. In the States, some fanzines (notably those based on the Star Wars universe) were threatened with extreme penalties if they continued to publish."

Chris Swett further explains: "There's something that fans get out of reading books written by other fans that they don't get from their regular, weekly manga. [With parodies.] they can take their favorite characters and put them in ridiculous situations, bend stories around, and do things that the original artists don't have the freedom to do. Considering how much more freedom Japanese artists have than American artists, that's saying something. ... In America we don't have a gray area in our copyright laws that allows this sort of fan art. It's not the way the copyright laws are written, but the way they're enforced. Copyright holders in the United States have to protect their trademark or it becomes public domain. That's not the case in Japan, so artists and pub­lishers can afford to tolerate these homages. It doesn't mean they like it, but they don't want to do anything to alienate their customer base. The manga publishers bene­fit from happy fans, and some even send scouts to dojin-shi markets to find aspiring artists."

The overwhelming size of the dojinshi market has caused the border between it and the commercial manga market to blur. At Komiketto, to preserve the amateur, fan-oriented nature of the conventions, businesses and companies are not allowed to participate, and the spon­sors are set up as a nonprofit organization. But since a few dojinshi manga artists can sell up to 6.000 copies of a book at over ¥600 each, there are nonetheless some "pro­fessionals " in the so-called amateur markets. Also, several of today's popular mainstream stars, such as Rumiko Takahashi, Hisaichi Ishii, or the women's group CLAMP, either once worked in, or emerged from, the dojinshi market.

It would be hard for mainstream publishers—who are businesses, after all—not to notice the dojinshi phe­nomenon. The amount of money that changes hands in two days at a convention is awe-inspiring. In the Septem­ber 3, 1991 issue of Japan's Aera magazine, reporters esti­mated that at the Komiketto convention that year fans spent over ¥3 billion ($30 million) in forty-eight hours. And that doesn't even take into account the admission fees of $10 paid by more than 200,000 people.

 


Otaku

I couldn't avoid a chuckle when I saw the word otaku written in Japanese with no English explanation on the cover of the premiere issue of Wired magazine in 1993. The English language has absorbed many Japanese words in recent years. "Manga" and "anime" are slowly creeping into the average American's lexicon. But otaku, while apparently about to join the ranks of these other esteemed imports, has a far more complicated background.

 

Among English-speaking fans of Japanese anima­tion and manga, otaku has been used for some time to mean a hardcore aficionado. At one of the early Japanese manga and anime conventions held in America at the beginning of the 1990s, some young Americans were walking around with the word otaku boldly written on black leather jackets and T-shirts as a badge of pride. By 1994 there was even an anime-related convention held in the U.S. called "Otakon."

Ironically, the particular usage of otaku now seen in the United States has a short history in Japan. Otaku was originally written as o-taku, with the honorific phonetic character o- preceding the Chinese character for "house." It could therefore mean "your house" or "your home," but it was (and still is) most commonly used as one of the multitude of words in the Japanese honorific hierarchy for "you," especially when addressing someone with whom you are not overly familiar and wish to be very polite.

At the beginning of the 1980s, young male manga and anime fans started addressing each other with this honorific. Exactly why they did so is not altogether clear, since young males in Japan have traditionally addressed members of their peer group with far rougher sounding personal pronouns. But the new usage coincided with an explosion in the popularity of manga and anime and with the increased visibility of hardcore fans who until then were called mania—a "Japlish" concoction derived from the English "maniac" (just as the similar "fan" is a con­traction of "fanatic)"

Essayist Akio Nakamori claims to be the first person in Japan to have begun referring to manga-anime fans as otaku. In June 1983 he began writing a column titled Otaku no Kenkyu, or "Studies in Otaku" in Manga Burikko (a porno manga magazine of the Lolita-complex ilk for horny young males). In it he recounted his impressions of his first visit to a Komiketto convention: " [The fans] all seemed so odd . . . the sort in every school class; the ones hopeless at sports, who hole up in the classroom during break . . . either so scrawny they look like they're mal­nourished or like giggling fat white pigs with silver-framed glasses with the sides jammed into their heads ... the friendless type . . . and ten thousand of them came crawling out of nowhere."

Then, after describing how the traditional term mania, or "enthusiastic fans," didn't really fit these young people's image, he went on to announce, that "since there doesn't seem to be a proper term to address this phenom­enon, we've decided to christen them otaku, and hence­forth refer to them as such."

Nakamori's column was soon canceled (probably because the editors felt he was insulting the readers, many of whom might have fit the category he described), but the appellation stuck. In fact, the mass media jumped on it, as only the herdlike Japanese mass media can. Nakamori later confessed to mixed feelings about the phenomenon he had unleashed, but he needn't have felt too guilty. He only gave the trend a name. Many otherpeople in the media had also begun to notice what seemed to be a new phenomenon, of a huge population of young people obsessed with manga or anime or other hobbies—of socially inept young males, in particular, seeking refuge in a fantasy-world.

If it hadn't been for the Miyazaki incident in the late MANGA MADNESS 1980s, otaku might have become just another variant on the term mania. It might simply have resembled "fanboy," a pejorative term often heard at American pop-media conventions that connotes a somewhat emotionally immature male overly obsessed with his hobby—the type that howls in protest when a publisher changes the color of his favorite superhero's belt buckle. It might simply have resembled "geek" or "nerd." At worst, it would simply have been another in a long line of derogatory terms (like shinjinrui, or "new humans") that the Japanese media periodically use to ridicule materialistic and effete younger generations.

Tsutomu Miyazaki was a disturbed twenty-seven-year-old man who kidnapped and killed four girls of pre­school age in 1988 and 1989, delivering the remains of one of his victims to her family using the pseudonym "Yuko Imada," reportedly the name of a favorite female comic book or anime character. When Miyazaki was final­ly apprehended, his apartment was found to contain near­ly 6,000 videos, including "splatter" and "horror" films and many animation videos of the rorikon porno ilk, as well as similar fanzines and manga. He was the manifesta­tion of the manga and animation industries' worst night­mare: a fan incapable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality, obsessed with the darkest and most degenerate genre of material—kiddie porn. Even more horrifying for the dojinshi market, Miyazaki had also reportedly sold manga of his own creation at Komiketto.

Since Miyazaki's crime was particularly horrible and had occurred in a nation that prides itself on being almost crime-free, the media went into a feeding frenzy, establish­ing a perfect syllogism in the public mind—that otaku are people obsessed with manga and animation; that Miyazaki was an otaku; and that all otaku are therefore like Miyazaki. A flood of reports on otaku and the otaku-zoku ("otaku tribe") soon appeared in the media, creating the impres­sion of a manga and anime fan community inhabited by socially deranged and autistic wackos.

It is hard to imagine any single Japanese word that has been so discussed and so mutilated in such a short period of time. From an honorific used in polite conversa­tion, otaku soon came to also represent mostly young males who could no longer effectively relate to real world people (especially women) and thus bury themselves in pornographic manga and animation and masturbatory fantasies, and harbor dangerous sexual proclivities and fetishes; in short, people who might be mentally ill and perhaps even a threat to society.

Eventually, as often happens, otaku were partially saved by the excesses of the media itself. Some commen­tators protested that otaku was a discriminatory term and that the media were engaged in "otaku-bashing." Otaku became so popular and broad a term that by the mid-nineties it was being applied to nearly anyone with an obsessive hobby, whether it was taking photographs or collecting stamps. Many otaku also began referring to themselves as such, just as American hippies in the late 1960s turned an insult on its head and proudly pro­claimed themselves "freaks." Otaku was even turned into an adjective, otakii, used to teasingly describe any intro­verted, obsessive tendencies.

The Miyazaki incident was not the only time otaku and manga were morbidly linked. In early 1995. Japan was stunned by anonymous nerve gas attacks in Tokyo subways that caused several deaths and hospitalized hun­dreds. Aum Shinrikyo ("Sublime Truth" sect)—an apocalyptic Buddhist-Hindu cult led by a charismatic but visually unappealing character named Shoko Asahara— became the prime suspect. As reporters for the weekly Aera magazine revealed in a series of articles on the sect in April, the sect members were publishing and using anime and manga as a proselytizing tool; worse, they seemed to be lifting many of their more outrageous ideas from them, too.
Asahara was known to have been a big fan of robot manga and animation as a child and to have dreamed of one day building a "robot empire." Several ideas and keywords in the group's ideology-—references to "Armageddon," "earthquake bombs," and "cosmo-cleaners"—had their roots in popular anime and manga stories like Uchu Senkan Yamato ("Space Battleship Yamato," also known as Star Blazers in the U.S.), Mirai Shonen Konan ("Conan, Future Boy"), Genma Taisen ("The Genma Wars"), and Akira. In a May 15 Aera article trying to explain how the sect was able to attract extremely intelligent and competent academics and scientists and make them believers in ludicrous theories (for example that the U.S. military had caused the 1995 Kobe earthquake with buried nuclear bombs or had spread sarin nerve gas over cult com­pounds with helicopters), sure enough, there was the dreaded otaku word again. Jinzaburo Takagi, a nuclear power expert explained it this way: "Graduate school, in particular, is a period when they were totally immersed otaku-style in a very narrow field. If they failed to discov­er the proper path to take, they probably sought salvation in religion."

Ultimately, any attempt to directly link manga, anime, otaku, religion, and crimes against humanity requires a considerable stretch of logic. More than any­thing, the whole brouhaha over otaku-hood and its dan­gers indicates just how much manga and anime have become a frame of reference for nearly the entire popula­tion; not just for traditional manga fans but for the well-adjusted and the maladjusted, for demagogues, priests, engineers, and social critics. In other cultures, people might allude to movies or novels or folklore to illustrate a point; scholars and religious people might blame the excesses of youth on the evil and corrupting influences of television or rock and roll, or even—as once was the case in America—-on comic books. In Japan, it is increasingly manga and anime that are referred to by all segments of the population and that, in an extreme situation, are con­veniently available to blame for an entire society's ills, and not just those of youth culture. As for the so-called otaku, they are surely more the offspring of their social environ­ment than the product of reading too many manga.

Beginning in the 1980s, the newly wealthy Japanese population was encouraged by the government to work less and spend more time at leisure and hobbies (it is hard to imagine any other government ever making this suggestion). Children were growing up with unprecedent­ed affluence and freedom of choice in a media-glutted society. Yet they were still being put through a factory-style educational system designed to churn out docile citizens and obedient company employees for a mass-production,   heavy-industry-oriented  society  that  had ceased to exist. Males, in particular, whose-workaholic fathers were rarely at home, were growing up spoiled by their mothers. In the claustrophobic confines of Japan's orderly cities, with intense pressures from "examination hell" at school, with physical and spiritual horizons seemingly so limited, who could blame these children for turning inward to a fantasy alternative, or for developing a nijikonfetchi, a "two dimensional fetish," for manga and animation?

As for the word otaku? In Japan, the association first established by the Miyazaki incident has never completely disappeared. Only when otaku was exported to the English-speaking world was it completely stripped of its negative connotations. France was not so lucky. In 1994, Jean-Jacques Beineix—the famous French director known for Diva and Betty Blue—made an exhaustive two-hour-and-forty-minute documentary on the so-called otaku phenomenon in Japan, focusing on young people with obsessive hobbies. The many French citizens who watched it probably still believe that Japan is filled with an entire generation of wackos.

 


Are Manga Dangerous?

 

Americans who have visited Japan ask one question A FREQUENTLY about manga over and over again: Why are manga so vio-ASKED QUESTION lent and pornographic? This is a loaded question, for it presumes that all manga are violent and pornographic. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I try to answer the question, however, I often find myself in the uncomfortable position of gamely trying to defend manga while distancing myself from the excesses of a wide-open medium. Knowing that the cultural perspec­tives of the questioners may limit their ability to under­stand, I reply as follows:

There are many offensive manga. (As liberal as I am in matters of art, even I have occasionally felt queasy over the content of some manga stories, and if I feel that way, I'm sure some others are ready to faint.) Fortunately, such works remain a minority. The vast majority of manga, even if they are basically trash with little educational value, are harmless entertainment. That stated, however, there are also some specific cultural factors that affect the perception non-Japanese have of manga and make them seem particularly violent and pornographic.

Every culture, whether Moslem, Christian, or Bud­dhist, has different norms of acceptability in the arts. Modern manga, although they look like American comic books, have inherited a centuries-old tradition of Japan­ese narrative art that entertains, that is humorous and bawdy, and that has a unique esthetic of visual violence. Manga are the direct descendants of popular art for the masses in the late Edo period (1600-1867), art in which exaggerated sexuality and stylized violence—scenes of samurai disemboweling themselves and blood spatters-were a standard feature.

Another point to remember is that no matter how erotic and violent manga are, they are not a direct reflec­tion of Japanese society. If they were, Japan would resemble a violence-plagued 1980s Beirut or a sexually free-wheeling 1960s San Francisco. Despite a sexual rev­olution of sorts (and a huge sex industry), an increase in downtown shootouts, and nerve gas attacks on Tokyo subways, almost all statistics show that Japan remains one of the earth's better-behaved societies. Not only is the violent crime and sex crime rate far lower than that of the United States; in Japan itself both rates have dropped considerably during the very period that manga and anime were exploding in popularity. Or, in the words of U.S. comic artist Brian Stelfreeze on a 1994 trip to Tokyo, "With all the crowds of people, it feels incredibly safe. 1 think a mother could send her daughter out naked with a ¥100,000 bill taped to her back and know she'd be okay."

The gap between fantasy and reality in Japan is enormous, and for that very reason readers of manga may actually be better at making a distinction between the two than readers in other nations. To a high school student in Japan, the notion of getting hold of an AK-47 and mowing down the teachers in his school is clearly absurd, a fantasy. But to a high school student in Los Angeles it is a distinct possibility. He may know some­one with an automatic weapon he can borrow, and he probably has heard news reports of people who have already done something similar to what he is imagin­ing. The point here is that the inherent stability of mod­ern Japanese society—in particular the stability of family life—may give people more leeway in their fantasy lives. And a vivid fantasy life may act to defuse some of the more primal impulses that occasionally come over all of us.

Akira Fukushima, a prominent psychiatrist and writer, has written an eloquent defense of manga titled Manga to Nihonjin: "Yugai" Komikku Bokokuron o Kiru ("Manga and the Japanese: Dissecting the Myth of 'Harm­ful Comics' Ruining the Nation"). In it, he persuasively uses statistics and survey results to argue that despite the barrage of sexual material they are exposed to, and despite public impressions to the contrary, young Japan­ese are highly repressed and late to develop sexually compared to their counterparts in other nations. He finds no evidence that exposure to sexual material results in increased sex crimes or activity at all. Indeed, he claims that (1) "the amount of sexual information that a people have access to is inversely proportional to the number of sex crimes in any country" and (2) "sexual information can substitute for actual sexual activity."

It might be premature to conclude that reading manga would in and of itself reduce the violent- and sex-crime rate in all countries, but there is a third and important point here. Many non-Japanese who perceive manga   to   be   pornographic   and   violent   are   often unaware of how biased their own perspective is. North Americans, for example, are often horrified by the contents of manga because they unconsciously compare them with American comic books. Yet what most American visitors to Japan fail to realize is that manga today are no longer a medium for children alone and that manga have become a mass medium of entertainment as common as novels or film. They also overlook the fact that until recently most American comic books were heavily censored. A draconian program of self-censorship was implemented in the United States comic book industry in the early fifties in response to political and social pressure. Comic books were nearly sanitized to death (circulations plummeted and have never recov­ered; precise figures are extremely difficult to come by, but based on information in the Comics Buyer's Guide 1996 Annual and an estimate from the Wall Street Jour­nal in 1953, today's sales are less than a third of what they were then. In America comics came to be stigmatized as a shallow entertainment for children; instead of developing a symbiotic relationship with television and animation—as   has   happened   in   Japan—they   were eclipsed.

It therefore makes more sense to compare manga with videotapes or popular novels. Any video rental store in the United States easily carries as much sex and vio­lence as any manga shop in Japan. Similarly, if you could "visualize" the text in the steamy romance novels so many English-speaking women enjoy, you would probably produce stories strikingly similar to the racy romance manga that grown women in Japan often read.

 


Freedom of Speech vs. Regulation

 

Having thus defended manga, some strong criticism is also in store. Perhaps because manga began as children's entertainment and then exploded in the postwar period into a mass, mainstream medium for the entire popula­tion, the borderline between adult and children's material is less defined than in other media. It is surely a charac­teristic of Japanese manga, for example, that both elementary school children and office employees in their thirties can be seen reading the same weekly Shorten Jump ("Boys' Jump") on the subways, even though the magazine is primarily for males around junior high school age. If one subscribes to the theory that adults should be allowed to read whatever they choose, but that children should not, it is from this borderline area that some truly disturbing trends have emerged, some of which transcend manga altogether.

In the late eighties, in particular, many of the tradi­tional limits on content in manga began to collapse. Manga had until then observed explicit prohibitions against overt depictions of sexual intercourse and adult genitalia (derived from an interpretation of Article 175 of Japan's very vaguely worded obscenity laws) as well as a general, more implicit social consensus about what was proper and what was not. But when the guidelines disappeared, the "me-too" syndrome so often seen in Japanese media resulted in manga magazines vying with each other to produce the most provocative stories possible. Works such as Angel, Ropeman {which seemed to condone violence against women), and rorikon ("Lolita complex") stories began to appear in mainstream magazines and in maga­zines designed for teenagers or younger children.

Japanese manga artists have traditionally played a cat-and-mouse game with the authorities over the issue of depicting nudity. For decades, the government prohibited any depiction of adult genitalia or pubic hair in all art, high­brow and otherwise, resulting in the knee-jerk censorship of serious foreign films. Playboy-type magazines, and reproductions of several famous 19th-century Japanese woodblock prints held by foreign museums. The specific prohibition against showing pubic hair, however, may have indirectly encouraged some clever erotic manga artists to draw prepubescent girls as sex objects, with ridiculously inflated breasts. Whatever the original motivation, in the 1980s traditional erotic manga for adult men (often referred to in the industry as sanryu gekiga, or "third-rate graphic novels") gradually gave way to erotic manga with a rorikon flavor. Instead of adult males doing very adult things to mature women (neighbor's wives, waitresses,office workers, buxom foreigners, that sort of thing), the sex objects became increasingly "cute"—and younger. That more and more women, who tended to draw characters in a "cuter" style anyway, were entering the erotic comic mar­ket certainly accelerated the phenomenon.

In a way, manga were merely reflecting a trend throughout Japan in the go-go economic years of the 1980s—a sort of rorikon virus that infected the whole society and still persists. "Cheeriness" and terminal "cutesy-ness" were "in." Cynicism, reflection, pessimism, introspection, seriousness, and anything "heavy" or depressing all fell out of favor in films, novels, and intellectual life. If in the West it was a madonna-whore (but nonetheless adult woman) image that fired men's sexual fantasies, in Japan the equivalent was a smiling junior high school virgin, clad in her "sailor suit" school uni­form and holding a stuffed animal toy. And young women were eager to cater to this fantasy; many in their late twenties could be seen around town with their cute stuffed toy dolls and innocent looks and high-pitched voices. Their numbers spawned the term burikko—the sophisticated, experienced adult female who acts like an innocent little girl.

As noted above, there is no solid evidence that images in comic books directly affect behavior; if such a simple cause-and-effect were at work, millions of children in the United States would have jumped off high buildings after reading Superman comics. But since sexual desire is in real life so extraordinarily wrapped up in fantasy and irrational urges, one wonders how young adult males in Japan raised on rorikon material can relate to real-world adult females— without being terribly disappointed.

At the end of the 1980s, at the height of the contam­ination of manga and anime by the rorikon virus, the Tsu-tomu Miyazaki murders took place. Mainstream Japanese society and establishment leaders took a hard look at what many young Japanese youths—especially the media-saturated otaku generation—were reading, and they were horrified.

In the city of Tanabe, in Wakayama Prefecture, several housewives started a movement in favor of regulating manga that developed into the Association to Protect Children from Comic Books. One of the manga the women found particularly offensive was Ikenai! Luna-sen-sei ("Watch-out! Luna, the Teacher"). Serialized in a main­stream boy's magazine, it was about a beautiful tutor who comes to live in a young boy's house (its author, Junko Uemura, was not some dirty old man, but a young woman). In a later interview, Isako Nakao, founder of the children's-protection movement, described her reaction to one of the manga paperbacks she came across at the local bookstore in 1990: "It had a cute picture on the cover designed to appeal to children, but inside it was filled with the most blatantly sexual material—the sort of thing that should never be shown to children."

Nakao's movement resonated throughout Japan. Crackdowns on sex and violence in manga by the authori­ties occur at fairly regular intervals in Japan, but this time a powerful nationwide "movement to banish harmful manga" emerged, joined by housewives, PTAs, Japan's new feminist groups, and politicians. Tougher local ordinances against obscene manga material were passed by various prefectures throughout Japan. Arrests of publishers and store owners found to be selling obscene material in­creased dramatically. Even major publishers were targeted. Up until then, artists had rarely been arrested and the dojin­shi or amateur market had been left largely untouched. But on April 15,1991, forty-five dojinshi-related publishers, edi­tors, and artists were arrested for possessing obscene material with the intent to sell. Extra trash bins emblazoned with the words Minai, Yomanai, Yomasenai ("Don't look at them, Don't read them, Don't let anyone read them") were set up throughout Japan in public places for good citizens to toss "harmful reading matter."

Then, on September 4, 1990, Japan's prestigious national paper, the Asahi Shinbun, ran an editorial titled "There Are Too Many Impoverished Manga." Quoting a Tokyo city government report that claimed over 50 percent of all manga had sex scenes and that at least 8 per­cent had scenes of masturbation, the editorial appealed to Japanese national self-respect, noting how even foreign visitors are shocked by Japan's manga and that "even in America and Europe, where pornography is legal, there are probably few areas so blatantly deluged by 'sex' with­out regard to time or place." In a consensus-minded Japanese fashion, however, the Asahi added: "Of course, just because there are vulgar manga doesn't mean we should have regulation by laws and ordinances. Even if there are particularly problematic magazines, the problems should be solved through discussions and self-restraint on the part of the publishers."

The last thing the Asahi and the rest of the media establishment wanted to see was government censorship, and for a very good reason. Freedom of the press has existed in Japan only since the U.S.-authored postwar constitution guaranteed it in 1946. And it has been a precarious existence. For over 250 years during the Edo peri­od (1600-1868). government control over political expression was absolute. For many artists, dabbling in erotic expression has always been far safer than dabbling in politics, yet still a good way to tweak the noses of the authorities. Even today, those engaged in producing erotic or pornographic material—whether manga or videos— often have a rather romantic image of themselves as rebels working against the establishment.

Nonetheless, after the initial crackdown, publishers recalled the most offensive works and began practicing what Japanese called jishuku, or "self-restraint," toning down the erotic level of stories for children and identify­ing some manga magazines and books as being "for adults only." Finally, after such relentless criticism, the pendulum slowly began to swing the other way. In 1992, some of the top artists in Japan—national heroes like Shotar5 Ishinomori and Machiko Satonaka—formed the Association to Protect Freedom of Expression in Comics to counter the pro-regulation movement.

In the dojinshi world, sponsors like the Komiketto organization began to warn artists at conventions about what sort of material would cause a problem. Still, events had a certain Japanese twist to them. When local ordi­nances in Chiba Prefecture finally made it impossible to hold conventions there (the local authorities declared that dojinshi with more than 20 percent nudity were "harm fill"), the conventions moved to Tokyo, where regulations are looser. As Yonezawa, the head of the Komiketto organization puts it, "Dojinshi should not be drawn by grownups for children. They should be drawn by young people for young people. Since most artists and readers are around nineteen, at this age it's impossible not to talk about sexu­al motives and themes. The important thing is that manga be drawn by young people for young people; that a 'same-generational ity' be preserved."

Ultimately, the great debate that occurred in Japan over freedom of speech versus regulation was long overdue and part of the natural democratic process. Manga are so entrenched in Japanese society today that there is unlikely to be an overreaction of the sort that occurred in the 1950s in the United States. A balance between the interests of the artists and the interests of the general public will probably result, andjapan, in its own way, will muddle toward a resolution of the obscenity debate. But no matter what happens, in the eyes of non-Japanese people manga will continue to appear terribly violentand pornographic.

By the end of 1994, the controversy already appeared to have peaked and resolved itself. Manga magazines with "adults only" marks were disappearing because stores refused to handle them—just as "X" ratings nearly disappeared from "serious" U.S. movies because they spelled doom in the distribution channels. The most offensiverorikon material was dropped from mainstream magazines for children (although if anything, erotic material in adult manga became even more graphic, especially with the final crumbling in 1993 of Japan's long-time prohibition against depicting pubic hair and sex organs). The charge of relentless debasement of women by men in erotic manga was offset by the fact that by 1995 some of the raciest material was in magazines not for men but for women {and drawn by women). Finally, live action videos and photography books had become so blatantly eroticized that they were a far greater concern to police and citizen's groups than static, monochrome manga.

As one artist friend of mine commented when I asked him about restrictions on manga, "Well, there was a big fuss about it for a while, but now everything seems pretty much the way it's always been."

 


Black and White Issues #1

 

In the late 19th century, writer Lafcadio Hearn went to A SUBJECTIVE live in Japan. Although he eventually became a Japanese VIEW OF REALITY citizen, his amazement over cultural differences never ceased. On March 6, 1894, he commented in a letter to a friend that "When I show beautiful European engravings of young girls or children to Japanese, what do they say? I have done it fifty times, and whenever I was able to get a criticism, it was always the same:—'The faces are nice, — all but the eyes: the eyes are too big, —the eyes are mon­strous.' We judge by our conventions. The Orient judges by its own. Who is right?"

Times have changed dramatically. When most for­eigners look at manga for the first time today and see characters with huge saucer eyes, lanky legs, and what appears to be blonde hair, they often want to know why there are so many "Caucasian" people in the stories. When told that most of these characters are not "Cau­casians," but "Japanese," they are flabbergasted.

Comics are drawings, not photographs, and as such they present a subjective view of reality. This subjective view of reality is particularly apparent in depictions of self, for each culture tends to see itself in a unique, often ideal­ized fashion that may change over time. Just as American and European comics do not depict people realistically (how many people really look like Superman?), neither do manga. Japanese people, however, may be a little more flexible than others in their self-perception.

Prior to the Meiji period, which began in 1868, Jap­anese artists usually drew themselves with small eyes and mouths and variable proportions; "Europeans" were drawn as huge hairy freaks with enormous schnozzles. With the introduction of Western art and esthetics after the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853, however, the Japanese ideal began to shift toward the classic Greek model, what Japanese artists call the "eight-head physique": a human's height should be equivalent to eight lengths of the head. Faces also started to change. In popular prewar romance magazines for young women, illustrations by Jun'ichi Nakahara, for example, showed heroines with large dreamy eyes, in a style directly imported from the West.

Defeat in World War II caused a national loss of confidence that clearly extended to Japan's self-image. West­ern ideals of beauty were not only accepted but pursued, often to a ludicrous degree (operations to remove the epi-canthic fold of skin over the eye, which creates the grace­ful, curved look in Asian eyes, are still popular). Nowhere was this tendency more pronounced than in manga.

Early comics of the postwar period were heavily influenced by Osamu Tezuka's style of cartooning, which was in turn derived from American animation. Tezuka drew large eyes, and when he began drawing for girls" romance comics he further exaggerated this tendency. Tezuka, and the other men and later women artists who followed him, found that a Caucasian look, with dewy, saucershaped eyes, was extremely popular among young readers and that the bigger the eyes, the easier it was to depict emotions. (The appeal of big eyes is, of course, not limited to Japan; look at the Keane paintings of wistful waifs with absurdly orblike eyes—windows on the soul—so popular in America in the sixties.) Eventually, depicting Japanese people with Caucasian fea­tures and large eyes became an established convention; readers internalized the images, and demanded them.

Since most Japanese comics are drawn in black and white, artists have generally differentiated between Japan­ese characters by shading the hair of some and not of oth­ers. To foreigners, this has the effect of making some Japanese look blonde. Fans know better, of course; they know the hair is really meant to be black, even when ren­dered in white. It is in girls' and women's comics, where the adoption of Western ideals of beauty has been much more thorough, that readers have adjusted to much more mind-boggling changes in self-image. Not only are Japanese females depicted like leggy New York fashion models, but on color covers of magazines, they are sometimes present­ed with clearly "blonde" hair and clearly "blue" eyes.

In the early eighties 1 commented on this phenome­non to Machiko Satonaka, a popular girls' comic artist. She noted that Japan has always been attracted to what it perceives as more advanced cultures than its own, and that in the Heian period (ca. 10th century) it was the Korean face that was regarded as the ideal, particularly by the imperial court. Adoption of the Caucasian model of beauty, she suggested, may have been a case of the grass appearing greener (or the hair lighter) on the other side of the fence. She added, however, that there was a trend toward smaller eyes in girls' comics and an appreciation of a more "Japanese" look.

Over ten years later, while the "Western" look remained very popular, there was indeed the growing "realism" that Satonaka had spoken of, especially in manga for adult women. Perhaps inspired by superstar Katsuhiro Otomo, who initially shocked readers by drawing Japanese people with a distinctly "Asian" look, many women artists such as Akimi Yoshida were draw­ing smaller eyes and more Japanese-looking faces. At the same time, in what is certainly a case of historical irony (if not a case of self-transformation through visu­alization), the real-life proportions and even the facial structures of young Japanese were indeed approaching the Western "ideal," largely as a result of improved diet and different lifestyles (ways of raising babies, increased use of chairs, etc.). According to a 1990 survey of chil­dren conducted by the Ministry of Education, the aver­age height of thirteen-year-old boys had increased an astounding 17.6 centimeters, or 6.9 inches, since 1950.

When asked about the Japanese self-image in manga, many artists and readers assert that they have lit­tle "racial consciousness." While this is debatable, it is true that Japanese people have shown a remarkable flexi­bility in depicting themselves. Long before punk fashions influenced the art world, in color manga Japanese charac­ters were sometimes drawn not only with blonde hair, but blue, pink, and even green hair.

This Westernized or internationalized depiction of Japanese characters has also provided the manga and anime industries with a distinct export advantage by making it easier for them to win acceptance in the United States and Europe. Many young American fans of Japan­ese TV shows such as Astro Boy in the sixties or Robotech in the eighties never even realized that some of their favorite characters were actually Japanese.

 


Black and White Issues #2

 

In 1990. the Association to Stop Racism against Blacks A STEREOTYPED initiated a campaign to stop the publishing of "racist" VIEW OF REALITY manga. This tiny Osaka organization—essentially consist­ing of Mr. Toshiji Arita, his wife, and his son—had previ­ously been instrumental in getting the "Little Black Sambo" story removed from bookstores and in discourag­ing the use of racist imagery in advertising.

The Arita family took the hard-to-dispute position that Japanese media contain too many negative stereotypes of people of African descent. They complain that black people are too often portrayed as grass-skirted, bones-in-their-noses cannibals, servants, or jazz musicians, and that in manga they are often heavily caricatured, with rounded faces, fat bodies, big eyes, and thick lips.

Although the Aritas1 goals were laudable, the family claimed to represent the diverse opinions of all blacks - around the world and took an approach that was dog­matic and formulaic. First, their organization presented manga publishers with strident demands for retraction of what it deemed offending material. Then, it enlisted scores of religious and civil rights groups in the United States to deluge the publishers with letters. That the letter writers were outraged was understandable; but most could not read Japanese and had been shown isolated images taken out of context from long stories, even sto­ries with a strong antidiscrimination theme.

To everyone's shock, one of the main targets of the campaign was Osamu Tezuka, the "God of Comics." Tezuka was beloved in Japan in large part because of his humanism and his compassion. To accuse him of being a racist was rather like accusing Mother Theresa of being a child molester.

What kinds of images were at issue in Tezuka's work? First, he sometimes inserted "cartoony" drawings of African natives in his stories as a form of "comic relief." Second, and more problematic, he sometimes drew Africans and African-Americans in a style lifted from American cartoons of the thirties and forties. His much-loved classic, Jungle Emperor (known to Americans as Kimba, the White Lion), is a case in point. Created in 1950, this is a romantic saga of beleaguered wild animals in Africa trying to learn to live in harmony (and an inspi­ration for Walt Disney's The Lion King). It is a sweet story, full of all the usual Tezuka charms, but as critics have noted, the depiction of the native population is probably influenced by early American Tarzan movies.

Several targeted artists in Japan redrew the offend­ing images in their work. In the 1980s there was a brief boom in "cute," African cartoon characters—drawn in the spirit of the inflatable black Winkie dolls once popular in America. Akira Toriyama, who had drawn four little "cute" African natives in this style, obligingly went back and transformed them into "cute" cats.

If Tezuka were still alive, one suspects he would have been horrified by the criticism and immediately redrawn many of his illustrations. However, his publisher, Kodansha, which issues a collection of the late artist's work that runs to over 300 volumes, was in no position to do this for him. Instead, it temporarily halted reprinting and decided, after a great deal of internal debate, to include a message to the readers. The message—a dis­claimer—explains that some of the illustrations were drawn in a less-enlightened age and may be offensive to some readers, but that Tezuka himself was adamantly opposed to racism in all forms, as is the publisher. This approach was unlikely to satisfy all critics, but it was nonetheless a very progressive step, and one that U.S. publishers of classic novels attacked by religious and ethnic groups might do well to emulate.

The reaction of Japanese artists and fans to the campaign against racism was confused. Citizens of a relatively homogeneous nation (with only around 1 percent "minorities"), Japanese until recently rarely worried about other people's sensitivities. This did not mean that artists maliciously exploited racist imagery, but that the checks and balances that might exist in a multiracial soci­ety were  absent.   Most Japanese artists were simplyunaware that some of the images of blacks they had appropriated were developed in the social context of dis­crimination, exploitation, and slavery.

In 1991 the review magazine Comic Box ran several feature articles on the antiracism campaign along with comments from readers and artists. Many expressed indignation at the dogmatic nature of the campaign and at the way some Japanese publishers had caved in to its demands. Manga artists particularly resented being told what is politically correct to draw or threatened with anything resembling censorship. In some genres of comics, moreover, the very purpose of cartooning is to distort, to poke fun, and to ridicule. In this visual world, everyone, including Japanese people, is drawn in what could be construed as an offensive style. Also, as several respon­dents pointed out, works created thirty or forty years ago are a reflection of their times, To ban them opens a Pan­dora's box. Should Shakespeare be banned for his depic­tion of Shylock? Should all Tarzan movies be banned? The American media, others noted, is itself filled with nega­tive racial stereotypes. To make a point, some submitted drawings of Japanese people rendered with buckteeth, slant eyes, and cameras.

One of the inadvertent tragedies of the antiracism campaign was that it made some artists afraid to draw any black characters in their stories, even if they had been planning to include positive portrayals; why take the chance? On August 4, 1993, Yoshinori Kobayashi—one of the most outspoken and opinionated Japanese manga artists and author of the popular Gomanizumu no Sengen ("A Declaration of Arrogant-ism")—created a very funny strip that reflected the unspoken feelings of many artists. In it, he railed against the pressure artists were receiving from editors not to draw black characters with kinky hair or fleshy lips. Ultimately, he said, everyone would be forced to draw blacks that looked like Michael Jackson.

The antiracism campaign may have sensitized the public and contributed to a general consciousness raising, but its ham-fisted approach clearly exacerbated Japanese paranoia about being unfairly criticized. It also ignored the many fine manga stories that oppose racism and are sympathetic to those of African descent, and it diverted attention from the fact that people of African descent are not the only ones stereotyped. In the topsy-turvy world of Japanese manga, although Japanese characters are frequently drawn with Caucasian features, when real Caucasians appear in manga they are sometimes shown as big hairy brutes. Chinese or Korean characters are frequently drawn with slant eyes and buckteeth, in much the same stereotyped fashion that Japanese were depicted by American propagandists in World War II.

Ultimately, the debate over "racism" in manga is but part of a larger discussion about balancing freedom of expression with responsibility, and it has its parallels in the "political correctness" controversy in the U.S. Manga artists are under increasing pressure from the public and from publishers to reign in not just their depictions of for­eigners but Japanese minorities and the physically and mentally handicapped. And they are expected to tone down the eroticism and violence. Osamu Tezuka used to complain of not being able to draw characters with four ringers as American animators often do—in Japan it signifies "four legged beasts" and by extension the former out-caste (and still discriminated against) class that used to slaughter them—the eta or burakumin. Not surprisingly, independent-minded artists resent such externally im­posed constraints, even if they would never dream of cre­ating such demeaning portrayals themselves.
To the manga industry's credit, many artists, editors, and publishers have actively tried to learn what is acceptable and what is not in art, and to build bridges with offended communities. At the late Osamu Tezuka's company, for example, management has gone out of its way to establish a dialogue with African-American groups, such as JAFA (the Japan-African-American Friendship Associa­tion). As the president of Tezuka Productions, Takayuki Matsutani, wrote in a Fall 1992 edition of the magazine Tsukuru ("Create"), all too often the industry has merely tried to figure out how to avoid being criticized or attacked, rather than determine the root cause of the problematic depictions, whether they be racial or sexual.

While artists debate how to depict foreigners, Japan­ese society itself is undergoing major changes. The men­tal horizons of young Japanese have been expanded by foreign travel and real-time television imagery from around the world. Over the last few years there has been a visible increase in the number of foreigners in Japan and greater variety in their nationalities and occupations. At one time most gaijin, or "outsiders," in Japan were tourists, businesspeople, U.S. soldiers, or English teach­ers. Now, owing to the reluctance of effete young Japan­ese to do hard physical labor, there are many legal and illegal foreign workers in Japan; it is not unusual to encounter Iranians, Bangladeshis, Brazilians, Vietnamese, and Chinese working in factories, driving trucks, or wash­ing dishes. Blacks, too, from Africa and America, can be found in a wider variety of occupations in Japan than ever before. There is even a surprising amount of inter­marriage between Japanese and foreigners, including Fil­ipinos, Thais, and Russians.

As a result, today one can find nearly any type of foreigner in Japanese comics. There are the occasional negative stereotypes, bound to offend some, but there are also sympathetic, intelligent portrayals. Basketball has achieved explosive popularity among young Japanese and some African-American athletes such as Magic John­son and Michael Jordan have achieved hero status among Japanese youth. A few years ago. the influential boy's manga monthly Jump ran a popular series about the L.A.

Lakers that had been officially authorized by the NBA. In the adult weekly Morning, Kaiji Kawaguchi's Silent Ser­vice—an international thriller about a renegade Japanese sub battling the U.S. military—has had very positive depictions of African-American officials working in the highest ranks of American government (the author was undoubtedly influenced by Colin Powell's frequent appearance on television news). Many artists who create science fiction manga, like Masamune Shirow, also increasingly depict a future Japan that is a mixture of dif­ferent races and cultures.

Since the mid-eighties, the Japanese government has been heavily promoting kokusaika, or the "interna­tionalization" of Japan. The officials certainly never had manga in mind, but in manga it is occurring.
 

 


Do Manga Have a Future?

 

For decades, Japan's mass media marveled over the stellar growth rates of the Godzilla-like manga industry. But on March 27, 1995, Japan's respected Aera newsmagazine ran an article that took a different tack. Provocatively titled "The Beginning of the Twilight of the Manga Indus­try," it noted that while manga had ballooned into a ¥550-billion market in the postwar period, "Even this champion of entertainment, which has exhibited such remarkable growth, has proven that it has limits. The giant industry is slowly being beset with troubles from within and without."

The main focus of the article was on slowing growth rates for specific genres. The Research Institute for Publi­cations annually releases figures on manga publishing, and for the previous decade and longer these have been awe-inspiring numbers. In 1993, however, it was noted that while overall manga sales had grown 8 percent over the previous year, two important categories had slowed— manga for young boys, which had declined 0.4 percent,and manga for young adult men, which had dropped 0.7 percent two years in a row. In any other industry a perfor­mance record of this sort—after decades of hyper-growth—would probably be a good reason to break out the champagne, but the Aera article's note of impending doom showed just how conditioned the manga industry had become to its continued success. In 1996, industry fears practically turned to terror, for it was discovered that while overall dollar and unit sales of manga had increased in 1995, dollar sales as a percentage of all books and mag­azines had actually declined (0.5 percent). Most shocking, dollar sales of the hitherto always lucrative manga paper­backs had dropped 0.03 percent, leading the above-men­tioned, normally staid Research Institute for Publications to run a feature in its March report titled "Limit Demonstrated to the Myth of Endless Growth!"

The Aera article gave as one reason for the decline a paucity in good stories, for which it largely blamed editors. This might seem odd in a genre where the artists and writ­ers are supposed to be the creators, but in Japan manga editors have a major hand in story planning and execution, supplying ideas, shepherding authors (even acting as sur­rogate parent figures for the very young artists), and occa­sionally helping write the stories. Aera's article claimed that in the larger publishing firms, editors were becoming cowardly organization men merely going through the motions rather than aggressive cocreators driven by a love of comics, as was true of many of the early, legendary edi­tors. In children's manga the article noted a more disturb­ing trend—competition from video games. When a boy can get over thirty hours of enjoyment out of a video game, but finishes reading his manga magazine and tosses it in the trash can after twenty minutes, manga cease to have much of a price-performance advantage, even if they do cost ten times less than a video game.

Realistically, the areas in which manga can continue to grow are limited. When over 40 percent of all Japanese books and magazines are now in comic form, one has to wonder how many new genres can be developed. Cer­tainly as the core generations of manga readers age there will be more and more manga created for older age groups; publishers excitedly talk of their future plans to make what they refer to as "silver" manga—magazines specifically for the senior citizen set. Overseas markets, of course, represent a still largely untapped gigantic new market. In my own 1983 book, Manga! Manga!, I wrote that "Japanese comics, like American rock and roll music, began as a limited form of entertainment for young peo­ple. Now both are ponderous industries in the main­stream of society." Today, more than ever, it is clear that the manga industry has entered a mature phase.

And with maturity comes an entirely different set of problems, not the least of which is quality. Most manga, as a pop-culture medium, have always been trash. In the early days, many artists and editors and publishers burned with the ambition to show the skeptical world at large that their beloved medium of expression had far greater potential than most people were willing to recog­nize. They were like young revolutionaries, boldly break­ing down barriers in their path. But now they have come into power, and the corrupting influences of that power are starting to show.

The manga industry has become a little long in the tooth, a little plump around the waistline. Artists certainly don't have to be starving to create good work, but the potential earning power of artists today is staggering—in 1994 alone, Yoshihiro Togashi, author of the popular boys' manga Yu-Yu Hakusho ("The YG-YG Report on Apparitions";, is estimated to have made over $7 million. At the popular Shonen Magazine, with sales of over 4 mil­lion copies per week, the editor-in-chief estimates that out of twenty artists around eight earn over a million dol­lars per year. One has to question what happens to the creative soul of a millionaire young artist when he or she is surrounded by sycophants, rides in a chauffeured car, and presides over an assembly line of hierarchically ranked manga assistants who obligingly carry out more and more of the drawing and scripting tasks.

Caught up in their success, many mainstream manga production companies start to look like factories engaged in mass production for the sake of mass produc­tion—victims of the same disease that afflicted much of the Japanese manufacturing economy in the late 20th century—an obsession with volume when the world demanded not "more," but "unique," "interesting," and "better." It is a revealing moment when the talk of highly successful manga artists at informal gatherings quickly turns to boasting about how many serializations they are simultaneously in charge of, how many copies their works are selling, and—inevitably in Japan—how they only need four or five hours of sleep a night.

The results are apparent, not only in boring stories but in a visual dissonance that afflicts many successful manga today—the result of dividing the labor of drawing among multiple assistants who use disparate styles when drawing backgrounds or even different characters. Corporatization is also a reason that many of the most interest­ing trends in Japanese comics come from outside the mainstream industry, from the dojinshi world, from erotic comics, and from the underground. It was no surprise when Comic Box's annual manga roundup edition in 1995 bore the title "Are Manga Finished?"

The problems of the manga industry involve much more than the struggle to produce interesting material, or even the growing competition from video games. Modern manga began as a children's medium, as a subculture, but manga are now read by adults of nearly all ages and are part of the cultural mainstream. Yet no matter how hard artists try to create "grown up" material, manga still betray their origins—in their continuing emphasis on "cuteness" and in the way the border between material for children and adults is still much more blurred than in other entertainment media.

Since Japan is the first nation on earth where comics have become a full-fledged medium of expres­sion, one has to question what it means when adults get so much of their primary information from a medium of expression that is a form of caricature, that deliberately emphasizes deformation and exaggeration. Or when mis­guided publishers or cults or the government abuse the essence of manga, and perhaps take them a little too seri­ously. After all, the conventions for imparting hard infor­mation in the manga medium are not as well established as they are in film or prose; even if footnoted and done in documentary style, manga are still going to present reali­ty with a greater degree of distortion. What will it mean when entire generations start living in a comic book reali­ty, or when they have formed many of their impressions of other nations and peoples from manga?

As Japanese society itself becomes increasingly "manganized" it may make people happier, but it may also affect the intellectual core of the nation. In the 1980s the expression keihaku tansho (written with the charac­ters for "light-thin-short-small") was a popular phrase for describing not only national trends in consumer goods but what was perceived as "lightweight" intellectual activity. Is it just a coincidence that during this same period manga began to have a profound impact on other arts, including literature and film? Manga creative and produc­tion values may indeed underlie the "low-calorie" examples of literature and film that increasingly pass for serious intellectual efforts in the Japan of today.

The manga industry may fret about a slip in growth rates, but as manga mature into the mainstream of society, Japan itself faces much larger challenges. In the meantime, manga continue to diversify into more and more areas of society, and as a medium of expression, to continually transform....





THE MANGA MAGAZINE SCENE


THE JAPANESE   WORD   FOR   "MAGAZINE"   IS  ZASSHI.   WRITTEN with $i zatsu ("rough," "rude," "coarse," and "mis­cellaneous"), and   &£ shi ("record,"  "document," or "magazine"), the word has a rather harsh sound to Japanese ears.

Manga magazines reflect the nuances of the word zasshi in more ways than one. They are extremely inex­pensive and except for a few full color glossy pages at the beginning are usually printed on rough recycled paper (which may be tinted to hide traces of ink left over from a former incarnation). They consist of a miscellany of seri-alized and concluding stories. And they are eminently dis­posable, often abandoned in a trash can after a cursory read during the train ride home from work. In 1994, writ­ing in the media magazine Tsukuru, manga critic Eiji Otsuka posed the question, "Why were manga able to surpass, even overwhelm, other media in postwar Japanese culture?" His answer: "Ultimately, the main reason must surely have been their utterly, almost hopelessly 'cheap' quality."

This "cheapness" is an outgrowth of the explosion in demand for inexpensive entertainment that occurred at the end of World War II, after years of deprivation. Children in particular craved manga, and publishers vied to satisfy them by increasing the number of pages devoted to comics in their magazines. In 1959, manga maga­zines finally assumed their modern format when one of Japan's largest publishers, Kodansha, issued Shiikan Sho­rten Magazine ("Weekly Boy's Magazine"). The first of several all-manga omnibus magazines for boys, it quickly achieved a circulation of 1 million and a page count of nearly 300.

Today, manga magazines can be divided into two types: those that are folded and stapled, and those that have glued and squared backs. Beyond that, most have at least 200 pages, and some have 1,000. The vast majority use paper in the B5 (7" x 10") or A5 (5.8" x 8.2") size. Almost all target either males or females, but rarely both. The only magazines that consistently sell well to both gen­ders are aimed at very small children, where gender differ­ences are least emphasized in society. One of the main differences between manga magazines for adults and those for children is that the children's magazines have what is a godsend for foreigners learning Japanese—the rubi. or little pronunciation keys next to all the difficult kanji characters that children are still struggling to learn.

There were 265 manga magazines regularly pub­lished in 1995, in quarterly, monthly, bimonthly, biweekly, or weekly format, with circulations ranging from a few thousand to over 6 million per week. Three publishers— Sh Geisha. Kodansha, and Shogakukan control the bulk of the market; the rest is fought over by dozens of other companies, many of whom appear and disappear along with their magazines.

The magazines introduced in this section have been chosen to illustrate the variety and scope of the Japanese manga industry. Some are typical and others are not. All, however, reflect the grassroots power of manga as a medium of expression, for it is in manga that artists first create the stories that go on to become books and fuel the giant industries of animation and merchandising.




CoroCoro Comic

To enter popular discount electronics stores in Japan is to experience sensory overload—neon-colored price plac­ards hang everywhere, dissonant music blares from every direction, and dozens of video games play simultaneously on scores of computers. Reading the monthly manga magazine CoroCoro produces a similar sensation, especially if one is a middle-aged adult.

CoroCoro, published by the giant Shogakukan, is designed for very young boys. It is as nearly as hyper as they are. Covers are a psychedelic explosion of assorted popular characters. Inside, page layouts convey an impression of unbounded energy (although it takes con­siderable energy to read them all). "Thick, inexpensive, and interesting!" (as CoroCoro sometimes bills itself), a typical issue retails for the bargain price of ¥400 yet contains 600-700 pages. Still, CoroCoro fits into little hands better than most manga magazines, for it is one of the first for boys printed in the A5 (5.8" x 8.2") "flattened brick" (as opposed to "telephone book") format. It can thus serve as a firm pillow or a relatively soft projectile; and unlike its name—an onomatopoeic word for "rol­ling"—it will definitely stay wherever it is put.

According to Kazuhiko Kurokawa, the editor-in-chief of CoroCoro when I spoke with him in 1994, readers range from third to sixth graders, with a smattering of junior high school boys. There are manga-like magazines in Japan for even younger readers, such as the popular and heavily illustrated semi-educational gakunenshi, or "school year magazines" (with titles like "First Grader," "Second Grad­er," etc.), and Terebi ("TV") publications. But these are like manga with "training wheels." Most young boys start reading true manga in either CoroCoro or its primary competi­tor, Kodansha's BonBon. And CoroCoro reflects this in far more ways than its hyperkinetic design.

Most manga magazines in Japan have a loose slogan that reflects their editorial stance, and at CoroCoro it is yuki ("bravery"), yujo ("friendship"), and toshi ("fighting spirit"), as well as what Kurokawa refers to as tokoton-shugi, which loosely translates as a "go for broke" atti­tude. Like most manga magazines, CoroCoro has a mix of serialized and concluding stories, including many sports stories. But as Kurokawa notes, one of the most important themes is humor. Thus nearly 60 percent of the stories are "gag" strips. Young elementary school boys, he also explains, still find it difficult to read the longer and more serious serialized manga (perhaps partly because their attention span is too short), and regular reader surveys consistently show they want their comics to be funny.

One of the magazine's mainstays is Doraemon, Fujiko F. Fujio's comical story of a robot cat who lives with a bumbling young elementary school boy. Practical­ly an icon of Japanese popular culture at this point, Doraemon, a lowkey and sweet story, was the original raison d'etre for CoroCoro. It first appeared over twenty-five years ago in one of Shogakukan's "school-year" magazines but proved so popular that it was featured in a sepa­rate quarterly, then bimonthly, and finally a monthly magazine that became CoroCoro. Anything with Dorae­mon on the cover still helps sell the magazine, especially when the annual Doraemon animated feature film is released each spring vacation.

Most stories in CoroCoro are far wilder than Dorae­mon. Gag stories, in particular, are filled with silly third-grader humor. In 1994, for example, Shinbo Nomura's Babu Akachin (which loosely translates to "Baboo Baby Wee-wee") starred a young tyke who could perform all sorts of stellar feats with his little penis. But there were also some gag stories with bite that even adults could enjoy, such as Obotchama-kun (roughly, "Little Lord Fauntleroy"), by Yoshinori Kobayashi, famous in more mature manga circles for his biting satires on Japanese society.

The most striking aspect of CoroCoro is not the quality of its stories; it is the number of tieins with other industries. As is common in the manga world, popular stories are compiled into paperback books, made into animated series, and heavily merchandised. Yet in Coro­Coro—an indication of the degree to which TV and Nin­tendo video-game culture has saturated young Japanese minds—perhaps over 30 percent of the stories and char­acters are not original, but derived from animation and video games or from tie-ins with toy companies. In 1995 Capcom's popular Street Fighter II video game appeared as a gag strip (along with ads for the animation film) and so did Nintendo's Donkey Kong. Other tie-in stories impart information on how to play the video games. In fact, to read CoroCoro requires considerable video game vocabulary; Street Fighter II and Dragon Quest are affec­tionately truncated as Suto II and Dora Kue respectively. English acronyms such as RPG ("Role-Playing Games") are sprinkled liberally throughout the text.

CoroCoro also has far more ads than other manga magazines. Most are for video games and toys and other Shogakukan publications, but on the inside back cover, reminiscent of American comic books of forty years ago, there are even ads for boxing gloves, "Rambo-style knives," and military-style toy pellet guns. Reflecting the boom in soccer and the heavily commercialized J-League in Japan (which CoroCoro helps support), in 1994 and 1995 soccer-related merchandise was also heavily hawked. At one point the magazine even ran gag strips starring Ruy Ramos, the Brazilian star of the Kawasaki Verdy soccer team.

Publishing manga magazines for the younger set is not easy in Japan today. CoroCoro is one of the best sellers in its category, with a circulation many publishers would envy, but sales in 1994 were around 750,000 per month, down from a peak of 1.5 million. One of the biggest prob­lems, Kurokawa notes, is finding good manga artists with staying power. Many artists feel intimidated by the small children's genre, believing they are too restricted in content and sophistication. Besides, few artists can create classics like Doraemon. Noting how high budgets in the movie industry attract some of the best creative minds in the United States, Kurokawa also laments, "Manga used to be a road to riches, but for this genre the video game mar­ket has become so big it is starting to siphon off the most talented people as scenario writers and designers."

Another problem is the modern lifestyles of little children. "Kids in today's Japan are far too busy," Kurokawa says, highly critical of his country's rat-race education system. "Between the after-school cram courses they have to attend and their other activities, it's hard for them to find time to read our magazine. . . . We know that we have to do something new as we approach the 21 st century, and that if we stay the same we'll just get old."

Like other manga magazines in Japan, CoroCoro now fights back by adding furoku, or "freebie-supplements," and by occasionally boosting the number of pages. One September 1994 issue came with a writing pad with a J-league theme and a special Doraemon insert, yielding a total page count of 980. But such moves clearly aren't enough.

What seems like shameless commercialization—the large number of tieins with game and toy companies—is thus part of a survival strategy. Young children in Japan in the CoroCoro reader age group are spending more and more time playing video games and watching animation, and reportedly reading fewer manga. CoroCoro forms the first line of defense against this trend. What better way to combat the enemy than to join it?






Weekly Boys' Jump

Of all the manga magazines in Japan, Shukan Shonenjump ("Weekly Boys' Jump") is the hardest to ignore. Huge stacks of it are piled in front of newsstands and kiosks for sale every Tuesday, and from there they are transported by hand to schools, offices, factories, coffeeshops, and homes throughout the land. On crowded commuter trains, it's not unusual to see a twelve-year-old elemen­tary school student standing next to a thirty-year-old salary man—both reading their own copies. There are advertisements for Jump on train station posters, on tele­vision, and on full pages of major newspapers. After Tues­day, copies of it can be found left on subway overhead racks, stuffed in trash cans, or piled up outside houses waiting to be collected for recycling.

Weekly Boys'Jump is not just the best-selling manga magazine in Japan; with a weekly circulation between 5 and 6 million, it is one of the best-selling weekly magazines of any type in the world (in the United States, with a population twice that of Japan, Time magazine's circula­tion is only around 4 million). But it is not just the circulation of Jump that is big. Jump is the size and shape of a large city's telephone book. Square-backed and bound with both staples and glue, it usually has around 428 pages.

In size and format, Jump is identical to other major weekly boys' manga magazines such as Shonen Magazine and Shonen Sunday. The typical cover is a full-color explosion of popular characters, names of artists, and titles of stories—a design only a tad less hyperactive and garish in mood than that of CoroCoro magazine. Inside, there are eight full-color slick-paper pages devoted to the opening section of the lead story and to ads for video games and muscle-building equipment. Then there are around thirty-two pages of the lead story and more ads, printed on rough recycled white paper with black and red ink to create an illusion of color. The rest of the magazine, which contains between seventeen and eighteen serial­ized or concluding stories, is all recycled rough paper printed in monochrome, with stories visually distin­guished by different colored inks and paper tinted in dif­ferent shades.

Until recently Jump put its competitors to shame: it vastly outsold them and had a return rate of around only 2 percent. Designed originally for late elementary and junior high school boys, Jump achieved a publishing miracle by selling to children as well as middle-aged businessmen, thus becoming the Godzilla of Japan's publishing world.

What was the secret of Jump's success? The fat, weekly boys' manga format was pioneered by Shonen Magazine and Shonen Sunday in 1959; Jump did not appear until 1968. Shueisha, however, became Japan's largest magazine publisher (issuing over 50 million manga and non-manga magazines per month, or more than one for every Japanese family), so it seems to have known what it was doing. Unable to attract some of the most popular manga artists, the company instead located newer, younger ones, helped them develop their own identity, and contracted with them so they would contin­ue with the magazine, even if they later became success­ful. In effect, the magazine became their agent, also handling their licensing and merchandising.

In addition,Weekly Boys' Jump established a firm editorial policy that continues to this day. First, it con­ducted a survey of young readers, asking them to name (1) the word that warmed their hearts most. (2) the thing they felt most important, and (3) the thing that made them the happiest. The answers were yujo (friendship). doryoku (effort, or perseverance), and short (winning, or victory). These three words then became the criteria for selecting the stories, whether adventures or gags. As the editor-in-chief, Hiroyuki Got5, commented in a June 12, 1990 article in the newsmagazine Aera, "Children know they're equal in terms of rights, but not ability. Out of ten children, perhaps one will excel in both sports and study, and one will have no interest in either. The remaining eight just want to do better in study or sports. . . . They are the ones we're targeting, and the three words reflect their positive, optimistic outlook. At Shorten Jump we don't believe in the esthetics of defeat."

This has proved a phenomenally successful formula. A steady stream of hits—such as Dr. Slump, Cat's Eye. Kinnikuman ("Muscle Man"), Slam Dunk, and Dragon Ball—has poured forth from the magazine over the years, triggering national fads and generating millions of dollars in profit. The weekly Jump retails for an inexpensive ¥190 and probably just breaks even; the real profits are made from sales of paperback compilations of the serialized stories, animation rights, licensing of toys, and so on.



 


ARTISTS AND THEIR WORK




JUST AS THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF MANGA MAGAZINES,  SO TOO are there thousands of manga artists. Not all become full-time professionals, and of those that do even fewer become commercial or artistic successes. Ultimate­ly the most important quality required is originality and a unique personal vision.


Hinako Sugiura
 

Most manga artists never think of themselves as inheri­tors of a centuries-long Japanese tradition of cartooning. Before their professional debut, in fact, most spend time copying and tracing over their favorite modern manga artists (which is why so many drawing styles look the same). The artist who has most consciously drawn on native traditions, both for story inspiration and art style, is Hinako Sugiura. In her manga as well as in real life, she has been an apostle of the aesthetics of the Edo period, the years from 1600 to 1867 when Japan was isolated from the outside world.

In Japan's early feudal period, most art was created in a superficially religious context, even when it was pri­marily for entertainment. In addition to painted scrolls, humorous, cartoonlike art included monochrome Zenga (Zen pictures), originally executed as a meditative aid, and Otsu-e, or "Otsu pictures," color print-drawings that were originally designed near Kyoto as Buddhist amulets for travelers. During the Edo period (when there was an unprecedented 250 years of peace), the feudal system began to change, a money economy emerged among the urban merchant class, and inexpensive art as pure entertainment came into full bloom, aided by mass pro­duction based on woodblock printing technology In the 1800s the great artist Hokusai Katsushika produced Hokusai Manga, a fifteen-volume collection of drawings and sketches (from which the modern word for Japanese comics derives). Erotic prints, violent and fantastic warrior prints, and Kabuki actor bromides flourished.

Museums around the world today are filled with

serious Japanese art, but so much of the material from the Edo period is humorous, entertaining, and fantastic that one occasionally wonders if overly image conscious museum directors haven't formed a worldwide conspira­cy to ignore it. Townspeople in the Edo period were crazy about humorous woodblock illustrations and trashy illus­trated storybooks. Many of these, although they lacked sequential picture panels or word "balloons," bore a strik­ing resemblance to modern comics. They usually had twenty or more pages, with or without text, and were bound with thread or opened accordion-style. In the Osaka area, toba-e books featuring pictures of long spindly limbed characters in amusing antics were all the rage. In the early 19th century, kibyoshi, "yellow-cover" booklets, were produced by the thousands. Like modern comics, kibyoshi evolved from illustrated tales for chil­dren and gradually encompassed more and more sophis­ticated adult material. Most pages consisted of a drawing combined with the text in a block above it to form an illustrated, running story. Like comics today, kibyoshi were frequently published as a series.

Hinako Sugiura studied visual communication and design in university and dreamed of one day becoming an art director for commercials. But she became increas­ingly fascinated by feudal Japan and dropped out of col­lege to study with Shisei Inagaki, the author of over a hundred books and perhaps the top consultant for the­atrical and television films set in the Edo period. In 1980 Sugiura made her debut in the experimental manga mag­azine Garo with a short story titled Tsugen Muro no Ume (roughly, "Trends and Artificial Beauty"). It was set in the Edo period and although somewhat roughly executed had a novel retro-yet-new style. The story established Sugiura as a chronicler of life in old Tokyo, especially in the colorful and wildly popular red-light district of Yoshi-wara. In her subsequent work as well, Sugiura made the Edo period seem very much alive.

Sugiura is one of the few manga artists who occa­sionally draws in the ukiyo-e style practiced by wood­block masters over a hundred years ago. Sometimes she dips so deep into tradition that the pages truly look likethe kibyoshi of old, which she acknowledges to be a pow­erful influence. Her short story, Hanageshiki Kitsune Kodan ("Tales of Foxes at Flower-Viewing Time"), pub­lished in the early 1980s, is an example. It is a simple tale about a samurai warrior in springtime who wades into a rice paddy, hoping the leeches in the field will cure his foot fungus; the local people all gather to watch, thinking he has been possessed by a fox-deity. Sugiura not only draws the story with careful attention to period clothing and tradition, but executes it in kibyoshi format. She abandons the drawing pens, sequential panels, word bal­loons, and typeset text of modern manga for a brush and a traditional narrative layout. Text is hand-lettered in calligraphic style. Sugiura's main concession to modern times is to adapt the language—few Japanese would be able to read Edo-period Japanese without a dictionary.

A thoroughly modern person who once listed her hobbies as assembling plastic model kits and playing with computers, Sugiura comes from a family of kimono makers in Tokyo, and she grew up with a rich sense of tradition. She has often been called a "modern ukiyo-e artist," but she is really a bridge between two eras sepa­rated by the chasm created by Japan's rapid moderniza­tion. As she wrote in the afterword to Gasso ("Co-burial"), one of her paperback collections:
To most people, the "Edo era" seems like another dimension, something from the world of science fiction. It's hard to imagine that our forefathers once wore topknots and strolled around streets that look like ... [a movie set], but the Edo period and "today" exist in the same continuous flow of time; we now live on the same land that our top-knotted ancestors once lived upon.

In the late eighties and early nineties Sugiura spent more and more time writing and speaking about the Edo period, frequently on television as a talk-show celebrity, dressed in a kimono. She won the Japan Cartoonists' Association Award of Excellence in 1984 and the Bun-shun Manga Award in 1988. Unfortunately for manga lovers, in 1993 she decided she was ill-suited to the life of a manga artist. At the age of thirty-five, claiming to be dis­satisfied with her artwork and unwilling to keep up with the brutal pace of commercial manga publishing, she announced her retirement. She intended, she said, to become a scholar of the customs of the Edo period





King Terry
 

Japanese manga are a wellspring of ideas for illustrators, graphic designers, and not surprisingly, for more than a few fine artists, many of whom once dabbled in manga themselves. The one artist/illustrator whose work exists in a continually symbiotic relationship with manga is Teruhiko Yumura, aka King Terry, Terry Johnson, and Flamina Terrino Gonzalez.

King Terry is a man who can make the rare boast of having used his own esthetic to redesign the cosmos . Born in 1942 and educated at Tama University of Arts, he burst into prominence in Japan in the late seventies and early eighties, drawing a series of covers for Garo and creating short pieces with crazed-penguin themes in collaboration with the famous copywriter Shigesato Itoi. Terry's influ­ence vastly exceeded his actual output as a cartoonist, for he appeared in Japan when formalism and realism were under attack, not only in comics, but society at large (delib­erately amateurish comedy and music shows, for example, were wildly popular on television). Terry became the guru of a revolutionary art movement known in Japan as heta-uma, or "bad-good," which invigorated the comics world and subverted that of commercial illustration.

Of his early experiments with Shigesato Itoi, creating works such as Penguin Shuffle andfonetsu Penguin Gohan ("Passionate Penguin Dinner"), he said in a 1989 interview, "I wanted to draw the pictures / wanted in the space pro­vided, rather than tell a story. I started drawing whatever 1 wanted in each panel, and because I can't draw the same face twice, the character faces all changed." The result was manga with a weird mix of primitivism, energy, and dada-ist storylines—comics where the art, the text, and the entire concept fused together in an elegant bad-good style, where in one episode an existential penguin floating on an iceberg dreams of dinner and suddenly romps through the Wild West, a boudoir, the Amazon jungle, and flying saucers, finally returning to contemplate the ocean with the lines, "Oh, Ocean/Not Sky/Only Ocean/ You are a park­ing lot for tears." Then, with a "Yum" he sits down to din­ner on his iceberg.

At first glance Terry's cartoons and illustrations appear to be bad art, but on closer inspection, they are also good. Hence they are heta-uma, or bad-good. Terry believes that everyone starts as a "bad" artist and tries to become good. But simply becoming "good" is not enough. Artists who try too hard to become "good" begin to emphasize technique over soul, and then the life goes out of their drawings; their spirit fails to keep up with their technique. Terry's philosophy in art, therefore, has been to avoid becoming too good, and to preserve a graf­fiti-like soul. He believes that there are essentially four types of art:

(1)    Heta-uma [Bad-good]—a high level of achieve­
ment, requiring great practice. The goal to be
attained.

(2)    Uma-uma [Good-good]—the truly amazing "pro­
fessionals," those who can astound everyone with
their works. The creme de la creme.

(3)    Heta-heta [Bad-bad]—the truly bad amateur,
who has neither technique nor sensibility. The
average person.

(4)    Uma-heta [good-bad]—the professional whose
technique is good but whose work lacks life. No
soul.

In case anyone fails to understand the concept, in 1986 the publisher Seibundo Shinkosha released Heta-uma Ryakuga Zuanjiten ("A Bad-Good Sketch and Design Dictionary"), a 285-page manual in which Terry teaches aspiring "bad-good" artists how to draw nearly every­thing—vehicles, animals, faces, fight scenes, and sex scenes—in his unique style. In 1995 the book was out of print but so in demand by fans that Terry was working on a new 600-page expanded edition titled (in translation) "The Decisive Bad-Good Sketch and Design Dictionary."

Terry spawned a host of imitators in Japan, both in the comics and illustration world. One distinguishing feature of Terry's heta-uma art, however, is its "American" mood. Many of Terry's non-penguin, human characters in his comics are Westerners who speak fractured English. Terry has even been accused of being "more American than Americans." Where did Terry's weird All-American sensibility come from? He grew up in a period when Japanese infatuation with America was at its peak. But instead of high-brow culture, Terry was especially attracted to the trashy layouts and graphic designs of six­ties and seventies pulp magazines and comic books. In the early 1990s he visited the mainland U.S. several times. But when I interviewed him in 1989 he hadn't been to America for sixteen years. Commenting on his first trip, he said, "I had a strong, romantic image of the U.S. before actually going there, but seeing the real thing sort of destroys the dream. People often think I've lived a long time in the U.S., but if you live there the influence is diluted. When 1 do go, I want to notice interesting things."

In Japan, Terry can enjoy his own version of Ameri­ca. A soul music aficionado, he claims to have nearly 40,000 LPs and CDs. And his company. Flamingo Studios, has undertaken graphic design work that subtly trans­forms mundane American packaging and advertising concepts into works of art with Terry's own brand of humor. "I like the beauty of English," he says, "Especially the graphic design element."

Perhaps  because  of the  "American"   element  of Terry's work, he has received some attention in the Unit­ed States. In 1985, Terry created "The Shogun Tofu" for the New York avant-garde comic magazine Raw. An all-English masterpiece, it had typical Terry titles such as "Filled with Krazzzzzzzy Confusions" and "New Shock, New Violence, and Great Satisfaction." Samurai dialog ran along the lines of "Ancient time samurai was very great. So he killed every time, everybody . . . (THWAKKK) (This page is over but this cartoon keeps alive!! See next page!)." In 1990, Terry was written up in Elle magazine. In Japan, in 1995, Terry was creating the covers to the very hip annual manga magazine Comic CUE.




Z-Chan (Shingo Iguchi)
 

In 1989 I discovered a Japanese manga unlike any other I had seen. Titled Z-Chan ("Zed-chan," or "Little Z"), and created by Shingo Iguchi, it appeared sporadically in Garo. I was intrigued.

Most young cartoonists in Japan develop their tech­nique by imitating established artists or working as their assistants, so it is usually possible to tell the "lineage" of an artist just by his art style. But not so with Iguchi. Unlike the wild abandon that characterizes many Japa­nese manga, he has made the world of Z-Chan rigid and controlled; lines are sparse, white space abounds, and there is almost no complex detailing or shading. The result is a streamlined, almost inorganic look, and a fan­tasy setting devoid of any Japanese context. Surreal Eng­lish words are often used for graphic effect. Sometimes, however, orderly images suddenly disintegrate into geo­metric patterns and rough sketches.

When I first read Z-Chan, I couldn't detect any plot at all. But the more I read, the more I realized its characters existed in a self-contained universe, one that operated under its own unique set of rules and logic. The hero of Z-Chan is a little boy of the same name who wears a dunce cap and a black mask. His sidekick is Richard Sex, a blue mouse who lives in another dimension on the other side of a wall but who appears regularly through a mouse hole. They live in a little house on top of a hill, in Z-zone and the garden of nothingness, in Lotus Heaven, beyond hope and despair. They both like to take Z powder, which makes them first forget everything, and then remember every­thing. One of the blue mouse's jobs is to water tulips. Often the two engage in absurd, riddle-like dialogue:

Z-Chan: "I can't tell the difference between myself and a cup."

Richard Sex: "What? Did you say something?"

I was fascinated, and 1 resolved to meet the artist.

We met at a coffee shop in Tokyo. Iguchi was tall and thin, with heavy frame glasses, a frowzled mop of hair, and a slightly anemic complexion. Except for the color of his hair, he bore a striking resemblance to Andy Warhol.

He was born, he said, in Hiroshima in 1957 and came to Tokyo in 1982. While working as a part-time dishwasher he became involved in Tokyo Funky Stuff, a group of young artists that included Teruhiko Yumura, aka King Terry, and who were then staging events and happenings in the area. Iguchi had previously dabbled in both drawing and writing and his affiliation with the other artists made him feel as though he, too, should do something "interesting." He began drawing manga and fused both of his interests. When he submitted a work to Garo, it was accepted.

The hero of Z-Chan was originally a female character that Iguchi had created earlier, but he turned it into a boy by adding the dunce cap and the mask. "I can only draw one face," he says with a self-deprecating smile. After creating Z-Chan, he had to think of what the boy should represent. Since "Z" was the last letter of the alphabet, he decided it could also be equated with the last year in the millennium, 2000, and that Z-Chan should be a child who lives to the year 2000 as part of a total "Z-plan factory" that would grant all wishes by then. As Iguchi drew more and more, he began holding exhibits related to Z-Chan here and there, and he found himself forced to develop a more complete context for his charac­ter. A comic strip that had started almost as an accident gradually became a universe. Preserving this "accidental" approach to developing the universe became part of Iguchi's methodology.

Iguchi is a man in the process of constructing his own reality. The more I questioned him, the more animat­ed he became. Every element in Z-Chan has Iguchi-mean-ing, and every element fits into a larger Iguchi-context. Soon the words began flowing from him in a torrent- Z-Chan, he told me, is simultaneously a child of total despair and total happiness. He is a zero-child, with no past memo­ry, who knows no history and thinks only inside his dunce cap. As for "Z," he comes from a long line of ancestors, going back all the way to "A." For my benefit, Iguchi then launched into an awesomely detailed explanation of each ancestor's complicated personal history. I began to imag­ine that it would take him several days to reach "Z," but out

of consideration for me he jumped a few ancestors, and to my surprise said that they actually only went to "N." "N," in total despair, had fallen over, thus becoming "Z" (in case you have trouble following this, try turning the capital let­ter "N" on its side).

As Iguchi's alternate reality developed, it became more than complex; it became a total commitment, one that Iguchi plans to stick to until at least the year 2000. "My entire life," he lamented in 1989, "has become the world of Z-Chan." At the end of 1995, nearly ten years after starting his series, Iguchi was still going strong. Z-Chan was still appearing in Garo, and Iguchi had ever managed to publish it in a beautifully bound hardcovei edition. Not content with manga alone, he had also launched a Z-Chan project to distribute tulip bulbs by mail around the world. He had written Z-Chan stories anc Z-Chan music and put on Z-Chan art exhibits and public performances, including a Z-Chan parade of seventy-five friends wearing dunce caps in downtown Tokyo. As for the near future, while not yet possessing a computer Iguchi spoke passionately of getting a Z-Chan site up and running on the Internet. As he said once with a sigh, "It"; getting harder and harder to explain what I'm doing to the outside world. It's the sort of thing I'd feel a little uneasy having my parents know too much about. I'rr afraid they'd worry about me."

 


Yoshikazu Ebisu
 

 

Anyone who watched Japanese television in the late eight ies and early nineties has seen Yoshikazu Ebisu. He is ar omnipresent personality on talk shows and commercials where he projects an aura of reassuring mediocrity; a Japanese "everyman" with clothing slightly rumpled, hair ou of place, and a disarmingly crooked grin.

In reality, Ebisu is one of Japan's more eccentric and
intelligent  manga artists,  a "prince  of ultra-nonsens

manga" who delights in dissecting the neuroses in human nature and in modern Japanese society. But don't look for his work in the highly commercialized manga magazines for children. He has a cult following, and his humor is definitely outside the mainstream.

Ebisu's unique skills as a manga satirist are a prod­uct of his unusual background and personality. Many manga artists in Japan debut in their late teens, become "stars" in their early twenties, and fade from public view before reaching thirty. Ebisu began to reach notoriety in his forties—and he has not taken the normal commercial route. He had an early interest in drawing, graphic design, and scenario writing, but after high school held a variety of jobs, including working as a sign painter for six years and working for a year and a half with a Tokyo chirigami-kokan (paper recycling) firm. In 1973 he did what many maverick aspiring manga artists of his generation did and submitted a piece to Garo. When it was accepted, he says, "It was the happiest time of my life. They told me they couldn't pay me, but I didn't care."

Convinced that he could turn professional, Ebisu quickly quit his job, only to come up against the hard crunch of reality and the need to support a family. He went back to work and for years was employed as a Duskin salesman (Japan's version of the Fuller Brush Man). Eventually, however, he found sidework drawing for erotic manga magazines and for Garo, and several of his stories sold well when compiled into paperback. The freewheeling policies of these publications let him experiment visually and hone his own style. Unlike most artists, who first work for long years as appren­tices to famous mentors and thus have highly derivative art styles, Ebisu emerged into the world as a one-of-a-kind.

Ebisu draws in a stark, almost primitive style with no shading. His characters, alter egos with average names like "Tanaka," are average citizens whose averageness cloaks a paranoid psyche. When disturbed, beads of sweat form on their brows. Their faces cloud over during fits of brooding. And they live in an utterly normal world—the world of modern Japanese cities, drab office buildings, businesssuited men, mahjong parlors, bill collectors, trains, and nightclubs. But the normalcy here can crumble at any moment. To create a sense of ominous absurdity, Ebisu often has flying saucers, "bullet" trains, and horses sud­denly materialize out of nowhere. "I like to tell ordinary stories that self-destruct for shock effect," he says.

Many of Ebisu's ideas come from his own life expe­rience and his struggle to survive. And many of his best works revolve around "salarymen," the faceless white-collar denizens of Japan's corporate landscape. His series like Sarariiman Kiki Ippatsu ("The Salaryman Had a Nar­row Escape") and Sarariiman Kyoshitsu ("Salaryman Classroom") are classics. Black-humor survival guides to working in the neurotic hierarchy of Japanese company organizations, these works tear at the heart of Japanese social structure, depicting average employees tying them­selves in intellectual knots trying to conform to their bosses" whims, engaging in backstabbing conspiracies, and lapsing into fits of paranoia and delusion.

Ebisu's stories are also a direct reflection of his idio­syncratic personality. A gambler, he is a risk taker, in comics and in life. His three favorite hobbies are mahjong, pachinko, and professional boat racing-favorite pastimes of the Japanese working class. He draws and writes about gambling for gambling magazines (including mahjong and pachinko manga magazines) and clearly gets ideas for both characters and absurd situa­tions from the gambling scene. Losing money may even be good for him. "When I have no money," he says, "I begin wondering why others have it, and wondering how to get some. It helps stimulate my imagination."

Ebisu also prides himself on a lack of what many Japanese cherish above all else—joshiki, or the common sense knowledge of the complex codes of social behavior that rule Japan. Actually, he knows the rules backward and forward, but he is intellectually capable of freeing himself from them. "I have no joshiki," he says, "so when I draw it often seems like great satire to other people."



Kazuichi Hanawa

 

On a trip through the northern island of Hokkaido in 1992, I stopped briefly in the city of Sapporo and finally met Kazuichi Hanawa in a local coffee shop. I had inter­viewed him on the phone a few years earlier, and found him both shy and open, sharing his views on art as well as his personal problems. In a society that places a high premium on conformity, I suspected that Hanawa was so inherently unorthodox that he couldn't conform, even if he tried. A small gentle man, he wore a cloth cap over a nearly shaved head and walked awkwardly. Only later, when I looked at a photograph I had taken of him, did I notice that he seemed to be holding his hands in a mudra, a symbolic gesture often used in tantric Buddhism.

A. self-taught artist completely outside the manga mainstream, Hanawa over the years has enjoyed a steadi­ly growing cult following. Born in 1942, he says he first wanted to be an illustrator, but after encountering the work of Yoshiharu Tsuge—one of the first serious surrealist manga artists to appear in the sixties—he realized that comics did not always have to be cute and lovable and that he, too, could draw them. His first work, Kan no Mushi ("Irascible") appeared in Garo in 1971 and was a short story of an incorrigibly bad boy whose mother takes him to a sadistic acupuncturist for a "cure." With detailed backgrounds somewhat reminiscent of Tsuge and a cast of characters drawn in both realistic and deformed styles, it had an eerie, surreal quality to it. But that was just the beginning.

Soon after, Hanawa began drawing stories in an entirely unique style best described as Japanese retro-kitsch-horror. Akai Yoru ("Red Night"), one of his first forays in this area, established the tone. It is a lurid story of a deranged samurai thrill-killer who forgets his original vow of revenge and is tricked into committing suicide by his dis­appointed wife. Such a plot alone isn't particularly excep­tional in the world of manga; what is striking is the art style. While still adhering to the basic comics format of illustrated sequential panels, Akai Yoru evokes the atmosphere of trashy illustrated tales from the early Meiji period. Pages are heavily detailed and dark. Faces have an elongated ukiyo-e look.





OSAMU TEZUKA:



A TRIBUTE TO THE
GOD OF COMICS

 


THE DEATH OF OSAMU TEZUKA FROM STOMACH CANCER ON February 9, 1989, received only brief mention in a few newspapers outside of Japan. But in his own land he was mourned like a fallen monarch. Tezuka had lived sixty years, almost exactly the length of the Showa Emperor's reign, but many people seemed far more shocked by his death than that of the emperor, which had occurred only a few weeks earlier. The emperor had lin­gered on so long, and was so old. that when his death finally came it was almost anticlimactic. Tezuka's took everyone by surprise. Many young people wept unabashedly, and the media ran seemingly endless retro­spectives on his life.


The Human Dream Factory

 

Who was Osamu Tezuka, and why was he so famous? In Japan, Tezuka was referred to as the "God of Comics" and even the "God of Animation." When introduced to ignorant foreigners, the appellation the "Walt Disney of Japan" was often tacked on, as if this somehow explained everything. In reality Tezuka was entirely dif­ferent from Disney. He was largely a failure as a busi­nessman and manager. He was first and foremost a storyteller, a man who generated ideas and plots as easi­ly as some people breathe. And he was a gifted artist.

With these talents he helped pioneer the "story comic"—the long (often thousands of pages), intricate novelistic format that is the mainstay of Japanese manga today and that relies heavily on so-called cinematic techniques. Tezuka was, in a very real sense, the father of Japan's huge contemporary comics and animation culture. As the prestigious Asahi newspaper put it in an emotional editorial the day after he died:

Foreign visitors to Japan often find it difficult to understand why Japanese people like comics so much. Reportedly, they often find it odd to see grown men and women engrossed in weekly comic magazines on the trains during commute hours. . . . One explanation for the popularity of comics in Japan, however, is that Japan had Osamu Tezuka, whereas other nations did not. Without Dr. Tezuka, the postwar explosion in comics in Japan would have been inconceivable.

Tezuka was born in Toyonaka City, in Osaka, on November 3, 1928, but he grew up in nearby Takarazuka, famous for its hot springs, theater, and then-abundant natural beauty. Until World War II intensified, he led what must have been an idyllic childhood. His parents were progressive and upper middle class, with a strong interest in the arts. His mother loved drama. His father, although a "salaryman," was a film buff and even had a projector with which he showed early American animated shorts and Chaplin films. Young Osamu soon exhibited a remarkable ability to draw, and as a schoolboy he doo­dled profusely. One of his hobbies was collecting insects, and he carefully cataloged them, often painstakingly drawing each one in full-color, photolike detail. Because of his love of insects—particularly a beetle called the "osamushi"—he began adding the character for "insect" or mushi to his given name, Osamu Jn, writing it with a cartoon-like flourish of two dots in the character to represent "eyes."

Right after the war, at the age of seventeen, Tezuka FIRST SUCCESS debuted as a cartoonist in a Mainichi newspaper with a serialized cartoon strip titled Md-chan no Nikki ("Ma-chan's Diary." It was a simple four-panel cartoon, similar to others of the time. A year later he created Shintakaraji-ma ("New Treasure Island"), based on a story by Shichima Sakai. New Treasure Island was a sensation, a manga book nearly two hundred pages long and drawn in a style that made it fast-paced, exciting reading. Tezuka, an avid fan of American animation, had incorporated many of that art form's techniques, using different "camera angles" and creating a sense of motion with his page layouts. New Treasure Island was so visually oriented that some later said reading it was almost like watching a movie. At a time when many people scarcely had enough money for food, and when manga were still a very minor industry, Tezuka's creation reportedly sold over 400,000 copies.Drawing in the same style, Tezuka began producing story after story, driving entertainment-starved young readers wild. He created science fiction tales with exotic English  titles like Lost World and Metropolis,  and he adapted foreign classics such as Faust and Crime and Pun­ishment into the comic format.

After Tezuka moved to Tokyo in 1952 and began drawing for major children's magazines, his fame grew exponentially. The rundown apartment building where he lived, named Tokiwaso, became a magnet for young artists who idolized Tezuka and wanted to work as his assistant. Tokiwaso has subsequently become the subject of books and TV documentaries. Many of Tezuka's former assistants are today the reigning veterans of the manga world. (See, for example, the duo Fujiko Fujio discussed in chapter 4.)

In 1951 Tezuka began serializing Jungle Taitei ("Jun­gle Emperor"), a story of animals in Africa learning to live together, and the next year he began drawing Tetsuwan Atom ("Mighty Atom"), a story of a robot-child who "fought for peace." Both of these became instant classics and today are among the most beloved of Tezuka's tales; one of the lions of Jungle Emperor is currently the mascot for the Seibu Lions baseball team, while Atom advertises securities and telecommunications.

No matter what genre of manga Tezuka dabbled in, he always seemed to discover new possibilities for it. A mas-

ter of boys' comics, he also pioneered comics for girls. In 1954, he used his "story comic" techniques to create Ribon no Kishi (literally, "A Knight in Ribbons," but usual­ly translated as "Princess Knight"). Its enormous popular­ity helped jumpstart what is now the huge genre of manga exclusively for girls and women. Starting in the sixties, Tezuka also began developing stories with increas­ingly sophisticated themes for an older audience, trying to do with comics what others have done with literature. In the process he created numerous classic works, many of them thousands of pages long, with intricate plots and characterizations.

Tezuka infused nearly all his stories with what came to be known as "Tezuka humanism." Tezuka respected all people and the sanctity of life. He had an ability to look beyond the superficial actions of people and to view them in their totality, to assess them in the context of their envi­ronment, history, and even (occasionally) their karma. As a result, Tezuka's heroes were not two-dimensional but complex and flawed: sometimes they did the wrong, not right, thing; sometimes they died. Conversely, Tezuka's vil­lains often had a spark of good in them. Many of his works, like Hi no Tori ("Phoenix") and Buddha, dealt with religious and philosophical issues like the meaning of life, reincar­nation, and the "one-ness" of all things. And because of the destruction he witnessed first hand in World War II, Tezuka was also a passionate believer in peace.

By the early sixties, Tezuka had become so successful TEZUKA THE that he could afford to indulge in his other passion—ani-ANIMAT0R mation. With his own animation company, Mushi Pro­ductions, in 1963 he turned Tetsuwan Atom into Japan's first black-and-white television animation series; in 1965 he made Jungle Taitei into Japan's first color series. Both series were exported to the United States, where they were dubbed and shown on syndicated television under the titles Astro Boy and Kimha, the White Lion, respective­ly. Most young American fans had no idea they had origi­nated in Japan.
 

Tezuka went on to make scores of other animated TV series and theatrical features, including some with adult, erotic themes, such as Cleopatra and Sen'ichiya no Yoru ("A Thousand and One Nights"). Tezuka was nomi­nally a Buddhist, but at the time of his death his company was creating a series of animated Bible stories for the Vat­ican and Italian television (initial scripts had highly ani­mistic, almost Shinto-like scenes that had to be edited out). Animation was more than a commercial venture for Tezuka, though. As he often joked, manga were his wife; animation was his mistress. The money he made from manga he often lost on animation projects, which con­tributed to the bankruptcy of Mushi Productions in 1973. Many of his animated films that won awards were experi­mental and non-commercial, such as the serious Mori no Densetsu ("Legend of the Forest"), with its ecological theme, and the humorous shorts Broken Down Film and Jumping, which were given wide exposure at animation screenings in the U.S.

On top of all this Tezuka was a skilled pianist and a film critic with a regular column on movies in Kine-ma Junpo, a screen magazine. And he was a national celebrity. Somehow, no matter how busy, he always seemed to find time to make an appearance at a comic-or animation-related event. He even advertised word processors on television.

It is easy to list Tezuka's accomplishments as an artist and creator, but what was he like as a man? I had the opportu­nity to get to know him quite well, and he became my mentor, encouraging and helping me considerably in my career as a writer. Over the years, I also had the honor of working as his interpreter during several trips he made to the United States and Canada. In this position I was with him nearly twenty-four hours a day for extended periods, and thus had ample opportunity to separate the man from the myth.

I was probably one of the few people, other than Tezuka's wife and closest employees, to see him without a beret. He always wore it. Berets were almost de rigueur for artists in early postwar Japan, and as Tezuka became more and more famous, and as he began to lose more of his hair, the beret became not only a trademark but a semi-permanent wig-like fixture on his head. It was a lit­tle vanity of his, and one of his many endearing, childlike qualities. He only took it off when he went to sleep.

Tezuka was one of the best conversationalists I ever met. He was fascinated by life and learning, and as a comic artist and an animator he was an anomaly; not only was he an intellectual, but a licensed physician (he obtained his medical degree from Osaka University's Col­lege of Medicine; his research had been on the sperm of pond snails). Tezuka thus found it easy to hold a discus­sion on nearly any subject with nearly anyone. And if lis­tening is the art of being a good conversationalist, he perfected it. An information sponge, he constantly asked questions. After all. he was constantly writing three or four stories in his head, and he needed as much informa­tion as possible to Keep them going. Remarkably, Tezuka not only absorbed information, but retained it- He could quote me things I had casually mentioned years earlier, almost verbatim. And his memory wasn't all aural, either. What he saw, he recorded with a near photographic

memory. Often, these remembered scenes would be adapt­ed later in his comics.

Tezuka had a remarkable way of communicating with people, whether they were five years old, or fifty, whether they were construction workers or intellectuals. He threw temper tantrums regularly with his staff and probably with his family, but in public he was always kind and gentle, with an engaging manner and a ready smile. He never talked down to anyone, and if words didn't work, he could always communicate by drawing a picture. In fact, he was such a pushover for fans that he was constantly abused by them. After a public talk or appearance, he was deluged with requests for autographs, and, much to the irritation of those in charge of his schedule, he would oblige, usually drawing a detailed picture of one of his characters as "a special service for the fans." Tezuka might privately grumble and complain when things didn't go right, but he could also be remark­ably forgiving. Once, on the way to a film festival in Cana­da, when I was in charge of his schedule, I became so engrossed in a conversation with him that I didn't notice our airplane had left the gate. Tezuka took it all in stride. He was a Buddhist and a humanist at heart, well aware of the imperfections of his fellow man.

Tezuka's dynamism was legendary. In fact, given his typical schedule, it is remarkable that he lived as long as he did. Doubtless, as a physician he was able to monitor his own health. He slept only four hours a night and still had enough energy and enthusiasm during the day to wear much younger people into the ground. Tezuka did use assistants to help fill in backgrounds and details, but he relied on them far less than many of his peers in the indus­try. Once, when in Florida for the filming of a TV special, I watched him retreat after an exhaustingly long day to his hotel room with paper, pencils, and ink. Sure enough, early in the morning, he was up and smiling. He probably hadn't slept a wink, but his quota of pages was done—beautifully penciled and inked and ready for shipping to Japan for a final touch-up at his company before going to the printer. In his life, Tezuka is said to have drawn over 150,000 pages of manga and produced over 500 separate works.

Tezuka had such energy and enthusiasm that he tended TEZUKA AT WORK to take on far more work than he should have, and as a result he was probably the manga artist in Japan that edi­tors feared, or hated, the most. He often neglected dead­lines until the last minute, and like many famous Japanese comic artists he came to depend on his own staff and editors to hound him; scrambling to meet the deadline became an essential part of his daily routine. Once, when visiting San Francisco, he began enjoying himself too much, so an editor was flown out from Japan to apply pressure on him. Protocol required that the edi­tor use great tact with an older, famous artist/writer. But the deadline grew nearer and nearer,  and the editor became so visibly agitated he looked as though he might hemorrhage internally. Only at the very last minute was he able to corral Tezuka, force him to retreat to his hotel room, and get him to complete the minimum number of pages required to save the magazine from disaster Sure enough, the editor finally flew back to Tokyo with the work, cursing, but relieved.

For all his humanism and gentleness, Tezuka was an extraordinarily competitive person. Although he rarely faced serious intellectual competition in the manga world, fads in art styles changed regularly, and he con­stantly had to struggle to remain current. When gekiga ("dramatic pictures," equivalent to "graphic novels" in America) became popular among increasingly older read­ers, and when Tezuka's traditionally rounded, Disney-esque style fell out of favor, he began drawing more realistically. When young artists, such as the French-influenced Katsuhiro Otomo (author of Akira and other works), became the darling of manga critics in the eighties, Tezuka had a hard time hiding his jealousy, for he had a burning desire to be at the top of the popularity list in all genres for all age groups at all times. It was certainly this competitive spirit, in addition to his talents, that allowed him to so dominate the manga industry for so long.

It was thus no wonder that Tezuka's death sent shock waves through nearly everyone under fifty in Japan. Most had been raised on his comics or animation and many were still enjoying his latest creations for adults. People in their twenties had probably competed at athletic meets in elementary school to the accompani­ment of the theme song to the Astro Boy animation series (and knew all the words by heart). And Tezuka had always seemed so superhuman and indestructible. Following Japanese medical custom, there was never any public acknowledgement of the gravity of his illness. Of course, as a physician, Tezuka himself was fully aware of what was happening to his body. But he kept up the charade to the end. When he died he was still working on several serialized manga stories, including a semibiographical work about Ludwig van Beethoven and his third adapta­tion of Goethe's Faust, which he had titled Neo-Faust  Given his fame in Japan, why is Tezuka so unknown in other countries? Although his TV animation was widely shown in the United States in the sixties, Tezuka's name was rarely associated with it. Until the end of 1995, when his Adolf series was finally published in America, the only original Tezuka manga work to appear in English was a 1990 translation of his 1953 manga version of Dostoyev­ski's Crime and Punishment—but it was issued in Japan for students of English and it came with footnotes.

One problem with publishing some of the best Tezuka material is its length. American and European comics publishers generally balk at the idea of commit­ting to a multivolume manga series that may be thou­sands of pages long. Another problem is that Tezuka's work was a subculture unto itself. Having drawn for so many years, Tezuka established a dialogue with his read­ers that made some of his stories seem awkward or unfamiliar to new readers not used to his conventions. His early stories relied on a kind of "star system" wherein the same characters would appear in different roles in different stories. He also had an exasperating habit of inserting gags into his stories at the most serious moments. Finally, some of his stories are rendered in a far more "cartoony" style than is common for serious stories in other countries.

In Japan, Tezuka's popularity and prestige has waxed rather than waned since his death. In 1990 the prestigious National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo held an extravagant retrospective exhibit of his work—the first such honor granted any cartoonist. In 1994, when the city of Takarazuka opened the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum, over 400,000 people came in the first six months. And Tezuka's manga books have sold extraordi­narily well, especially in reissued deluxe editions. In 1995, his company, Tezuka Productions, estimated that around 50 million copies of his books had been sold in the seven years since his death.

Tezuka was engaged in a lifelong quest to discover the meaning of life. Quite by accident, comics and anima­tion happened to be his medium of expression. The result was an enormous gift to postwar Japan and to an often-overlooked popular art form. He helped increase the num­ber of readers of manga, to raise their expectations, and to set a new standard for quality. By inspiring younger artists and challenging them to surpass him, he in effect set in motion a chain reaction that continues to this day and that has made Japan the comics capital of the world. Still, when Tezuka died it was impossible not to speculate on what he could have produced with a little more time. Until the very end, his mind must have been filled with wonderful sto­ries, just waiting to be put to paper.





 


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