Guest post by William Hanley, Library Associate in Electronic Resources and Serials Management, manga expert and fan extraordinaire
(from the Oxford Dictionary)
Noun: a style of Japanese comic books and graphic novels, typically aimed at adults as well as children.
Origin: 1950’s: Japanese, from ‘man’ (indiscriminate) + ‘ga’ (picture) (translated as “whimsical drawings” or “impromptu sketches” in modern English)
While manga are enormously popular in Japan and are read by business people, university students and the elderly, as well as children, they have become a global phenomenon. Many series have themes in academic areas such as psychology, environmental studies, gender roles, world history, cultural studies in general and, of course, Japanese cultural studies in particular.
In the summer of 2013, Lilly Library acquired several manga series of particular merit in these categories.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
by Hayao Miyazaki
When it comes to manga and Japanese animation (anime) on a global scale, no name is better known than Hayao Miyazaki. The film director, animator, manga artist, producer and screenwriter had a career that spanned six decades during which he’s received several awards including an Oscar for his movie, “Spirited Away.” Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind tells the story of Nausicaä, a princess of a small kingdom on a post-apocalyptic Earth, who becomes involved in a war between kingdoms while an environmental disaster threatens the survival of humankind. Using her innate empathic bond with the giant Ohmu, insects, and animals of every species, she struggles to bring about a peaceful coexistence among the people of her world, as well as between humanity and nature. It is a tale of humans’ struggle with nature and with each other, as well as the effect war and violence have on society. The manga is often noted as Miyazaki’s best work. Mike Crandol of Anime News Network praised the manga stating, “I dare say the manga is [Miyazaki’s] finest work ever–animated, printed, or otherwise–and that’s saying a lot. Manga allows for a depth of plot and character unattainable in the cinematic medium, and Miyazaki uses it to its fullest potential.” The series is available in the Lilly Library in a deluxe box set containing two hardcover volumes with bonus interior color pages and maps.
Hikaru no Go
by Yumi Hotta
Hikaru no Go is a coming of age story written by Yumi Hotta, based around the board game Go. Although highly fictionalized (the story involves a typical Japanese sixth-grader who finds a best friend in a ghost from Shogunate Japan), the production of the series’ Go games was supervised by Go professional Yukari Umezawa (5-dan). When added to Hotta’s research on the game, the series gives many accurate glimpses into the culture of modern-day Go. Since its debut, the manga has been largely responsible for popularizing Go amongst the youth of Japan, China, South Korea, and Taiwan.
Full Metal Alchemist
by Hiromu Arakawa
Set in a fictional universe in which alchemy is one of the most advanced scientific techniques, Full Metal Alchemist follows two brothers in their struggle for redemption. After a disastrous failed attempt to bring their mother back to life through alchemy, Edward and Alphonse Elric search for the Philosopher’s Stone. It is the only tool that can restore their bodies. The series explores the concept of equivalent exchange: in order to obtain something new, the person must pay with something of the same value. Sacrifice is an ongoing theme throughout the story. As one of the best-selling (and possibly the most critically-acclaimed) series in the past 15 years, Full Metal Alchemist is an important pop cultural reference in manga.
5 Centimeters Per Second
by Makoto Shinkai
5 Centimeters Per Second takes its name from the speed at which cherry blossoms – a symbol of transience in Japan – fall from the tree. This manga adaptation of an anime of the same name portrays a love story where the central conflict is an epiphany: the realization that daily-life can separate people from one another, and that the slow passage of time can gradually deaden the deep feelings they may have for each other. The work is filled with poignant images that come from two lives intersecting and the hope and disappointment that love brings.
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
by Fumiyo Kouno
A quote from the back cover of Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms sums up this historical drama quite well. “What impact did World War II and the dropping of the atomic bomb have on the common people of Japan? Through the eyes of an average woman living in 1955, Japanese artist Fumiyo Kouno answers these questions.”Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms brings together three short stories dealing with every-day people living in Japan and how the bombing of Hiroshima affected their lives. With the first story taking place in 1955, the second in 1987, and the third in 2004 the work gives a unique view of how war impacts a country and its people throughout the years.
by Kou Yaginuma
Twin Spica tells the story of a group of Japanese high school students training to become astronauts in the early 21st century after the country’s first human spaceflight launch ended in disaster. A mixture of coming-of-age, science, and the supernatural genres, the series is a great example of the paramount theme in most manga for young adults and children: never give up in following your dreams. Additionally, author Kou Yaginuma, makes various references to historical figures and events in space exploration, making the work both heartfelt and technically sound, a perfect blend of teenage melodrama and space science.
by Shimoku Kio
Otaku is a Japanese word meaning “a person extremely knowledgeable about the minute details of a particular hobby; specifically one who is obsessed with anime, video games, or computers and rarely leaves home.” Often used as a derogatory slang term in Japan — oddly enough, many American fans proudly self-identify as Otaku — this is the culture highlighted in Genshiken. Part comedy, part slice-of-life, Genshiken portrays a college club for otaku and the lifestyle its members pursue. The series gives a surprisingly realistic glimpse into Japanese fandom and includes many excellent references to manga, anime, video games and other aspects of otaku culture such as cosplay, fan conventions, model building and figurines.