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Guest post by William Hanley, Library Associate in Electronic Resources and Serials Management, manga expert and fan extraordinaire

Don’t forgot to check out Part I of the series.

Manga: /ˈmaŋgə/
(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.

Yotsuba book cover

Yotsuba&!
by Kiyohiko Azuma
Meet Yotsuba, the most precocious girl ever!  This series chronicles the life of Yotsuba Koiwai, a five-year-old girl who is energetic, cheerful, curious and odd.  She is also initially ignorant about many things a child her age would be expected to know, among them doorbells, escalators, air conditioners and even playground swings.  This naiveté is the premise of many humorous stories where she learns about, and frequently misunderstands, everyday things. Besides being a comedy about the wonders of childhood, another key aspect of this manga is the myriad references to modern Japanese culture, such as Japanese cuisine, seasonal festivals and high school cultural festivals, as well as urban and rural landscapes.  Some Japanese terms are not translated in the manga but the publisher adds translations as footnotes.

 

Bakuman book cover

Bakuman
story by Tsugumi Ohba, art by Takeshi Obata

A manga about creating manga, Bakuman follows talented artist Moritaka Mashiro and aspiring writer Akito Takagi, two ninth grade boys who wish to become mangaka (manga creators).  Although the main characters and their story are fictional, the process of creating manga and the business models for the publisher, Shonen Jump, are authentic.  Some characters resemble real authors and editors of Shonen Jump and many manga titles mentioned in Bakuman are also series published in Shonen Jump at that time.  Furthermore, each chapter comes with a bonus page showing an excerpt from writer Tsugumi Ohba’s rough-draft storyboard, artist Takeshi Obata’s reworking of the draft, and then the final product.  These pages answer the question on the minds of millions of manga fans, “how do they do that?”

 

Lilly Library also purchased three works, Monster, Pluto, and 20th Century Boys, by acclaimed manga writer and artist Naoki Urasawa.  In 2010, when a prominent Japanese magazine held a poll on the Mangaka that Changed the History of Manga, Urasawa was one of the top ten.  As a storyteller, he is known for his dense, multi-layered, interconnecting narratives and his mastery of suspense.  His works often focus on character development and psychological complexity.

 

Monster book cover

Monster
by Naoki Urasawa

“…as exciting as an action movie, but with an added element of thought-provoking ethical debate.”  I believe this quote, from ComicsWorthReading.com, sums up this work really well.  Winner of multiple awards for best manga, including the sought-after Tezuka Cultural Prize in 2001, this psychological thriller tells the story of an outstanding surgeon and his involvement with a serial killer.  What makes this such a powerful work, is how Urasawa weaves his complex plot around the theme of an ethical dilemma, the decision of whether to save a life or take a life, and the irrevocable consequences of such a choice.

 

Pluto book cover

Pluto
by Naoki Urasawa

Another of Urasawa’s award-winning titles, Pluto is a retelling of a particular story arc of “Astro Boy”, the famous groundbreaking manga by Osamu Tezuka.  As with his other works, Urasawa spins a tale of psychological and philosophical themes, particularly those of identity, what it means to be human, and whether robots can have emotions.  It’s the imaginative world of the “God of Manga” Tezuka, mixed with Urasawa’s darker shades of ethical dilemmas.

 

20th Century Boys book cover

20th Century Boys
by Naoki Urasawa

With adventure, mystery and Urasawa’s trademark layers of interwoven plotlines, 20th Century Boys is at heart the story of a gang of boys who try to save the world.  But within this simple premise lies several deeper questions.  Are some moments in history more important than others?  Can one chance childhood encounter have a cataclysmic impact far in to the future?  While one can never tell what will result from his or her actions, is it also impossible to discern which actions will have far-reaching implications?  20th Century Boys plays on our desire to know the answers to such questions as well as our desire to reconcile the nostalgia of our past with the fear of our future.

Other landmark manga titles that have been in the Library’s collection for some time prior to last year include:

Lone Wolf and Cub book cover

Lone Wolf and Cub
story by Kazuo Koike, art by Goseki Kojima

The genre of the wandering, avenging samurai is well known even to western cultures.  Lone Wolf and Cub is perhaps the most influential manga written on this subject.  The series chronicles the story of Ogami Itto, the Shogun’s executioner.  Disgraced by false accusations from the Yagyu clan, he is forced to take the path of the assassin.  Along with his three-year-old son, Daigoro, he seeks revenge on the Yagyu clan and they become known as “Lone Wolf and Cub”. First published in 1970, Lone Wolf and Cub became wildly popular (roughly 8 million copies were sold in Japan) for its epic samurai story, its stark and gruesome depiction of violence during Tokugawa era Japan, its detailed historical accuracy, masterful artwork and nostalgic recollection of the bushido code.

Akira book cover

Akira
by Katsuhiro Otomo

A science-fiction tale known primarily as one of the most famous anime in history, Akira was first a well-known landmark manga.  Set in a post-apocalyptic city called Neo-Tokyo, the story follows two teenage friends, Tetsuo and Kaneda, whose lives change forever when paranormal abilities begin to waken in Tetsuo, making him a target for a shadowy agency that will stop at nothing to prevent another catastrophe like the one that leveled Tokyo during World War III.   At the core of the agency’s motivation, is a raw, all-consuming fear of an unthinkable, monstrous power known only as Akira. While many remember Akira for its ultra-violent action sequences and unique pacing (A few seconds of real-time action may take up a full page worth of panels in the manga), at its heart Akira is a masterful character sketch involving themes such as youth alienation, rebellion against government corruption and identity transformation in adolescents.

A Drifting Life book cover

A Drifting Life
by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Manga master, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, is widely credited with starting the gekiga style of alternative comics in Japan, in which comics are used to tell gritty, introspective stories about the lives of everyday people.  A Drifting Life is his epic award winning autobiography.  Referring to himself as Hiroshi, Tatsumi begins his story with the surrender of Japan after World War II, when he was 10 years of age, and details the following 15 years of his life.  The manga involves complex family dynamics, Japanese culture and history, the intricacies of the manga industry and, most importantly, what it means to be an artist.

 

 

 

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