Manga Life: Why we’re living it

What makes manga so special and unusual from any other type of comic book and cartoon in the world? Why do

A Naruto enthusiast/cosplayer gets her dance on at the Dallas A-Kon anime convention. Photo by Liz Reed.

we love that a character has blue hair, pink eyes, and a mouth half the size of her face? What drives people all over the world to gather at conventions dressed in full like their favorite characters, complete with ten-foot swords and spiked wigs?

In the following weeks, I hope to analyze why we love manga and what makes it “manga.” While it’s all a very subjective topic, I hope to look at the “essence” of manga, both Eastern and Western, broken down into the different components of a whole: Culture, Art, Characters, Plot and Dialogue, and Tone/Mood. While this may (and hopefully not begrudgingly so) remind you of high school English class, in any literature analysis you must look at these pieces of the puzzle if you wish to understand what makes manga a worldwide phenomenon. It isn’t just one component, but rather, the way each gear turns to get the machine in motion. Many of these gears may overlap, but all in all, you can’t really go forward without one or the other.

Goku's appetite provided the comic relief in Dragon Ball Z. Photo from http://media.photobucket.com/image/goofy%20goku/kinglame/2760393535_60e2c9060e.jpg.

I mean, if <cite>Goku</cite> or <cite>Usagi</cite> didn’t have their memorable one-liners and the ditzy personalities behind all their power, would <cite>Dragon Ball Z</cite> or <cite>Sailor Moon</cite> have become two of the most popular series in the history of anime/manga?

But what do I mean by Culture, Art, Characters, Plot and Dialogue, and Tone/Mood? How about I introduce “Culture,” as it’s the first component I’m eager to analyze in the world of manga. Using the oh-so-wise Wikipedia, we find that <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture target=”blank”> “Culture”</a>stems from the Latin colere, which means “to cultivate.” Wikipedia lists the following as definitions:

  • Excellence of taste in the fine arts and humanities, also known as high culture.
  • An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning.
  • The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group.

Now, applying this as a component of manga, I believe we can use a combination of all three. For the first definition, Japanese manga has collectively preserved the history of the country in pre-World War II <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Restoration target=”blank”>(pre-Meiji)</a> and post-WWII <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Restoration target=”blank”>( Meiji)</a>. Manga reflects high society, wartime society, children’s society, etc., etc. While many may not consider “manga” itself a fine art, it’s hard to argue that the stories and characters behind the art have influenced broadway plays, feature length films, and even actual novels that gain national attention and awards.

For the second and third definitions, Japanese manga itself embodies cultural customs, relationships, values, and landscapes that enchant readers worldwide. This demonstration of tradition and principles entices me as a reader, and I know I can’t be alone. It’s exciting and fresh… it’s <cite>exotic</cite>.

Sailor uniforms, Tokyo Tower, Christmas as a “romantic” holiday, the honorifics san, sama, chan, etc., and the

You can hardly open a manga without seeing a character wearing a sailor uniform somewhere. Photo courtesy Flickr user unforth

offbeat cultural jokes are only a few traits I can begin to think about when I envision “manga.” I love learning about Japanese culture and school life when I pick up a new title—it’s much more striking and romantic than the American lifestyle I’ve always known. To me, the relationships and romance of shoujo manga is more intense and intriguing than that of American TV shows like <cite>Gossip Girl</cite>because of the cultural differences. The reserved, I-must-protect-her-virtue nature of shojou bishounen characters are much more chivalrous and charming than the hormone-crazed teenagers America is known for.

But how does this all play into the growing popularity of <a href=http:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amerimanga target=”blank”> Amerimanga</a> (Original English-language manga, commonly used to describe comic books or graphic novels in the “international manga” genre of comics whose language of original publication is English), Korean manhwa, Chinese manhua, French la nouvelle manga, etc.? Let’s explore further in “Culture,” the first in the series of feature in which I hope to discover the relationship of Eastern and Western manga, how this dynamic may impact the future, and if Japanese manga is truly the irreplaceable form.

Hot shojo: Kimi ni Todoke

Are you tired of the same old shojo storyline? You know, the average school girl with a big heart, the “perfect” bishonen (pretty boy) guy with the looks, brains, and build and that sappy confession, all happening within the first few chapters?

Well Kami-sama has answered your prayers with Kimi ni Todoke (Reaching You), a hot manga by Shiina Karuho gaining popularity in the states.

Kuronuma Sawako, a girl feared for her creepy looks and socially awkward mannerisms, is befriended by Kazehaya Shota, the class star.

What makes Kimi ni Todoke so special? First off, the main character, Sawako, is far from your average shojo heroine. Her long black hair and pale skin remind her classmates of the horror movie character Sadako, a name they often call her out of confusion. This cleverly sets up many hilarious scenes throughout the progression of the storyline.

While Kazehaya Shota, Sawako’s crush and first friend, does fall into the bishonen stereotype of being incredibly attractive, nice to everyone and athletic, he stands out from other shojo men through writer Shiina’s close development of his feelings for Sawako. His internal struggle makes him the “dreamy” character we all grow to love.

Best of all, Kimi ni Todoke drags out the confession just right. In some mangas like Suki-tte Ii na yo, the confession seems too fast to really get your heart beating and understand the characters’ lives. In others like Skip Beat, you have to wait for what seems like forever for the characters to even realize their feelings, let alone confess.

Kimi ni Todoke develops, teases, develops, and delivers when the moment finally happens. You’ll find yourself swooning and wanting to reread the scene over and over–I know I did!

Kimi ni Todoke is still in production in Japan and consists of 10 graphic novels thus far. In 2008 it won the Best Shojo Manga award in the 32nd Annual Kodansha Manga Award.

You can read it on OneManga.com or pick up the novels in stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble. Even though the series is still going, I give it a 5/5 stars!

Liz’s rating: ★★★★★

Lolita fashion

Japanese fashion is notably versatile–from goth and harajuku to sweet lolita, school uniform and traditional culture, it’s hard to find a dull moment. My obsession with anime and manga probably adds to my fascination with Japanese street fashion, which features many styles that look like they’ve stepped straight off the pages of the latest comic book.

As you can see in the video, lolita fashion isn’t for the young, but symbolizes the eternal innocence and purity associated with childhood.

Japanese women dressed in Lolita fashion walk in front of the venue of the "Individual Fashion Expo.IV", a gothic, Lolita and punk fashion event, in Tokyo September 23, 2008. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao (JAPAN)

While most Americans who gear up in lolita attire mainly showcase the look at Cosplay events like conventions, Japanese women will wear lolita dresses any day of the week, to the mall or grocery store, even creating their own lolita clubs that meet for tea in parks.

Lolita is a very diverse and evolving fashion. The most popular forms are sweet, gothic, punk and classic. Each incorporates short, puffy dresses with Victorian-esque frills and tights.

But what distinguishes each style is the colors, materials and accessories paired with each dress.

For example, a sweet lolita style embraces more pinks and white lace while gothic embodies more blacks and mesh styles. Make up and wigs also give away which style the wearer wants to convey–whether that be heavy eyeliner, pink wigs, or glitter.

But lolita is not limited to those four categories, and many designers will mix and match styles to create new themes. Because most lolita wearers design and sew their own costumes, the fashion is constantly reinvented.

Sailor lolita combines elements of the Japanese school uniform, gothic and sweet lolita styles. Source: Lolitafashion.org

However, many Americans are embracing the culture through online shopping sites  like lolitafashion.org. The site breaks down the elements of lolita, where to wear the fashion and how to tranistion between styles, like Casual to Ero, etc.

Because the American lolita community is so small and spread out, online forums like lolitafashion.org connect women around the world with fashion ideas, events and evolving trends in Japan.

With vast Internet communities introducing lolita to women everywhere, the style is gaining popularity. New American lolita fashions are emerging and featured during anime conventions and expos, only opening up Japan’s most intricate fashions to women tired of the American norms.

White Day, the V-Day of Japan

I thought since Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, I’d write about the cultural differences between V-Day in the US and Japan. I remember when I first began reading different shojo mangas, I noticed that the heroines would always stress out on Valentine’s Day because they had to decide if they would bake chocolates for their crush or not. After I saw that this situation was a trend from manga to manga, I decided to investigate what Valentine’s Day means in Japan.

A scene from the shojo manga Skip Beat. The heroine is making chocolates for her Valentine.

Interesting enough, women are usually the ones to give gifts on Valentine’s Day, usually chocolates to their honmei (crush) and friends. It’s not uncommon to bake your own chocolates and cookies, but Japan’s chocolate industry also finds business booming during this holiday.

You may be thinking, “so what, that’s awesome for the guys.” Well here’s where it gets more intricate: the men are supposed to give an

Popular presents on White Day. Source: web-japan.org

“answer” on March 14, a holiday called White Day. The holiday is purely Japanese tradition (about.com), and fits perfectly with Japanese views of a “relationship,” which is really only supposed to indicate you have found your future spouse.

But the romance behind the two holidays was initially profit-driven. According to an about.com article on White Day, “A company making marshmallows launched a campaign in 1965 urging men to repay valentine gifts with soft, fluffy marshmallows. The name White Day comes from the color of the candy, and at first it was called Marshmallow Day.”

Yum, sounds good to me. However, this association with marshmallows has evolved to white chocolates and other accessories, like bracelets and flowers.

As romantic as all of this sounds, White Day is much less popular than Valentine’s Day. Probably another reason why I never read about it in shojo mangas. Plus, the wait must be killer! I couldn’t imagine waiting a whole month for a response from my crush, but I suppose that’s a big difference between the US and Japan.