It is next to impossible to go to your local comic shop and not see at least a small shelf dedicated to manga. Perusing this area is usually an assault on the eyes. A mix of big block lettering, big haircuts, but a small selection when it comes to genre choices. That’s because most manga is geared towards young jerks, who are just interested in reading shonen manga, as opposed to something that might engage their mind (comics can do that naysayers!). Their idea of Japan, more specifically Tokyo, slowly being converted into one large stereotype. That of cosplay characters and mecha.
Sure, there are manga and anime that have become somewhat mainstream in America that try and tackle other social issues in Japan such as seclusion, and crime. These manga though are usually so outlandishly absurd, that they are nearly impossible to follow. They become weird for the sake of weird. They are usually deemed “psychological” but really, its just disjointed, bad story telling. I don’t know how many manga I’ve read and anime I’ve seen where you wait for the ending to explain everything, only to get some utterly nonsensical garbage that just makes you more confused than before.
None of this portrays Japan accurately. It is so deep into fantasy that any logical person should, and would categorize it as such. That doesn’t seem to happen though as I am constantly asked incredibly dumb questions by people about Japan. One moron, actually asked me if it was common to see people in Japan with blue hair. The answer is no, shitbird.
The popularization of Japanese media in America has indeed been a double edged sword; although it has been more good than bad. I feel that it is really about time though, for manga’s popularity to “mature” in America. There is manga out there that could easily be compared to some of the great graphic novels of the West. Gritty and poignant stuff that actually gives you an inner view to Japanese society. I feel like people want to know this stuff, but get stuck on their old wacky Japanese standbys. Well that’s all well and good, but when you go to Japan and act like a total jamoke, THAT’S WHEN YOU MAKE ALL US NORMAL PEOPLE LOOK BAD. Which is why I basically became a self-hating American while living in Japan, and avoided most of my kind like the plague.
I’ll get back to the point. Back in the early days of manga, after Tezuka Osamu had already started revolutionizing manga, another young artist was just starting as well. He idolized Tezuka, and became semi close to him, since they both lived in close proximity to each other. His name was and is Yoshihiro Tetsumi. He is actually still alive and making manga to this day. Yoshihiro Tetsumi was convinced that manga could be something more than it was. Manga at that time, was still mostly in comic strip form, but slowly changing to the manga we have today. Heavily influenced by Tezuka’s movie motion techniques, Yoshihiro wanted the images to deliver the message rather than just the words. Indeed, one of his criticisms (and mine) of American comics, was that they were way too wordy and that they broke up the flow. Some of Yoshihiro’s stories sparingly use words, but rather let the pictures do the talking. He called this form of manga, Gekiga 劇画. The first character meaning, drama, and the second meaning picture (Manga is 漫画. It shares the same second character. The first is sort of archaic and means whimsy or whimsical). A better translation for gekiga, though, would be graphic novel. Yoshihiro wanted to make comics of a more serious nature, geared towards adults, and that told more complex stories (not to say that Tezuka Osamu’s manga was not complex or meant only for children).
Yoshihiro’s other major influence, aside from Tezuka Osamu, was his love of the cinema and “Hard Boiled” crime novels. You see this influence in his story telling. Most of it is very gritty. It feels dirty, rough. Unlike Tezuka Osamu’s style, which uses rather cartoony looking characters, Yoshihiro Tetsumi’s style has more of an adult quality to it. Although his characters are not as detailed as say Berserk‘s characters, they fit well into the world that Yoshihiro is trying to show. I really enjoy just looking at the backgrounds of his stories, which are much more detailed. While reading Yoshihiro Tetsumi’s manga, I can really feel myself in Tokyo once again. He captures the essence of Tokyo. Tokyo, like all cities, of course has a darker side. This side is best portrayed in his short stories contained in The Push Man and Other Stories, and Abandon The Old in Tokyo. The stories contained in these compilations, range from tragic, to weird and everything in between. The stories are sometimes dramatic, but definitely feel at home in Tokyo. What is strangest though, is that it’s these qualities of Tokyo that you sometimes end up missing. It is what makes the city interesting. All the stories happening in that dense city, all the time. It is kind of why I never really felt lonely there (mostly). There were always things happening around me at all times. I never felt alone really, because I could go out and interact with people when I wanted to. And when I didn’t want to, I knew I’d be left alone and everyone would go about their business in a typical Tokyo orderly fashion.
Yoshihiro Tetsumi’s magnum opus (I’m getting grandiose), would have to be his 800 page plus mammoth memoir, A Drifting Life. It focuses on how Yoshihiro came to be a professional manga artist, following him from right after the war when he was a kid and up through the 1960’s. He was successful at an early age, but he wasn’t without his setbacks. It was really interesting to see how cutthroat manga was back when it was becoming big. I really enjoyed reading about how the manga community interacted with one another. It was like a large dysfunctional family. Yoshihiro Tetsumi, wrote most of his most famous works 40 years ago but they still easily remain relevant. So once again I say to you otaku, fan boy, dicks out there. Get your heads out of your asses and read something worth reading.