Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga

Rating: 4/4 (A delicious followup to Manga! Manga! and a must read for Manga fans)

Well entertained and educated by Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, I picked up Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga, the 1996 sequel to that book. Written by Frederick L. Schodt, this book gives a much needed update to the earlier book which was published way back in 1983. Dreamland Japan is not as organized as the earlier book, and is a loosely arranged set of essays on Manga.

The first 2 parts of the book give a brief introduction to the world of Manga, essential for the reader who has not read Manga! Manga!. An interesting addition here is an essay on Dōjinshi, the Manga artwork produced by fans. These copy the characters from actual Manga and put them in scenarios that the creators could not think of. This amateur market is wildly popular with large exhibitions dedicated to them. Manga creators and publishers allow this huge grey market to live and thrive, this is something that cannot be imagined in copyright-crazed USA!

Part 3 is a huge section that looks at the various genres of Manga magazines by describing a few popular titles from each. Kids are hooked to CoroCoro Comic, which publishes the mega-hit Doraemon. Young boys read Weekly Shonen Jump, the most popular Manga magazine which sometimes has a readership of 6 million per week! Japanese are addicts to gambling games like Mahjong and Pachinko and magazines aimed at them are popular too. Finally, magazines like June and Comic Amour provide the erotic fare that Manga is (in)famous for.

In part 4, Schodt introduces his favorite Manga artists and editors, their style, history and works. Oddly, a lot of his choice seem to be purveyors of gore or sex! The artists who stands out here are Fujiko Fujio, the creator duo behind Doraemon, the all-time smash-hit Manga about a robot cat. By 1996 itself, Doraemon books had sold a stupendous 108 million copies! Another interesting essay here shows just how much freedom Manga magazines have in Japan. This is about Aum Comics, published by the notorious Aum cult, which was behind the deadly sarin gas attacks in 1995.

The entire of part 5 is dedicated to just one person, Osamu Tezuka, the God of Manga himself! The author knew Osamu well, having acted as his manager and translator on his visits to USA. Sadly, Osamu passed away in 1989 at the age of 60. Osamu is frequently compared to Walt Disney, but Tezuka is more an artist and less a businessman. Over his lifetime, Osamu firmly shaped the world of Manga with 150,000 pages of artwork spread over 500 titles. Most notable among his works are Astro Boy, Adolf, Black Jack, Buddha and Phoenix. Phoenix deals with the search for immortality and reincarnation and was called by Osamu as his raifu waaku (life’s work). Tezuka was also the creator of Jungle Emperor, whose artwork Disney shamelessly stole for their Lion King franchise without ever crediting him.

The last part of the book looks at where Manga is headed in the future. The author was optimistic about the English market (USA) and the Internet. Both of his predictions have become true in the decade since. Manga is all over the Internet, with countless fans involved in scanlating and sharing them. Comparatively, growth in Manga USA had a tough time, but has now caught on with regular publications coming from publishers like Dark Horse Comics. Though Manga sales have started to decline in Japan (how many decades can they rise?), it has now gained a strong foothold across East Asia and is spreading across USA and other English markets.

Well researched and written, filled with artwork and personal anecdotes, Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga is a delicious followup to Manga! Manga!. I highly recommend both books for anyone interested to discover the world of Manga.


Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics

Rating: 4/4 (A cracker of a book that gives insights into the Manga culture of Japan)

I admit to having a quite a bit of enamour for Japan, its culture, food, language and technology. So, my travel around Japan last year was very exciting and I came away all the more impressed and influenced. A major part of Japanese culture is Manga (Japanese comics) and Anime (Japanese animation). In the months following my Japanese trip, I have been slowly, but surely, getting into reading and enjoying Manga. Due to the availability of thousands of Manga series in every genre imaginable, it soon became inevitable that I would pick up a book to learn more about these comics itself. Browsing the many shelves of books on Manga in the university library, I picked the 1986 paperback edition of Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics by Frederick L. Schodt.

Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics is an incredibly informative and fun filled read! Frederick writes for an audience who have a taste of American superhero comics, but know nothing about Japanese comics. The origins of comic art lie deep inside Japanese history and reading about Manga gave me deep insights into Japanese culture. Japan was quick to master the art of making paper and later woodblock printing. Thus, the Japanese masses have had access to art and comic art in particular for a long time. It also helps that all kinds of humour, self deprecating, sexual and body, are acceptable and enjoyed by the Japanese public. Manga really took off after the end of World War II, when after witnessing decades of intense violence, Japanese were disgusted with war. With a strict culture at school and workplace, the masses found the perfect outlet for their emotions in reading comics.

Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) is clearly the pioneer of modern Manga. He took inspiration from the framing, camera angles and screenplay of Western movies. These comics were initially aimed at kids and were serialized in weekly comic magazines. The magazine format gave Manga creators freedom to write long stories, which their Western counterparts could not. Manga soon captured the hearts and minds of teens and adults, both men and women. This lead to an explosion of comics of every kind, comedy, slice-of-life, romance, science fiction, historical, sexual, sports and even educational. Manga is today the world’s most popular comics, with Manga magazine production in the millions every week! The Manga industry is growing even today, garnering new fans outside Japan. Manga series which are hits are compiled and released as volumes. With the advent of animation, now they are also converted to anime series for TV and movies.

This book is not mere text, thankfully, every page is peppered with relevant Manga art, covers and photos. The book has a foreword from Osamu Tezuka himself, who in Japan is called Manga no Kamisama (The God of Comics). The book ends with a delicious 96-page appetizer of the best Manga ever produced, translated into English. This includes Hi no Tori (Phoenix) by Osamu Tezuka (popularly referred to as his life’s work), Borei Senshi (Ghost Warrior) by Reiji Matsumoto, Berusaiyu no Bara (The Rose of Versailles) by Riyoko Ikeda and Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen) by Keiji Nakazawa. I found Phoenix and Ghost Warrior deeply intellectual and thoughtful. Though a bit dated, since it was published in 1983, Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics is a cracker of a book and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know about Manga and its influence in Japanese culture.

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