Monthly Archives: October 2009

Graphic content in manga: one fan’s experiences

In light of the recent controversy over Dragon Ball, I want to write a bit about the graphic nature of manga. While I can’t speak in terms of public controversies for the most part, I can speak from personal experience dealing with graphic content and having many different attitudes about it.

When I first got into anime and manga, I was only 13. It was like discovering a treasure trove because, for a young girl in the superhero-dominated world of American comics, shojo (girl’s) manga gave me everything my boy-crazy self wanted: comics with more involved romance than Archie & Friends.

This lead me to start drawing in the typical manga style. It was a great tool for me in many other ways. It cured my boredom, it gave me a creative outlet for art and writing and it helped me make a few friends. I drew everywhere. especially at school.

At first my classmates were curious, so I explained everything. Then they did their own research and found hentai. (Porn in anime and manga form.) Next time I started drawing in school, my classmates accused me of drawing porn and naked people, when I was just drawing the figures before drawing details like clothing. Out of understandable concern, I was brought into the principal’s office and made to explain. I was let go because I really wasn’t drawing porn, but then when I drew some characters kissing each other, I was called out by a classmate again. (I was pretty unpopular.)

The cycle of principal’s office visits repeated until I was banned from bringing my sketchbook to school. As a bored teenager just looking to draw out her tame little romantic fantasies (all my characters did was kiss), I was upset. No one was naked, no one was doing anything sexual, there wasn’t any innuendo either, but if one of my drawings wore a low-cut top, it was hentai. In fact, everything I drew was labeled hentai if one of my classmates caught sight of me doodling. I protested and tried to explain, but no one wanted to listen. This went on for all of eighth grade and high school. Like any parent would be, my mom was concerned for me. She did a bit of research on hentai and yelled at me not to look at such sick and degrading stuff. Despite the fact that I had never looked at hentai ever.

I felt so misunderstood, just like any other teen would have, but not for anything I had actually done wrong. (I still believe I did nothing wrong.) If you had asked me to read something that was actually hentai or was relatively graphic, I probably would have thrown a fit and tried to lecture you into understanding that “not all manga is like that!”

Fastforward to the present. I’m about to graduate college and I don’t draw as much anymore, but I still love writing comics and I’ve just completed an internship with Tokyopop, a manga publisher. And I spent the summer reading a lot of what some people would call porn.

I won’t lie. Some of it really was porn, but most of it just showed a lot more blood, tits and ass than a lot of people would consider putting in an NC-17 film. I really enjoyed it too, which is funny considering how being associated with hentai plauged me as a young fan.

Sure, porn can be degrading to women, (although the hentai I read usually involved gay men) but none of the manga I read really disrespected women. There are a number of real reasons to include nudity, sexuality or innuendo in a story.

Sometimes nudity was a plot tool, such as in Seikon no Qwaser, where the main character needs to “breastfeed” in order to use his powers. Nevermind the fact that the creators are notorious for anime and manga with buxom and scantily clad beauties who regularly find their clothes being ripped off, none of the women were really degraded. The nudity was there. Most of it was consensual, what wasn’t consensual was usually the work of a villain who was quickly defeated. The victim was just as quickly rescued, reclothed and good triumphed. It also served to re-connect the present story to that of the back story, as Seikon no Qwaser revolves around the search for an important painting of Mary Magdalene holding the baby Jesus, which technically makes the breastfeeding symbolic as well. Other than a tendency to show more cleavage, the manga doesn’t really get indecent just by flashing boob.

There is also nudity as comedy. A popular cliche involves a poor girl seen coming out of the bath naked by another character of the opposite sex (usually her intended love interest) or the girl seeing the boy naked in a similar manner.  This situation usually leads to incredible amounts of embarassment for both parties and other comedic moments involving the recollection of that scene. In Seikon no Qwaser, the above cliche is used and the girls playfully tease each other about their bodies while naked together. (Which is more common because of widespread communal bathing practices in Japan.) No one really gets assaulted by anyone else when comedic nudity occurs (Or if they do, it usually never gets anywhere and the assailant is beaten back.) and often offending body parts are artfully concealed.

On occassion there is just random nudity for little to no reason, like in Dragon Ball, where the main character regularly practices  martial arts nude. I could understand where this could be a cause for alarm if he was older (who’d want to see that, not even I unless it was covered up by a black bar or something.), but the character hasn’t hit puberty and his genitals are only drawn as a small lump (and an even smaller one inside) to represent his gender.  There is no detail or sexual connotation anywhere. It’s just a kid running around naked, much like we might run around naked in the privacy of our own homes.

Obviously, no one in Japan is bothered by these kinds of nudity, but Americans can be. I can understand this; there is little I find to be truly disturbing in manga, but out-right rape is one thing. I would not want to read a manga that showed me someone being raped, (if it was implied and I did not have to see it happening, I would allow it as part of the story) so it’s only natural that some people just don’t want to read a manga that shows a lot of breasts. Rather, the problem is usually that when nudity or other graphic situations are present in manga, an unfamiliar reader usually doesn’t take the time to understand why.

For example, the nude martial arts scenes in Dragon Ball could be a lesson for the character (and ultimately the reader) to be comfortable in his own skin. I have to ask here, is that really “graphic” content?  The “breastfeeding” in Seikon no Qwaser is not only a means to an end for the story’s hero, but it also acts as symbolism and connects the characters with the religious iconography that the story is centered around. It’s definitely suggestive and borderline sexual,  so it’s rated as mature and usually wrapped in plastic at bookstores so children don’t read it as easily. The post-bath nudity cliche not only provides laughs, but often advances the relationship and the plot further. There’s nothing sexual here either, just a flash of exposed chest at most. I find that all these examples more or less explain innuendo, gore and sexual content in manga as well. But again, these reasons serve a larger purpose.

There are definitely examples of manga that are degrading, senselessly violent and sexual, but I haven’t seen too many of them published in English. The U.S. manga publishing industry is interested in publishing what their customers want, but they’re also highly interested in publishing what is good. Usually overly degrading, violent and sexual manga don’t fit either description.

I chose to enjoy manga with graphic content as I became older because I can see its entertainment value and how it’s important in a story. It’s not important that a manga is showing me some nipples, it’s making me laugh because the character did it to shock some other characters and their reaction is hilarious. I find that it pretty much is just the characters being true to themselves. Just because we, as Americans, don’t want to see Janet Jackson’s boobs flashed at us, (which was an uncontrollable accident) doesn’t mean we have to ban exposed breasts everywhere. It comes down to quantity v. quality. There’s a lot of chest being shown throughout all the various forms of media, but we don’t have to get rid of the chests that are shown for good reason.

Sure, my argument isn’t flawless. It’s a lot of opinions, which are easy to disagree with. Simply put, I’m not right or wrong here, neither is anyone else. In the end, no side should be attacking the other, but making it so that those who shouldn’t be exposed to graphic content are not. Bookstores should check the ratings of everything they sell at the cash registers in order to ensure that those ratings on the back aren’t more or less useless. They should check ID if they have to. Libraries should be carefully reviewing what they stock and who rents it out. They don’t have to stock anything above a certain age rating and they could use library cards to check the age of children checking out manga against a book’s rating. But everyone should be aware that there will be some T&A out there, no matter what they do to stop it.

My friend Chris sent me this tweet shortly after I posted this entry: blahhearts Fascinating! Fun fact: My library cuts panels out of manga. (Dragonball was the first place I noticed it.) Not a bad compromise.

Wow, that’s a little extreme.  Cutting out the panels would pretty much destroy multiple panels on the other side of the page! (Not to mention the flow of the story, etc.)

Does anyone else have stories of what their libraries have done to censor “graphic” manga? I’d love to hear it and include it in this post.

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Astro Boy manga for iPhones/Dragon Ball banned from Maryland library

There’s been a plethora of manga news lately so today’s blog consists of a double dose!

Astro Boy manga coming to iPhones

An Astro Boy stamp from Japan

An Astro Boy stamp from Japan.

aicnanime Astro Boy manga to hit US iPhones

Seeing this headline on Twitter shocked me a little bit, but it was quite a happy shock! Although I don’t have an iPhone, I would LOVE to read manga on one if I did!

The best thing about Astro Boy being released for iPhones is that the “volumes” will be only 99 cents for 100 pages of  classic Tezuka goodness, although the first volume will be free. The developers will release the iPhone manga one week at a time and also plans to release other works by Osamu Tezuka, including Black Jack and Phoenix.

This will be an important experiment in manga publishing in the U.S. as manga for mobile phones are already extremely popular in Japan. Will it succeed here? I don’t know since Japanese teenagers live on their cell phones much like American teens live on Facebook.

If it does it could blow stuff like Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s brand new Nook out of the water in terms of graphic novel sales. Plus, iPhones are a lot cheaper and a lot more accessible than either book-alternative device so far.

AFP article on Astro Boy manga on U.S. iPhones

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Dragon Ball pulled from Maryland school library for nudity and sexual situations

dragonball

Dragon Ball was recently pulled from a Maryland school district's library for explicit content.

Censorship has been an important issue in the U.S. manga community. There is a very very large difference in Japan’s culture and ability to accept certain things, like nudity and quasi-sexual humor, that is not as acceptable in American culture. This isn’t the first story about parents outraged so-called explicit material in comic books, cartoons and video games. Dragon Ball is just one example and unfortunately its was originally aimed at kids.

A copy of Dragon Ball was checked out of a Wicomico, Maryland library by a nine year-old boy. The explicit content was discovered by his mother, who complained to the school district. Now the school district is removing the entire series.

This is what one school district council member said at the meeting in this article:

“In cartoon format, it depicts nudity, sexual contact between children and sexual innuendo among adults and children,” Holloway told fellow council members during the comment period of Tuesday’s meeting.

“The drawings and story lines are disgusting,” Holloway said of the book.

As a manga fan who has taken the time to understand the subtle differences in culture, I can understand where certain manga get too close for comfort and should not be read by kids. I can also understand how these parents and school district officials feel when they find material they don’t understand being read by their young ones. What I can’t understand is how this nine year-old child was allowed to check out a book that was CLEARLY rated for ages 13 and up.

Manga is a unique media because it is made for anyone and everyone. IN JAPAN. This all-for-one-and-one-for-all marketing strategy doesn’t always work in the U.S., but that is why we have safeguards like the ratings system. U.S. publishers try their best to mark their manga appropriately so that parents can avoid situations like this. (I know because I recently interned for one such publisher.)

These ratings are not a mystery. Parents fought very hard many years ago to establish this system, so is it a manga’s fault that no one knows to turn the book over and look at the rating on the back? I think so. This should be something taught to parents when their kids grow old enough to read. I’ve personally given mini-lessons to parents in the manga aisle of a bookstore on how to find appropriate choices for their little manga fan. They were relieved that it was that easy.

The ratings bring me to another, more opinionated point. Childhood nudity is not always pornographic. It certainly is not in Dragon Ball. The nudity is natural, i.e. taking a bath, and the sexual jokes and innuendo is nothing a curious 13 year-old boy would not likely do on his own. The problem here is that someone let a nine year-old check out a manga meant for an older and more mature child and now the book is being removed from the library because of it.

An opinion piece on this incident and censorship in manga.

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The Rise of Online Manga

This blog post won’t exactly be news, persay, but more of a discussion on an emerging trend in the U.S. manga market.

I saw this tweet this evening as I was trying to think of what to write:

manga_critic New blog post: Rin-Ne, Vol. 1 http://mangacritic.com/?p=2187

Rumiko Takahashi's Rin-Ne (copyright of Viz)

Rumiko Takahashi's Rin-Ne (property of Viz)

The link is a review of the first volume of Rin-Ne, a manga by the famous supernatural manga creator, Rumiko Takahashi. Rin-Ne is a part of a very new movement in the American manga publishing industry, a fight to battle scanlations, fan-made translations that are posted online and completely free, by putting content online.

Obviously, free material is a huge problem for any industry and many fans of manga don’t feel the need to pay for what they can get for free. Cease and desist orders are able to stop scanlators, as the creators of these translations are called, but publishing companies don’t have the means to police all the scanlation sites. Some scanlators are polite enough to take down a manga when it is licensed by U.S. publishers, but this does little to stop others from keeping content online through other means and even then thousands of people have read it already.

So how do publishers battle a scourge like this?

By posting these manga online before they’re even released in stores.

But how is this different than scanlations? How can the publisher make money?

It’s not much different than scanlations, which is the point. The publishers want their manga to be read online. That’s where their readership is right now. Then, right before the book is released at bookstores nationwide, the manga is taken off the internet and if manga fans want to read it, they’ll have to buy it.

Pretty ingenious in my opinion.

Rin-Ne and Viz, its American publisher, are at the forefront of this battle against scanlations. Rin-Ne is released chapter-by-chapter each week simultaneous with the Japanese release. This prevents scanlators from getting their hands on it before American publishers can, allows fans to read manga online for free and allows the company to control the profits by keeping the content on their site and taking it down when it’s time to sell it in stores.  Everybody wins.

Although Rin-Ne is currently the only manga Viz is releasing simultaneously with Japan, the company is putting out large quantities of online content for their Ikki and Shonen Sunday lines.  It seems to me that Viz is really just testing the waters here. If sales and advertising bring in enough, then Viz has cornered the market and given scanlators a real run for their money. Then again, there are some series, such as Bleach, where the Japanese version is way ahead of the U.S. releases, allowing scanlators to put up chapters that the U.S. publishers haven’t gotten to  yet.

Viz isn’t the only publisher with similar plans in the works or already online, but so far they are the only one to have done so to such an extent. Will such control revolutionize the industry and prevent scanlators from taking away valuable profits? Not completely.

In the end, the manga industry in America isn’t nearly the same size as Japan’s. This is a great solution for some series that are just being released like Rin-Ne or are relatively unheard of like  most everything from Ikki, but not for others that have already been released or extremely popular such as Bleach. At the same time, some of the manga that scanlators pick up will probably NEVER be published in the U.S. for lack of popularity, for their content being offensive or controversial or for just being old and scanlations bring about the only way for them to be read by non-Japanese speakers. But sometimes, it’s just a matter of not knowing whether a series will be picked up by U.S. publishers.

What’s your take on the rise of online content from manga publishers?

An article on Rin-Ne from Deb Aoki.

An article on Ikki’s U.S. debut.

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Comic Book Movies: Astro Boy

If you were an American child in the 1960’s, you probably watched “Astro Boy” on T.V. and I’d call you lucky because I grew up in the late 1980’s and didn’t know “Astro Boy” existed until I did a small history project on anime in middle school.

But now I know and the new “Astro Boy”  movie is coming out in theaters on Oct. 23rd and, boy oh boy, am I excited!

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Originally called “Tetsuwan Atom” in Japan, the comic-book-turned-anime-turned-film has captured the heart of many kids and adults alike ever since it was released. It tells the story of a robot implanted with human memories created by Dr. Tenma to help him get over the death of his son. When that goes awry, Astro becomes a crime-fighter, particularly focusing on human-robot conflicts, out of control robots and evil doers looking to exploit robot powers.

The movie follows a similar origin story, but also focuses on self-discovery and a typical good-v.-evil energy conflict, which makes me happy since various filmmakers worldwide now feel the need to address ecological issues. I’m sure  the legendary Osamu Tezuka,  the creator of  “Astro Boy” would have approved of the eco-friendly message too.

Speaking of Osamu Tezuka, Dark Horse Comics publishes the U.S. version of “Astro Boy” and still has 23 volumes and a few other Tezuka titles for sale. Nozomi Entertainment/Right Stuf International publishes and sells the anime version.

Vertical sells a number of Tezuka’s darker and deeper works including “Buddha”, “Ode to Kirihito” and “Black Jack” amongst others.

Also, “Astro Boy”-related comic book is “Pluto” which is a post-mortem collaboration between (the very much alive) Naoki Urasawa and Tezuka. “Pluto” is like a darker version of “Astro Boy”, but instead of focusing on Astro, it focuses on Gesicht, a German robot working as a detective. Astro (called by his original name, Atom) and Gesicht are two of the world’s seven great robots and the mysterious Pluto is murdering these  robots and their creators for their involvment in the 39th Central Asian War.

You may remember Naoki Urasawa since I mentioned him yesterday in my post about the debut of “Monster” on Syfy, and he is half the reason why I really love “Pluto” too. More importantly, it’s a really gripping read. Urasawa really took Tezuka’s idea and ran with it until the readers are left on the edge of a cliff trying to see who’s dead on the ground below.

But just because the new movie and “Pluto” are modern takes on Tezuka originals doesn’t mean that Tezuka’s genius won’t shine through. I’m looking forward to seeing it next week.

See some exclusive pictures of the film on Comic Book Resources.

Some more stills from the movie and pictures of some of the cast from Comic Book Movies.

A Wikipedia article on the film.

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Viz begins to accept original submissions/Naoki Urasawa’s “Monster” makes SyFy Debut

VIZ_Media ES: Show us what you’ve got. VIZ Media is now accepting submissions and pitches for original comics. Go to http://bit.ly/1iH8la for details.

This is pretty big news. I think it’s pretty unprecedented for Viz, seeing as they are pretty much a medium for Japanese publishing giants Shogakukan and Shueisha’s manga titles.

Deb Aoki, a prominent manga writer, editor and cartoonist talked to Viz editor Eric Searleman (who tweeted the big news) about this major decision:

“Eric Searleman: ‘We’re considering everything. The format will suit the material. For example, there’s no law that says our original comics need to mirror our manga trim size. Let’s mix it up.’

“We want to do something fun and fresh. Why bother otherwise? We want our books to be an alternative to what’s already out there. It’ll be hard work, but we are confident we can get it done. The bottom line is this: the quality of the comic takes precedent over everything else.”

Here’s a link to the rest of that article.

While Viz isn’t the only U.S. manga publisher to put out original (non-Japanese) content, original English manga (OEM) in the past has been either substandard or hard-to-sell. Currently, Tokyopop, the former bastion of OEM publishing, has scaled back its OEM efforts to only those manga with huge fan following or commercial ventures due to economic hardships. Other manga publishers only have small lines of OEM content, if any at all.

Can Viz do it? Probably. Despite closing the girls’ manga magazine Shojo Beat earlier this year, Viz opened the New People building in August with much success. In other words, I think Viz is becoming more experimental. The company is just cutting out what no longer makes them money and trying new and exciting things they think could work.  Obviously they wouldn’t try it if they thought it would be completely unsuccessful.

On another note, Tokyopop’s original content submission rules have been under a lot of criticism by aspiring cartoonists and others for being legally iffy and unfair to the submitters. While Tokyopop is a considerably more experimental company than Viz, Viz is usually more successful at similar endeavors so maybe we’ll see more fair submission guidelines from Viz.

Will Viz do it better? Odds are in their favor, but we’ll see when the first examples of original content come out.

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On another topic, also related to Viz, Naoki Urasawa’s “Monster” will be debuting on the SyFy Channel tonight at 11p.m. Pacific. My twitter feed is positively abuzz about it too.

monster

I’m pretty excited for this because “Monster” is one of the greatest manga I’ve ever read. Its a powerful, suspenseful drama about Dr. Kenzo Tenma, who has been wrongly accused of murder. In an attempt to clear his name and to erase a past mistake, Tenma goes into hiding and chases after Johan Liebert, who is the real mastermind behind the murders sullying Tenma’s good name.

Throughout the manga we see the extent of Johan’s evil and genius contrasted against Tenma’s tenacity, skill and inherant goodness. It is the kind of manga where you get to know the characters and when you put down each volume you’re excited about what happened and eager to read the next one.

I can personally vouch for this as I saw the manga be introduced to my anime club and then circulated so widely throughout the members that there were waiting lists for certain volumes. Each and every person I spoke to about the manga had the same excited reactions as everyone else.

The series, published by Viz, recently ended, so I am quite excited to see the anime go on air so that new fans can be pulled in. “Monster” is one of those classic titles that has been underappreciated except by hardcore fans.

See the reaction to “Monster” on Twitter.

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Not Good

Hi everyone,

Unfortunately my computer was attacked by some really vicious malware virus over the weekend. One of my friends who is much more handy with computers than I am is trying to fix things, but if that fails, I will be taking my computer to a professional place on Monday.

I will try to get a good post in once the dust has settled a bit more, but I will probably have to wait until Monday to do so.

Sorry!

-Daniella

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Beyonce is the New Wonder Woman/Kodansha Announces US Office

I never really expected Beyonce to appear on this blog, but here she is.

GeekTyrant Beyonce is Wonder Woman!? New Writer and Director Attached!? http://su.pr/29XwmL

Beyonce is going to be Wonder Woman. God help us all. (Your various religious beliefs aside.)

When I shared this shocking news with my boyfriend, he pointed out to me that she had previously stated that she wanted to play Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman. I remembered him previously mentioning this in conversation so I did some digging and lo and behold… An L.A. Times blog.

Now to the outsider, this might not seem like a big deal, but let’s take a closer look.

Beyonce is a VERY successful singer, but does a lot more on the side. Her most notable movie at the moment is “Dreamgirls” and ironically her spotlight was stolen by former American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson. Her other movies (sidekick role in “Austin Powers in Goldmember” aside) are considerably less notable and unsuccessful.

Now let’s take a look at some of the other comic book movies featuring female superheroes. “Electra” wasn’t very critically acclaimed, especially after the mess that was “Daredevil.” And despite Halle Berry’s acting prowess (which may very well be an on again off again sort of thing), “Catwoman” was also a total flop.

At this point the movie could be saved, but heres some more reasons why it won’t be.

Joss Whedon, the genius behind “Firefly,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing A Long Blog,” was traded in for Stuart Beattie and David Elliot, who wrote “GI Joe: Rise of Cobra,” which hasn’t done quite as well as any of Whedon’s work.

Directing will be John Moore, who directed “Max Payne.” What’s that? You don’t remember that movie? Yeah, I thought so. Beattie at least has a few good movies such as “Australia” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise behind him.

Shall we add it up?

Mediocre actress/hot singer + Unsuccessful angle on genre + Fairly unsuccessful writers and director = Probably not going to be a good movie.

I really hope they prove my theory wrong.

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Now onto more pleasant news – Kodansha is coming to the U.S.!

Kodansha is Japan’s largest publisher and has licensed a ton of manga titles to U.S. manga publishers. They’ll be putting their office in NYC and their line, Kodansha Comics, will be distributed by Random House, who has been their partner in recent years through Del Rey Manga.

Kodansha Vice President and board member Yoshio Irie and general manager Tomoko Suga will be heading up Kodansha USA Publishing (the company’s publishing name.) They have already announced two classic titles as Kodansha USA’s first releases, Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo and Ghost in the Shell by Shirow Masamune, which were previously published by Dark Horse Comics.

This doesn’t really surprise anyone who’s been watching the manga publishing industry for awhile. Kodansha has been killing its licenses as they expired with other publishers ever since they partnered up with Random House and Del Ray Manga in 2003. Earlier this year, they finally announced that they would not be renewing any licenses with Tokyopop, which Tokyopop editors said they had known about for awhile. The company had been publishing many of Kodansha’s hit series, such as Sailor Moon, Chobits, Love Hina and Beck.

Publisher’s Weekly article on Kodansha’s US office announcement

Publisher’s Weekly interview with Yoshio Irie

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