The Art/Science of Anime/Manga

9:58 pm | Anime

Tonight marked the first night for LIT 3311: The Art/Science of Anime/Manga, a class being offered for the first time this spring at UT Dallas. As a result, I intend to be posting more regularly on issues related to Japanese anime and manga and its unusual relationship with western culture.

For people outside Japan, it is difficult to understand the cultural popularity of manga. Manga is basically a generic term for Japanese comic books, but manga differs significantly from its American counterpart in two important ways. First, manga is not child’s play: Manga comics are released for all ages and different social groups, and is not restricted to just young pre-teens as it is in the United States. Second, manga is not like a small magazine: manga is produced in large volumes in Japan, and it isn’t unusual to find manga in volumes roughly equivalent to a phone book being delivered on a monthly basis.

Although many people receive their first introduction to this Japanese pop-art by way of anime - the term by which Japanese animations are known in the West - anime productions are much small in number and revenues than manga. Indeed, most anime has its genesis in manga comics. Many studios are unwilling to spend the time developing a feature length anime with material that hasn’t first been proven in the manga marketplace.

In the United States, exposure to these Japanese art forms began shortly after the release of the VCR which made it possible for recordings of Japanese cartoons to begin arriving in the States. The Amiga computer further encouraged the popularity of anime by providing an inexpensive means of subtitling works. In the early 1990s, several companies began licensing Japanese titles for export into the United States, starting with children’s shows where licensing was inexpensive. This did not prove to be very lucrative, however, so in order to boost sales hentai (erotica) titles were also licensed for U.S. distribution.

This led to a confusing and disturbing problem for many U.S. households as children’s anime and hentai were not distinguished from each other. An extreme erotic anime would appear on a shelf next to an anime for children, with no indication of the difference between the two. Many of the early articles were therefore reactionary against anime as it was beginning its distribution in the United States. The genres of anime and manga are much more broad than children’s cartoons and hentai, so the dangers that are implicit in manga and anime are really no different than the dangers of DVDs (since there are violent and pornographic DVDs on the market) or of the Internet (since there are many less than wholesome websites on the Internet).

There has been much concern about the content of anime by many family and Christian organizations as a result. Much of this concern is legitimate. Anime and manga are not neutral media, any more than music, television, movies, or even paperback novels are necessarily good. However, at the same time these has been an unfavorable view toward anime in particular that while understandable is not entirely justified. Anime and manga represent a powerful media for communicating artistic themes, and can be used in ways that are either excellent or debauched. Having the wisdom to discern the difference is the key.



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