Pride in Manga (Mania.com)

By:Matt Kamen
Date: Friday, June 15, 2007

This week's Manga Jiman event, held at the Japanese Embassy in the UK, was an interesting affair from both a pop culture and a cross culture point of view.
 
From the pop culture side, guests were treated to an exhibition of both original Japanese manga and original English language manga (OEL). Artwork was displayed from winners of Tokyopop UK's Rising Stars of Manga contest, the Manga Shakespeare line of graphic novels and the independent cabal of UK based manga artists Sweatdrop Studios. Of particular note was John Aggs' 'Knives', winner of the most recent Rising Stars contest. A short tale of three boys playing, Knives has one of the most shocking and deeply affecting endings I've ever read, in any medium. Aggs' art is truly something to behold with a flawless grasp of the tenets of manga and painstaking attention to detail.
 
Moving on to the seminar itself, and the cross culture side of the evening, we were introduced to the panel leading the discussion. Chaired by Paul Gravett, journalist, writer and comics enthusiast, the other members were Emma Hayley, publisher of the Manga Shakespeare line, OEL manga artist and editor Ilya and Sweatdrop representative Joanna Zhou. The main point of content was the spread of manga as a recognised art form to a worldwide platform. In a relatively short few years, manga has grown from something the Japanese thought would at best be popular only within their own borders and at worst something to perhaps be a little ashamed of to a creative force they can proudly present to the world – Manga Jiman, "Pride in our manga." However, as a short vox pops video filmed earlier that day by Emma Hayley demonstrated, despite the incredible rise in popularity manga has seen in recent times the average consumer has little to no idea what it is.
 
After a brief history of manga from an international perspective, the three panellists were asked their views on the diversification of manga to include artists and writers not from Japan. The consensus was that manga began as a cultural cross-pollination – Osamu Tezuka, widely regarded as the 'God of Manga', was largely influenced by early Disney works – and what we're seeing now is a continuation of that, albeit with East now influencing West. Manga was seen by all as a storytelling style rather than a statement of the point of origin. While I don't entirely agree with that definition, there certainly has been a veritable explosion in western talents that actually 'get' manga and do the medium justice.
 
The floor was then opened to questions from the audience, which ranged from the fairly basic ("Do manga artists write their own stories too?") to the more difficult ("What is the defining difference between manga and western comics?") but the assembled guests seemed somewhat microphone shy, so this was a short segment before the panel ended. People then mingled for an hour or so before being asked to leave the embassy in a uniquely Japanese manner – lights turned off and smiling guards silently herding us out of the door with ebullient politeness.
 
The event also saw the launch of the Manga Jiman competition, with the grand prize of a return trip for two to Japan, courtesy of All Nippon Airways. The competition is open to all UK residents aged 16 or older and the challenge is to create a short manga between four and six A4 pages in length. The manga must in some way reference Japan but how the country is referenced is up to the creator. Click on the above link for full details.
 
The evening was an insightful look into both the Japanese acceptance of one of their more noted exports and the warm international reception it has received. I would like to publicly extend my thanks to all at the Japanese Embassy for inviting me to the event and for hosting such an informative evening.
 
New UK DVD Picks for 18/06/2007
 
Forbidden Planet: 50th Anniversary Edition
 
Or 'The Tempest – In Space!'. The classic science fiction movie that inspired a generation finally gets the treatment it so richly deserves. Or rather, the UK finally gets a DVD release with the same treatment the US got back in November. Either way, this is a fantastic release of a truly groundbreaking film, one that practically overloads the disc with extras and archive material. Deleted scenes and previously lost footage are supported by three documentaries and a bonus movie, The Invisible Boy, which featured the iconic Robby The Robot.
 
Trigun: Complete Series
 
If Shakespearean sci-fi isn't your thing, perhaps steampunk comedy will be. Trigun is now considered one of the great classics of anime, despite being a mere nine years old. The series follows an interplanetary outlaw named Vash, unable to find a moment's peace due to the 60billion double-dollar bounty on his head. However, Vash is far from the fearsome gunslinger his legend paints him as. Instead, he's an overly-emotional pacifist with a donut addiction. Despite being largely episodic, the series manages to plumb considerable emotional depths while still keeping the action a top priority. The boxed set consists of eight discs containing the entire series and assorted extras.
 
New Fist of the North Star: Complete Collection
 
Of course, there's always good old-fashioned post-apocalyptic ultraviolence. The original Fist of the North Star gained something of a notorious reputation in the mid-90s for its graphic depictions of exploding heads and protagonist Kenshiro's catchphrase "You're already dead!", usually heard just before a goon exploded in a red splatter. While this newer OVA doesn't pick up exactly where the original movie or lesser-known TV series left off, it does adapt more of the original manga by Tetsuo Hara and Buronson. Of course, you're not likely to buy this for the plot… Tons of behind the scenes features, interviews and commentaries make this a worthy purchase for some turn-brain-off-now fun.
 
That’s it for this week. Thoughts? Comments? Hatemail? Contact me at mattkamen@gmail.com.